In the 1863 short story “The Man Without a Country,” by Edward Everett Hale, U.S. Army Lieutenant Philip Nolan begrudgingly renounced his country after being charged with treason and was sentenced to spend the rest of his days at sea without ever again being able to set foot in the United States.
In the modern-day real-life version of the story, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili willingly surrendered his original nationality three years ago in order to assume Ukrainian citizenship and serve under that country’s current president, Petro O. Poroshenko, as a regional governor.
But last week, the bizarre saga of Saakashvili’s patriotic beau gest of public service took an even more bizarre turn when the two men had a political parting of the ways and Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship, leaving him stateless.
The seething tensions between the two men are rooted in Ukraine’s tradition of rampant and seemingly uncontainable corruption, which was one of the main motivations for the former Soviet republic’s 2014 revolution that led to the overthrew of a pro-Russian administration.
Back in the early 1990s, Georgia experienced a similar spate of post-Soviet-era corruption, but has since — for the most part — managed to contain that surge in graft and malfeasance through political openness and fiscal transparency.
Consequently, Saakashvili and several other Georgian officials who had been the chief architects of their country’s corruption cleanup decided to offer their fiscal expertise to their politically ailing neighbor.
Working in close conjunction with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the former Georgians and a group of their Ukrainian colleagues set up a special bureau to fight corruption and clean up Kiev’s complex web of payoffs and racketeering.
At first, that was all well and good with the Ukrainian head of state, and it made for good international public relations for Kiev … until Poroshenko realized that the ban on bribery and profiteering not only applied to his political foes, but also to himself and cohorts.
When Saakashvili and his band of do-gooders saw that Poroshenko and his gang were circumventing the bureau’s new transparency regulations, the Georgians began to lose faith in the Ukrainian government and voiced their disapproval publicly.
Long story short, earlier this year, Saakashvili resigned his post as governor and established his own Ukrainian political opposition movement, an act that did not go over well with Poroshenko, who then decided that, as president of the country, what he had giveth he could also take away.
Hence, Saakashvili lost his Ukrainian citizenship and became a modern-day Philip Nolan.
Saakashvili is now engaged in an international media campaign to embarrass Poroshenko into restoring his Ukrainian nationality and implementing the transparency guidelines his bureau set up.
But, so far, Poroshenko is not budging, and he is about to expel the former Georgian from Ukrainian territory.
The moral of the story is one that is often repeated in contemporary politics: No good deed goes unpunished, so stay home and let your neighbors sort out their own messes.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].