Yesterday came very sad news. The author of unprecedented liberal reforms in Georgia, entrepreneur, philantropist, teacher, visionary, and one of the most extraordinary human beings, Kakha Bendukidze passed away in the age of 58. I had the honour to know Kakha personally, although not very closely, so I thought I should share some of my thoughts.
The most memorable thing about Kakha was his frankness. He always said what he thought and as he thought it, bluntly and often very aphoristically. Perhaps, the most amazing words that he said were, “Everything is for sale, except conscience”. By this he meant that as the driver of the Georgian liberal reforms he would try to privatize as many government functions as possible but not for his or some politicians’ gain. Among other delightful turns of phrase I immediately recall were, “The only thing that should be owned by government is the Great Seal of the Realm” and “importing the institutions of civil society is like importing maturity”.
I called the reforms that Kakha managed to push through in Georgia unprecedented for a reason. I am not aware of another example of such an extensive, deep and fast economic liberalization. Among the most impressive measures were essential abolition of antitrust and labour law (both formally stayed on the books but just formally) but lots of other things have been achieved. He even tried to abolish the central bank but did not have time for it.
What was very unusual, though, was that, despite having been first a big businessman in Perestroika-era Russia and then a high-level statesman in Georgia, Kakha was never corrupted where almost anyone would have been. He always remained above all a teacher who was most excited when he could show people the truth, especially the truth of something which most people failed to see. Perhaps, his favourite project was the Free University of Tbilisi which he founded and in which he often lectured. And his students truly loved him.
His dedication to seeking and promoting the truth meant that he was a passionate enemy of stupidity. The thing you were most terrified of in his presence was to say something stupid. I remember how scared I was of exactly this when I first met him in a restaurant in Tbilisi in May 2010. But after getting to know him you realized that even when he was very angry with people, it was because he wanted them to reach their true potential.
When people like Kakha die I sincerely wish I could believe in the afterlife. But in tribute to his devotion to truth I cannot.