One more response to Boing Boing post on "Police Pad" gadgets in Georgia, by Some Guy from Georgia

People walk past graffiti on a street in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Jan. 13, 2012. (REUTERS)

Editor's Note: In response to an anonymously-sourced wisecrack we published about police corruption in former Soviet states, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs responded with a statement, which we published in full. A Boing Boing reader from Georgia also asked to respond to the anonymously-sourced wisecrack, with which he takes issue. Like the wisecracker, this person requests anonymity.

The police in Georgia are definitely not fat or lazy. They are not corrupt on the street level, either. But the whole system still retains elements of corruption  (in enforcement, in the judiciary, and in the legislative realm). The problem lies more in the definition of corruption: the fact that you can no longer bribe the policeman in the streets or at the sovereign borders does not mean everything is crystal-clean.

The fact that citizens are still afraid  of police in Georgia as if they were monsters is still an expression of the damage of corruption. The fact that you can be imprisoned for smoking pot weeks before actually being tested by cops (because you might seem suspicious to them, not because you've been caught smoking pot) is a kind of corruption, I believe.

There is a terrible feeling of vulnerability in Georgia. Police are still used as a tool to terrorize people and make money, but these days, paying bribes to individual policemen is no longer normal.

Georgian policemen stand to attention during a daily shift change at the Interior Ministry in Tbilisi, Jan. 12, 2012. (REUTERS)

There are lots of pros and cons about the reforms in Georgia, but still, no—the "fat lazy cops" comment was not fair. The police have changed greatly for the positive.

At least you don't have to pay mandatory bribes to drive around any more; the government fought very effectively against organized crime and turned Georgia into what is almost a drug-free country. In the past, the city was covered in used syringes. You could buy heroin as easily as bread.

Now, the city is clean, and it is very hard to buy any kind of drugs. I really appreciate this, as may of my friends have stopped using heavy drugs over the past two or three years.

An employee assembles a "Police Pad" at the production line of the Algorithm factory in Tbilisi January 11, 2012. Five thousand police officers will receive portable field computers assembled at this factory, according to local media. (REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili)


  1. Some empirical data on corruption and the state of democracy is in the Global Integrity Report: Georgia, which I worked on.

    The summary: 

    Although partisan politics continue to influence the make-up and function of government in Georgia, there have been improvements in the responsiveness of government agencies to citizen concerns. Most government documents can be accessed within a reasonable amount of time and cost. With the help of new whistle-blower protections, the ombudsman’s office has built a reputation with the public for its responsiveness, “even though the government is reluctant to cooperate with it.” The parliament’s approval of a new “semi-autonomous” anti-crime unit within the Ministry of Finance this year has the potential to strengthen the network of anti-corruption agencies decentralized across the Georgian government. The government also made overtures to civil society groups in 2009 by increasing CSO involvement in policy debate and creating an anti-corruption alliance under the Ministry of Justice which included CSOs. However, doubts remain about the true impact of government consultation with CSOs. Power is tightly consolidated in the executive branch, where levels of accountability are low and the activities of the ruling party are mixed with those of the state.

  2. Those sound like legitimate gripes, but they aren’t really what I’d call corruption. The mindless money-grubbing stems from holes in the law books rather than truly subversive grift. Given Georgia’s prior drug problems, it’s understandable that they’re a bit overzealous about drug enforcement now. Maybe they can be persuaded to relax those laws a bit if legislators actually listen to their constituents.

  3. All this reasonable discussion and use of evidence makes me despair for the future of the internet.

    What’s the world coming to when an internet discussion doesn’t immediately devolve to multiple angry keyboard warriors spouting grammatically-challenged nonsense and incoherent threats?

    Especially distressing is a government agency responding to a blog post with a well thought through (though somewhat self-serving) rebuttal rather than the traditional legal threats.

    I feel like the my intertubes are turned upside-down. Hold me, catgifs.

  4. The soldering iron used by that assembly-line worker reminds me of the one I used as a child. I have never seen an iron of that low quality used in any commercial electronics work area before this photo. But then,  I don’t live in post-Soviet Georgia.

