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20 days of protest

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, April 28
The protest rallies which began on April 9 have now been going on for almost three weeks. From the very beginning these actions have been called a battle of nerves. The opposition stated straightaway that they did not plan to carry out a revolution and would not breach the constitution. The authorities also made a commitment not to use force but refused to even consider calling snap Presidential elections. It was clear from this that the protest actions would last for a long time, as we now observe.

Dialogue is continually speculated about by both sides but it seems that neither is so far committed to actually conducting it. They speak different languages. The opposition want to talk about one thing only - the resignation of the President. The administration wants to talk about peripheral issues, such as combating the world economic crisis and amending the constitution and election law. But it does not take any immediate steps to start a dialogue, so it looks as if both sides are stubbornly refusing to communicate, each waiting for the other to make concessions.

Both parties hope for a decisive victory. The opposition have several times declared that Saakashvili is almost on the run and will not be able to resist the protest rallies much longer. Such slogans are presumably designed to cheer the people protesting or put pressure on the administration, but, nevertheless, the administration has demonstrated its firmness by ignoring the opposition rallies as such.

The Government’s tactics are based on the idea that the protestors will become exhausted and disperse. This approach worked last year when at the beginning of April the opposition started a hunger strike in front of Parliament. This lasted only from 2 to 19 of April. Nobody really wanted to die, and when the Patriarch intervened the hunger strike stopped. The opposition gained nothing from their actions, although they did not lose face. The administration did not retreat in any way, but on the contrary committed all kinds of violations at the subsequent scheduled Parliamentary elections, the opposition said, and not surprisingly won them.

Today both sides realise that using direct force would condemn the side which started the violence to defeat. The Saakashvili administration has already experienced this, as on November 7, 2007 the assault on the demonstrators damaged Saakashvili’s democratic image considerably. Now it looks as if the Georgian President does not have the same level of support he had then. On the one hand this makes it very unlikely that he will risk a further use of force, but some analysts think that for this reason the opposition will try to provoke him to do so. The opposition is ready to maintain its siege of the capital by blocking the streets, creating discomfort for the administration, forcing the President to dine in restaurants in secret, disrupting his personal schedule and so on. How long an impulsive man can put up with this we will have to see.

There is no solution in sight. Saakashvili declares he will run the country until the end of his term in 2013. Of course it is unlikely that the opposition will carry on protesting for four more years, but no end of the present actions can be seen right now. The number of protestors has decreased considerably, but many explain this by the unusual weather, this being a particularly cold and rainy April, unequalled in the memory of elderly residents of the capital. The opposition leaders hope that as soon as it gets warmer a new impulse to protest will increase the number of demonstrators.

The centre of Tbilisi is now dirty, messy and ugly. Maybe the best solution would be for the President to call snap Parliamentary elections preliminary amending the Election Code. This would give confronting sides room to both retreat a little and save face. Most importantly however it would be a relief for the country. Somehow both sides should understand that what they are supposed to be fighting for is the welfare of the country, not simply their own principles.