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On the razor’s edge

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, March 31
So far there are no signs that a dialogue will be conducted between the administration and the opposition. The authorities repeat their willingness to transform direct confrontation into negotiations. The non-Parliamentary opposition however, considers dialogue pointless at this stage and accuses the ruling party of lying, cheating and of wanting to use negotiations as a means of gaining time in which to defuse the pressure on it. Only Irakli Alasania, leader of the Alliance for Georgia, has suggested that dialogue could be held but ironically the authorities themselves have not responded to this suggestion thus far.

So the planned April 9 rally is hot on the agenda still. But thanks to it the problem of non violence has become issue number one in Georgia.

Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II has appealed to the nation not to use force during the rally. As the Patriarch is the most respected and beloved personality in the country we can assume that there will be no attempts to turn the demonstration into a radical confrontation. The state bodies will not try to use force to disperse the protestors and the latter will not engage in unlawful actions. This is a kind of gentlemen’s agreement.

Despite this however both sides are trying to turn the threat of possible violence to their own advantage. Some time ago the opposition expressed their concern that the law enforcement bodies would use force to suppress the demonstration as they did on November 7, 2007. But now videos have been released showing some Burjanadze party members purchasing arms and the situation has changed. Now the administration has taken the initiative, claiming that it is the opposition which intends to use force. Consequently it has given itself the option of using force itself for ‘self-defence’, at least in its own eyes, should it consider this necessary.

Burjanadze refutes the allegations. The opposition says the video clips are fabricated and not convincing. It demands an unbiased and fair examination of them. It insists that these videos were made to discredit the opposition and thus discourage people from attending the rallies. It is difficult to see how convincing the videos have been, but the number of protesters on April 9 is likely to be impressive regardless.

The opposition meanwhile issued a Manifesto on March 27 which confirmed their unity and their commitment to the initial demand that Saakashvili should resign and snap Presidential elections should be held. Both sides insist that they themselves are not planning any violent actions but the other side might be planning provocations. Indeed both sides have a vested interest in stoking public fear in this way. State-controlled TV stations encourage people to fear the demonstrations by frequently reminding us of certain events in December-January 1991-1992 when the country plunged into a bloody civil confrontation resulting in the ousting of President Gamsakhurdia and more than a hundred dead. The opposition counters by pointing out that at that time the Minister of Defence and Prime Minister took up arms against the President, implying that the obvious splits within the present authorities would be a more likely cause of any violence which occurs.

Non-violence is the guarantee that the confrontation will take place within the bounds of the constitution. April 9 will be merely a flexing of muscles, a kind of a prelude. If the turnout of demonstrators is massive the authorities will start thinking of making concessions. If it is not, or if the protestors fade away the next day, retaliation will begin the day after.

But who can guarantee there will be no provocations? “If Saakashvili is removed by force the Russians will bring in a loyal leadership. If he goes peacefully the Westerners will win,” said a Tbilisi resident quoted in yesterday’s paper. But if he stays?