  5. I agree with the comments on drug use, I know people unfairly incarcerated for small scale gardening, but it is amazing to see friends come back from the dead in terms of heroin use and become successful musicians and parents again. I also think it is terrible that people can arrested and held for suspected drug use without testing and I want it stopped (along with the random drug testing of pedestrians).
    However, I am astounded by the line, “There is a terrible feeling of vulnerability in Georgia. Police are still used as a tool to terrorize people.” This statement is unsupported by reference to anecdote or data (perhaps it was edited out for brevity) and it absolutely does not jibe with my experience here in Georgia.  

    One of my friends is a vehement and outspoken critic of the government in Georgia and I used to plead with him to write a blog or articles for newspapers instead of just sounding off on Facebook in order to give him political protection as a journalist. However he insisted that he was in no danger of arrest or being fired from his high status job for his political activity and did not feel terrorized or have a “terrible feeling of vulnerability.” No one else seems to feel terrorized or particularly vulnerable either, unless they are drunk driving, evading taxes or camping out in front of Parliament. Activity permitted in no country that I know of.  

    Before I came home to the US last month after a long absence, I was a bit obsessed with the militarization of the police, the SWAT home invasions, CCTV, and the draconian anti-terror and drugs laws — partly due to the excellent journalism at BoingBoing.  Somehow I thought things in my homeland would seem different, that I would feel under the thumb of Big Brother or something, but as soon as I landed I realized none of these issues much applied to day-to-day life in the suburban world.  This is probably why most Americans don’t really care about intrusive law enforcement and the “revocation” of Habeas Corpus, because it doesn’t really affect their lives. So far.  

    It’s the same in Georgia, most people don’t feel vulnerable or terrorized because they are not.  Are some of the laws and they way they are enforced a danger to freedom and democracy?  Yes.  Does the west have similar issues?  Absolutely.    

    Allowing two separate anonymous sources slag a country and suggest it is a unsafe place to visit because you will be hit up for bribes by fat, corrupt cops or because people feel “terrorized” has the form of an editorial attack, especially when more developed nations have similar issues. When a tiny country in a bad neighborhood is struggling so hard and has many poor and unemployed people, it seems callous to paint such an unflattering picture without solid grounding-in and reference-to facts and data. What people here need is investment and tourism not casual slander and fear-mongering by anonymous sources whose very anonymity is an indictment. (Seriously, I’ve been publicly criticizing the Georgian government for years, the last thing they would do is retaliate against free speech, especially by a foreigner. Buy off the media, yes. Shut people up, no.)

    Bottom line – once again – Georgia is a 100% safe place to live, work and visit. Oh yeah, its also got medieval castles, glaciers, white-water, Black Sea resorts and was where wine was invented 3000 years ago.

    1. I’m in full agreement.  I’ve been in Georgia for 17 months – I actually taught English to police cadets for six months; they were mostly young, fit, and intelligent, and the ones who weren’t didn’t make it through training.  In my various travels through Georgia, I’ve always been impressed at how polite and earnest the police can be.  On a trip in East Georgia I was given free wine by police officers not once, but twice in three days – I wrote about some of it in a blog post:

      “… the police here are actually cool. Like, they’re nice, they’re helpful, they’re relaxed, and they’re real people, even when they’re on duty. The guy who helped us in Telavi is a great example, but it’s gotten to the point where I’m just used to it. It’s not even really remarkable any more when a police officer here goes out of their way to help me and my friends. I remember that on my second or third day here I was stunned at how friendly and helpful the police were – when I met those guys at Sameba who came over to talk to us – but now I can actually relax around police.” –

  6. I visited Georgia  this summer. Great nature, great people and culture. The soldiers guarding the border to Russia/Chechnya are nice and helpful. The policeman in Tbilisi metro couldn’t show the way to the main train terminal nor find it on a map even when it was only one metro stop away. Instead he started to look for his own home, then pointed in a few random directions and disappeared. Not judging the whole police force here, but this was a fun encounter.

    1. I find that people in Georgia generally have a lot of trouble giving directions, reading maps, and knowing the geography, on a local level, of anything other than the established routes they take from home to their popular destinations – and even those things, they get wrong at the level of articulation.  That said, there are exceptions, so to anyone looking for something in Georgia – ask a cab driver; they’re not infallible but you’ll have much better luck.

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