Georgia: rebels without a programme

April 15th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

In Georgia, the [protests]( continue: [small rallies](, alongside attempts to blockade the streets outside parliament and other official buildings. Day in, day out, there are still several thousand people involved in the protests, an impressive show of strength.
The problem is the leadership; as [Paul Rimple]( writes:
>I’d really like to sympathize with the opposition, but these people must understand what a grave responsibility they bear when talking to thousands of tired and angry people. If you are a leader, people depend on you to guide them. If you don’t know what you are leading them towards you have no reason to be sitting in the chair.
They have genuine grievances. Problem is, they won’t allow any avenue to resolve them, short of toppling the government. They’ve rejected out of hand suggestions of directly elected mayors, and of a coalition government. They aren’t putting forward demands of their own, except for the unachievable one of complete power.
And if, somehow, they did manage to oust Saakashvili? The new president would instantly be beseiged by the same crowd of disaffected politicos, and there’s no reason to expect any better behaviour from the protest leaders than from Saakashvili. My instinct is usually to support protesters, but in this debacle I don’t see much to admire anywhere.
By the way, [here]( are [some]( [blogs]( following the protests.
ETA: Judging by the [Global Voices roundup](, more or less every other blog has the same view. Doesn’t mean we’re right, of course.

Georgia protests: Friday

April 10th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

This probably won’t be as detailed as [yesterday](’s blogging, but I’ll try to keep an eye on what’s happening in Tbilisi today.
Friday 1300: Overnight, a [few hundred]( protesters maintained a vigil outside the parliament, [blocking]( the street there (( Saakashvili was [scheduled]( to give a speech at 1200; he [refused to step down](, and [called]( for ‘dialogue and sharing responsibility’. [Extracts here]( The opposition have [demanded]( Saakashvili’s resignation before 1600.
1630: [Plans]( to hold riots in more areas around Tbilisi. Saakashvili [proposes]( direct election of mayor of Tbilisi. [Shevardnadze]( “constructive dialogue between the authorities and opposition is impossible
1900: [some leaders]( call for civil disobedience . [More claims]( of roads into Tbilisi being blocked. [Russia]( increasing troop levels in Abkhazia? Gacheciladze, Burjanadze and others [repeat]( calls for Saakashvili to stand down
2000: The opposition groups seem to be splitting up, physically and tactically. At least Levan Gachicheladze and Kakha Kukava (Conservative) are calling for disobedience (without violence – they seem to mean blocking the roads) – see [Telegraph](, [Mosnews](, [RIA-Novosti]( Nino Burjanadze [wants]( to debate Saakashvili live on television.
Sat 0100: Opposition plan [daily blockades]( outside parliament, the presidential residence and the public broadcaster, 3-9 pm. Seeming difference between the protest leaders: Irakli Alasania (former UN ambassador, most popular of the protest leaders) and Nino Burjanadze are calling for dialogue, Levan Gacheciladze and Salome Zourabichvili focus on direct action.
Summary of Thursday: ~50,000 people on almost entirely peaceful protests ([GIPA]( and [RFE/RL]( [report]( some exceptions). ‘Wu Wei’ [writes](
>Our local staff came in this morning with reports that the Opposition was really badly funded compared with previously (from Patarkatsishvili), whereas the Government was really well organised. The Opposition had only paper banners, no free food was provided to keep people there, whereas the government had rounded up a load of taxis and paid them to take people away.

Georgia protests in detail

April 9th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

I don’t see anybody else doing a blow-by-blow account of the demonstrations in Tbilisi, so let me take a shot at it. Not sure how it’ll work out (or whether I’ll have the time/ability to stay on top of what’s happening):

Afternoon. The main demonstration has been pushed back an hour, 3pm rather than 2 (@zhvania). Protesters [move]( from Avlabari metro to the parliament square, where riot police [take up positions]( 15 EU/international govt. representatives [monitoring events]( from Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Situation Room, where there is [CCTV coverage]( of “all the main thoroughfares”.
At the rally, [Burjanadze]( ‘asked pardon that she was in power and could not protect population from tyranny’. [@zhvania]( reports that the crowds didn’t like [Nino Burjanadze](’s speech, and that [Gia Miasashvili]( called for changing the Georgian flag. “Eka Beselia, leader of the Movement for United Georgia party, called for acts of civil disobedience” ([source]( At the end of the main protests, the organizers [moved]( to the public broadcaster, complaining at the lack of live coverage. There, members of the Conservative Party, including Bezhan Gunava, [attempted]( to break through a police line.
According to the [Deputy Interior Minister](, the demonstrations were peaceful, there were no arrests, and the international observers were happy.
There was a [2000-strong demonstration in Batumi](, [led]( by Zurab Nogaideli, and [another in Poti](
They also [agreed]( to wait 24 hours before further action – supposedly to give the government a chance to respond.
Morning/day before: Democratic Movement – United Georgia [claim]( 60 activists arrested in Rustavi – [denied by government]( Government, opposition [jointly commemorate]( events on this day in 1989, when Soviet troops attacked demonstrators in Tbilisi, killing 20. [Claims]( that the road into Tbilisi has been blocked aren’t true, says [government]( and one [journalist]( Russia possibly [increasing troop levels]( in Abkhazia, with the protests as distraction. [Protest performance art]( “Fighting for one chair”
How many demonstrators?

