Tag Archives: Saakashvili

Tbilisi Hangout 011 with Mathias Huter

So this week on the Tbilisi Hangout we were had the great opportunity to have Mathias Huter on the show of Transparency International Georgia and TBLPOD fame.

In this episode, we discuss in detail the National Library incident and the poor state of the Georgian government’s “cohabitation” as well as Mathias’ own research into the murky ownership structures of the country’s media and internet service providers. He knows more about that than probably anyone else outside of Georgia’s shadow elite and he tells us why that’s a problem.

Check it out!

Also if you prefer to hear us in better quality or if you’d just as soon not see my face while tuning into the show, we’ll be on GIPA radio 94.3 at 8 p.m. tonight.

In case you missed it: Georgia’s Silver-Haired Rioters

Well,  it’s been busy.

Settling into a new job, starting new projects, still teaching, still freelancing and working through the most eventful week in Tbilisi all year has forced Three Kings to fall by the wayside. But if you’ve fallen behind, let me catch you up!

First off, I had what was perhaps my most high-profile piece in terms of publication in covering the Tbilisi protest that was violently dispersed in the early hours last Thursday morning. I saw it as a great opportunity to focus on some of the narratives of Georgian society and politics that rarely get covered, and it was clear by the way that this crisis rolled out that the real story would once again be lost in the trees.

A protester lies handcuffed on the sidewalk in the aftermath of the police dispersal. REUTERS

The protest had been written off as a (possibly Russia-backed)  futile, rambunctious effort to disrupt the peace by a marginal politician and her hooliganish followers. But the story that was lost amid all the absurdity of this past week’s politics was that it all represented a persistent and unaddressed problem in the new Georgia — that the revolution had left many behind.

TBILISI, Georgia — In the wee hours this morning, in heavy rain, Georgian riot police closed in on a crowd of protesters who had appropriated a bandstand in front of parliament — the spot where the president was to speak just hours later.

It was the deadly end to a five-day protest led by two Georgian opposition parties demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili. At its peak, an estimated 10,000 people took part in the protests, which blocked a major thoroughfare in front of the headquarters for Georgian State TV in the capital, Tbilisi. On Wednesday, about 3,000 demonstrators marched on to the bandstand, where they hoped to disrupt the annual Georgian Independence Day parade.

The opposition parties claimed they were marching for democracy. The government said they were Russia-backed provocateurs bent on sewing disorder. Both positions miss the point.

As footage of the protest’s violent dispersal trickled out, it became clear that the majority of those who had taken to the streets were not young radicals, but middle-aged workers and retirees, huddled together gasping for air through the tear gas and rain, frantically avoiding the swinging billy clubs and rubber bullets. A protester was reportedly killed in the violence while 37 people were wounded.

To continue reading, click here.


Why revolution could, but won’t be coming to the Caucasus: Georgia

Bon voyage?

Following the massive upheaval of the “Arab Spring,” opposition groups across the South Caucasus have been calling for revolution in their respective countries. This is part I of a three-part series @ The Faster Times, wherein I will be looking at Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan individually with an eye to the conditions that could be fertile for major political changes, and also the factors that are likely to hold it back.

Since taking power in 2003 in a revolutionary wave of popular support, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government has faced a number of tests. Following a widely denounced crackdown on peaceful demonstrations in 2007, a disastrous war with Russia in 2008, and months of sit-in protests paralyzing downtown Tbilisi in 2009, Saakashvili appeared to be on his political deathbed. But after a successful campaign in the 2010 local elections, the ruling United National Movement (UNM) party is once again back on solid footing, even if the country still is not.

Many Georgians remain deeply discontented with the Saakashvili government, and several opposition leaders have called revolution “inevitable.” Michael Cecire, political analyst and founder of Tbilisi based news-zine Evolutsia.net, said that primary cause of this is the naggingly sluggish economy. Despite all the talk of the Georgian economy rebounding from the double-barreled crisis in 2008 caused by the war and the global economic meltdown, Georgians have seen little real improvement in their own economic situation, and the bad economy could become tinder to the revolutionary fire, he said.

