In Georgia, the [protests](http://ohuiginn.net/mt/2009/04/georgia_protests_friday.html) continue: [small rallies](http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11123&Itemid=133), 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](http://tbilisiblues.blogspot.com/2009/04/salome-ii-pure-genius.html) 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](http://kosmyryk.typepad.com/) are [some](http://caucasusreports.wordpress.com/) [blogs](http://tbilisiblues.blogspot.com/) following the protests.
ETA: Judging by the [Global Voices roundup](http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/04/14/concerns-emerge-over-protest/), more or less every other blog has the same view. Doesn’t mean we’re right, of course.
In Georgia, the [protests](http://ohuiginn.net/mt/2009/04/georgia_protests_friday.html) continue: [small rallies](http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11123&Itemid=133), 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.
This probably won’t be as detailed as [yesterday](http://ohuiginn.net/mt/2009/04/georgia_protests_in_detail.html#comments)’s blogging, but I’ll try to keep an eye on what’s happening in Tbilisi today.
Friday 1300: Overnight, a [few hundred](http://twitter.com/CivilGe/status/1486048262) protesters maintained a vigil outside the parliament, [blocking](http://www.pr-inside.com/georgian-protest-stretches-into-second-r1175852.htm) the street there ((http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20700)). Saakashvili was [scheduled](http://twitter.com/govtofgeorgia/status/1489227970) to give a speech at 1200; he [refused to step down](http://en.rian.ru/world/20090410/121048791.html), and [called](http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE5390P320090410) for ‘dialogue and sharing responsibility’. [Extracts here](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20699). The opposition have [demanded](http://www.russiatoday.com/Top_News/2009-04-10/Countdown_for_Saakashvili_begins_.html) Saakashvili’s resignation before 1600.
1630: [Plans](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20704) to hold riots in more areas around Tbilisi. Saakashvili [proposes](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20702) direct election of mayor of Tbilisi. [Shevardnadze](http://news-en.trend.az/politics/foreign/1454067.html): “constructive dialogue between the authorities and opposition is impossible”
1900: [some leaders](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7993844.stm) call for civil disobedience . [More claims](http://twitter.com/dv0rsky/statuses/1490352230) of roads into Tbilisi being blocked. [Russia](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20683) increasing troop levels in Abkhazia? Gacheciladze, Burjanadze and others [repeat](http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20705) 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](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/georgia/5137060/Georgia-protesters-plan-disobedience-campaign.html), [Mosnews](http://www.mosnews.com/politics/2009/04/10/964/), [RIA-Novosti](http://en.rian.ru/world/20090410/121057277.html). Nino Burjanadze [wants](http://www.mosnews.com/politics/2009/04/10/964//lev) to debate Saakashvili live on television.
Sat 0100: Opposition plan [daily blockades](http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav041009c.shtml) 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](http://caucasusreports.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/april-9-protests-the-day-after-coverage/) and [RFE/RL](http://www.rferl.org/content/Youth_Activist_Severely_Beaten_During_Georgia_Protests/1606145.html) [report](http://caucasusreports.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/3-activists-beaten-by-masked-men/) some exceptions). ‘Wu Wei’ [writes](http://kosmyryk.typepad.com/wu_wei/2009/04/april-9-demonstration-tbilisi.html):
>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.
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](http://twitter.com/govtofgeorgia/status/1482617453) from Avlabari metro to the parliament square, where riot police [take up positions](http://twitter.com/lingelien/statuses/1482658659). 15 EU/international govt. representatives [monitoring events](http://twitter.com/govtofgeorgia/status/1482856055) from Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Situation Room, where there is [CCTV coverage](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20677) of “all the main thoroughfares”.
At the rally, [Burjanadze](http://news-en.trend.az/politics/foreign/1453643.html) ‘asked pardon that she was in power and could not protect population from tyranny’. [@zhvania](http://twitter.com/zhvania) reports that the crowds didn’t like [Nino Burjanadze](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nino_Burjanadze)’s speech, and that [Gia Miasashvili](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgi_Maisashvili) called for changing the Georgian flag. “Eka Beselia, leader of the Movement for United Georgia party, called for acts of civil disobedience” ([source](http://caucasusreports.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/speeches-besalia-calls-for-civil-disodience/)) At the end of the main protests, the organizers [moved](http://ketevan22.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/protesters-meet-public-broadcaster/) to the public broadcaster, complaining at the lack of live coverage. There, members of the Conservative Party, including Bezhan Gunava, [attempted](http://caucasusreports.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/unrest-at-georgia-public-broadcasting/) to break through a police line.
