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Testing each others’ and the people’s nerves

By Messenger Staff
Monday, April 13
What might have happened on April 9 had kept Georgians inside the country and out in suspense for more than a month and a half. Politicians, analysts and commentators sometimes drew grave Apocalyptic pictures. Many journalists and international observers from EU countries came to Tbilisi to witness and monitor emotional scenes and confrontation, maybe even clashes.

The Georgian people once again demonstrated to the world that this is a civilized nation. The only sensational shots the cameras could take were those of current President Mikheil Saakashvili and his former electoral rival Levan Gachechiladze standing almost shoulder to shoulder in front of the April 9 Memorial. The hopes of those who expected another revolution were frustrated. The opposition has many times stated that it does not intend to act outside the Constitutional framework, and it has kept its promise so far, although living on a razor’s edge all the time. The administration has also stated that it is not going to use force against the demonstrators, providing they do not violate the law.

It is clear to all those involved that whichever side breaks the equilibrium first and uses violence will be the loser both in Georgia and in the eyes of the international community. Therefore the April 9 rally was conducted loudly but within legal bounds. But unfortunately there are controversies over the issue of conducting a dialogue. The opposition limits the topic of negotiations – it will only talk about the resignation of Saakashvili and snap Presidential elections.

However the President and his team state firmly that it is their intention to stay in power until Saakashvili’s legal term expires in 2013. Therefore it lays down its own agenda for discussion: the economic crisis, amendments to the Constitution, preparing for local government elections, direct election of the Tbilisi Mayor and many other issues, all except the ones the opposition is prepared to talk about.

The opposition does not trust the authorities and therefore insists on any negotiations being broadcast live. State officials say that what results from this would be a show, not a dialogue. However there is a small but still-existent hope that commonsense will prevail and under certain conditions a sort of dialogue could start. What the parties will talk about has not been identified so far. On the basis of both sides’ previous statements the most likely issue is snap Parliamentary elections. Discussing this would be a compromise for both sides, however the authorities are so far excluding holding any type of snap election, claiming the country cannot afford them financially. This suggests one thing: that the authorities think they can weather this storm, that not enough protestors have turned out or will turn out, and that therefore they cannot be forced to talk about anything that might genuinely weaken or remove their power base.

Chairman of Parliament Davit Bakradze and other state officials say that only 25,000 people came to the rally. The opposition claims that at least five times that number, 125,000, turned out. As one man at the protest commented, if there are 25,000 here then the Rose Revolution was committed by 5,000, but both sides retain their positions. “Everything depends on nerves. Whoever’s nerves fail first will lose,” says former MP Lado Papava.

The opposition has to further convince the population that Saakashvili being the President is the main reason for the country’s failure. The authorities must try to persuade the population that it is the opposition rallies which are damaging the country’s economy and welfare. A war of nerves is on, in which the authorities have the advantage as they control the TV, but if the opposition can prolong its protest the possibility of dialogue might become realistic.

The international community is doing its utmost to drive events in the direction of dialogue. Maybe the international community, too, can apply its collective brain to defining the subject which will get the competing forces to sit at the same table.