  • Compare these estimates to the 15,000 who protested in late 2007, or to the 100-150,000 hoped for by the organizers
  • Mosnews: “At 1:50, the number of participants was estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000″
  • RIA-Novosti: “Reporters in Tbilisi estimate that a total of 100,000 people have so far joined the rally,” (at 1533 local time)
  • Hotnews citing AFP: “At least 50,000 people”
  • Georgian govt. twitter: “crowd estimate from press reports vary between 20,000 to 40,000″
  • Le Monde: at least 50,000 outside Parliament by 1400 local time
  • “Opposition leaders said over 100,000 people were gathered; but number of people gathered outside the Parliament is lower at about 3:30pm.”
  • Radio Netherlands (of all places): “more than 60,000 people”
  • Reuters initially reported 40,000, now upgraded to 60,000
  • Trend news: ‘over 30,000′
  • An assortment of claims
  • Georgian Daily: “More than 100,000″
  • Xinhua ” About 120,000 people”
  • These numbers may not match what is now on the linked pages; estimates are constantly being revised. They were accurate when I made each link
  • according to deputy interior minister “police estimated around 25,000 protesters at the rally – the number, however, was higher than the official figure, but less than opposition’s estimation of over 100,000.”

Statements: Former president Shevardnadze: “there will be problems during the demonstration” (@zhvania). Interior minister [Vano Merabishvili](): ““There is no chance of a revolution in Georgia… but my mood tells me there will not be violence” .[Patriarch]( of the Georgian Orthodox Church: “I appeal to the Georgian army not to use force under any circumstances“. USA [State Department]( “Peaceful protests are an important part of any democracy and an integral and acceptable way to express political views…The United States stands ready to sustain and deepen its support for… reforms“. [Salome Zurabishvili]( “it is the final test for the nation, and [everything] depends on the extent to which we are able to stand there calmly, prudently, and to the end“. EU presidency calls for “[maximum restraint](”; diplomats in Georgia for “[open dialogue](”
Blogs: [Global Voices]( is summarizing. [Ketevan22]( has some recent updates. A [photo-essay](
World media coverage: [New York Times](, [Guardian](, [Le Monde](, [Financial Times](, [BBC]( [Stratfor](’s analysis is surprisingly good, although it over-emphasises Russia.
[German coverage]( Focus, Spiegel, DW, sueddeutsche

Following Georgia online

April 9th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Here’s a rough online reading-list, of places to follow whatever happens in Georgia in the next few days



There aren’t so many English-language blogs in Georgia: [Tbilisi Calling]( and the newish [Tbilisi Blues]( are worth mentioning, though.
There is also a very promising project by journalism students at the Georgian School of Public Affairs, who are [covering]( the protests. See particularly the blogs by [Sherqqizi](, [Salome Kasradze](, [Vusula Alibayli]( and [Ketevan Vashagashvili]( So far these only have a couple of posts each, but the quality is pretty good.
[Global Voices]( and [Registan]( are useful when they cover Georgia, which is not all that often. [Here]( is the Global Voices roundup
[@zhvania] lists [some](, [of]( the [forums]( with discussion of the demonstrations.
No sign of much on Twitter so far, despite the tweeting from Moldova
Edit: Georgian twitter has, in fact, suddenly got going in the past day or so. #tbilisi seems to be the most common hashtag. @dv0rsky, @anano are in Georgia, @lingelien and @zhvania from outside. there’s @govtofgeorgia for the official line and @civilge for news. [all in English; there is a little Georgian-language action too]

Background and analysis

Some questions about the Georgian protests

April 9th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Obviously, I’m following today’s [protests in Georgia]( with interest. Not being there, it’s hard to get a feeling for what’s going on. I have no answers, but here are some of the questions forming in my head:

Is the country behind the protesters?

Most of the reporting I’ve seen concentrates on the political elites: the opposition leaders themselves, their key supporters, and the wonkish community of diplomats, NGO workers and the like. It’s hard to tell how much resonance their demands have with the rest of the country. naturally, they can demonstrate this by bringing a lot of people onto the streets.

Do they want the country?

Look at the demands. More power for the judiciary, respect for private property, a moderate line on Russia. Will Georgians support this? Sure, many will. But where is the talk about jobs, pensions, the cost of living – the kind of things you would raise to build a mass movement? Rather, the demands seem perfectly tuned to appeal to the world outside Georgia – the governments, the NGOs, the military concerned after last year’s war.

What about the world?

So, if the opposition care about outside support, will they be getting it? Here, they’re doing a decen job. [Salome Zourabichvili’s op-ed]( in the New York Times last week lays out the stall for the American policy community. Nino Burjanadze was last year already doing the rounds of Washington wonks. Now the US is being [very supportive]( of the demonstrators.

Politics, or Geopolitics?

The question of whether the demonstrators are counting on internal or external support can be rephrased: does politics matter? I usually believe it does. The balance of power in Tbilisi right now, for instance, depends very much on the peopel involved. But there’s an altenative, geopolitical take on this in which Georgia is just a pawn on the grand chessboard of power politics. So the US and Europe want Saakashvili out because he is likely to weaken Georgia – and hence American influence – by giving Russia an excuse to invade. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (briefly shut down by Russia during last year’s war) would doubtless also come into play. Personally, I don’t buy it. Foreign acceptance of the possibility of a putsch is crucial – had the US hinted it would step in and defend the elected Georgian government, Saakashvili would be sleeping easier. But foreign pressure to overthrow the government? I don’t think any major power, Russia aside, cares enough about Georgia to dabble like that.

What about Moldova?

[Nathan]( writes that “the interesting question will be how and whether events in Chisinau shape those in Tbilisi“. Which is a very interesting question. Superficially, they’re both quite inward-looking prot