Books on Georgia
Update No: 295 - (26/07/05)
To the rescue of the wrestlers
Both Ukraine and Georgia are still afflicted with political turbulence in the
aftermath of their orange and rose revolutions. Parliamentarians in Kiev in
early July fell to fisticuffs and biting the prime minister no less, Julia
Timoshenko, showing that a sense of chivalry departs when people's passions
begin to boil over.
Similar events disfigured Georgia in one of its most turbulent weeks since the
2003 "Rose Revolution", as police used force to break up an impromptu
street protest at the end of June and fistfights broke out in parliament in
early July. The country's fragmented opposition parties declared that they would
join forces to oppose President Mikheil Saakashvili, after the controversial
arrest of several high-profile sports figures on racketeering charges, reported
Sopo Bukia in the Turkish Weekly of July 7th.
The protesters were demanding the release of several champion Georgian
wrestlers, whom the country's Supreme Court ordered to be held for three months
in pre-trial detention. The wrestlers are accused of extorting US$8,000 from an
ethnic Georgian citizen of Greece.
The arrests sparked a chaotic protest by about 50 Georgian sports figures - and
some opposition activists - on June 30th. Interior ministry police armed with
automatic rifles and dressed in riot gear beat some of the protesters with
truncheons after they blocked traffic along the busy Rustaveli Prospekt
thoroughfare. Several people were reported to have received minor injuries, and
the police made ten arrests.
After the Supreme Court refused bail for the accused, some of their supporters
smashed up furniture in the courtroom before pouring onto Rustaveli, just a
short distance away.
The next day, opposition party leaders and activists gathered in Vera Park.
Observers estimated the crowd at between 500 and 1,000 people. The groups
included long-time Saakashvili foes like the Labour Party and the National
Democratic Party, as well as new opponents, such as the New Rightists and the
That rally followed a raucous day in parliament in which a session degenerated
into fistfights and shoving matches over how police broke up the street rally
the day before. Opposition politicians claimed the government deliberately let
the protesters take over the street, in an effort to find a pretext for a public
show of force. "Even under Shevardnadze (the former president, ousted by
the Rose Revolution) the authorities never dared to threaten protesters with
(automatic rifles)," said David Berdzinishvili, a leader of the Republican
Party and a former Saakashvili ally.
Repercussions for the new regime
Opposition leaders, during their rally the following day, declared they
would coordinate their activities against what they called the
"antidemocratic" Saakashvili leadership. They also called on
Saakashvili to sack Interior Minister Vano Merabilishvili, whom they accuse of
exceeding his authority.
Saakashvili's reply to that demand was terse. "Any attempts to rattle the
authorities or public order will be cut off at the root," he told reporters
at a US embassy reception marking the American Independence Day.
The president can probably take comfort from the fact that Georgia's opposition
parties as yet command only a small fraction of public support. A new poll by
the US-based International Republican Institute showed Saakashvili's National
Movement with almost 57 per cent support among respondents, while even the most
popular opposition party, the New Rightists, had just 5.4 per cent backing.
Political commentators said the opposition's rallying behind the alleged
racketeer sportsmen was a clumsy political move that would do little to increase
its support. "Political players should display more principle. To support
some sportsmen who've smashed up a courtroom - that's shameful," said Gia
Nodia, director of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development.
Gia Bugadze, a well-known Georgian artist and pundit, told Georgian television
that the opposition's backing of the alleged racketeer sportsmen was a sign of
weakness. "Even though the popularity ratings of the authorities are much
lower than what they were in the first few months, the opposition is so weak
that it has no electorate," said Bugadze. "Therefore they join forces
with other people's causes."
Well-known political analyst Alexander Rondeli said the grouping of opposition
parties - including two that were once formally allied with Saakashvili, the
Conservatives and the Republicans - were too weak and disparate to pose any
danger to the government at present. Rondeli said the July 1st opposition rally
was "more a letting off of steam" than a coordinated political act.
The various opposition leaders have very different ideas as to how to move
Republican Party leader Berdzinishvili calls for engagement with the Saakashvili
government, "We intend to actively work with the government as part of the
process of national rebuilding."
But Labour leader Shalva Natelashvili poured scorn on any suggestion of contacts
with the government, "I am categorically against any dialogue with the
dictatorial regime of Saakashvili. "The opposition should unite in order to
peacefully change this government, which came to power through force."
Until now, the opposition parties had found no single big issue to rally around.
Some have criticised Saakashvili's hard-line policy towards the breakaway region
of South Ossetia as counterproductive. Others have decried sweeping reforms to
the educational system in which some university teachers lost their jobs. Some
opposition figures have also lambasted Saakashvili's anti-corruption campaign
for using what they see as capricious methods.
