February 12, 2008
Eka Kvesitadze, Freelance Journalist
If during the past four years the count of the political situation used to start from the Rose Revolution, today this date has been replaced by November 7. Although three months have passed since the November events, the wave of emotions has not been calmed among the Georgian society. The positions are still completely polarized. So are polarized the ongoing evaluations of November 7 as well.
If for one part of the society the Georgian State was born on that day, such state that can sustain any pressure (in this particular case – a coup d’état attempt), for the other part it was not a coup d’état attempt on November 7, but it was a decisive fight for Georgian democracy. And for the latter part of the society the government by “raising its hand against its own people” converted its own governance into illegitimate one.
The truth is somewhere between, because the participants of the protest rallies were groups of different interests and their protests had different reasons and goals. Among these groups were those that felt themselves comfortable in the corrupt system created by Shevardnadze but after the Rose Revolution they fell outside of the political game; those who lost privileges belonging to intelligentsia; those that were touched by the reforms from a different angle and subsequently they lost their employments; those who suffered demolition of those properties that they thought they owned and they were untouchable; those who protested the declaration of zero tolerance against criminals; and those who were demanding presence of stronger democratic institutions, independent judicial system and free media.
Due to the multiple colors of these interests, motivations and the goals, Georgian analysts don’t have one sided answer on the question – what were the November strikes – a coup d’état, revenge attempt, or struggle for democracy, because these rallies were both.
Since the last December when authorities released audio recordings between the well-known oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili and one of the high ranking officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (where the oligarch talks about the details of his attempt to overthrow the government), even for the most skeptics became evident that Patarkatsishvili was planning a coup d’état. After listening these recordings many found out the explanation of authority’s very unpopular decisions on November 7 - violent crackdown of protesters and closure of Imedi TV owned by Badri Patarkatsishvili (although the manner of its closure was quite unacceptable).
To achieve his goals Patarkatsishvili had prescribed his plans long time ago – while he held a position of the President of Business Federation a few months before the November events he made the first public statement how the government places businessmen and himself in a non-desirable position. In return, the government’s answer was that Patarkatsishvili will not reach his goal and “will not buy entire Georgia”. Since then clash between the oligarch and the authorities evolved into an active phase, although in parallel regime the negotiations between them were not stopping. But when in unofficial conversations everybody was proving that Patarkatsishvili has exchanged his Imedi TV with Georgian railway, the oligarch took completely radical step – he openly took the side of Iraki Okruashvili, the former Defense Minister, at one time the most influential and popular member of the government and a new leader of the opposition.
The logic was quite easy to decipher – if the opposition was completely powerless before Okruashvili’s appearance and Patarkatsishvili respectively did not have a strong political force to lean on for his fight against the authority, therefore, he decided to enter into negotiations with the government, but all of a sudden Okruashvili became such force.
The appearance of the former defense Minister and the opposition leaders’ unification around him triggered activation of the charge of the public’s protest that was hidden before. This charge became stronger after the Okruashvili arrest. And Patarkatsishvili attempted to utilize this wave of protest for his benefit that apparently was not that difficult task to achieve, especially in those conditions when the country’s the most popular TV company (that journalists left after the famous record was aired and for this reason TV company was closed) was under his sole proprietorship.
In non-competing environment or on the background of circumstances when all the other TV companies were conducting loyal politics towards the government, Imedi TV earned tremendous trust in large part of the public. It was considered as a single TV company that was propagating the truth. Popular and tuned on the oppositional wavelength Imedi TV easily managed creation of a virtual reality in the country and this reality seemed quite heavy. Although, accumulation of the large protest charge in the public had other, much deeper reasons.
It is clear for the government today that by arriving with the revolutionary path, therefore, by being self-confident and frequently very arrogant, the government made many tactical mistakes. The forms of relations that it chose, cynical and sometimes insulting statements, had painfully touched dignity of large number of people. The enormous distrust towards judicial system, uneven utilization of force during special operations, encroachment of private property, and such divulged fact as was the murder of Sandro Girgvliani by the police officers, have created accumulation of dissatisfaction in the society towards the government.
But in overall the goals and tasks that Saakashvili government has decided to accomplish is completely necessary and unavoidable for creation of a state from the post-Soviet inheritance. This is in regards to the fight against the criminal world, reforms of the public sector, liberation of the state budget from the Writers Union and other similar, Soviet type creative unions, modern visualization of the University and Academy of Sciences.
It is possible to say that the November events most of all were backlashes, acute reactions to those reforms that were expressed in radically changed approaches against many issues, spheres or the privileged class. Therefore, it is not surprising at all that a vast majority of intelligentsia stood in the forefronts of the November rallies. Because, according to Antonio Gramsci, this people always try to prove to everyone that the world is ending, but the same Gramsci writes that during this time only comes to the end the established values of these people and the culture that was claiming a role of a rescuer of the nation.
It is exactly like this: the political elite, composed of a few number of people, once came into the power, decided to establish, or it can be said, to impose its new values to that part of the society, majority of which, so called elite, had its own system of values (established during the Soviet times) and destruction of which it equated with extinction of the nation. The same happened in the other part of the society. As an example, such foundational principle of democracy as is the freedom of faith and the defense of which is essential for creation or preservation of democratic, fair state is viewed as “fight against national values” by some part of the society, because in their opinion, groups of other confessions create danger to orthodoxy that rescued Georgian nation from extinction.
A difficult process of instillation of new values became more complicated by the mistakes of government and by those radical forms that the government used to try for establishing these values. As an example, for eradication of the Soviet practice, that the government should not be gifting apartments to creative intelligentsia was not necessary at all to take away a living space from famous individuals even if this step first of all came in resistance with the right of ownership.
The government faced the tremendous protest wave caused by everything together or the objective reality and due to the mistakes they made. Concessions and compromises became only way to repel this wave. The biggest compromise after November 7 was the decision to have a snap presidential election, by which Saakashvili voluntarily shortened his presidential term. Although the new wave of protest started after the election – regardless of estimations of international organizations that the election in overall was free and democratic, the opposition does not recognize Saakashvili’s 53% and calls their voters for continuation of street rallies.
By the government’s initiative to calm down this situation the dialogues with the opposition are in process few weeks already. The opposition produced a 17 item memorandum and they request fulfilling all of these items, otherwise they threaten by renewing street protests. The government compromised on few issues already, including the selection of new candidates for replacement the old board members of Georgian public Broadcaster. The memorandum contains one item that the government is not willing to satisfy – firing the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General.
By the announcements made during the last few days it is becoming obvious that there is no consensus within the opposition in regards with their future plans. Although the leaders of the opposition know well that preservation of their unity is the only trump card they possess, because maintenance of the protest rallies is possible only by being together. From one hand protest rallies are effective methods of pressuring the government, but from the other - they the means of preservation of the protest charge that the opposition needs for receiving high percent-numbers during the parliamentary elections.