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Commentary

Georgian Opposition Girds For 'Revolution,' But Is The Time Right?

The Georgian opposition says it's time for a "vacation" for President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The Georgian opposition says it's time for a "vacation" for President Mikheil Saakashvili.
By Ghia Nodia
It appears that Georgia is beginning to react to the wave of revolutions in the Arab world. Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze has traveled to Egypt to share Georgia's experience of postrevolutionary transformation as the departure of Hosni Mubarak is seen as analogous to the departure of Eduard Shevardnadze from power in Georgia in 2003.

But in the eyes of Georgia's radical opposition, the dictator Mubarak is more like the dictator Mikheil Saakashvili, and Egypt's Lotus Revolution is a prelude to the coming revolution in Georgia (as yet unnamed).

This coming revolution has already been advertised by two opposition leaders: the former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze and businessman Levan Gachechiladze.

They even gave a time frame for the changes. Gachechiladze has promised that “toward summer” everyone will “quietly go on vacation” – from Saakashvili.

Both Burjanadze and Gachechiladze are veterans of the demonstrations of spring 2009. Back then, they promised the president would be swept away by a wave of public outrage.

No Longer A Forbidden Word

So what is different now?

First, the democratic wave sweeping the Arab world has revitalized the word "revolution," which opposition leaders avoided using two years ago. Another word has appeared in their vocabulary that was taboo a couple years ago: “blood.”

According to Gachechiladze, it would be great if the government left without violence, but it will have to go in any event. That is, the opposition does not rule out bloodshed, although it hastens to place responsibility for it on the authorities.

And these aren't the only differences between the situation now and two years ago. In 2009, most opposition leaders were able to set aside their differences. But since then, they have quarreled -- in fact, Burjanadze and Gachechiladze are not even on speaking terms.

Earlier this year, the strongly oppositional newspaper "Asaval-dasavali" published a sensational story stating that in January 2008, after the presidential elections that many people believed were falsified, people were ready to seize power on the day of the inauguration of the alleged usurper.

But, the story continued, the leader of the opposition, Gachechiladze, sold out for a couple million laris and prevented them from interfering with the ceremony. The source of this revelation was Burjanadze, who, as acting president and Saakashvili ally at the time, learned about the plot. Gachechiladze and his Georgian Party said the story was a fabrication, but the two men are still not speaking.

Rejecting Violence

Another portion of the opposition categorically rejects the potentially violent revolutionary strategy of the radicals. They are focused on winning elections and are actively negotiating with the authorities on how to reform the electoral system.

While Irakli Alasania and the parties that were allied with him joined in with the actions of the radicals two years ago -- albeit reluctantly -- today he takes a clearer position.

“I will go up against anybody who decides to pursue the path of revolution,” he said.

So what is the radical opposition counting on now? The main thing, of course, is popular discontent.

A spike in inflation was considered one of the causes of the recent Arab uprisings. In Georgia, inflation is running a couple of percentage points higher than in neighboring countries.

In addition, opposition activists are heartened by a strike by minibus drivers who were upset by the results of a Tbilisi administration tender among transport companies. The strike is over now, but the opposition hopes that when it declares "X-Day," the drivers will join in.

The same goes for veterans of the war in Abkhazia, whose protest was dispersed by the government in January, and displaced persons from Abkhazia, who were recently evicted from housing they were squatting in.

As Georgia's recent experience shows, a revolution needs media support. Two years ago, the television broadcaster Maestro began the mobilization with its program "Chamber No. 5," hosted by the popular singer Utsnobi (Levan Gachechiladze’s younger brother, Giorgi). That January, it declared that X-Day would be April 9. But now there is nothing of that sort happening.

And Maestro has become the subject of a scandal. Around New Year's, station General Director Kakha Bekauri quit to protest the orders of Erosi Kitsmarishvili, a leader of the revolutionary Georgian Party and founder of the company that manages Maestro.

According to Bekauri, Kitsmarishvili was prepared to finance Maestro only if it serves his party. Kitsmarishvili has denied the allegation. Bekauri's resignation was accepted, and Maestro continues to support the opposition.