One question opposition parties are united over is the government's refusal to
allow direct elections to choose the mayor of Tbilisi. The government instead
got a proposal approved in which the city council (or Sakrebulo, as it is known
in Georgian) will choose the mayor instead.
The central elections commission is considering opposition demands for a public
referendum on the question. The opposition is threatening a boycott of local
elections if no plebiscite on direct election of the Tbilisi mayor is held.
Some political observers, however, say efforts by the opposition to find common
ground seem mostly geared toward this autumn's parliamentary by-elections, and
therefore any alliance will probably be short term in nature. Even some
opposition leaders and supporters agree. "It's very early to talk about the
formation of a new opposition union," said Tinatin Khidasheli, a Republican
leader. "The opposition is very loose and I think every party much find its
own place in the new realities."
Russia to withdraw bases from Georgia in 2006
Russia will start withdrawing its military bases from Georgia no earlier
than 2006, a high-ranking Russian military official said on May 30th.
"Taking account of the fact that the federal budget for this year does not
envision spending on the withdrawal of the bases from Georgia, all the necessary
measures may start to be taken as part of this process in 2006," the source
He added that the removal of Russian bases from Georgia will be governed by the
amount of funds to be allocated for these purposes, technical capabilities and
the deadline - 2008. We will have to remove not only personnel from Georgia, but
also property, including military hardware," he said. The source suggested
the option that some of the military hardware may be transferred to the 102nd
Russian military base in Gyumri (Armenia), but it will be a temporary measure.
He stressed that the issue of handing over this military hardware to the
Armenian party is not on the agenda. It will be deployed exclusively at Russia's
Georgia to start NATO membership plan in 2000
Georgia is looking westwards for military allies these days, just as it is
for financial, business, legal and political support, qua Soros, the EU and the
In 2007 Georgia expects to begin a programme aimed at joining NATO, Georgia
State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Giorgi Baramidze told
Interfax in Brussels on May 20th. He added that if Georgia continues to work at
the same pace as now, then it will soon receive an invitation to start
implementing a NATO Membership Action Plan in 2007.
On May 19th, a Georgian delegation reported at the NATO head-quarters in
Brussels on implementation of the individual partnership plan with the alliance,
which was opened in the fall of 2004.
Georgia to export electricity to Turkey
The Georgian Energy Ministry said recently that 70-80 megawatts of electricity
will be exported to Turkey and the process will last until September. Georgia
started delivering electricity to Turkey on July 3 as per instructions under a
barter scheme, New Europe reported.
In December Turkey will start delivering approximately the same amount of
electricity to guarantee round-the-clock energy supplies in the autonomous area
of Ajaria. Georgian Deputy Energy Minister, Alexander Khetaguri, said that for
every 1.2 kilowatt/hour Georgia exports in summer it should receive 1
kilowatt/hour in winter. He accounted for the difference in the volume of
deliveries to the fact that in winter Turkish electricity is more expensive than
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Saakashvili seeks improved economic ties with Ukraine
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili was in Kiev recently to attend a forum
that aimed at attracting investment to Ukraine, New Europe reported recently.
The Extraordinary Ukraine Roundtable provided participants with a first-hand
view of economic perspectives and market developments in Ukraine as well as
providing a platform for leading multinational businesses to support President
Viktor Yushchenko and his government in their efforts to push through the
necessary economic reforms and the opening up of markets in the country.
Saakashvili said it is not possible for Georgia to invest directly in Ukraine
but the strong spirit of cooperation between the two countries would contribute
to the economic progress of both countries.
The president of Georgia echoed calls for greater European solidarity. Ukraine
and Georgia are 2 nations that are "proving that democracy in this part of
the world works," Saakashvili said.
During his visit to Kiev, Saakashvili attended a ceremony marking the laying of
the foundation stone at the site of the new Georgian embassy in central Kiev.
Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia kick-start railway talks
Abkhaz, Georgian and Russian officials held negotiations on July 2 in the
breakaway region's Gali district to discuss issues related to the restructuring
of the Abkhaz portion of Russian-Georgian railway, Civil Georgia reported.
Officials from the Russian railway company also participated in the talks.
Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava led the
Georgian delegation, while de facto leader Leonid Lakerbaia represented the
Abkhaz side. The sides agreed at an earlier meeting to review the current
condition of the Abkhaz railway before July 15. According to Khaindrava's press
office, the sides also discussed the issue of security of a joint working group,
which will assess the condition of the railway. In the next round of talks that
are scheduled to be held in Tbilisi, the parties will discuss the composition of
a joint expert group which will assess the current condition of the railway
between the Abkhaz capital Sokhumi and Zugdidi in western Georgia."