At a time when the American authorities are planning to dismantle the police in Minneapolis, one country can serve as a textbook case: Georgia. One of the few nations that has managed to transform its corrupt police force into a model institution. All in record time.
We are in 2003. The Rose Revolution shakes the former Soviet republic of 4 million inhabitants, which became independent 12 years earlier. And brought to power a jurist trained in the United States: Mikhail Saakashvili, 36, at the time the youngest leader on the European continent.
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Man wants to go fast. To turn his back on the era of Edouard Chevardnadze, his predecessor, he tackles the most visible symbol of corruption: the police, whose members are nicknamed “bandits bandons”. A caste where you can buy posts, thriving on drug trafficking and kidnapping, but also reputed to extort from motorists.
80% of police officers dismissed within a few days
The “clean hands” operation took place in December 2003. In a few days, more than 30,000 police officers were dismissed, representing 80% of the country’s workforce. A large household that also affects the Ministries of Internal Affairs and State Security, two entities infiltrated by former KGB members. “Saakashvili wanted to strike fast and hard because he feared a counter-revolution coming from these circles,” said Thornike Gordadze, ex-deputy foreign minister under the former president. In some services such as customs, the purge quickly proved insufficient and it was soon the entire staff that had to be replaced.
At the same time, a large call for candidates is launched. Initially, without much success. Young people are wary and doubtful of the promised overhaul. The prospect of revalued wages nevertheless launched the movement. Because Saakashvili defends an idea: to overcome extortion, you have to inflate remuneration. New recruits are therefore rewarded with salaries ten to twenty times higher than those of their predecessors. And now receive almost $ 500 a month. Amounts paid by the foundation of the American billionaire George Soros.
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Consequently, graduates from various backgrounds, such as biologists or historians, join the police academy, also funded by the United States.
Saakashvili also wants to take care of their appearance. No more Soviet uniforms, the new police officers now wear western attire. They even have German cars and American radios.
New rules come into effect. During checks, drivers can stay in their car to avoid any risk of attack. A few years later, a law will even force the police to equip themselves with cameras intended to film the exchanges.
The reform is bearing fruit. The police became the third most respected institution after the Church and the military. Criminals finally fail in prison. To the point of tripling the prison population in five years … and improving the image of the country. Classified in 2003 at 124e rank of least corrupt countries, Georgia dates back to the 48e place a decade later. The initiative even arouses the interest of foreigners. At the time of the Arab Spring, Tunisian and Egyptian delegations thus travel to Tbilisi.
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The Saakashvili revolution has its downside, however. The tens of thousands of dismissed police officers are bitterly shelved. Many are retraining as taxi drivers. Others join the gangs with which they collaborated. “You could say that they were the main force opposing the government,” said former Georgian Minister Thornike Gordadze. In the demonstrations, they formed the most organized and violent groups. “
And then Saakashvili commits an error in judgment. By focusing on the police, he neglects another equally essential reform: that of the justice system, which has remained under orders. An abuse of power which will lead to his fall in 2013 and his departure from the country.