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The Georgian Rose Revolution,
some personal experiences



Per Gahrton

Member of the European Parliament (Sweden, Greens)
Rapporteur on South Caucasus
Election observer, Nov. 2, 2003 and Jan. 4, 2004

TFF associate

January 9, 2004

Georgia is an extraordinary country, beautiful, thrilling, friendly - according to a recent guide book it is the "mountain of poetry" ("Georgia - in the mountains of poetry", by Peter Nasmyth, Curzon Caucasus World, 2001). But today Georgia is also a very tragic country. The economy is a total disaster. The central government - if there is any - has completely lost control over two seccessionist puppet states - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - and financially also over Adjara, the tax incomes of which stubbornly are included in the Central budget although the money never leave Batumi. Everybody maintains that corruption is the major problem of the country, but not much is done about it. At a visit in Tbilisi a couple of years ago I was surprised by police check points around the city stopping every car, except ours. Asking my host from the Georgian Parliament if there was a new uprising in the making I got the sobering reply: O no, the policemen are just gathering their salaries!

In French language La Vie en Georgie 7 Mai 2002 Vladimir Sokoloff, doctor of Economy and Finance, writes: "The years of independence have been transformed into a period of unbeleivable decadence, leaving but little hope for the population". And the vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia, Fady Asly, says in an interview: "In Georgia you pay bribes under pressure. That is blackmail."

Corruption and the non-action against it by the Shevarnadze regime is the main reason for the present deep political crisis, a crisis that did not start around the recent parliamentary elections but much earlier, during the preparations for the local elections of June 2nd, 2002.

It is since long well known that elections in Georgia are not always completely correct and fair, due to a mixture of administrative and legal flaws and deliberate manipulations. An experienced official of an international organisation in Georgia, who does not want to be identified, told me during my visit in May 2002 that deficiencies and flaws have continuously increased at every election, from the local elections of 1998, via the parliamentary elections of 1999 to the presidential elections of 2000. In the debate before the local election of June 2nd 2002 fears of fraud and manipulation were paramount in the Georgian media. In an article on the elections, The Georgian Messenger (May 30) says: "Political leaders are unanimous in excluding the possibility that the elections will be conducted in an objective manner. They claim that it is highly likely that the election results will be rigged".

I was called upon by democratic friends in Georgia who urged me to come and help. So I made a short visit just before election day, which was highly publicised, meeting with almost everybody of importance.

Shevarnadze's political power base was Citiziens' Union of Georgia, a "catch-all"-party formed on the initiative of, among others, a group of persons who in the late 80-ies established the successful Green Party. The leader of this group was Zurab Zhvania (former Co-secretary of the European Greens), Speaker of the Parliament 1996-2001, who also "established himself as Shevarnadze's possible successor" (Nasmyth).

After the re-election of Shevarnadze in April 2000, Zhvania became more and more impatient with the lack of efficient measures against corruption and the President's choice of some persons to leading positions, especially the nomination of Kakha Targamadze to the post as minister of the Interior. According to Zhvania, Targamadze became the real ruler of Georgia. On 28/8 -01 Zhvania wrote and open letter to Shevarnadze where he raised several demands, one of which was that Targamadze should be dismissed. Shevarnadze refused. At the end of October 2002 the popular and independent TV-station Rustavi 2, which was investigating the corruption of leading politicians including Tamargadse, was attacked by the police in order to force it to close down. Zhvania called a press conference and blamed Shevarnadze and promised to resign if the President dismissed Targamadze & Co. Shevarnadze dismissed to whole government, and then Zhvania resigned as Speaker.

In December 2001, at the Congress of the Citizens Union of Georgia (CUG), Zhvania held a speech which criticised the government and launched the CUG as a party of "constructive opposition". Shevarnadze resigned as Chairman of the CUG, the congress decided to leave that post vacant and establish an Organisation Committe, OC, responsible for leading the party and charged with the task to draw up a new structure. Zhvania was chair of the OC. The Ministry of Justice registered the changes in the CUG structure.

