TBILISI -- Hundreds of people have lined up in front of Cartu Bank offices in Tbilisi in recent days to open an account in support of opposition billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reports.
The bank belongs to Ivanishvili -- considered the wealthiest man in Georgia -- who recently announced his plans to enter politics and harshly criticized President Mikheil Saakashvili's government and its policies.
The people opening the bank accounts -- some of them well-known actors, singers, and scientists as well as pensioners and young people -- say it is their way of expressing solidarity with Ivanishvili.
Since announcing his political ambitions, Ivanishvili was stripped of his Georgian passport on the grounds that he had acquired a French passport. The Georgian Constitution does not allow Georgian citizens to hold citizenship of another state.
Additionally, large amounts of money -- some $2 million and 1 million euros -- were recently seized by police from the Cartu Bank as part of a money-laundering probe. And pro-government TV stations have begun portraying Ivanishvili as an agent of the Kremlin, saying that it was in the turbulent, oligarchic post-Soviet years that he made his fortune in Russia.
His supporters see these measures by the government as a means of pressuring and discrediting an influential political opponent who has gained a reputation of being a generous philanthropist and has donated large sums of money to cultural, religious, scientific, and sports projects in Georgia.
"We support Cartu Bank and want to open an account there," Archil Kvachakhidze, who was queuing with his wife, small child, and friends, told RFE/RL in front of the bank. "We support Bidzina Ivanishvili because he is serving Georgia."
A New Dynamic
Nukri Kantaria, an activist of the opposition group Georgian Academy, told RFE/RL that "this bank and Bidzina Ivanishvili have literally saved science, culture, sport, and society in Georgia."
"It is now our duty not to allow this government to close this bank down and create problems," he said. "The money deposited by us will not make the bank rich -- but this will be an act of solidarity."
A Cartu Bank official told RFE/RL on November 4 that nearly 4,000 accounts had been opened at the bank's various branches in Georgia in the past few days.
At the same time, an initiative has been launched to collect signatures and request the restoration of Ivanishvili's Georgian citizenship.
Many things remain unknown about Ivanishvili, 55, despite the fact that he recently emerged from public seclusion and stepped into the public spotlight.
So far he has given only a couple of interviews and one televised press conference, which nearly collapsed into chaos due to journalists who were overeager in asking questions.
But one thing is clear -- his decision to enter politics has radically altered the political scene, adding a new dynamic to a situation that had largely stagnated.