According to the [Deputy Interior Minister](http://www.police.ge/en/curview.aspx?newsid=32805&categoryid=1), the demonstrations were peaceful, there were no arrests, and the international observers were happy.
There was a [2000-strong demonstration in Batumi](http://www.rferl.org/content/Tbilisi_Rally_Swells_But_Falls_Short_Of_Opposition_Hopes/1605668.html), [led](http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-04/09/content_11159620.htm) by Zurab Nogaideli, and [another in Poti](http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10997&Itemid=133)
They also [agreed](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20690) to wait 24 hours before further action – supposedly to give the government a chance to respond.
Morning/day before: Democratic Movement – United Georgia [claim](http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2009/04/20094992041682914.html) 60 activists arrested in Rustavi – [denied by government](http://police.ge/en/curview.aspx?newsid=32804&categoryid=1) Government, opposition [jointly commemorate](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20687) events on this day in 1989, when Soviet troops attacked demonstrators in Tbilisi, killing 20. [Claims](http://news-en.trend.az/politics/foreign/1453462.html) that the road into Tbilisi has been blocked aren’t true, says [government](http://twitter.com/govtofgeorgia/statuses/1482187143) and one [journalist](http://twitter.com/fieldreports/statuses/1482131852). Russia possibly [increasing troop levels](http://www.rferl.org/content/Russian_Troops_Entering_Abkhazias_Gali_Region_/1604998.html) in Abkhazia, with the protests as distraction. [Protest performance art](http://giorgipxacho.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/protester-profiles-artists-intellectuals-protest-in-advance-of-april-9th/) “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
- Civil.ge: “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
- Civil.ge: 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](http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i_V-7z_ktt1ky6SaiTA42wCx6qpg) of the Georgian Orthodox Church: “I appeal to the Georgian army not to use force under any circumstances“. USA [State Department](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20685): “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](http://www.rferl.org/content/Georgian_Opposition_Vows_To_Protest_As_Long_As_Needed_Until_President_Resigns/1604901.html): “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](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20674)”; diplomats in Georgia for “[open dialogue](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20676)”
Blogs: [Global Voices](http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/04/09/georgia-opposition-protests-2/) is summarizing. [Ketevan22](http://ketevan22.wordpress.com/) has some recent updates. A [photo-essay](http://alanaga.wordpress.com/2009/04/09/april-9-2009/)
World media coverage: [New York Times](http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/10/world/europe/10georgia.html?ref=global-home), [Guardian](http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/09/georgia-protests-mikheil-saakashvili), [Le Monde](http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/article/2009/04/09/l-opposition-georgienne-dans-les-rues-de-tbilissi_1178592_3214.html), [Financial Times](http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/50b97e2a-24f8-11de-8a66-00144feabdc0.html), [BBC](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7991026.stm). [Stratfor](http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20090408_georgia_revolution_simmering)’s analysis is surprisingly good, although it over-emphasises Russia.
[German coverage](http://georgien.blogspot.com/2009/04/nachrichten-georgien-zehntausende.html): Focus, Spiegel, DW, sueddeutsche
Here’s a rough online reading-list, of places to follow whatever happens in Georgia in the next few days
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
- Georgia Today
- Georgian Daily
- Institute for War and Peace Reporting
- Google News
- Georgian TV streams: Maestro, Rustavi-2
- Russian and Western sources: RIA Novosti, ITAR-TASS, New York Times
- Russian-language: Yandex, Livejournal
There aren’t so many English-language blogs in Georgia: [Tbilisi Calling](http://caucasusreports.blogspot.com/) and the newish [Tbilisi Blues](http://tbilisiblues.blogspot.com/) are worth mentioning, though.
