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  Georgia: new revolution, overturn or ordinary disorders?

Marius Ëmuþis
2011 07 25

During the first decade of Independence Georgia didn’t become a liberal democracy and now pursues the same goal of having peaceful revolutions. The Rose, Orange and Tulip revolutions seemed to bring certain post-Soviet states to the embrace of the West, but the winners of these revolutions didn’t manage to ensure neither political nor economic stability of their countries.

Two major protest campaigns took place in Georgia after the Rose Revolution. The demonstration and its dispersal at the end of May 2011 was the third major event in the “post-revolution” Georgia.

In 2007 mass opposition protests were organized in Tbilisi, however they were suppressed after declaring a state of emergency. The police used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. Mikhail Saakashvili said that he will not resign but promised to call early elections in January 2008 and shortened his term by one year.  Organization of the above elections was a brave step: although Saakashvili won the elections with 53 percent of the vote, it was less than in 2004 when he received 96 percent of the vote. But Georgia didn’t turn its back on the leader of the Rose Revolution.

The events of May 2011 and November 2007 in Tbilisi were very similar: protesters required resignation of President, demonstrations were dispersed by the police. In 2007 President submitted, whereas the protests of this year didn’t give any results, though quite many protesters were equipped with metal sticks (for “self-defense” purposes).

The protesters had a permit to hold a rally on 25 May in the Square of Liberty and in Rustaveli Avenue that expired at midnight. This was the main official pretext for a dispersal of the demonstration. The protesters were expected to free the place for the anniversary of the Independence Day in Georgia to be celebrated on the next day. Since protesters didn’t leave the place after the midnight, the riot police started “clearing” the square and avenue. Nearly 40 people were injured and two persons killed (one of them police officer). According to witnesses, both victims were killed by a speeding car carrying the opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze, who announced the “start of a revolution” in Georgia.

What happened then? Do the recurrent uprisings in Georgia mean the fall of the ideals of the Rose Revolution? Or is it the start of a Silver  (Anti-Rose) revolution? Or maybe an unsuccessful uprising inspired from abroad?

Although Georgia is a democratic state, the ”quality” of its democracy is not very high. Quite often observers of human rights call Georgia a “repressive democracy”.  They speak about the danger to human rights due to certain amendments to the law, especially amendments on assembly and manifestations. Although in principle Georgian media is controlled by the Government, the opposition press is also permitted, including TV channel “Maestro”, the owner of which is the leader of one of the opposing parties.

It could seem that such a ”repressive democracy” doesn’t comply with the objectives of the Rose Revolution. But the nature of rose is dual: when choosing this flower as a symbol of revolution Mikhail Saakashvili might have made a mistake by highlighting not only possible major victories but also the expected challenges. For a young state with no democratic life experience it is not easy to develop an effective liberal state in a couple of years, and to ensure its well-being. Mikhail Saakashvili managed to reduce corruption, the evil which made people rebel against Eduard Shevardnadze. According to the Transparency International’s corruption perception index (CPI), in 2003 Georgia ranked 124th, and moved up to 67th in 2008. During the recent years the index didn’t change.

Saakashvili is still popular in Georgia, and this means that people still support him. Participants of the recent protests are not the aggressive youth but mostly the elderly people who can hardly find their means of subsistence. One could hear a nostalgic post-soviet rhetoric from these people, and some of them call this a Silver revolution since its main participants are silver-haired people.

Meanwhile young people do not want to return to the times of crimes and corruption of 2003. Thus, the opposition cannot rely on them, though the leader of these protests Nino Burdzhanadze did expect the support of youth. The opposition cannot also rely on other political forces, since they are very fragmented in Georgia and cannot reach an agreement concerning the future of the country. Some opposition members are of the opinion that it is necessary to weaken president’s powers, the others support a parliamentary republic. There also exists a monarchist movement.

In such a situation it is difficult to speak about the fall of the ideals of the Rose Revolution, though the leader of the above revolution Nino Burdzhanadze has turned her back on Mikhail Saakashvili and shows some contempt for him. This could be treated as a military rhetoric which is necessary in order to shake more radical masses.