“Inflation is high, prices for energy and food are rising, and income inequality seems to be getting worse, not better. In many ways, it’s a perfect storm for a smart opposition candidate to run on a forward-looking, policy-oriented platform,” he said.

Furthermore, after enacting radical and effective democratic reforms in the early years after the 2003 Rose Revolution, Saakashvili’s reforms seem to have run out of steam – a situation that is not lost on the public — said political analyst and Tbilisi State University professor Kornely Kakachia.

“The Georgian public is kind of disoriented at this stage,” he said. “It supports the government’s Euro-Atlantic integration policy and democratic reforms, but at the same time it also realizes that this particular government has already exhausted its progressive ideas. The only aim of the current authorities is just to maintain stability and the current status quo.”

To continue reading, click here.

Post-revolutionary Georgia on the edge?

Part of my homework for the weekend is reading a new briefing report by British think tank Chatham House on the current political, economic and social conditions of Georgia in 2011.

It sounds based on it’s summary points that they are on the right track:

  • From the Rose Revolution in 2003 to the war with Russia and financial crisis of 2008, Georgia achieved impressive macroeconomic results. Government reforms reduced petty corruption and criminal violence markedly. Rapid progress was made in the delivery of public goods. The investment climate improved.
  • President Mikheil Saakashvili has weathered the fallout of the war with Russia. Weak opposition and substantial Western aid have enabled the government to stabilize the economy and consolidate its political position.
  • However, positive headline macroeconomic results may not be sustainable and mask persistent concerns regarding poor performance in combating poverty, unemployment and increasing inequality.
  • Human rights continue to be a problem. The government cuts corners on democracy and the rule of law. Media freedoms remain constrained. Civil and parliamentary oversight of governmental decisions is limited, and the judicial system is subject to political interference.
  • The abuse of state power and enduring poverty and inequality risk alienating the population and increasing social tension. There is therefore reason to question the sustainability of Georgia’s economic model and the stability of the post-war political situation.

Saakashvili again makes me praise him and scorn him within two paragraphs

Today, I checked Civil.ge and saw a headline I have been hoping would emerge for a very long time: “Saakashvili Calls for ‘Active State Involvement’ to Boost Agriculture.

President Saakashvili said on March 8, that “active, direct state interference” was required in order to turn country’s “medieval agriculture sector into the agriculture of the 21st century.”

YES! Friggin’ finally.

More than half of Georgia’s population works in the agricultural sector, yet that industry only represented 9 percent of Georgia’s GDP in 2010 — down from 14.8 percent in 2005. Furthermore, Georgia has great agricultural potential with a good climate and 11.5 percent of it’s territory being arable land according to the CIA World Factbook. But, because most of Georgia’s farming and infrastructure remain undeveloped, Georgia imports 80 percent of its food, leading to an annual trade deficit of $1.3 billion — quite a lot for a country whose total GDP is $11.23 billion (official exchange rate).

Misha! Misha! Show us the way! (free roaming pigs outside Annanuri)

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Return to Abkhazia: Day 1 (sort of)

This is the first part in my series for The Faster Times, chronicling my most recent trip to Abkhazia — last week. This time I was heading in to report on Turkish trade and investment in the partially recognized republic, and the state of the political opposition there.

Although I didn’t make it very far on my first day, I had too many observations in that short experience to just gloss over it.

On each of my three visits to Abkhazia over the last 18 months, I’ve seen an incredible amount of change.

The first thing along the journey that was radically different was the Tbilisi train station. The first time I took the night train to Zugdidi, the Georgian town closest to the de facto border with Abkhazia, the place looked abandoned. I approached the unlit train tracks and asked the figures standing around in the dark where I could buy tickets. They pointed to the dark shell of a structure surrounded by wooden and concrete barriers. All of the doors I could find were blocked. It looked like the kind of ghostly place that high school kids dare each other to break into with tales of a murderous caretaker. Once inside, the only occupied room in the massive building was a small waiting room with only one ticket counter open.