There is also a very promising project by journalism students at the Georgian School of Public Affairs, who are [covering](http://caucasusreports.wordpress.com/) the protests. See particularly the blogs by [Sherqqizi](http://sherqqizi.wordpress.com/), [Salome Kasradze](http://sakos.wordpress.com/), [Vusula Alibayli](http://alibayli.wordpress.com/) and [Ketevan Vashagashvili](http://ketevan22.wordpress.com/about/). So far these only have a couple of posts each, but the quality is pretty good.
[Global Voices](http://globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/central-asia-caucasus/georgia/) and [Registan](http://registan.net) are useful when they cover Georgia, which is not all that often. [Here](http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/04/09/georgia-opposition-protests-2/) is the Global Voices roundup
[@zhvania] lists [some](http://www.forum.ge/), [of](http://forum.internet.ge/) the [forums](http://www.topix.com/forum/ge/tbilisi) 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
Obviously, I’m following today’s [protests in Georgia](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7991026.stm) 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](http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/04/opinion/04iht-edzourabichvili.html?_r=2) 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](http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10970&Itemid=133) 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](http://www.registan.net/index.php/2009/04/08/manna-from-the-blogosphere/) 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 protests. For instance, I don’t think either of them have much connection to the financial crisis. It’s tempting to fit them into a narrative of ex-Soviet modernisers unhappy with losing elections. Surely some of the demonstrators and parts of the media will put things in those terms. I don’t think it would be true — but truth isn’t what matters, at times like these.
More of this to follow later in the day, if time allows
What I love most about Georgia is the constant stream of head-slappingly ridiculous news. There was the [anti-Putin Eurovision entry](http://www.rferl.org/Content/Russian_Activists_Protest_Georgian_Eurovision_Entry_/1502642.html), of course((http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQ3OScJ2kfM&feature=related)). But Russia can counter that with its hastily-produced [action film](http://www.rferl.org/content/Russia_Unleashes_The_Butterflies_Of_War/1565184.html) about the Ossetia war (also on [Youtube](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOoz-ZaJSbE)).
Far more entertaining is the [political talk show from self-imposed jail](http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTRE5143PJ20090205):
It’s been dubbed “Protest TV”. A man in an improvised prison cell under the 24-hour gaze of television cameras, promising to stay put until Georgia’s president quits.
And to top it off, [here](http://www.rferl.org/Content/Flinging_Russia_Mud_In_Georgia/1511819.html) is a former Minister for Conflict Resolution threatening to hunt down the president and “make him sorry for ever having been born”.
Another country with more interesting politics than Germany: Georgia.
A mess of opposition groups are planning protests at the end of next week, calling on President Saakashvili to resign. Didn’t do them much good the [last time they tried it](http://www.ohuiginn.net/mt/2007/11/the_georgian_compromise_candid.html), back in 2007: Saakashvili called a quick election, won it easily, and then went back to his usual melange of market fundamentalism, temper tantrums, and russia-baiting. Maybe this time the opposition have a plan, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Saakashvili, meanwhile, is trying to undermine these opponents, by [accusing them of planning armed revolt](http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav032309c.shtml), and of being [Russian catspaws](http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/pp032809.shtml) – the latter because a politician’s husband met a Russian official around the time of an exiles’ get-together in Vienna a fortnight ago. [One theory](http://www.rferl.org/Content/Burjanadzes_Husband_Becomes_Focus_Of_Georgian_Political_Intrigue/1563251.html) is that Russia is intervening just enough to keep the Georgian politicans fighting like cats in a bag.
And for the people who want to forget politics, and pretend the world is all about tanks and pipelines? Well, I have a sneaking fear they’re right. The Russian army are [planning](http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav020609g.shtml) a military build-up in the separatist region of Abkhazia, while the US are [making promising noises](http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav033009a.shtml) about training the Georgian army.
That’s just the boring side of things; the ridiculous bits are better not written about on April Fools’ Day.
I did think of writing something about South Ossetia today – but it’s all guns and nationalism and games of chicken. I’m still hoping it’ll blow over in a few days, since even Russia isn’t stupid enough to get drawn into a full-scale war over this (are they?). Or will this be one of the times when public opinion is cheering on the army, and everybody has to keep on doing ridiculous things because they’ve started and don’t want to back down? Too grim to think about it; best go elsewhere for sensible comment.
Sometimes I hate the world.