Is a real Silver Revolution possible, and what are the capacities of the opposition?  Georgia is used to various uprisings. But during the former protest campaigns nobody spoke about a revolution. Georgia’s opposition is so fragmented that leaders of the opposing parties Burdzhanadze and Gachechaladze don’t communicate at all. The other wing of the opposition is strictly against violence and revolution: I.Alasanija, who supported the protests of 2009 is now against such actions. He and another oppositionist G.Targamadze expect the support of the majority of population during the future elections.

Thus, a radical opposition is apt to rely on a spontaneous dissatisfaction of population. People are dissatisfied with the inflation and bad living conditions in Georgia, but the majority of young people and middle-age citizens evaluate Mikhail Saakashvili’s achievements compared to the times of corruption under the leadership of Eduard Shevardnadze.  Thus the opposition practically has no chance to hold another “colored” revolution with only 2-5 thousand protesters.

Meanwhile Georgia’s government has a possibility to pursue a popular policy: to increase pensions/social guarantees from September and reform the army and the system of internal affairs. Georgia has only started recovering from crisis, thus, budget cuttings or additional expenditures might shake the masses. Another possible scenario for Georgia is the so called “Putin Scenario”: president who has no right to run for a third term, would move into the role of prime minister and retain the actual power via his frontman in the post of president. This is best reflected in the recently adopted amendments to the Constitution giving more powers to prime minister. However, realization of the above scenario might irritate Washington.

Were the May events in Tbilisi inspired from outside? Speaking at the Anniversary of the Independence Day, Mikhail Saakashvili said that opposition forces tried to disrupt the military parade and destabilize situation in the country on a scenario written from outside. He probably had Russia in mind, since, according to president, “they wanted to suppress our freedom and revenge our army, which in 2008 made them suffer more damage than they have suffered for dozens of years”.

Georgian interior minister also tried to relate the May uprisings to Russia. According to a the record of telephone conversation between Nino Burdzhanadze and her son Anzor Bicadze, they discussed the plan of actions if special forces dared to attack the protesters.  Nino Burdzanadze said that “we have to withstand the first strike, and then let them deal with the GRU special task forces”. But Nino Burdzhanadze says this recording is fake.  During one of her interviews she said that she was not expecting Russia’s support and that her relations with Moscow are not clear. Everybody remembers her pro-Russian speech where she said that in the 2008 war Georgians bombed Gori themselves!

According to Russian political observer A.Skakov, for Russia there is no need to hold uprisings or destabilize situation in Georgia. Russia would prefer to see a fully disgraced Saakashvili.  Besides, with the current president and the state of war with Russia Georgia will not be accepted to NATO.

Realization of the uprising theory inspired by Russia is possible but if the protesters received support from outside they would have better prepared for the uprising. Moreover that leaders themselves are skeptical toward Russia, and prevailing Russophobic moods in the country would not allow to control the country.

Recently, the United States changed its position toward Georgia. In the G.Bush era Georgia used to receive substantial support from the U.S. and was the U.S. partner in the Afghanistan war (deployed 1000 troops). Though the United States and Europe are still supporting Georgia, president Obama probably thinks that Saakashvili’s decisions are not always adequate, besides, his personal qualities irritate Russia (president Dmitry Medvedev called him “lunatic” and “bastard”).

We could hardly today speak about Georgia’s turn off the achievements of the Rose Revolution. Even if Mikhail Saakashvili or his frontman are not elected in the coming elections, the powers moving the national foreign policy toward Russia would hardly take their position. There is real opposition for Saakashvili, but this opposition is not united. Its radical wing wants a new revolution, and a more moderate wing is looking forward to new elections, and this only confirms the determination of Georgian politicians not to destroy what has been achieved after 2003. If opposition is not unified or supported by wide masses, occasional protests wouldn’t result in mass revolts and would give rise to plot theories about the uprisings prepared outside.

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