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Georgia: Autocratic Authoritarian Rule Prevails, Political Activist Says

  • Liz Fuller

Prague, 4 May 2000 (RFE /RL) -- Two weeks ago (April 20), soon after he was re-elected Georgia's president, Eduard Shevardnadze announced an amnesty for 279 persons imprisoned for their opposition to his regime.

One of those released was Djaba Ioseliani, a playwright and leader of a paramilitary group called Mkhedrioni (meaning "Horsemen"). The 72-year-old Ioseliani has been an important political figure in Georgia since the republic attained independence nine years ago.

Together with National Guard commander Tengiz Kitovani, Ioseliani led the overthrow of the first president of independent Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, in 1992. He then invited Shevardnadze to return to Georgia from Moscow to lead the newly independent country. But Ioseliani himself was arrested at the end of 1995, and three years later was sentenced to an 11-year prison sentence. One of the main charges against him was organizing a car bomb attack on Shevardnadze in August 1995.

In one of Ioseliani's first statements after his release, he said he intends to return to active politics. Interviewed in Tbilisi last week [April 25] by RFE/RL's Georgian Service, he spelled out the reasons for his decision.

Ioseliani stressed that in what he called "a country where there is a dictatorship," opposition political activity does not -- and must not -- stop at the prison gates. He said for that reason, for a political activist like himself, being in prison was "the culmination of [his] political biography."

Ioseliani characterizes dictatorship as "autocratic authoritarian rule." Under such a regime, he says, a country is governed by a president who single-handedly rules on all personnel, political and economic decisions. He says today dictatorship no longer can prevent the free flow of information, as it had done in the past. With the advent of the internet, he says, no dictator -- not even Stalin, if he returned to life -- could curtail the uninterrupted flow of information.

Ioseliani says some progress has been made by Georgia's present government in foreign policy. But he says there is a discrepancy between progress in that sphere and what he considers the lack of improvement in the domestic political situation. As a result, he says, Georgia gets a "bad symbiosis," and that has an adverse affect on the population, its psychology and standard of living.

Asked how he reacted to the news he had been amnestied, Ioseliani says: "The release of a person from prison is always to be welcomed -- especially for me, given that I have spent half my life in prison and know what both imprisonment and liberty mean." But he says the amnesty was merely a political act:

"I was arrested for political reasons [and] it was for political reasons that I was released."

He says those who were amnestied feel uncomfortable rather than grateful. He says his amnesty was neither a manifestation of justice nor a manifestation of legality, but simply an exercise in political expediency.

Then he added a question: "When a man has his own prison and can jail whomever he likes -- can there be any greater dictatorship than that?"