Dispatch – March 24-24: Struggling
Survey: What if Russia Invades? – Neutrality ‘Option’: Many Hate the Idea – Another Package Arrives from Strasbourg
A month since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Georgians still struggle to figure out their own options. And despite international tensions, domestic struggles remain. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.
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HOMECOMING Early on March 24, the bodies of two Georgians who were killed while defending Ukraine were repatriated to Georgia, hailed by some in their country as heroes. As people gathered in a vigil at the airport to salute and pay their respects, opposition politicians were in attendance. President Salome Zurabishvili was also seen, comforting families of the fighters killed in action. Zurabishvili continues to meet public expectations, showing due consideration for what is happening in Ukraine. Her colleagues from the government were conspicuous in their absence, even though the authorities have arranged for repatriation. You can take a look at the photos here.
BATTLE CRY Large parts of Georgians are ready (or at least so they claim) to stay in the country and fight – or otherwise help the community – if Russian troops enter Georgia. This is according to the survey conducted by the local market and social research organization IPM. 42,7% of respondents of over 1,000 telephone interviews say they would fight the invaders, while 16,2% are ready to engage in various volunteer activities and 6.8% pledge to do anything that is needed for the country. Further 3% say they will be joining demonstrations, and 1,7% are ready to follow whatever “the nation decides.” 24.2% will stay in the country and try to stay safe, while only 1.7% are willing to leave Georgia in case of a Russian invasion.
Georgians also seem to be willing to provide more physical support for Ukrainians in need – 57% of respondents say they are willing to go to Ukraine and help, out of which 47.9% say they’d do whatever they can to help the country under attack, 34% would engage as civilian volunteers, and 10.6% are willing to fight.
BAD WORD No wonder then that people don’t want to hear the word “neutrality”, which has been repeatedly brought up by Georgian conservative forces that sympathize with Russia – or at least fear it. Some, like Irma Inashvili’s group, have been even sending open letters to Putin and the UN Security Council. The rest of the political forces in Georgia, particularly those identifying as pro-Western, say this matter is not up for discussion. For them, the Constitution says it all: “The constitutional bodies shall take all measures within the scope of their competences to ensure the full integration of Georgia into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” reads article 78.
IT WAS HIM But someone seems to have opened a pandora’s box, and that someone may also be ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili (at least this is where the ruling party has been pointing fingers when faced with awkward questions). “There is a plan, according to which a provocation is planned inside our occupied territories and at the dividing line, which will be blamed on Georgian opposition groups, after which the Russian government will demand from the Georgian government to declare neutrality and the Georgian government will be ready to declare the neutrality,” Saakashvili said during his court address on March 17. The former President claimed that the neutrality imposed on Georgia would mean the abolishment of the statehood, unlike the neutrality offered to Ukraine which is “well-armed Ukraine with security guarantees from the U.S.”
13 REASONS WHY NOT Heated debates followed, or rather heated claims about why neutrality is bad for Georgia. Many arguments were made, to list the few: belief that no internationally guaranteed neutral status is possible for a country with territorial disputes, and the view that currently Georgia is not well armed enough for other states, particularly Russia, to see aggression as too costly; references to militarily neutral Moldova which still has Russian troops on its territory and Ukraine that was invaded in 2014 despite its neutral status; disbelief about Russia restraining itself from meddling in Georgia’s domestic affairs if Georgia moves towards the EU (but not NATO) etc. Others also see ethical and moral problems in the word “neutral” when it comes to the attitude towards a malign, aggressive power. And there is a problem of pride, dignity for a sovereign country not to be forced into an undesired foreign policy decision.
PACKAGE FROM STRASBOURG Two important decisions arrived from the European Court of Human Rights. The first one, widely welcomed in Georgia, is the decision to find 370 applications against Georgia for alleged human rights violations during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War as inadmissible. The Court stressed that Georgia cannot be held responsible for acts that took place in Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia during the active phase of hostilities (details here).
Another one is the Court’s decision to join jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s two complaints against the Georgian government and declare them admissible. In two cases, Saakashvili seeks to challenge Georgian jurisprudence convicting him in cases of physical assault of former MP Valeri Gelashvili and pardoning in Sandro Girgvilani’s high-profile murder case. Alleging political persecution in both cases, ex-President claims the charges against him are based on hearsay, and in the latter case also rely on non-existent laws (read more).
That’s the full lid for today. May the next issue come out in a more peaceful world. Join us every Tuesday and Friday for the incisive coverage of Georgia’s political life.