Friday, November 6, 2009

Window on Eurasia: A Tragic Anniversary in Georgia

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 6 – Tomorrow, in various ways and with various feelings in their hearts, many people across the former Soviet space will commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the Bolshevik coup d’état. But in Georgia, many will mark the 2nd anniversary of what they see as the dashing of the hopes of the Rose Revolution by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
On that date, two years ago, Saakashvili first ordered his security services to use tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who were demanding his resignation and then closed down two of the independent television networks in order to prevent the opposition from communicating with the rest of the country,
In the wake of those actions, the Georgian president called a snap election, the result of which he invoked as justification for his course of action, a course that not only has alienated many of those who first supported him in the 2002 rising which overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze but set the stage for the conflict with Moscow that led to the Russian invasion in August 2008.
Sergey Markedonov, one of Moscow’s most thoughtful commentators on the Caucasus, says that it is unlikely that the opposition will be able to mount as large a protest on this date as it has in the past, but he insists those events are nonetheless going to echo in Georgia and across the former Soviet space for a long time to come (
The Moscow analyst gives three reasons for thinking that the opposition is unlikely to be able to organize a serious protest on this anniversary. First, he points out, Saakashvili’s opponents remain divided, even as one or another of their leaders continues to come up with projects for new political parties and movements.
(The most recent of these – the creation of a Social Democratic Movement for the Development of Georgia – was announced only three days ago. As Markedonov notes, “from a purely theoretical point of view,” such a movement is “interesting” because it was the Social Democrats (Mensheviks) who led Georgia during the years of the Russian Civil War.)
Second, Markedonov points out, Western governments have grown tired of “illegitimate changes of power in a country pretending to the title of the ‘advance post of democracy in the Caucasus” and very much want that “the departure of the third president of Georgia be according to the constitution” rather than as a result of street protests.
And third – and this is no small thing, Markedonov suggests – the Saakashvili regime “however much people in the Kremlin talk about its unpopularity and loss of trust among the population as before retains definite resources of influence in society,” both through its control of the media and through its control of the force structures.
In order to understand what November 7, 2007, means now, Markedonov continues, one must consider what the Rose Revolution four years earlier meant then. That event not only ousted Shevardnadze but was “a demonstrative burning of bridges with the Soviet past,” a break that was “the most radical in the post-Soviet space if one does not count the Baltic countries.”
Not surprisingly because of the very radical quality of this break with the past, however, the coalition that pushed through the Rose Revolution and brought Saakashvili to power soon split apart. Some members of this coalition – and they form the core of the opposition to this day – saw that event as a chance to make the leap into the ranks of a European democracy.
But others including those around Saakashvili, Markedonov suggests, were quite happy whatever the vocabulary they used to attract support abroad to have a situation in which, to paraphrase the observation of Zionist founder Vladimir Zhabotinsky, Georgian police would enjoy the exclusive right to arrest other Georgians.
Unfortunately, the Moscow analyst continues, such attitudes, given both internal and external pressures, have led not to a rapprochement between the two views but rather to the articulation of a more authoritarian course by those in power, a course that ultimately provoked Russia to intervene and thus to the loss of Georgian control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In the course of these observations, Markedonov cites the observation of Georgian political analyst Mamuki Areshidze who famously observed that “30 to 40 percent of those who assembled [to protest Saakashvili’s policies two years ago] were among those who in 2003 had assembled” in support of his coming to power.
And the Moscow analyst notes that because that is the case, “one important note” is in order: “If the opponents of [Saakashvili] had been in his place, it is possible that we would be speaking about them as supporters of the broadest possible rights for ‘their own police’” against his supporters.
But however that may be, Markedonov continues, “the events of two years ago also show that the actions of ‘one’s own police’ can be harsher than those of the police of ‘others.’” That may be sufficient to keep in office those who have the power to deploy them, but it does little to promote either national reconciliation or democracy.
The Moscow analyst concludes with another comparison that at least some will recall on this tragic anniversary. When Soviet forces crushed a Tbilisi meeting in April 1989, the USSR Congress of People’s deputies formed a commission led by Anatoly Sobchak and including representatives of nine union republics to conduct a “detailed investigation.”
But in contrast to “Soviet imperial times,” Markedonov says, “’democratic Georgia’ has not sought to conduct a serious investigation into the tragedy of November 7, 2007, and to identify those responsible,” a failure that continues to cast a shadow over the entire future of that country.
In the absence of such an effort, “a significant section of Georgian politicians consider [Saakashvili] not simply as their opponent, something normal in a democratic government, but as a usurper,” an attitude that unless something is done Markedonov says will mean that Georgia will likely remain in a state of “permanent instability.”

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