Higher Pensions, Social Calm?

Apparently the government sees a danger in the rising discontent prompted by inflation and the use of that discontent by the opposition. The president's March 7 announcement that pensions would be increased beginning in September may be indirect confirmation of this awareness. The policy is a reversal of the government's belt-tightening strategy and clearly will do nothing to help control inflation. But the political subtext seems clear enough.

And what is the likelihood of a new -- and this time successful -- revolutionary wave in Georgia? We'll have to wait and see. But for now the revolutionary opposition's starting position seems even weaker than it was in 2009.

Ghia Nodia is professor of politics at Ilia State University. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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Comments
     
by: Vakhtang from: Russia
March 12, 2011 05:58
Nodia! You was told to call things by their names,write simpler but you continue to fuss.
Georgia is poor in minerals and totally dependent on U.S. money.impossible for these Amtrican money to feed the whole horde

People want money,people want to eat,people want a roof over their head.
Government of puzzles,how to keep cattle in check,but when will exceed the critical mass will be another riot.
It is fair to say that the same is observed around the world.
A hundred times saying the world is overpopulated and all these revolutions associated with the desire to eat.


by: potgeo from: US
March 13, 2011 04:29
Batono Nodia, I admire your relentless attempt to keep Saakashvili's image
within a frame of liberal-democratic values,while forgetting to mention, that during 7 years of his presidency, saakashvili and his team of powerhungry hyenas turned the country into a poor and half-democratic state, where small group of young sharks feeding on country's resources, where corruption starts from president and rolls downward, where there is no middle-class left,
where justice and constitution is violeted and re-made according to Saakashvili's wishes. If any nation has a good reason to come out and shout "I'am angry as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore" - it's us who want their country back, their personal freedom and future for their children.While Saakashvili and national party are rulers of Georgea,
- Geotgeans have no future. If revolution changes this, so be it!

by: Ed Franks, PhD from: Los Angeles, USA
March 13, 2011 19:31
What are the most important problems with Saakashvili? As a long-time sympathetic observer since the fall of Shevardnadze, I am unable to sort out, reading the various local newspapers, exactly what he advocates that is bad for Georgia. If he is currently pursuing bad policies, then what are they, and why are they so bad?
In Response

by: potgeo from: US
March 14, 2011 00:08
Hi, Ed
I don' even know where to begin...OK, lets start from Constitution,
- according to a new constitution, by disregarding opinion of highly respected veneteian commision, in 2015 Saakashvili will repeat political maneuver of
his alter ego - Putin and become all mighty and powerfull PM with even biger
powersthen he has now, which will also prolong duration of his presidency for 10 months...
- The corruption! And I'm not talking about small bribes, no one and I mean
no person is able to do any business in Georgea without giving shares to
top notch officials in saakashvili's goverment and if the business is successful, in lot of cases goverment officials under different bogus reasons just take over it. Last scandalous case with Israeli businessmen is still
hot topic for media and caused some chiills between the goverments of two
countries.
Human rights ! Since 2003 we have more prisoners (juveniles, female,
political) than in bloody years of KGB rein in 1937 - 38,000, prisons are
overcrowded, TB and Hep C is part of their lives.Do I have to say more?
Justice system - Thanks to Saakashvili and one of his gray cardinal
ministers,Temida- Godess of justice is not just blindfoleded, she's also
deaf and mute too, there is a selective justice for an elit and full trotil punish-ments for regular citizens.
Educational system is totaly broken and is a subject of ongoing experiments
by unexperienced, unqualified ministers, who turned schools into the
juvenile detention centers...
This is the fraction of the probmes my country and my people face today ,
most of population has no security for tomorrow.
One more thing, Saakashvili was a golden boy of Bush's era, but in last 7 years we've lost more, including teritories, and hardly gained anything
worthy of our loses.
In Response