In Januari 2002 Zhvania publicly repeated that CUG is a "constructive opposition". In March a MP of the CUG, Gela Kvaratskhelia, handed in a complaint to the Ministry of Justice against the decisions of the CUG Congress. This was rejected by the Ministry. Mr Kvaratskhelia then delivered a complaint to a district court. The court, according to the Administrative Code, immediately suspended the registration of the "new" CUG. This started a chain of actions and measures in courts and in the Central Election Committe that finally led to the invalidation of the CUG-candidates for the Local Elections of June the 2nd delivered by the OC led by Zhvania. Instead, other candidates were registered in the name of CUG by the group led by Kvaratskhelia.

The Zhvania Group was thus in principle banned from participating in the elections. But only just before the dead-line for registration, a small registered party, the Christian Conservatives, offered Zhvania its party label because, they say, they wanted to protest against the manipulations that almost left the Zhvania group out of the election race. Thus, Zhvania & Co could stand for election as "christian conservatives", a label that does not exactly correspond to their politics.

The president of the Supreme Court of Georgia Lado Chanturia told me that the Court hade no choice but to suspend the registration of the CUG-candidates when Mr Kvaratshkeliga brought his complaint. According to the Administrative Procedure Code, First Part, Article 29 "bringing an action in the court shall result in the suspension of the concerned administrative act". I replied that this is absurd because it opens the door to any member of any party to sabotage the activity, i.e. registration of candidates, by giving in a complaint to a court. What if all parties are the victims of such complaints - then there would be no registered candidates at all! To this Mr. Chanturia replied that the Supreme Court is aware of the risk of such abuse of the provisions and, therefore, already 6-8 months ago had tried to direct the attention of the Parliament to the problem, but to no avail.

The chair of the Central electoral committe, Mr. Jumber Lominadze, a physicist by profession, told me he had tried to negotiate a solution with the conflicting factions for four hours. Outside was turmoil, the building was blocked. Finally he had no choice but to turn over the matter to the court. But his personal opinion was that the decision of the court was wrong.

Davit Kipiani, International Society for Elections and Democracy, stated that the CUG split "paralysed CEC". The CEC had to deal with matters outside its competence, with the result that the elections have been poorly prepared. The situation was so tense and there was a risk that violence would break out that Kipiani called upon the politicians to keep calm and act according to laws.

Apart from the split between the Zhvania Group and Kvaratskhelia (the latter, in reality, working on behalf of Shevarnadze, according to most observers), earlier two other groups seceded from the CUG, the fiercely anti-Shevarnadze National Movement and the more pro-Shevarnadze New Rights Party. The slogan of the National Movement has been "Georgia/Tbilisi without Shevarnadze". Its leader Saakashvili in the Georgian Messenger (May 30) said "that it is no longer a novelty that money-making is only possible by means of having good relations with Shevarnadze".

A sign of the very high and shrill level of the debate is a short piece in the Russian Language Svobodnaja Gruzia (Free Georgia) of May 29 which states that the former Minister of the Interior, Targamadze, is preparing documents against Zhvania and Saakashvili which will prove that those two politicians last autumn were planning to "stage a coup d'etat".

The turn-out of voters was higher than expected and a victory for the main anti-corruption opposition parties, National Movement and Labour (around 25% each). The legal, political and power struggle between factions of the former ruling party, the Citizens Union, was resolved by voters in favour of the Zurab Zhvania Group, which received around 7 % of votes, against the President loyal-faction which did not pass the 4 % barrier.

But slander against the opposition continued, the most macabre example being the spreading of rumours that Saakashvili and Zhvania should be of Armenian origin - as if that would be a problem in a country, member of the Council of Europe, where almost 10 per cent of the population is fully Armenian!

The political situation in Georgia after the local elections of 2002 was described in a nutshell by Georgian Messenger (July 2) when it wrote that the new crown prince of Shevarnadze, the State (Prime) Minister, Avtandil Jorbenadze, "did not only obtain membership of the Citizens Union because all State officials are obliged to do so, but he saw potential in his membership to influence the party and profit from it". And what about ideological convictions? What about solving the problems of the country? What about serving the people?

The anti-corruption opposition won the local elections of June 2nd despite the widespread falsifications that all observers (including those of the Council of Europe) are convinced took place. But that was only the beginning of the end. The next chapter occurred this autumn during and after the parliamentary election of Nov 2nd 2003.


