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The Would-Be State: Reforms, NGOs, and Absent Presents in Postrevolutionary Georgia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017


In the wake of the 2003 revolution in Georgia, the speed of reform in the sphere of psychosocial aid meant that a range of international donors left the country, believing that the services provided by local NGOs, whom they had been supporting, were now taken over by the state. However, many of the reforms and institutional changes officially initiated during this period were never implemented. Hence, an array of present-day problems remained unresolved or untreated because they would be addressed by the state “in the future.” In this article, I refer to this as a would-be state: the condition of that which will be in the future and a state that gains its legitimacy by promising a better tomorrow. By rendering certain issues as unproblematic in future, the Georgian state has managed to make them appear to be unproblematic (and thus absent) in the present. I use this framework to engage in a wider discussion of the measures of success in eastern Europe's new democracies.

Ethnographies Of Absence In Contemporary Georgia
Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. 2014

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1 I owe my thanks to the anonymous reviewers for Slavic Review, as well as Elizabeth Cullen Dunn, Katrine Bendtsen Gotfredsen, Paul Manning, Anders Emil Rasmussen, Nanna Schneidermann, and Nina Holm Vohnsen, and my colleagues at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Andreas Bandak, Mikkel Bille, Lars Højer, and Michael Ulfstjerne, for their helpful suggestions, critiques, and comments on earlier drafts of this article. As a matter of confidentiality only first names are used throughout the article.

2 lim Nichol,“Georgia [Republic]: Recent Developments and U.S. Interests,” Central Asia, 25 May 2011, at (last accessed 20 January 2014). Slavic Review 73, no. 2 (Summer 2014).

3 See Frederiksen, Martin Demant, Young Men, Time, and Boredom in the Republic of Georgia (Philadelphia, 2013)Google Scholar, and Hodges, Matt, “Rethinking Time's Arrow: Bergson, Deleuze and the Anthropology of Time,” Anthropological Theory 8, no. 4 (December 2008): 399429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 Guyer, Jane I., “Prophecy and the Near Future: Thoughts on Macroeconomic, Evangelical and Punctuated Time,” American Ethnologist 34, no. 3 (2007): 409–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 This is an approach that is also evident in Simone Abram and Gisa Weczkalnys's work on the connection between planning and temporality in which they argue that“plans can operate as a particular form of promissory note,” or even as a form of performance, not least by governments. See Abram, Simone and Weszkalnys, Gisa, “Introduction: Anthropologies of Planning—Temporality, Imagination, and Ethnography,” Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, no. 61 (Winter 2011): 318.Google Scholar

6 See Tismaneanu, Vladimir, Fantasies of Salvation: Democracy, Nationalism, and Myth in Post-Communist Europe (New Jersey, 1998).Google Scholar

7 See, for instance, Ghodsee, Kristen, “Feminism-by-Design: Emerging Capitalisms, Cultural Feminism, and Women's Nongovernmental Organizations in Postsocialist Eastern Europe”, Signs 29, no. 3 (2004): 727–53;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Hemment, Julie, Empowering Women in Russia: Activism, Aid, and NGOs (Bloomington, 2007);Google Scholar Ishkanian, Armine, “Gender and NGOs in Post-Soviet Armenia”, Anthropology of East Europe Review 18, no. 2 (2000): 1721;Google Scholar and Philips, Sarah D., Women's Social Activism in the New Ukraine: Development and the Politics of Differentiation (Bloomington, 2008).Google Scholar

8 Ndoba's main donor at this time was the Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid (CORDAID), a Dutch foundation. Out of the €487,798 financing their 2006-08 programs, CORDAID had donated €383,590. The rest was received via various small contributions. Besides CORDAID, some of the NGO's programs had been temporarily supported by other international donors, such as the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and Save the Children, with whom they at times cooperated on local projects.

9 Ndoba, , Psycho-Social Aid System Development in Georgia: New Challenges (Tbilisi, 2005).Google Scholar

10 Dudwick, Nora, “No Guests at Our Table: Social Fragmentation in Georgia,” in Dudwick, Nora, Gomart, Elizabeth, Marc, Alexandre, and Kuehnast, Kathleen, eds., When Things Fall Apart: Qualitative Studies of Poverty in the Former Soviet Union (Washington, D.C., 2003), 213–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

11 1.2 million lari was approximately $600,000 in 2006.

12 To be sure, some of the many reforms advanced in this period did create much-needed improvement—for instance, in the police force—but in many instances implemen-tation was complicated by the speed with which it was carried out. See Dunn, Elizabeth Cullen, “The Chaos of Humanitarian Aid: Adhocracy in the Republic of Georgia”, Humanity 3, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 123;CrossRefGoogle Scholar lawad, Pamela, Democratic Consolidation in Georgia after the“Rose Revolution”? (Frankfurt, 2005);Google Scholar and Slade, Gavin, “The State in the Streets: The Changing Landscape of Policing in Georgia”, Caucasus Analytical Digest, no. 26 (26 April 2011): 69.Google Scholar

13 See also Dunn,“Chaos of Humanitarian Aid.”

14 For discussion of similar situations in other contexts, see Sampson, Steven, “The Social Life of Projects: Importing Civil Society to Albania,” in Hann, Chris and Dunn, Elizabeth, eds., Civil Society: Challenging Western Models (London, 1996), 121–42,Google Scholar and Hilhorst, Doro-thea, The Real World of NGOs: Discourses, Diversity and Development (London, 2003).Google Scholar Indeed, the future is not merely“performed” by governments but also by aid agencies, as shown in Weszkalnys, Gisa, “Hope and Oil: Expectations in Sao Tome e Principe”, Review of African Political Economy 35, no. 117 (September 2008): 473–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Unquestionably, such temporal logics may themselves serve as pitfalls in implementation processes.

