The European Union Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle, expressed his concerns regarding the increased political tensions in Georgia after meeting with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in Brussels on 28 June.
Füle noted that “the parliamentary election in October and presidential elections in 2013 will be important test cases for Georgian democracy and we encourage all political forces to respect the electoral process and make sure that the voting is free and fair.”
Acknowledging that Georgia has made important progress, he also cautioned that “it is also clear that Georgia needs to take further steps and continue this path of modernization and to consolidate democracy.”
“The EU is increasingly concerned about growing political tension and polarisation in the run-up to the parliamentary elections and I have expressed the conviction that the elections will be first of all about political programmes and ideas.”
Štefan Füle, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy.
The concerns come on the heels of mounting legal problems facing the opposition in Georgia as well as a violent skirmish during a Georgian Dream rally in Mereti, a village in the Shida Kartli region near the occupied territory of South Ossetia.
A fistfight broke out during a pre-election campaign meeting with Bidzina Ivanishvili and fellow Georgian Dream member Irakli Alassania, leader of the Our Georgia-Free Democrats party. The politicians were involved in a discussion with local residents when the meeting was interrupted by a woman accusing the businessman of being a traitor to Georgia and a puppet of Putin, in reference to Ivanishvili’s remarks that Georgia started the 2008 war with Russia. A little while later fighting erupted and the meeting was disrupted. According to Georgian media reports, several people were injured, including two women who were taken to hospital for treatment, and some vehicles were damaged in the clash.
Four people have been arrested and sentenced to ten days imprisonment in the town of Gori; two of those detained are Georgian Dream supporters.
The opposition has accused the government of inciting the violence. Ivanishvili before leaving the village stated, “This is a typical policy of Saakashvili – provoking confrontation between people. Of course not everyone might support our policy, but they should not thwart a meeting with my supporters.”
The government has denied involvement in the incident.
Expressing his understanding that many Georgians might be upset about Ivanishvili’s position on the 2008 war, Parliamentary Chairman, David Bakradze, called for restraint ahead of the October parliamentary elections “no matter how unacceptable [the] remarks and position of a political group might be.”
On 28 June, the Public Defender’s Office of Georgia announced that it had launched an investigation into the incident citing media footage which demonstrated that some of the “persons, who were involved in the incident, are public servants.” These included employees of the governing body of Gori as well as emergency services personnel from the Shida Kartli region.
Without directly implicating the involvement of the authorities in the incident, the Public Defender’s Office explained in its statement that the participation of public servants in this kind of confrontation is inappropriate behaviour and that the study will address any wrongdoing committed by anyone in the employ of the government and will submit its findings to the Chief Prosecutor’s Office.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections (IATF) of the National Security Council also released a statement condemning the violence in Mereti and called for political parties to maintain distance between people with opposing views at public events.
Report prepared for CEW by Karina Gould with additional reporting from Democracy and Freedom Watch as well as civil.ge.