In Georgia, the opposition umbrella group managed to choose a single candidate for January’s election. But…they picked a relative nobody. [Levan Gachechiladze](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levan_Gachechiladze), their candidate, is an a MP and has been active in politics for almost a decade, but until yesterday he was probably best known in Georgia as a successful wine merchant. Why on earth did they choose him?
Gachchiladze may not be the most impressive candidate ever fielded, but he’s possibly the best option in the circumstances.
The opposition don’t have any real heavyweights available – which is probably why Saakashvili allowed the election in the first place. Two major figures are ineligible to stand. One, [Irakli Okruashvili](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7022474.stm), the popular former defence minister who kicked off the protests by [accusing Saakashvili of murder](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7022474.stm), is below the minimum age of 35. The other, [Salome Zourabishvili](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salome_Zurabishvili), has not been living in Georgia the required 15 years: born in Paris, she was serving a s a French diplomat until Saakashvili made her Foreign minister in a surprise move in 2004.
But beyond that, the opposition are doing what coalitions always do – compromising on the lowest common denominator. No coalition member wants to see their rival become President, so they nominate somebody insignificant, and hope that they’ll later be able to manipulate him. Zurabishvili, in particular, is making an early bid to become Prime Minister if Gachchiladze wins.
Entertainingly, there’s a nice symmetry between this and what Putin is doing in Russia. Putin, like Okruashvili and Zurabishvili in Georgia, is disqualified from running for President in 2008 – in his case because of term limits. His response is [apparently](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7022474.stm) to become Prime Minister, and run the country from that position. For all his flaws, Putin is an undisputed master of political scheming – so why not learn from him?
Quick summary of what the Russian press & blogs are saying about Okruashvili, before I leave it for tonight.
[Gazeta](http://gzt.ru/world/2006/11/17/220003.html) explains this as a result of his humiliation by the president, and expects him to go into opposition:
>For a country in Georgia’s position, Minister of Defence is a key position. But Minister for Economic Growth – that’s the equivalent of somebody “retreating to his Dacha” in Soviet times
There hasn’t yet been all that much Livejournal comment yet (that I’ve found), but this seems typical:
>”Essentially, he understood that nobody shines in the post of Economy Minister. Winter is on its way and energy relations with Russia are shit. And he decided to jump ship, which is reasonable”
And the news sources are only now getting over the idea that it might [all have been an elaborate bluff](http://www.trud.ru/issue/shortnews.php?id=44559), an idea fuelled by Okruashvili being out of the country.
Meanwhile the Georgian opposition are already swarming around Okruashvili as a potential leader. [Levan Berdzenishvili](http://www.vz.ru/news/2006/11/17/57575.html) of the _Democratic Front_, wonders if Okruashvili is going to move into opposition, saying “It’s too early to call, everything depends on Okruashvili himself”. That’s about as blatant an offer to join him as you can get, and I imagine there will be a lot more Georgian politicians coming out with something similar.
I’ve now had some time to read the reports on Okruashvili’s resignation. Most are brief, and the only attempt at explaining his reasons is this fairly implausible comment from [Itar-Tass](http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=10993643&PageNum=0):
>Some reports said he intends to give up politics and turn to business, while other reports said he wishes to continue his education abroad.
Also worth reading is Molly Corso’s rush-job analysis at [Eurasianet](http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav111706a.shtml), which summarises the background nicely, but doesn’t explain what’s happening today.
But what’s he up to? I can only imagine that Okruashvili has decided to split the [United National Movement](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Movement_-_Democrats), the party which contains both him and Saakashvili, and form a more nationalist opposition.
If so, it’s not a stupid move. After the president, Okruashvili is the most popular politician in Georgia. He could plausibly bring the opposition together into an anti-Saakashvili coalition. The country is littered with small parties which have little hope of making it by themselves. Most of them are driven less by ideology than by pragmatism and the personalities of their leaders, so it should be possible to get them into bed together.
The only thing I don’t understand is why Okruashvili has made this announcement from abroad. Perhaps that’s a sign that he hasn’t lined up supporters yet, and is hoping that being away from Tbilisi will give him more time to do deals before making a public statement when he returns to the country?