Georgia - Another victory for non-violence.
The British in India, the Shah of Iran, Marcos in the Philippines, Solidarnosc, the Velvet Revolution in Chechoslovakia, the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pinochet in Chile, Milosevic in Serbia and now Shevardnadze in Georgia: nonviolence changes the world for the better and offers hope.
Contrast Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Iraq - where military intervention and bombings brought neither peace nor hope.
Why is the obvious strength of non-violence disregarded by the media and our politicians?

-Jan Oberg, TFF Director

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The Rose Revolution

The basic situation at the time of the Rose Revolution is appalling. The economy has come to an almost standstill. Every fourth of the urban population is without a job. An average monthly wage is some 50 dollars and half the population lives below the poverty line. The Council of Europe, CoE, has stated that the Human Rights situation is not acceptable. A fifth of the Soviet-era population has left. And the central government has lost control over three provinces, Abkhasia, South Ossetia and Adjara.

How would just and correct elections be possible in such a situation? When I met with representatives of major parties before election day November 2nd, 2003, the vocabulary was so tense that a catastrophe was clearly in-the-making. Especially representatives of Schevarnades New Georgia displayed no respect for the opposition, accusing them of wanting to give Georgia back to Russia, pursuing fascist and populist policies and controlling most NGOs and independent media, like the Rustavi 2 TV-station.

Opposition representatives declared that the election really was about Schevarnadse (although his mandate lasted until 2005) and warned that voters registers were not correct. On election day I watched ten different polling stations in the city of Rustavi. Thousands of voters were refused to vote because they were not included in the lists. Other observers saw direct manipulations. The Institute for Fair Elections proved by parallel counting that manipulation with figures was common at the regional levels. Observers from OSCE , the CoU and the EU could easily agree that the election was anything but correct.

It is clear that Schevarnadses New Georgia lost, receiving only 19 %. But did the opposition win? According to the estimate by Fair Elections the three opposition parties that had declared that they were prepared to co-operate, National Movement, Burjanadse-Democrats and New Right got 44,4%. The Adjara-ruler got 8 %, Labour 17%, others the rest.

The Labour leader, Shalva Natelashvili, is very much anti-Schevarnadse and has complained to the European Court in Strasbourg about fraud in the previous parliamentary election that barred his party from representation. He also detests the new leaders and told me two weeks after the elections - but some days before the Rose revolution - that Labour wanted to play the role of a third force. He predicted that Burjanadse/Zhvania/Saakashvili would force Schevarnadse to resign before the new parliament could legally convene which would elevate Burjanadse to interim President and, according to the Labour leader, give these people the possibility to stage fraudulent presidential elections! But the Presidential elections of January 4, 2004 disproved these apprehensions. According to my own experience as well as that of international observers in general, these were the least manipulated election ever in Georgia.


The "realo" of the Rose Revolution

While all attention after the presidential election in Georgia is concentrated upon Michael Saakashvili, his only four years elder political "father" Zurab Zhvania, should not be forgotten. Those of us who know Zhvania since he founded the Georgian Green Party in the late 1980-ies and then served as co-secretaryof the European Greens, are aware that he is a very matter-of-fact person. If Saakashvili is the "fundi" of the Rose Revolution, Zhvania is the "realo".

When I meet him in his State Minister office the day after the landslide victory in the presidential election of his partner, Michael Saakashvili, I cannot help testing his patience by forwarding some of the criticism directed at him and his colleages by the tiny remnants of Opposition in the country, for example the fact that he had co-operated with the defunct President Schevarnadse during almost a decade.

Zhvania was even one of the most active promotors of the return of Schevarndse to Georgia, where the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Gorbatjov was also remembered as the former chief of both the Georgian Communist Party and the Georgian KGB. Zhvania had served as this man's "crown prince"!

Zhvania just smiles mildly at my question.

- In 1992 we had a civil war, Schevarnadse was the only possibility and I am not ashamed of having brought him back, but proud. But I am also proud to be one of the very few politicans in a former Communist Country to have resigned from such a high position as I did in 2001 without any type of "parachute".

Zhvania is right. After his resignation from his position as Speaker and head of the ruling Citizens Union in the fall of 2001 - because of Schevarnadse's inability and lack of will to take forceful action against corruption - a resignation that was triggered by physical attacks by the authorities against TV-station Rusavi 2, Zhvania suddenly found himself in a political desert, even being barred from presenting candidates for the local election of June 2002. He was very close to end up in the dustbin of history. That he was going to manage a come-back together with Saakashvili and Nino Burjanadse was not settled until the historic days of November 2003.

