More broadly, the unfortunate reality is that the previous government has not lived up to much of its lofty pro-democracy rhetoric. While the UNM's enthusiasm for the West and relative success in modernizing Georgia may have made an indelible impression on their counterparts in Washington and Brussels, the UNM's decidedly pro-Western brand-building should not be confused with actual democratization, as extensive reports of an anti-democratic pre-election environment attest. And for all of the UNM's keenness for international indices and rankings, most democracy measures paint a very different picture than the one usually broadcast by the UNM and its allies.
According to Freedom House, Georgia has made no progress with democracy development since 2005, and press freedom remains roughly the same as it was under the kleptocratic pre-Rose Revolution presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze. Other assessments are even less encouraging: The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index shows Georgia backsliding from 2006 to 2011. And Reporters Without Borders shows major regression in press freedoms in Georgia since 2003. The country now languishes just below 104th place, underneath such paragons of liberty as unrecognized North Cyprus, Chad, and Ecuador. Even Georgia's economic reforms, widely praised for its pro-business posture, look hollow on closer examination. Indeed, the effort to portray billionaire prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili as the planner of a Viktor Yanukovich-style anti-democratic counterrevolution is hardly supported by the UNM's own poor record. Given the climate of impunity that permeated much of the UNM's tenure, the new government is both politically and morally obligated to investigate and address these past wrongs.
This should put the new government's arrests in a more appropriate context. While no good adviser should be surprised by reactions to the arrests, the Western outcry has nonetheless been much too hasty. Ultimately, it's not the arrests themselves that will test the new government's commitment to democratic ideals and the rule of law so much as the Georgian judiciary's commitment to transparency and due process. On that count, issuing harsh judgments now would be premature, and could aggravate already raw feelings in Tbilisi, where many feel that the West was much too close to the UNM and often too passive to its excesses.
The accusatory and very public denunciations of the new government -- which overcame significant structural odds to win the elections, by the way -- can easily be construed by Georgian Dream as evidence that reflexively pro-UNM sentiments remain engrained in some quarters of the Western media and governments. From Georgian Dream's point of view, the UNM received little more than the rare wrist-slap during a tenure pockmarked with abuse, not to mention a war with Russia, yet the new government's attempt to bring those responsible to account draws howls of protest. Unfortunately, it would be hard to say that they don't have a point.
There's no question that democracy in Georgia still has a long way to go. UNM misrule aside, the new government's reactions and rhetoric fail to appreciate legitimate worries that Georgia is swinging from one autocrat to the next. Still, the burden of democratic maturity should rest with the West and not Georgia's six week-old government or its green prime minister. By all means, Tbilisi's actions should be monitored and held to its constitutional obligations, but it remains much too early to declare Georgia's first modern constitutional change of power a failure and risk alienating a Georgian leadership already sensitive to demonstrations of Western partiality. If the West is genuinely concerned about the fate of Georgia's political development, it's important to give Tbilisi the time and space to ensure due process is observed and justice is served.