NOTES FROM GEORGIA

For DAILY BABEL

The National Day of Georgia (which is annually held on the 26th of May) provided a fertile opportunity for mass demonstrations to flood the streets of Tbilisi.

According to news reports, around 60 thousand people donning shirts with “Good Bye” emblazoned across them crowded the Georgian capital shouting slogans demanding President Saakashvili’s resignation. While the demonstrations grew to dangerous proportions, Mikhail Saakashvili spoke about Georgian patriotism with pupils from a local school and later at a cemetery.

“We all, who love our motherland, we all are ready to continue the struggle and to even sacrifice ourselves if needed; but we all want to live unless the last foreign occupant, last invader, last enemy leaves Georgia’’s land once and forever. Last year Georgia defended its independence and showed to the entire world that we are the gates of freedom of entire region,” Saakashvili had said.

Despite the fact that the opposition has continuously slandered Saakashvili’s reputation, the President spoke to his young audience about the motives of riots, stressing that “the key task of democracy is to listen to every group and make a final decision based on common public interests, so that not a single group manages to impose his opinions on the entire society.”

“Everybody’s opinions should be taken into consideration, but finally these opinions should be combined, the interests of all groups should be combined, the interests of all people should be combined and it should be taken into consideration,” added the Georgian President.

This is an unusually passive approach for Saakashvili. However, it could be based on external factors rather than domestic pressures.

Following the war in August 2008 and the shortcomings of Georgian democracy as a whole, the Georgian political establishment made an attempt to keep its actions in line with Western recommendations. The relations between the West and Georgia is reflected in the joint US-EU statements released on May 26th which encourage a dialogue between the Georgian government and the opposition. Officially, both the EU and the US mentioned the need to invigorate Georgia’s democratic reforms and called “on all Georgians to respect the rule of law, abide by Georgia’s Constitution, avoid violence, and honor the right of peaceful protest.”

In reality, these two major international players want to keep stability in a region which offers a vital artery to Central Asia’s gas fields while bypassing Russian territory.

Following its offensive in August of last year, Russia is still trying to overthrow the Saakashvili government. The Kremlin hopes to benefit from Georgia’s ongoing political turmoil and growing opposition by encouraging ‘regime change’ through democracy rather than military force- a concept that, if successful, would tilt the sphere of influence in the Caucasus  back towards Moscow.

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