He interrupts our conversation for a short telephone talk with Burjanadse. On the agenda is a rapid amendment to the Constitution in order to replace the post of State Minister with a real position as Prime Minister and Chief of Government. Some predict that the new president would like to retain the American style presidential power he has just been given by more than nine out of ten Georgians. But Zhvania has no doubt that the agreed change will take place.

- We have no alternative but to keep together. That is best for Georgia. And the people will not forgive anyone who would damage the new ruling coalition for personal gains. The voters have not given us eternal power. They have opened a unique window of opportunity. If we don't use that with responsibility, we will be punished - and rightly so.

I am convinced he is right. There will be no split in the leadership of the Rose revolution, at least not for a year or two. Measures will be undertaken against corruption. There will be legal action against several leaders of the previous regime, who have enriched themselves by abusing their powers. There will be all possible efforts to show the world that Georgia is a state of law. But Schevarnadse will probably not be touched personally. He has been well treated. He still lives in the Presidential palace and has a strong personal body guard. Zhvania wants him to remain in Georgia, as a free man. He wants to demonstrate that Georgia is a normal country where a former President must neither be dead, a refugee nor a prisoner, but may live as a free citizen.


Georgia's role in global politics - before and from now on

But where is Georgia heading in global politics? Some say that the Rose Revolution was a US-sponsored action to safeguard American interests in a sensitive region at the frontier of the "clash of civilisations". Georgia also plays an important role by offering transit routes for oil and gas, circumventing Russia - such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that is under construction. The manipulative behaviour of US Ambassador Milnes is common knowledge. But can Georgia cope without accomodation with Russia? And what about its European ambitions?

Those who suspect the new Georgian leaders of establishing a US satelite forget several facts. For example Zhvania was one of very few state leaders outside Russias closest allies to welcome the outcome of the Duma elections in December ( See Svobodnaja Gruzia Dec 8th, 2003). Not because he found those elections commendable. But because he is a realo. Zhvania also to my knowledge is sceptical about a rapid NATO-membership of Georgia. His relation to the US is as "realo" as the one with Russia.

With Europe it is another matter. That's where his attitudes build quite a lot on "fundi"-traits. He is emphasising that Georgia is heading for full membership of the European Union. We agree that Europe should do more to support the new democracy. Nobody would be served by Georgia becoming a frontier region in the global struggle for world hegemony.

- But did you not cooperate with Serbian Otpor, which also got a lot of US support through the infamous Mr Milnes?

- What is wrong with one peaceful revolutionary movement getting support from another, he asks mildly and what could I say against that?


The future?

The peaceful character of the Rose Revolution has created a unique situation, without the hatred, bitterness and wish for revenge that makes so many bloody revolutions deteriorate into brutal prisons that "eat their own children". One reason for this is, of course, that the opponent, the Schevarnadse regime, was no Stalinist dictatorship, but just a corrupt mixture of clan and mafia mismanagement. This makes things easier now. But also more difficult in some ways. Because "freedom" is not enough for the Georgians. They have had it, more or less, for a decade. Freedom of expression has been considerable, civil society is relatively strong. But the material level of living has deteriorated very much. Thus logically, one of the most noticed promises by the new regime is to double the pensions for close to one million pensioners - from 6 dollars to 12. That does not sound much. But for a country where the previous regime has emptied the wallet of the state it might be just too much. If so, there will be no lack of opposition!

In such a situation nice words don't last long. More down-to-earth actions are needed. Maybe that is what Schevarnadse had in mind when he admitted that he had voted for Saakashvili (!) but added that he should talk less, and act more

Saakashvili has probably understood that. He will have good use of the acting realo at his side, Zurab Zhvania, who still has a part of his soul with the Greens. But not all of it. One thing he does not understand: the principal of rotation, which some Green parties still implement in order to avoid the creation of a "new class" of professional politicians.

- How could we compete with professional crooks, criminals, mafia bosses and clan leaders if we, the democratically elected politicians are amateurs?

As a Swedish Green I don't agree. But for Georgia its probably good that all the professional saboteurs of viable democracy are confronted not only by an excellent orator and charismatic personality but also by a realist, professional democrat.


© TFF & the author 2004  



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