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Tornike Adamashvili: The reasons of low civic awareness in Georgia

Higher civic awareness makes people free and independent. Such people know how to defend their rights and are able to assume responsibility for protecting the rights of the others. They participate, on an equal basis with the others, in the decision-making process and they are well aware of their role and place in the country's political, economic, social and cultural life. They believe that just citizens determine the political climate in a country.


Unfortunately, the level of civic awareness is still rather low in our country. A number of serious obstacles impede the development of civic awareness in Georgia. The first to be mentioned - and taken into consideration - are problems related to culture and mentality.

One of them is the legacy of the Soviet past.Soviet citizens are usually portrayed as inert, conformist and largely apolitical.One of the main objectives of the Communist-led brutal repressions was to annihilate truly responsible and law-abiding citizens, not only intelligentsia and cultural workers as some historians often claim. Intellectual and highly educated people were deemed a danger to the state because of their ability to critically assess and analyse the Communist government's policies. Once they were eliminated, the Communist rulers embarked on a mission to create a new generation of citizens, obedient and easy to manipulate by the Soviet propaganda (social realism). Deliberate creation of stereotypes proved highly instrumental in achieving this goal. Many of these stereotypes are still alive today. "Obey whoever is placed in charge, even if it is a stick" - I have often heard our elders say. The key part of the saying is "placed in charge". It was apparently designed to get Soviet citizens used to the idea that their leaders were to be "placed in charge", not elected by the people.

Religion is another serious obstacle to the civic awareness raising efforts. The above-described formal Soviet values still hold - and became even stronger in some cases - largely thanks to influence of the church. Obedience is the most vivid example. In a strict hierarchy of obedience practiced by the church, believers are supposed to have faith in whatever the clerics tell them, strictly follow their every "instruction" and accept infallibility of the church leaders without second thoughts (despite acknowledging that not all its priests are suited for the job, the Church sticks to its dogmatic hierarchy of obedience). Regular churchgoers have no voice in church management, while cultural programs and discussions are largely formal (taking the form of a monologue or a prayer). That is why the citizens have gradually grown accustomed to the idea that someone else will make decisions for them and tell them what to do.  With such a mentality, it's not surprising that people prefer to abstain from participation in social and political life.

The Georgian government is doing little to promote and raise civic awareness in the country. In the opinion of some Georgian citizens, the best thing the government can do is not to stand in the way of the development of civil society. But it's a fallacious argument, since it is just the government's responsibility to create an environment where people could organise themselves, realise their potential fully and successfully participate in political processes. In reality, the government is doing the opposite, trying to exclude the citizens from political life. Mass media coverage is a good case in point. In the programs of leading TV channels open discussion and debate has given way to "window-dressing" and zealous pro-government propaganda. Residents of the regions have no access to pro-opposition media. The government has established a new tradition: an extensive publicity campaign for the launch, amid much fanfare, and progress of large scale state-funded projects (whether a city infrastructure renovation, a cultural program, or adoption of a new law). But this "tradition" does not help to foster citizens participation and engagement.The local self-government is very inefficient and its functions are largely formal, since the Georgian state is increasingly centralised. Residents of Zugdidi may want to have a new arts centre in their city, but the government in Tbilisi decides to build a new hospital there instead. Such approaches erode civic awareness.

Unfortunately, the Soviet mentality is well and alive in Georgia.

 

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