The messenger logo

What will happen today?

Friday, November 7
A year ago today the Rose Revolution Administration committed the most shameful action - dispersing peaceful demonstrators and hunger strikers, beating them with clubs, attacking them with rubber bullets and tear gas. Later the same evening it raided the independent TV station Imedi, damaged its facilities and closed it down. As a final twist a State of Emergency was announced.

These actions immediately tore down Georgia’s image as the ‘Beacon of Democracy’ in this region and decreased its chances of receiving a NATO Membership Action Plan –MAP. The shortsighted decision to behave this way, whoever stood behind it, severely damaged the country’s neo-democratic institutions which had been carefully constructed over the last several years.

Both the ruling party and the opposition are preparing to address the first anniversary of these events. The opposition is planning the first serious protest action since the August war, which temporarily drew the country together. No one knows how many people will gather in front of the Parliament building at 2 p.m., but presumably the scale and development of the upcoming scenario will depend on how orderly those people are. Things will become dangerously unpredictable if the leaders on both sides do not act sensibly.

The scale of last year’s protest, and the unity of purpose and commitment of the protesters, were so unexpected by both the authorities and the opposition that they panicked the former and encouraged the latter. The result, as we saw, was dramatic and negative for the country. Although the President resigned in order to call extraordinary elections for his post on January 5 2008, these were conducted rather controversially and their results are still not trusted by many.

A year later the leaders of the country have an extra burden on their shoulders: the lost war and the lost territories. The opposition says that the same people who gave the order to break up the peaceful demonstration on November 7 also gave the order to launch the attack on Tskhinvali on August 7. Both these decisions were disastrous for the country. In either case, the opposition says, if democratic decision making had existed these mistakes would not have been made. The opposition will therefore demand the resignation of Parliament, if not the entire leadership, and snap Parliamentary elections in the coming spring. The administration clumsily protects itself using the same old argument, that protest actions further Russian plans to overthrow the legally elected Georgian leadership. However the opposition accuses the authorities of using this argument simply as a shield to protect their own positions.

The number of protestors will determine the level of the concessions the authorities are prepared to make to their demands. If only a few people appear at the rally the authorities throw only a small bone to them. If their numbers are large and the protests become permanent, the Rose Revolution Administration will be forced to march more boldly along the democratic path it has itself promised, although that path will not necessarily lead in the specific direction it may have wished it to.

The opposition is not as united in demand or purpose as it was last year, as some have entered Parliament and now cooperate with the ruling party in what they call “constructive opposition.” The non-Parliamentary opposition has many different slogans and visions. But the administration also has leadership problems. Rose Revolution co-architect Nino Burjanadze, the former Chair of Parliament, has become one of the major figures in the opposition. Some of the latter have accepted her and are ready to cooperate with her. Others, however, permanently remind her of the mistakes she committed whilst a Rose Revolution leader. On the whole Burjanadze is now slowly becoming a leading opposition figure, with a solid rating and image among the population. She is consistent and full of common sense, very well known and respected abroad. To what extent she is seen as an alternative to the President she served for so long, however, remains to be seen.

Many things will become clear by late afternoon today. But what they will actually add up to, in the short or long term, will probably be more clouded, precisely because we will see what is in front of us, and draw different conclusions about it, acting accordingly. The non-Parliamentary opposition has already stated that it will continue holding protests until its demand for snap elections this coming spring is met. All we know is that the short term is not going to be pleasant for many people, whichever side of the fence they are on. All we can say is, God bless Georgia.