That Georgian defence minister who got shunted off to ‘economy minister’, and was replaced by a 28-year-old? He’s just resigned, which presumably means he’s going to take on Saakashvili. Drama on its way…
When [Radio Free Europe](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/11/678c546b-425c-450c-ae5a-cfd9879a166d.html) report that “Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze today slammed the [Commonwealth of Independent States](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_of_independent_states)“, they’re missing the point slightly. The news isn’t that Georgia dislikes the CIS (we know that already), but that they aren’t doing anything about it. ‘Slamming’ is a de-escalation, not an escalation, compared to their other options.
If Georgia wanted to cause trouble, they would be trying to leave the CIS. That’s [what the opposition want](http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=13874), and what Russia is afraid of: this summit was due to be held last month, at the height of Georgian-Russian anger, but Russia arranged a [postponement](http://mosnews.com/news/2006/10/10/cissummit.shtml) to avoid a rash pullout by Georgia.
Leaving the CIS is one of the few weapons Georgia has against Russia: the organisation represents the last vestige of Moscow’s control over its ‘near abroad’, but is being held together with chewing gum and bits of string. To the East it’s being eclipsed by the [Shanghai Cooperation Organization](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Cooperation_Organization), and to the West by [GUAM](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GUAM). Since these can fulfil most of the functions of an international talking shop, nobody except Russia has an interest in keeping the CIS running. If Georgia left, it could plausibly bring down the whole house of cards.
But the Georgians are being smart. If they actially leave the CIS, they lose a barganing chip and don’t gain much beyond the joy of watching Russia suffer. Much better to turn up, [refuse to pay membership fees](http://www.itar-tass.com/eng/level2.html?NewsID=10988607&PageNum=0), grandstand about Russia’s crimes, and [keep that threat on the table](http://www.regnum.ru/english/740070.html):
>“We are here to make sure once again if we have any reasons to stay in the organization, or it has no future,” Burjanadze announced.
Along with the recent replacement of the Defence Minister, this seems to be part of a very sensible pattern of de-escalation by Georgia.
The latest surprise in Georgian politics is…a substitution. Out goes defence minister Irakli Okruashvili, in comes Davit Kezerashvili, a 28-year old neophyte whose main claim to fame is as chief tax inspector.
What’s going on here? Is it because Okruashvili has been shooting his mouth off, backing Georgia into a corner by talking tough at Russia? Molly Corso at Eurasianet writes:
According to analysts, Okruashvili, infamous for his blunt,
anti-Russian rhetoric, became a liability as Georgia strives to fight
Russian attempts to portray Tbilisi as the aggressor in the bilateral
row. “In Russia and the United Nations, Okruashvili was identified with
war,” said Tina Gogueliani, a political analyst with the Tbilisi-based
International Center on Conflict and Negotiation.
If this is about Russia, it’s only via Ossetia. Okruashvili said he wanted to spend the New Year in Tskhinvali, capital of the South Ossetian region which, with Russian support, is trying to separate itself from Georgia. He was born in Ossetia, and is pretty determined to bring it back under Georgian control. So, the argument goes, Saakashvili is trying to calm down the tensions over Ossetia, and avoid some embarrassing PR over the new year.
I find that a lot more plausible. Saakashvili himself has a basically mainstream attitude to South Ossetia – that is, something which looks over the top to outsiders. He knows the voters like the idea ofdefeating the separatists, made that a plank of his presidential campaign in 2004, and has let things escalate to armed scuffles both in August 2004, and in July of this year. So if Ossetia is behind this, it’s not because of a fundamental difference of opinion. But right now, when Georgia is trying to look
like the innocent victim of Russian aggression, it’s probably best to keep this conflict on the back burner. And that’s especially true after last week’s South Ossetian referendum (the people voted heavily for independence, surprising nobody but ratcheting up the tension), which makes this an even trickier dispute to handle. The new defence minister’s won’t be going overboard on Ossetia: his protestations that he isn’t soft on South Ossetia just demonstrate that he is seen as softer than his predecessor.
But, by itself, that’s not enough to explain putting your defence policy in such inexperienced hands. Granted, Kezerashvili’s previous job as head tax inspector is a lot more macho than it sounds – in this part of the world tax
evasion is closely linked to organized crime, and the financial police
have a reputation for dramatic, heavily-armed raids. But that’s a long way from running the army – the opposition are branding him “a deserter…with no clue about the army“. And Kezerashvili has been forced into making a fairly laughable attempt to prove his military creds:
Like most Georgians, I also like weapons…. I have a favorite sword.