Now the old Soviet station has been renovated into a clean glitzy shopping mall with a train terminal at its center, and I immediately didn’t like it. I admit that like many Westerners living and traveling through the former Soviet Union I have a strange fetish for the old palaces of the proletariat — train stations, metro stations, etc.. The proud structures of a bygone era continue maintain a charming mixture of socialist realist murals and general dilapidation. This new station seemed almost offensively out of place.

In one of Tbilisi’s poorer neighborhoods, the big white building sits next to the city’s largest open-air market where merchants push everything from vegetables to panty hose and bathroom fixtures. On both sides of the train station, masses of marshrtukas – a type of panel van converted to squeeze in 20-or-so travelers – wobble around and rumble off, carrying commuters around the city and country. Stepping into the train station is like being transported to a different reality.

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Egypt, Georgia and the legacy of revolution: An Evolutsia Symposium

In part of what I hope will be a long and fruitful collaborative relationship, Three Kings and Evolutsia teamed up again commenting on what Georgia observers should be thinking as they watch the unfolding popular uprisings in the Middle East. Although everyone pointed out the necessary differences between the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia and the 2011 Tahrir Square movement, it seems everyone feels that the comparison reflects fairly poorly on the current Georgian leadership.

Have a look at what people had to say:

When Egyptian strongman President Hosni Mubarak resigned February 11, it sent a shock through the world. That a non-violent and eclectic protest movement could bring down the dictator of the most powerful Arab state seemed to throw all the geo-political math out the window. Everyone for the past two weeks have been asking who’s next, and some have questioned whether the wave could be headed towards the Caucasus again.

The eventual outcome of Tunisia’s ‘Jasmine revolution,’ Egypt protests, and its effect on worldwide democratization remains an open question. However, the people power rallies that have made Al Jazeera watchers out of many of us do compel us to consider what this second Arab spring might do for Georgia’s own Rose Revolution legacy. Does it validate Georgia’s experiences? Or does it, as Ghia Nodia argues, provide a contrast to an increasingly autocratic political environment in Georgia? To get some thoughts, EVOLUTSIA.NET has brought together a roundtable of informed voices to give their thoughts.

Inge Snip, Evolutsia.Net and Uppsala University

With a ‘wave’ of protests flooding North Africa, the wish to draw a parallel between these calls for regime change and the color revolutions that took place between 2003 and 2005 in the post-communist area is understandably attractive. However, are the so-called revolutions really comparable? Why did the US treat the Egypt protest in a completely different manner than the color revolutions? And what will the outcome be? Moreover, not only should one wonder what the color revolutions have brought, but if one argues that they have brought democracy in some form, will this even be the case in North Africa? And why or why not? Do these calls for democracy validate the Georgian case? Continue reading

The most important things I forgot to talk about

Hey everyone, so after a busy week, I’m getting myself back into the blogging biz with a few things you may have missed.

Tans take time.

