Georgia's Top Cop: Police Are More Popular Than the Government
He's naming no names, but outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev claims that Russia can’t follow the suit of some small countries (such as Georgia; nudge nudge, wink wink), and sack its entire (and legendarily corrupt) police force.
“Excuse me, but we are not a midget, a tiny little state that is sometimes brought to me as an example [of successful police reform],” Medvedev elaborated in an April 26 TV interview that some Russian media have termed his political swan song.
In one "tiny little state" south of Russia's border -- namely, Georgia -- the line from the Kremlin provided some grist to the government's ever-ready PR mill. And to its Policeman Number One, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili.
If the Russians hope that some of Georgia’s luck in reforming the police fobs off on them, “we are happy to help,” Merabishvili told the Georgian parliament on April 26.
But while its police overhaul still gives a major bragging point to the Georgian government, it is all too easy to look progressive and reformed given what kind of police forces are in the neighborhood. Shakedowns of drivers, public job-seekers and prisoners may have become a thing of the past, but a whole slew of domestic criticisms stands against the Georgian police, and the sheriff-in-chief was in parliament to address them.
The new complaints focus on abuse of authority by law enforcement officials and the government’s frequent reluctance to take matters in hand. Critics claim that the Georgian police have become a political instrument inseparable from President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration.
Dismissing the charges, Merabishvili sounded self-assured and firm on his feet. “The Georgian Interior Ministry enjoys an 87-percent public approval level,” he pointed out, citing a recent opinion poll. “All the political parties, including [the ruling] United National Movement, have lower approval ratings than the police.”
Such huge public trust and broad powers could mean that Minister Merabishvili will be here for some time to come. Georgia's October parliamentary elections will be the first time a prime minister will be chosen based on which party wins a parliamentary majority. Looks like a good time to see if the police can truly stay out of Georgia's partisan struggles.