The passing of Kakha Bendukidze

Kakha Bendukidze, the brain behind the Georgian reforms under president Saakashvili, has died in London at 58. The Georgian reform team achieved something out of the ordinary in 2004-8: Georgia became the first post-Soviet country east of the Baltic where it was easy to start a business AND traffic cops did not take bribes. Although Russia’s Soviet and post-Soviet intellectuals have been sympathetic with Georgia for decades, it was once considered incorrigible as far as corruption was concerned. (Some Germans probably feel the same way about Italy.) But once Saakashvili stepped down after serving two terms and his party lost the parliamentary election in 2012, the new Georgian government brought trumped-up charges against some of the reformers and even imprisoned one of them, Vano Merabishvili.

Kakha Bendukidze advised the new Ukrainian government on economic reform; its inaction upset him enormously, much like it frustrated Pavlo Sheremeta, the economist who quit as economy minister in September. The problem was the government’s unwillingness to take unpopular measures such as eliminating energy subsidies, cutting government spending, firing superfluous government servants, and privatizing state-held assets. It could have changed since the Rada election because the cabinet, as well as the president, have a perfectly legitimate mandate now, but let’s not forget Yuschenko’s failure, for which Ukraine is now paying dearly. Populist economic policy can only push Ukraine back into Russia’s arms. Bendukidze explained what’s wrong with it in his possibly last interview, with Bloomberg on October 30.

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