Georgia: Oh so democratic!

scuffles outside national library in GeorgiaGeorgian civil society organisations had tough words for politicians following incidents at a protest in front of the National Library where President Saakashvili was due to speak. The International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy, Transparency International – Georgia, Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association and the Open Society – Georgia Foundation condemned the acts of violence that ensued. In their statement the four NGOs said

“We believe that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia has failed to take preventive measures in an effective manner to avoid injuring of guests of the event. The situation could only be de-escalated after the Interior Minister arrived at the scene. It is clearly a positive fact that the minister personally got involved in the developments; however, we believe that the Interior Ministry has failed to plan adequate measures for ensuring safety of participants, resulting in the necessity to postpone the presidential address.” The NGOs warned that “freedom of assembly and expression is one of the most important values of a democratic society but it must be realized within the legal constraints. We understand that some people have been suffering from the sense of injustice for over the years; nevertheless, this may not justify such illegal acts.”

Georgia marks the eight anniversary of the death of Zurab Zhvania – father of the modern Georgian Parliament.

Zurab Zhvania

Zurab Zhvania

Dennis Sammut looks back at the life of one of the most outstanding politicians in the Caucasus in modern times.

On Sunday, 3rd February Georgia marked the 8th anniversary of the death in mysterious circumstances of Zurab Zhvania, a liberal and progressive politician who is best remembered for his work to establish the Georgian parliament as a credible and model institution, in the mid-1990s.

Zhvania started his political career as an environmental activist in the last years of the Soviet Union, and in the years of perestroika set up the Green Party of Georgia which became a focal point for many similarly minded young Georgian intellectuals. In 1992 he was appointed a member of the State Council, a body that had been created after the end of the 1991-2 civil war. Zhvania became an ally of Edward Shevardnadze after the latter returned from Moscow to head the State Council and lead Georgia out of the chaos in which it had found itself.  In 1993 he became the head of the Citizens Union of Georgia, a broad based political force which aimed to support Shevardndze’s endeavours for reform and stability.

In November 1995 Zhvania was elected Chairman of the Georgian parliament. In a very short period of time he managed to introduce a parliamentary tradition in the post-Soviet country, justifiably earning for himself the title of father of the modern Georgian Parliament. He steered Georgia’s membership to the Council of Europe, which it joined in 1999, well ahead of its neighbours Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Georgian Parliament in this period was considered a model not only for other post-Soviet countries but for parliaments in other transition countries far beyond. He was well respected in European and North American political circles, as well as in the region for his visionary ideas that combined with astute pragmatism. His belief in Georgia’s European vocation was never at the exclusion of its Caucasian roots. More…

End of a dream or the beginning of reality?

Bidhzina Ivanishvili and Irakli Alasnia campaigning in Zugdidi in August 2012.

Bidhzina Ivanishvili and Irakli Alasnia campaigning in Zugdidi in August 2012.

A terse statement on the website of the government of Georgia on 23 January said that the Prime Minister Bidhzina Ivanishvili had relieved the Defence Minister Irakli Alasania of his other role as First Deputy Prime Minister. The announcement triggered widespread speculation about the reasons for Alasania’s demotion, and of splits in the governing Georgian Dream coalition whose spectacular victory in last year’s autumn parliamentary elections changed the Georgian political landscape.

The problem between Ivanishvili and Alasania arose following rumours that Alasania was preparing to present himself as a candidate in the Presidential elections in October and that some of his supporters had already started soliciting support, including from members of other Georgian Dream Coalition parties. Ivanishvili, speaking to Georgian journalists in Davos, said that this had created some problems within the coalition and described this as “Alasania’s small mistake”. Ivanishvili also said that when he recently decided to pay more attention to development of his own party, Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, including in the provinces, he in advance informed about it and consulted over it with other parties within the six-party Georgian Dream coalition.

There was widespread speculation in the Georgian media about the significance of these developments. Some described them as “the end of a dream”. It had been recognised throughout the election campaign that the coalition was too disparate to be held together, and that it will unravel as soon as the election passes. Indeed this remains a prospect, but for the moment a distant one. Both Ivanishvili and Alasania have sought to downplay the incident and to explain it as part of political reality – normal tension within a coalition.

At the heart of the issue however is the personality of Bidhzina Ivanishvili himself. Ivanishvili continues to be underestimated by friend and foe alike. His dealing with Alasania shows once again that he is not a person to take nonsense from anybody. It also confirms that for Ivanishvili’s loyalty is a virtue above all others.

Ivanishvili has however to learn that the rules of the political world are similar but not the same as those of the business world. Political support and political legitimacy, are, like loyalty, not easily quantifiable. His government already stands accused of being too narrow based, and there are many elements in Georgia who feel they have been left out, despite the fact that they had also opposed the previous government. If Ivanishvili rocks his own boat too much it may do harm that he will not be able to undo later.

However most observers feel that Ivanishvili and Alasania for the moment at least, need each other, and unless there are further complications the issue will pass without much further ado. How the Georgian Dream coalition will deal with the issue of the forthcoming Presidential elections will however be an important test for its long term durability.

source: CEW Editorial team

Saakashvili accuses opponents of “winner takes all”mentality.

President Saakashvili addressing PACE in Strasbourg on 21 January 2013. (picture courtesy of the Council of Europe).

President Saakashvili addressing PACE in Strasbourg on 21 January 2013. (picture courtesy of the Council of Europe).

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Monday (21 January) addressed the Plenary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. In a wide ranging speech he spoke about Georgia’s current political challenges, its relations with Russia and  Georgia’s long term European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations

Referring to events that unfolded in Georgia following the Parliamentary elections on 1 October, Saakashvili said that PM Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream coalition was suffering from “winner-takes-it-all mentality” and accused the new government of applying “selective justice” and targeting former government officials, UNM lawmakers, local authorities, judiciary and media. He said that the new authorities were pursuing the “campaign to silence political opposition” and accused the government of attempts to get constitutional majority in the Parliament through “direct blackmails” against UNM lawmakers pressuring them to switch sides. He also accused the government of pressuring Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) and claimed that the government “pushed the director of GPB to resign”.

Saakashvili, however, also said that there was still room for “a fruitful cohabitation” and mentioned his five-point plan, which he offered to the new government in his New Year’s address to the nation as a basis for cooperation. More…

Skeletons fall out of Saakashvili’s cupboard. Prosecutor General says there is worse to come.

President Saakashvili denied all knowledge of the affair and proposed a new law to protect citizen's privacy.

President Saakashvili denied all knowledge of the affair and proposed a new law to protect citizen’s privacy.

Just when the memories of the prisoner abuse scandal in Georgia had started to fade, another scandal involving gross abuse of power of the Georgian government led by President Mikheil Saakashvili, defeated in the 1 october 2012 elections has emerged.

The scandal involves the activity of a unit within the Military Police Department of the Georgian Ministry of  Defence which was tasked with the entrapment of gay public personalities, who were lured into sexual activity, filmed and then blackmailed. Prosecutors say that senior members of the former government working in the Ministry of Defence were involved in the operation. The former Defense Ministry officials, prosecutors charge, extorted money from their victims and coerced them into cooperating with the secret services. In some cases, this allegedly involved voicing public support for Saakashvili and the government his party controlled. More…