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What comes after May 26?

By Messenger Staff
Friday, May 29
May 26 was yet another turning point in the confrontation between the administration and the non-Parliamentary opposition. The dialogue which is so badly needed and is supported and promoted by the Western friends of Georgia has not proceeded beyond the first attempt about a fortnight ago. So the confrontation continues and the people are quite unhappy about this.

The protest organizers have clearly demonstrated that they can easily mobilize just under a hundred thousand supporters, although it is also clear that the actual number of opposition supporters is considerably greater. The mass demonstration at the National Stadium fulfilled different purposes. The first was to show the administration that the protest charge is still here and has not exhausted after six weeks of rallies in the centre of capital, frustrating the Governmentís hopes that the opposition would protest for some days and then disperse. Secondly it was a demonstration to the Western world that the protesters have serious support, and thirdly it instilled confidence in the opposition leaders themselves. They were clearly heartened by the number of people at the stadium.

The most important and influential opinion in this crisis is that of the Western friends of Georgia. Both sides and various factions within them are making the utmost effort to prove to the West that they are right. The administration is trying to demonstrate that it is democratically-oriented and can tolerate small protests provided they donít violate the constitution. The opposition want to prove that the protests are an expression of a large swathe of public opinion and that their claims are correct and they will prove so within the framework of the constitution and the rule of law. Furthermore opposition politicians suggest that the Governmentís call for dialogue is just a PR action designed to demonstrate its democratic credentials to the West, whereas in reality the Government does not want to make any concessions which would bring about meaningful dialogue.

On May 26 the signs of public alienation from the Government were there. The protestorsí determination not to empty Rustaveli Avenue forced the Government to cancel the annual Independence Day military parade in the centre of the capital for the first time since independence was regained in 1991. Whether you should parade a defeated army is another question. Instead, Present Saakashvili opened an August War memorial at Mukhatgverdi cemetery in the morning and then flew to Batumi where he participated in the groundbreaking ceremony of a 130-metre skyscraper. He said there that a beacon will be installed on top of this building which would be seen from Abkhazia.

The opposition, meanwhile, after completing its rally at the stadium went to Sameba Cathedral where their supporters were discontented by the words of the Patriarch, who expressed his doubts about the demand for the Presidentís resignation. The people saw in these words Church support for the authorities, believing the Patriarch might have been pressurised in some way. However the Patriarch is the spiritual father of every Georgian and he cares for each and every one of us. He actually called for us to show the ability to listen to each other, in fact demanding this from everyone.

The evening of May 26 was very tense and things could have developed in the wrong direction. The opposition leaders managed to control the situation more or less reasonably. But what is left? The radical opposition are in a corner. They are against revolution but too scared to stop the protest rallies, being afraid that repression will soon follow as soon as they give up. The Government for its part continues to support dialogue but on its own agenda. The opposition will only discuss its own agenda and therefore both sides conduct monologues.

The Government is suggesting more and more often that there is a split in the opposition. Some of the opposition forces have indeed stepped aside from the main body to some extent, saying they will try and achieve the common goal in their own way. Some opposition forces are more inclined to dialogue while others suggest taking ever more radical action. Maybe this is a tactical ploy, as doing both these things simultaneously means the opposition can counter criticism for any side. Whatever the motivation, we can be sure that both demonstrations and a war of words will continue, and the more methods of protest become diversified, they less controllable they are.

There are several options before the administration. The first and most desirable is conducting a genuine dialogue. The second is to use force and stop the protestors with it. The third is to continue torturing the country by alternately confronting and ignoring the people. Itís the Governmentís move. The Government and opposition are each promoting their own version of reality. If neither is careful, what actually happens may be much worse than either.