Libertarian party Girchi is known on the Georgian political scene for its original approach. It appears to have a growing appeal among younger voters tired of the more mainstream parties.
December 4, 2020 - Eva Modebadze- Articles and Commentary
Photo: eflon flickr.com
In many old and new democracies, the politicalnihilism of young people is a serious concern. Many young people find itchallenging to navigate the advancement of populist ideologies, economictension, fake news, media manipulation and distrust in politics at large. Inemerging Eastern European democracies, where for a long time politics has beenmonopolised by Soviet-style governance, young people have been marginalisedfrom meaningful political participation and disillusioned by the traditionalconduct of politics. While young peoples distrust in political institutionsoften results in lower turnout in elections and lowparticipation in local or national politics, one small political party in post-SovietGeorgia may have found a solution. This party is called Girchi, whichtranslates from Georgian to pinecone a symbol of freshness and enlightenment. Girchi, after just fouryears of political existence, mainly supported by young people, won 2.9 percent of the vote in the 2020 parliamentary elections. Even though most of the oppositionparties including Girchi declared the elections rigid and refused to enter theparliament, it does not change the fact that the party managed to secure atleast four mandates in the 150-strong parliament, outnumbering many larger andexperienced political parties.
Libertarian Girchi is well-known for its grotesque and extraordinary, even slightly freakish, actions, such as opening a brothel in its headquarters, planting marijuana seeds, begging for money at the presidential palace in protest, renting out the leader Zurab Japaridze for New Years Eve, placing a campaign Ad on PornHub and establishing a religious organisation with the sole purpose of helping young men avoid compulsory military service. However, behind its outlandish behaviour, Girchi has a clear political agenda based on libertarianism and classical liberalism advocating for liberty as a fundamental principle, small and transparent government with less bureaucracy and economic liberalism. Girchis liberal democratic formula is simple: economic deregulation leads to prosperity, and prosperity is a prerequisite of democracy and welfare.
Of course, itwould be wrong to assume that we need parties like Girchi because they offersolutions to various crises that current political systems face. Girchissuccess formula seems even too simplistic deregulationof the economy cannot be the panacea for the countrys prosperity. Moreover,Girchi has little to offer when it comes to healthcare, social security,womens participation in politics and environmental problems. However, the politicalpluralism that Girchi offers is essential in challenging the conception thatpolitics is the work of men and women in suits. With its open distrust in Soviet-style biggovernment and the old-fashioned way of conducting politics, on numerousoccasions the party has presented itself as a channel for Georgian youthpolitical participation. With its honesty, complete absence of populism anddevotion to the partys liberal ideals, Girchi managed to enter the mainstream,bringingfreshness into redefining and challenging how politics can and should be done. By that, Pinecone has become anacceptable political force not only to those with the same outlook on politics,but also to some die-hard leftists like myself.
Explaining Girchis success
Before trying to understand Girchis success amongst the young population, the term youth needs to be defined. Who is the youth in Georgia? There are at least three widely-used definitions of youth as a life stage, as a social group and as a generation. In Georgia, youth can be primarily defined as a generation of people born after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the independent country of Georgia. If we borrow the EUs usage of the term, this classification combines Generation Y people born in the 1990s and Generation Z (born in the 2000s).
Young people are considered to be holders of certainvalues and attitudes, sometimes completelydifferent from those of older generations. Some studies underline that youthtend to be more progressive and democratic. This is especially visible in manypost-Soviet states, including Georgia. Even though young peoples values andattitudes largely depend on the social groups and institutions in which theysocialise, with increasing access to the internet and digitalisation, youngpeople are less dependent on the social groups around them, whether it befamily, friends or local community. The changes brought by wide access toinformation and, of course, the disappearance of Soviet ideology made the youthmore independent decision-makers.
