A lot has happened in Georgia,
but none of it is good
fate of his predecessor should remind Mikhail Saakashvili
that being Washington?s darling is not a lifetime?s appointment,
writes Mark Almond.
first sight the failure of Georgia?s recent opposition to
mobilise the kind of large crowd which had swarmed through
Tbilisi?s streets on seventh November last year was good news
for President Mikhail Saakashvili.
year his regime had survived only by deploying the full panoply
of crowd control measures from the latest ultra-low frequency
dispersal equipment to spraying good old fashioned tear gas
into the demonstrators and clubbing those who didn?t get the
message. This year?s re-run minus the violence and the popular
participation looked much better for Georgia?s President,
perhaps even for the country.
lot has happened in Georgia for the last year. None of it
then, four years after coming to power in the so-called "Rose
Revolution" full of promises to end poverty and corruption,
Mr Saakashvili?s regime faced a chorus of disillusionment
presided over a reality of growing economic hardship and anger
at the corruption and favouritism of the clan of Saakashvili
insiders. Ex-supporters now led the charge against a President
still portrayed in the Western media as a model Democrat and
demonstration set in train a cycle of growing tension which
culminated in Georgia?s reckless onslaught on South Ossetia
in August 2008. Mr. Saakashvili?s calculation then seems to
have been that whatever the outcome of the war, his own position
would be strengthened. Either his attack would succeed and
he would be feted as the hero of national reunification, or
if it went wrong his opponents would be stymied in denouncing
him for fear of seeming to side with the rebels and Russia.
the short term, despite the humiliating defeat for the Georgian
army in August, Mr Saakashvili?s calculation seemed to work
out. But anyone sensitive to Washington?s vibes will have
detected deep irritation with a protйgй who took it upon himself
to create an East-West crisis despite public Cold War-style
criticism of Russia. As evidence mounted that Georgia?s claims
about who fired first were contradicted by Western members
of the UN and OSCE monitoring missions in the country, Mr
Saakashvili should have noticed the ominous refusal of the
State Department?s point man for "People Power"
revolutions, Dan Fried, to back the Georgian position.
the 1980s Mr Fried has been identifying and fostering the
careers of first anti-Soviet, then anti-Russian, leaders of
the future. Mr Saakashvili seemed the brightest star from
his stable. His fluent English and media-savvy gestures made
him the darling of CNN and BBC. But it all went to his head.
the same time in domestic Georgian politics, Mr Saakashvili
proved incapable of working with a team. Maybe Georgian politicians
are too bent on being the boss themselves to form an effective
cabinet. But since November 2003, Mr Saakashvili has fallen
out spectacularly with his close allies in the "Rose
course, the "Rose revolutionaries" were hardly models
of loyalty. They were all protйgйs of the man whom they overthrew
in 2003: Eduard Shevardnadze. Not only had he appointed Misha
Saakashvili to his first ministerial post but other key "Rose
revolutionaries" like Saakashvili?s first Prime Minister,
Zurab Zhvania, or Parliament Speaker, Nino Burjanadze, were
protйgйs of Shevardnadze.
Western media portrayals of the new regime in November 2003,
as a youthful break with the past, in reality it was a revolt
of Shevardnadze?s political children.
lesson will not have been lost on Mr Saakashvili. As the Georgian
President has shuffled and reshuffled the political deck of
cards in Tbilisi over the last year or so as disillusionment
with his regime as grown, his real purpose has been to prevent
any rival getting entrenched in the power structure and building
a position from which to topple the President.
ex-comrades are lurking waiting for their chance to strike
at Mr Saakashvili.
exile in France sits ex-Defence Minister, Irakli Okruashvili,
whose allegations of corruption and even murder sparked the
political crisis in 2007. Former Foreign Minister, Salome
Zurabishvili, also forms part of the Georgian opposition?s
"French connection." At home, ex-Speaker, Nino Burjanadze,
waits to replay her 2003 role.