by: Ed Franks from: Los Angeles, USA
March 14, 2011 18:25
Thank you for the reply. Of course I've heard charges like these for years, but it seems everyone is charged with such crimes everywhere these days. Ignoring constitution, corruption, poor education, and human rights abuses are common charges even here in the US. Could you please answer 2 more questions?: "Who would you prefer as president (or what party do you support), and, "Can you give me an example of one major policy initiative he promotes for the 'benefit' of Georgia that you believe will do more harm than good?" Thank you.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Tbilisi
March 15, 2011 05:42
potgeo, a few points.
1. The new constitution was actually mostly approved by the Venetian commission, their complaints were mainly that it did not go far enough towards turning Georgia from a "Presidential Republic" to a "Parliamentary Republic", it will now actually be harder for a prime minister & parliament to impeach a president than before was their major criticism. In addition, Saakashvili has not stated what he will be doing after his presidential term finishes, so you are jumping the gun a little.

2. Sorry laddie, but the corruption in Georgia is far less now than it was under Shevardnadze, of course there are still problems that must be dealt with, but your comment that it is impossible to do business without giving shares or paying bribes is total BS, in fact Georgia was pretty much the only country in the world where the public sees corruption decreasing.
Try reading a little:
http://www.rferl.org/content/georgia_corruption/2243593.html
3. Most of those in prison are there for committing crimes such as corruption, theft, assault, crimes that in the "good old days" of Shevardnadze they could simply bribe their way out of. If you want rule of law after 200 years of Russian style corruption there are unfortunately people who will have to learn the hard way.
4. The education system has improved greatly since I was first here in 2004, there is a drive to improve the standards of teaching, schools are being renovated, new western standard texts have been introduced, schools are being supplied with modern teaching equipment most importantly computers, and as a result of reforms many more Georgian school leavers and university graduates are being accepted for study at foreign universities.
4. In this case you really are a fool, Georgia lost those territories to Russian occupation/Russian backed separatist sock-puppets in the early 90's.
5. Most of the opposition either want a return to the "good old ways" of Shevardnadze style corruption, or want to cosy up to Russia, something unacceptable to around 80% of Georgians, especially the younger ones.

by: Joni Simonishvili from: Tbilisi
March 15, 2011 19:28
Anyone who lives in Georgia will quickly tell you that corruption is not less but now more organized and based on the Azerbaijani model. Democracy is stillborn after the rigging of presidential and parliamentary elections, widespread violations of basic human rights, as with the events of November 7, 2007, and the president elect is no democrat. The media is now almost totally controlled by the government and the free media is too cowed to go to the end with any story as journalist could end up dead. Those locked up are petty criminals that would be doing community service in a normally functioning democracy and the justice system has turned into a money making racket. Others in the Arab world left when they realized the time was right, I think this will not be the case in Georgia - only when they are hanging from the toes. The Georgian people are very patient but there is a limit to that patience.

by: Sergei Xaxarev from: Moscow
March 24, 2011 17:39
My country Russia, will collapse..

All this Republics have their own presidents, own national flag, own parliaments, hymn and all other things that an independent state needs. These republics are not Russian linguistically, they have their own culture, traditions and religion.

Full independence for Russian colonies:

The Adygea Republic,
The Tatarstan Republic,
The Chechnya Republic,
The Dagestan Republic,
The North Ossetia,
The Bashkortostan Republic,
The Karelia Republic,
The Altai Republic,
The Kabardino-Balkaria,
The Buryatia Republic,
The Chuvash Rebublic,
The Ingushetia Republic,
The Kalmykia Republic,
The Karachayevo-Circassian Republic,
The Khakasia Republic,
The Komi Republic,
The Mari Republic,
The Mordovian Republic,
The Sakha Republic (Yakutia),
The Tyva Republic,
The Udmurtia Republic,


THEY DREAM ABOUT IT EVERY DAY.

It is only Putin's bloody regime, that does not tolerate freedom
of speech, makes them afraid to speak about this.
These republics are in fact independent, they are not
Russians and never want to be. Chechnya for example has
already issued a declaration of independence, that is one
step away recognition. How cynical can you be to demand
independence for regions in Georgia and not to allow this
for republics in Russia.

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