Girchi successfully took advantage of rapiddigitalisation and based its pre-election campaign entirely on the internet. Bydoing this, the party also made an indirect focus on younger supporters, whoare generally more digitally-educated consumers of the internet. Interestingly,for the 2020 parliamentary elections Girchi refused to have paid commercialson TV, billboards or any other paid advertisements. Instead, the party basedits entire campaign on GirchisFacebook Page,attracting supporters with creative videos and hashtags # (#historicalvideos) and # (#girchiintheparliament).The leader of the party, Zurab Girchi Japaridze (who added Girchi as his middlename as a tribute to the party), explained this decision by simply statingthat Facebooks free platform was the way to go since they did not haverecourses for an expensive election campaign. It has to be mentioned thatGirchi functions entirely from donations. The list of donors is transparent andavailable to the broader public. Furthermore, after donating, each donorbecomes Girchis partner and gets GeD (Girch Digital Currency) equivalent to thedonated amount, which means that every donor gets involved in Girchispolitical functioning.
The leader of the party explained the partys success by stating, Girchi has the most sincere and heartfelt supporters, who believe in the party idea. Japaridze says that none of the other political parties in Georgia have as many people sincerely devoted to the core idea as they do in Girchi. Indeed, Girchis internet campaign was the opposite of populism and was entirely dedicated to ideas of classical liberalism. Instead of giving appealing promises about social benefits in a country where the average salary is around 300 euros, Girchi advocates for an idea that is not very popular state deregulation in every aspect, letting the invisible hand decide.
With not so appealing messages for the wider public, Girchi has been an avid advocate of the youths increased participation in politics. The party even released a video explaining what happens when young people do not vote. The video narrates, Just because you do not go to elections, politicians give promises to your grandmas and grandpas. Because young people do not vote, informs Girchi, politicians target older voters by focusing on raising pensions. The video claims that the fact that politicians are neither speaking to nor caring about young people getting a better education, having decent jobs nor enjoying their lives is the result of young people not voting in elections. Japaridze believes Girchi is the party of the future, and hopes to attract voters who support decentralisation and minimalisation of state power. Girchis pacifist rhetoric and active support of non-violence in a country with two unresolved territorial conflicts and the experience of civil war proved successful among younger liberal-minded youth. Asked the question of which political party stands closest to you, 40 per cent of Georgians aged between 18-35 say that there is no party, while 5 per cent support Girchi, making it the third party after the two mainstream parties Georgian Dream and United National Movement. Amongst supporters of Girchi, not surprisingly, 84 per cent are aged between 18-35, 12 per centbetween 36-55 and only 4 per cent above 56.
Which party is closestto you? (2019)
Source:CRRC, Caucasus Barometer
Why do we need parties like Pinecone?
So why do we need parties like Girchi? There is nodoubt that citizens inclusive political participation and their ability toinfluence political decision-making is one of the key tenets of democraticpolitics. Increased inclusion of the youth in the formal political process notonly upholds key principles of democracy, but also increases representativeness.That is why liberal-minded parties like Girchi are essential in building thetrust of younger voters in the political system, empowering them to participatein formal political processes and offering a brand-new outlook on the conductof politics, without challenging core democratic values.
Throughout recent decades, European politics has seen increasing popularity of far-right and far-left populist parties. Anti-globalisation, Euroscepticism, protectionism, objection to elitism and support for expanding the welfare state have been common features of parties from both ends of the ideological spectrum. Considering these trends, post-Soviet Georgias Girchi has the potential to become an example of how to bring freshness into staggering European democracies and unite the youth around core libertarian principles. Even though Girchis socially-irresponsible policies, support for marijuana legalisation and other ludicrous statements make it unattractive to older generations, especially in conservative Georgia, it is important that Girchi offers a solution for disenfranchised and disillusioned youth to see alternative politics without having to resort to radical forms of populism or complete nihilism. Girchis anti-establishment attitudes are not just old wine in a new bottle Pinecone utilises a completely new toolkit for alternative politics. This new toolkit is based on strong support for the idea that creativity can be useful in attracting youth to meaningful political participation and lending their voices to the formal decision-making process.
Eva Modebadzeis a postgraduate student at the International Masters programme in Central and Eastern European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (CEERES) at the University of Glasgow, UK. Her particular field of interest includes gender and security studies in the post-Soviet space.
Dear Readers -New Eastern Europe is a not-for-profit publication that has been publishing online and in print since 2011. Our mission is to shape the debate, enhance understanding, and further the dialogue surrounding issues facing the states that were once a part of the Soviet Union or under its influence.But we can only achieve this mission with the support of our donors.If you appreciate our work please consider making a donation.
Georgia, Georgian politics, South Caucasus, Youth
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