Accepted Paper:

Support for Civil Society Organizations in Georgia: Looking Back to Move Forward  


Nicole Wright (Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University)

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Georgia, with a particular focus on the support they receive from the United States. Given this focus, I assess the effectiveness of past U.S. initiatives directed toward Georgian CSO development and conduct a modified policy analysis to develop a policy recommendation. I use the case study method, as well as scholarly literature and program evaluations related to support for Georgian CSOs, to inform this recommendation. I identify three potential policy options for consideration: 1) The United States directly supports CSOs as a means of promoting democracy (e.g., through training and technical assistance initiatives and direct funding). 2) The United States does not directly support CSOs, but rather, directs funding toward interventions such as election monitoring and political process assistance. 3) The United States does not involve itself in civil society or democracy promotion in Georgia under any circumstances.

Based on my analysis, I recommend the first policy option, although with some additional nuance and caveats. I hypothesize that civil society performs best (and most faithfully to the will of the people) if it is allowed to develop more organically, with basic support and direction provided up front. However, if there is a threat to civil society, intervention may become necessary. To test this hypothesis, I examine the case of U.S. direct support to Georgian CSOs following the Rose Revolution (circa 2003-2004). This paper also analyzes my recommendation in the context of the current role of CSOs in the democratization and development of Georgia.

My work will inform readers about how we can better understand the role of Georgian civil society. Georgia is still in the process of consolidating its democracy, but has frequently been cited as a possible leader in the post-Soviet region. It is also a politically and geographically strategic partner in today's post-Soviet landscape, particularly in light of growing Russian intervention. At this time, there are still gaps in our understanding of whether (and how) CSOs can effectively operate in the modern post-Soviet space. There is a lack of consensus even amongst key resources and reports. Further, there is little consensus in both the research and policy communities on the best course of action for policymakers looking to strengthen CSOs and ultimately, promote democratization. This work aims to fill that gap with both recent history and the current state of Georgian civil society.

Panel POL-13
Regional Context and Local Transformations in the Caucasus