Georgia's Budding Libertarian Movement
Editor’s Note: On October 24–30, the German Marshall Fund’s Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, in partnership with the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (Rondeli Foundation), led a study tour to Georgia for policy- and opinion-makers from the United States, Canada, and Europe to experience first-hand the political and societal undercurrents shaping the future of the country and the Caucasus. As well as observing the first round of presidential election, the delegation met with senior Georgian officials and representatives of political parties; the ambassadors of Germany and Sweden; staff from the U.S. embassy; Georgian Orthodox clergy; and members of the local media, civil society, and the business communities.
Amid the myriad campaign posters plastering Tbilisi in the lead-up to Georgia’s presidential election in October, there was an inconspicuous symbol of a potentially changing political tide: green pine-cone stickers. The pine cone, or girchi in Georgian, is the unassuming symbol and namesake of the former Soviet republic’s newest political disruptor – a libertarian party led by Zurab Japaridze. In a country plagued by an ever-looming Russian presence, corruption, media manipulation, harassment of civil society, and a reclusive oligarch who pulls the strings from a glass castle overlooking Tbilisi, Japaridze’s nascent libertarian movement is employing wildly nontraditional tactics to build a profile as an alternative to the nation’s toxic politics.
Japaridze’s Girchi party received only 2.5 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential contest, but this may only be the beginning of the story for Georgia’s libertarians. His goal was to run in order to create even more recognition for the party ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2020. Girchi could become a much-sought-after coalition partner for any party wanting to form a governing majority in the next parliament. This strategy might pan out: several people in their twenties told me they wanted to vote for Girchi in the presidential election but thought it would be more strategic to throw support to the more serious opposition candidate to force a second round.