If it was just about foreign policy and PR, couldn’t Saakashvili just
have told Okruashvili – and old ally – to keep his mouth shut for a few
So if foreign policy can’t explain it, what about the domestic angle?
It can’t quite be a case of Saakashvili putting his men in charge,
since the old defence minister was already a close ally of his. But if
Okruashvili was an ally, Kezerashvili is entirely Saakashvili’s
creation: a peon in the Justice Ministry until Saakashvili grabbed him
as a personal assistant, and helped him into ever-grander jobs. There’s
an element here of grooming Kezerashvili to become a major political
player (being made minister at age 28 isn’t bad going, even in a
country with a population of 4 million), combined with the knowledge
that for now he’s going to follow Saakashvili’s lead.
But however competent and loyal Saakashvili expects Kezerashvili to be, he’s also relying on him not being one of the big guns. Okruashvili was getting hard to push around: in a recent poll,
90% of Georgians considered him to be Georgia’s second most powerful
politician. There are suggestions that the president thought
Okruashvili was planng a coup, but even without going so far, it’s very
likely that Saakashvili wants to be the dominant figure in foreign
policy right now. And he’s probably managed it in the short term – but at the cost of turning a powerful ally into an enemy
In lieu of content about Georgia, here’s some of what other people have been saying…
- Russia’s anti-Georgia measures have cost Georgia 1.5% of its GDP, and 17% of its export markets, according to the Georgian Prime Minister. That’s including the wine ban earlier in the year – but presumably not including the remittances sent home by Georgian workers in Russia, which would push the figure much higher.
- The media always faithfully reports diplomatic visits like the time Georgian foreign minister Gela Bezhuashvili spent in Moscow this week, but I find it pretty hard to get excited about them. Anyway, Putin refused to meet Bezhuashvili, who in turn went on the radio and threatened to veto Russia’s WTO entry.
- Russia is threatening to double the price of gas supplies to Georgia (RFE/RL,BBC)
- Eurasianet reports on Georgia’s attempts to accommodate the deportees
- Foreign policy carries a surprisingly lightweight article from Jon Sawyer. He argues that the US “has helped to fuel this crisis: by showering Georgia with cash and praise, by extending the promise of NATO membership, and by standing silent as Saakashvili and his government made ever rasher attacks on Russia“
Vilhelm Konnander had an excellent post on Georgia a fortnight ago. He turns up a recent opinion poll saying that 61% of Russians consider Georgia “a bandit state”.
The Kommersant Daily speculates that Andrei Illarionov, ex senior advisor and an outspoken critic of Putin’s economic policies (which include arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky), might become the next economics advisor for the president of Georgia.
Illarionov, who recently has been hired by Cato Institute, a US libertarian economics think-tank, visited Tbilisi a few days ago to participate in “Freedom, Commerce & Peace: A Regional Agenda” international conference and, according to Kommersant, was invited for a dinner with president Saakashvili.
Since I’ve been reading so many Russian livejournals recently, I figured I should do something useful with it. So I’ve got involved in Global Voices, a blog translation project. The plan is that I’ll post occasional snippets from Russian blogs, once a month or so. Here’s my first post, translating a Georgian post about the treatment of Georgians in Russia.
If Russia decides to escalate the dispute with Georgia, one option is for it to recognize Abkhazia as an independent state. Abkhazia is [pushing](http://www.regnum.ru/english/722014.html) Russia to do just that.
What makes this a plausible scenario is Kosovo. From Russia’s perspective, the situation of Abkhazia within Georgia is parallel to that of Kosovo within Serbia: regions enjoying de facto autonomy within hostile states, and pushing for formal self-determination. In [Putin’s words](http://www.ft.com/cms/s/b55abaf4-dfc0-11da-afe4-0000779e2340.html):
“If someone believes that Kosovo should be granted full independence as a state, then why should we deny it to the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians?”
