Georgian political parties with seemingly incompatible agendas decided to unite against the criminal threat. A decision to form a coalition was announced at the offices of the National Democratic Party (NDP). It was triggered by President’s pardoning of the members of the “Mkhedrioni” paramilitary group suspected in an armed assault on NDP leaders in 1994, which left Ghia Chanturia dead and his wife, current leader of NDP Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, wounded.
Temur Khachishvili, one of “Mkhedrioni” leaders and a Deputy Chief of the Security Service in 1995, who was pardoned in the beginning of July, claimed during the live interview that he would not let Mikheil Saakashvili and Zurab Zhvania come to power. The next day leaders and members of 8 political parties gathered in the office of the National-Democratic Party to publicly condemn statement of the former “Mkhedrioni” member and demand “immediate dismantling of the criminal-political system”.
Pardoning of Giga Gelashvili, former brigade commander of the Alpha special-purpose unit and Khachishvili, who were convicted for organizing the terrorist acts caused major disruptions in the Georgian political circles. Release of the members of militarized organization “Mkhedrioni”, which existed in early 90-ies was regarded by the majority of the country’s political forces as an evident fact of criminalizing the state and decided to march against this process.
“We gathered to unite our efforts and should achieve at last that the political decisions are not made under threats of violence or terror,” leader of the United Democrats Zurab Zhvania said.
“This meeting is an attempt to create framework of cooperation and competition of the political spectrum, which will distanced both from Shevardnadze and Abashidze [leader of Adjara Autonomous Republic]” – said David Berdzenishvili, Chairman of the Republican Party. “We challenge the Georgian political spectrum. No political group that will try to stick with Shevardnadze or Abashidze should have any success” – he added.
Many experts agree that this gathering of the Georgian political forces is a logical continuation of the process of breaking the connections with the government. Before dissolution of the Citizens Union of Georgia (CUG) an opinion was prevailing according to which once Shevardnadze-Zhvania alliance broke up, certain equilibrium would emerge among the various parties with the President acting as an arbiter. In reality, after Zhvania moved to the opposition, Shevardnadze prioritized recreation of the CUG, endorsing his new favorite, State Minister Avtandil Jorbenadze as the party chairman.
“This emphasis on revival of the CUG as a nomenklatura -governmental party has alienated certain political parties from the government. This is a certain mistake of Shevardnadze,” says Ghia Nodia of the Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development.
Separation of the parties from the government is a sign of maturing of the political forces on one hand and emergence of healthier political processes on the other, when the government and the opposition are clearly defined. “This is much closer to what is called a normal political structure. However it brings certain political risks as well – there always is a threat that such confrontation will get out of control. Therefore it is a kind of test for our political elite. It must find a way of mixing aggressiveness with rationality”, says Nodia.
Many argue, that before dissolution of the CUG, Georgian politics had only two grand directors: Eduard Shevardnadze and Aslan Abashidze. Both are the masters of backstage politics. As a result of these politics, the political rhetoric and real political processes tend to differ sharply. The main outcome of the ruling party’s dissolution was apparent rift of the opposition parties from the government and evolvement of the public politics into the real political battle.
David Berdzenishvili thinks that in current circumstances politicians no longer can dictate rules to the voters. Huge masses of the voters that already formed the society dictate rules to politics and politicians. “We hardly manage to quickly analyze social requests of the voters and respond to them adequately” – says the chairman of the Republican Party.
There is another evident trend in Georgia’s political life: tolerance towards use of violence by the government. It is not a secret anymore that there are several armed groups in the country acting almost uncovered and openly threatening certain political entities via TV. This was clearly seen on June 2, during the Local Self-Governance Elections when numerous facts of ballot hijackings and armed assaults on voting stations occurred.
At the same time, assaults on religious minorities and human rights groups have become a common practice. Attack on the Liberty Institute of July 10 and poorly covered masked satisfaction of some politicians with this event indicates that violence tends to become more and more visible factor in Georgia’s social life.
Ghia Nodia says that the government does not see the ways of improving its rating anymore. On the one hand, the government is alarmed with emergence of real opposition and falling rates of popular support. It does not feel itself as confident as in the past and this makes it to be more aggressive; On the other hand, the opposition feels that it can achieve something, but they are not a well-structured force yet. “They believe that their chance is mounting the pressure in political rhetoric. Consequently the tension is being escalated from both the government and the opposition,” Nodia says.
It is evident that the confrontation will further escalate as the Parliamentary elections approach. The actors on the Georgian political scene are already practicing the pre-election lines.
President Shevardnadze has set two main goals to the CUG during the last party summit – victory in the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. The local elections proved that the opposition parties also have very serious claims and they will not be satisfied with minor political dividends as before.
“In the worst case, we [the political opposition] would bring a Waterloo to the Shevardnadze-Abashidze forces and in the best case their alliance will be so weak that the main competition will take place among the real political powers” – David Berdzenishvili says.
The greatest challenge to the Georgian society, however, would be to avoid any waterloos on the road to development and guide itself to the peaceful waters through the stormy forthcoming elections.
By Revaz Bakhtadze, Civil Georgia