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Georgia: New Political Forces Are Emerging

Prague, 4 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- In recent weeks, Georgian politicians have created two political movements, either of which could challenge the weakened and discredited majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK).

Three unlikely allies announced the formation of the Christian Democratic Union for Georgian Statehood (CDU) on December 17. One founder is Temur Basilia, economic advisor to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. The second is Irakli Batiashvili, a parliament deputy and a former head of the Georgian National Security Service, who began his political career in the late 1980s as a comrade-in-arms of the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The third is Giorgi Baramidze, a respected philosopher.

RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported that Batiashvili told journalists that the founders intend the new group to be a social movement rather than a political force. He declined to present its program in detail, but he did list as its basic tenets, in his words, "patriotism, religious faith and the principles of democracy and a free economy." He added that he doubted that those governing the country were giving top priority to the "idea and principles of Georgian statehood."

Batiashvili and Basilia said that their new movement is intended to counter resurgent left-wing forces whose strong showing in November 15 local elections compounded the disarray of the embattled SMK. Batiashvili called the new left demagogic and said it is, quoting "armed with socialist slogans, and constantly looking towards Mother Russia."

Basilia said that if left-wing forces come to power in Georgia, they will find it impossible to revert to socialism, and will concentrate on regulating the state with the professed noble aim of improving living standards. But, he said, the state can't improve living standards by regulation. Instead, he said, such efforts would cause hyperinflation, impoverishment of the population, and enrichment of bureaucrats aligned with the ruling leftist forces.

Basilia predicted that if leftist forces come to power, they would inevitably delay democratic reforms as they are doing now in Ukraine, and as they did in Bulgaria two years ago.

One hypothesis advanced by analysts is that Shevardnadze is trying, in the founding of the CDU, to create an alternative power base to the compromised and allegedly corrupt SMK. But Revaz Adamia, chairman of the parliament committee on security and defense, rejects that notion. Adamia points out that the SMK won more seats than any other party in the local elections, and that Shevardnadze's disapproval of some statements made by prominent SMK members should not be equated with any rejection of the party as a whole.

In an interview broadcast by RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau on December 29, Republican Party leader and political commentator Ivliane Khaindrava said he thinks the new union may try to carve out a niche for itself among the weakened parties to the right of the political spectrum in the runup to this year's parliamentary elections. Alternatively, Khaindrava said, it could evolve into a supraparty structure.

The second new Georgian party is straightforward about where it hopes to garner support and whose power base it represents. Some 400 people attended the founding conference of the Party for the Liberation of Abkhazia on December 29, and elected Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of what the group calls the Abkhaz parliament in exile.

Caucasus Press reports that 2,000 people already have expressed an interest in joining the party. Its objectives are to restore Georgian jurisdiction over Abkhazia and to expedite repatriation of Georgian displaced persons forced to flee during the 1992-1993 war and the renewed fighting of last May. Nadareishvili appears to be counting on the votes of the those among the 200,000 refugees who no longer believe that the present Georgian leadership is capable of negotiating with Abkhazia's government terms for their repatriation and security.

Nadareishvili hasn't said publicly whether he will align his party with the SMK in next year's parliamentary election campaign, or whether the creation of his new party signals an intent to end his previous support for Shevardnadze.