  • Mr. Saakashvili goes to Washington: Arriving Jan. 15 to participate in a memorial service for the late Richard Holbrooke, the Georgian president met with U.S. President Barack Obama for “more than 25 miutes” according to Saakashvili’s office. He also met with various other American legislators including  House Majority Leader John Boehner, which was quite an honor considering he has turned down multiple meetings with the U.S. President, and most recently declined to meet Chinese Premier Hu Jintao.
  • Russia’s North Caucasus Problems: Our friends at Evolutsia.net had a great piece on the two primary developments in North Caucasus: a tragic reminder of the struggle’s costs, and uncertain potential in the Kremlin’s new strategy. First, an suicide bomber at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, likely linked to North Caucasus militants, killed at least 35 people Jan. 24 and injured 168, reminding Russia and the world of the seriousness of its problems in the desolate North Caucasus. On the other hand, the Kremlin’s new envoy to the region, Aleksandr Khloponin, is beginning to get settled in. His ambitious plan to 400 billion rubles ($13.4 billion) to develop the devastated and underdeveloped region seems to have Russia headed on the right track, but Evolutsia and other Eurasia analysts worry that parallel — but not conjoined — economic and military efforts will still fail to address the problem. All the same, very few holistic approaches to impoverished regions beset by insurgencies have worked either (see Afghanistan).
  • Armenia and Azerbaijan shake hands again: The region’s two worst neighbors came back to the negotiating table yesterday (hopefully avoiding the Moscow airport) to discuss their ongoing dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Hopefully, at least a symbolic agreement can be made that will cool down tensions that flared last summer, costing several lives and worrying the international community that all-out war might follow.
  • Three Kings and its partners are getting real: Last week we put out a survey to readers of English-language media on Georgia and the South Caucasus in preparation for a new media project of our own. If you haven’t gotten three minutes to fill it out yet, stop reading this and do so now at this link!
  • Even more important stuff: I’ll have more later today on the 13th casualty of Georgia’s participation in America’s wars and on the eviction of another 1500 Georgian IDP’s from the capital, Tbilisi.

Why blocking the New START treaty is dangerous to Russia’s neighbors

Republican Senator Jon Kyl, who supported the START treaty before leading the charge to kill it.

Of all the various things I wanted to write about this week, the issue that got me most hot and bothered was the sudden attempts by Senate Republicans to sink the START arms reduction treaty with Russia. I’ve made no secret of my misgivings about the treaty, but failing to ratify it would be highly irresponsible, and a scary look at things to come from the new Republican Congress.

So, naturally, I railed off a rant about it this morning in the Faster Times.

Watching Russian-American relations unfold from the geopolitical tinderbox of the Caucasus, it’s hard not to feel like a flammable bystander in middle of a match fight at times. One of those times is now, as Republican lawmakers, emboldened by their party’s victory in midterm elections, are trying to kill Obama’s New START Treaty with Russia.

The new arms reduction treaty would pick up where previous post-Cold War deescalation treaties with the former Soviet Union left off, pulling back weapons systems from European soil and reducing the numbers of deployed nuclear weapons with mutual inspections to ensure compliance. This same kind of cooperation has produced agreements to put in place radiological detection systems at border posts to prevent illicit trade of nuclear materials and weapons.

State Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher wrote in a Sept. editorial in Politico:

For the past 15 years, our principal arms control agreement with Russia, START [1], has been based on President Ronald Reagan’s guiding principle, “Trust, but verify.”

But START [1], which allowed us to monitor and inspect Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal, expired last December. Now, we have only trust — and that’s not enough in an uncertain world.

Kind of hard to argue with that, right? Wrong.

To keep reading, click here.

Enemies in the Caucasus, Allies in Afghanistan

Most people paying attention to the gradual post-Bush thaw in U.S.-Russian relations and increase in bilateral cooperation likely see it as a logical development between two powers that can collaborate in mutually beneficial ways. And I agree.

However, observing this from the vantage point of the Caucasus, it’s hard not to note the flakes of absurdity that shake off of the policy.

Last month was a good one for U.S.-Russian relations. First, executives from Google and other tech companies arrived in Russia as a part of a delegation led by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to examine Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s efforts to spur the emergence of a “Russian Silicon Valley.” Schwarzenegger called Medvedev an “action president” and declared that the U.S. “wants to be friends with Russia.”

Medvedev for some reason thought it was good symbolism to drive the Governator to Russia's innovative new business school in a old Soviet luxury car. Photo by Mikhail Klimenyev/Agence France-Presse

Both sides were also remarkably civil both publicly and behind the curtains when the Kyrgyz went to vote in parliamentary elections Oct. 10, in what could have made for a nasty proxy battle over a poor country that hosts both Russian and American military bases.

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