15 See Stewart, Kathleen, “Still Life”, Ethnologia Europaea 35, nos. 1–2 (2007): 9196,Google Scholar and Whyte, Susan, “Subjectivity and Subjunctivity: Hoping for Health in Eastern Uganda,” in Werbner, Richard, ed., Postcolonial Subjectivities in Africa (London, 2002).Google Scholar

16 On constructions of social identity in Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, see Pelkmans, Mathijs, Defending the Border: Identity, Religion, and Modernity in the Republic of Georgia (Ithaca, 2006).Google Scholar

17 See Frederiksen, Martin Demant, “Insecurity and Suspicion in the Wake of Urban Reconstruction Projects in Batumi, Ajara”, Caucasus Analytical Digest, no. 38 (26 April 2012): 810,Google Scholar and Frederiksen, , “Heterochronic Atmospheres: Affect, Materiality and Youth in Depression”, in Dalsgaard, Anne Line, Frederiksen, Martin Demant, Meinert, Lotte, and Hojkund, Susanne, eds., Ethnographies of Youth and Temporality: Time Objectified (Philadelphia, 2014): 8197.Google Scholar

18 Verdery, Katherine, The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Postsocialist Change (New York, 1999), 122.Google Scholar See also Clark, Katerina, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual (Chicago, 1986).Google Scholar

19 Continuities of political practices from the Soviet Union have been widespread in Georgia. In the early years of independence this was evident in the fact that the same people serving in the new government and in various state institutions were often largely continuing work as they had done before. After the 2003 revolution this changed, as Saakashvili replaced most of the administration's employees in order to both eradicate corruption and sever links to Soviet practices. However, as several commentators have noted, political legacies continued. See Manning, Paul, “Rose-Colored Glasses? Color Rev-olutions and Cartoon Chaos in the Republic of Georgia”, Cultural Anthropology 22, no. 2 (May 2007): 171213;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Mitchell, Lincoln A., “Compromising Democracy: State Building in Saakashvili's Georgia”, Central Asian Survey 28, no. 2 (June 2009): 171–83;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Tudoroiu, Theodor, “Rose, Orange, and Tulip: The Failed Post-Soviet Revolutions”, Communist and Post-Communist Studies 40, no. 3 (2007): 315–42;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Wheatley, Jonathan, Georgia from National Awakening to Rose Revolution: Delayed Transition in the Former Soviet Union (Burlington, Vt., 2005).Google Scholar

20 Navaro-Yashin, Yael, “Make-Believe Papers, Legal Forms and the Counterfeit: Affective Interactions between Documents and People in Britain and Cyprus”, Anthropological Theory 7, no. 1 (March 2007): 80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

21 Ibid.

22 Aretxaga, Begoña, “Maddening States”, Annual Review of Anthropology 32, no. 1 (October 2003): 393410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Aretxaga herself notes how, in the context of Spain following the death of Francisco Franco, democracy came to serve as an object of desire holding the promise of a new, modern, European form of life but also, under the newly elected social-ist government, as a legitimizing discourse for a variety of authoritarian state practices. See Aretxaga, Begona, “A Fictional Reality: Paramilitary Death Squads and the Construction of State Terror in Spain”, in Sluka, James A., ed., Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror (Philadelphia, 2002), 4660.Google Scholar This perspective is also found in Michael Taussig's writings on the magic of the state. See, e.g., Taussig, The Magic of the State (London, 1997), and Taussig, , Walter Benjamin's Grave (Chicago, 2006).CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also Navaro-Yashin, Yael, The Make-Believe Space: Affective Geography in a Postwar Polity (Durham, 2012).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

23 See Frederiksen, Young Men, Time, and Boredom; Nielsen, Morten, “Futures Within: Reversible Time and House-Building in Maputo, Mozambique”, Anthropological Theory 11, no. 4 (December 2011): 397423;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Stewart, Kathleen, “Cultural Poesis: The Generativity of Emergent Things”, in Denzin, Norman and Lincoln, Yvonna, eds., Handbook of Qualitative Research, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2005), 1015–30.Google Scholar

24 Ssorin-Chaikov, Nikolai, “On Heterochrony: Birthday Gifts to Stalin, 1949”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12, no. 2 (June 2006): 355–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

25 Ibid., 366.

26 Fitzpatrick, Sheila, The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (Ithaca, 1992), 217.Google Scholar

27 See also Verdery, Political Lives of Dead Bodies; Fitzpatrick, Cultural Front; and Ssorin-Chaikov,“On Heterochrony.”

28 Dunn,“Chaos of Humanitarian Aid,” 2.

29 Ibid., 15.

30 Tismaneanu, Fantasies of Salvation, 3.

31 Ibid., 5.

32 Ibid., 28.

33 For an example of a similar“democratic Utopia” from a non-post-Soviet context, see Maj Nygaard-Christensen,“When Utopia Fails: Political Dream and Imaginaries of Democracy in Timor-Leste” (PhD diss., Aarhus University, 2010), and the examples given in Julia Paley's review article,“Toward an Anthropology of Democracy,” Annual Review of Anthropology 31 (October 2002): 469-96.

34 See Paley, , “Toward an Anthropology of Democracy”, 473, and Verdery, Katherine, What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next? (Princeton, 1996), 105 Google Scholar.

35 Bruckner, Till, Accountability in International Aid: The Case of Georgia (Bristol, 2011).Google Scholar

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