Interview with Dr. Christoph H. Stefes
CRIA: With regard to your comparative study of corruption in Georgia and Armenia, can you explain its different levels – i.e. where it takes place and in what way – in society? Whom or what does it affect most? Why?
Stefes: Let me first state that my research on corruption in Georgia focused primarily on the Shevardnadze era. I lived, worked, and researched in Georgia from February 1998 until June 1999. From what I could gather, under Georgia’s current president, Mikhail Saak’ashvili, the situation seems to have improved dramatically. Yet we have to keep in mind that Georgia started from an extremely low level of accountability. Under President Shevardnadze, corruption was the rule rather than the exception throughout the entire state apparatus, from the bottom to the top, from a rural police station to the Minister of Interior. State officials solicited and extorted bribes, misappropriated state funds, and protected corrupt colleagues from prosecution. It was truly a “system of corruption”, taking into account that corrupt activities were not only widespread but that these activities also followed numerous informal rules and norms that were embedded in myriads of networks connecting officials with each other as well as officials with citizens. It was generally understood that “lucrative” positions in the state administration – i.e. those positions that allowed officials to amass illegal income – were not given to the most qualified candidates but to relatives and individuals who paid for getting these jobs. Moreover, state officials colluded with each other. For instance, police, prosecutors, and judges shared bribes from citizens standing trial in return for an acquittal or a lower sentence. Citizens knew the rules of the game as well. Anyone who wanted to start a business, get a passport, avoid a ticket, or receive medical help in a brutal prison system knew how much (s)he had to bribe.