The implied ‘someone’ is the UN, where glacial negotiations are moving towards the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Russia is unlikely to let this through the UN without demanding a similar decision on Abkhazia. It might not even wait for Kosovo to come up at the UN – ten days ago, for instance, [Mikhail Gorbachev](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/10/5b958386-975f-40ca-9824-90f0c1f1048f.html) wrote that the “logic of international development may lead Russia to a situation in which we will have no other choice but to recognize Abkhazia”
Russia has made a point of maintaining transport links to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite the blockade of Georgia. It’s something that Georgian politicians have complained bitterly about. Now they’re driving it home by sending a train to South Ossetia loaded with $741,000 of humanitarian aid. Behind this is Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who is even more energetic than Ken Livingstone in maintaining his own foreign policy agenda. Luzhkov calls the train “a symbol of Russian assistance to South Ossetia, which wants to live independently and not to obey those, who have subjected these people to genocide,”
Russia has made some apparently conciliatory moves towards Georgia this week – notably a [promise](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/10/21d0a8f7-6bd1-47dc-bc8c-db532164fad4.html) of early withdrawal of the Russian troops based in Tbilisi.
Is this an olive branch to Georgia? No – it’s shrewd international politics. The UN has just passed a [resolution renewing the mandate of the UN observer mission in Georgia](http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/10/13/news/UN_GEN_UN_Georgia.php). Had Security Council members agreed with the EU’s (obviously correct, but politically awkward) [assessment](http://mosnews.com/news/2006/10/12/russiageorgia.shtml) that “Russia is not a neutral participant in the peacekeeping arrangements“, they could have produced a resolution limiting Russia’s role in Georgia. So, Russia keeps them sweet by making a concession – but notice that it is a concession that doesn’t require any immediate action. By the time it comes to remove the troops from Tbilisi, everybody except the Georgians will have forgotten what Russia promised.
Update: According to [Saakashvili](http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=13869),Russia was aiming for – and failed to get – two items included in the [resolution](http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sc8851.doc.htm):
The first is unconditional denunciation of the Georgian police operation in the upper Kodori gorge that would have a serious legal force, and the second, restoration of the status quo, which existed in the gorge prior to this operation. It would have meant the withdrawal of the legitimate Abkhaz authorities from the Kodori gorge and renaming of the Kodori gorge,
I tried to write a post on the high politics of the Russia-Georgia dispute, but I got sidetracked into the stuff that actually matters: the social impact of it all. There will be another post on Putin and Saakashvili throwing their toys at each other, but first, have something about the real people:
The politicians and pundits are talking up how bad things are. Saakashvili (Georgian president) calls it “a form of ethnic targeting not seen in Europe since the Balkans in the 1990s“, and to Bezuashvili (Georgian foreign minister) it is ‘_a mild form of ethnic cleansing_’. At Georgia Online, a columnist collects a list of recent anti-Georgian Russian headlines and comments “Replace ‘Georgian’ with ‘Jew’, change the date 2006 to 1933, and we fall back to Nazi Germany.”
Certainly, things are bad. Newspaper Novaya Gazeta (employer of Anna Politkovskaya) has printed copies of letters Moscow police sent to local schools, demanding lists of Georgian students. The information required includes:
Relations of children of Georgian nationality with other pupils, cases of hostile relations between children, and such [hostile] relations toward them [i. e. Georgian children], facts about disobedience of Georgian children to teachers, facts of antisocial activities, and unlawful acts.
All this is “For the purpose of securing law and order and abidance of the law, the prevention of terrorist acts and aggressive feelings between children“. [Sean](http://seansrusskiiblog.blogspot.com/2006/10/moscow-police-documents-show-attempted.html) has full translations and commentary.
But, there is some good news. Many Russian bloggers are still trying to counter the anti-Georgian prejudice – the “[I am Georgian](http://ya-gruzin.ru/)” site is one of many examples. And it is striking that the anti-Georgian events in Russia haven’t been mirrored by anti-Russian events in Georgia. At Radio Free Europe, Jimsher Rekhviashvili [interviews](http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/10/2168b35e-cec0-4e67-9766-82089160b5a4.html) ethnic Russians living in Georgia. And finds…nothing. No mirror of the anti-Georgian sentiment in Russia. One says “ I continue to receive warmth and love, the lack of which I have never experienced from the Georgian people.“. Another says her friends in Russia “ call and ask us not to believe what we’re hearing. We are by your side, they say. We love Georgia and Georgians.”