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And yet no dialogue

By Messenger Staff
Friday, June 12
June 9 saw the commemoration of two months of continual opposition protest rallies against President Saakashvili, and the date became doubly significant when the President invited one of the opposition leaders, Levan Gachechiladze, for a private conversation with him. This was unexpected, and many opposition supporters were sceptical about the meeting. Many said that it had been provoked by the visit to Georgia of US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon, whose Government expects Saakashvili to negotiate and try and resolve the crisis in this way.

If the meeting itself was unexpected its results were not. Nothing came out of it as both sides maintained the initial positions.

It is a ridiculous situation when two opposing sides continually proclaim their readiness for dialogue but there is still not the slightest sign of genuine, result-oriented dialogue taking place, despite some initial meetings. What we see is akin to two foreigners meeting and speaking in their own languages with neither understanding the other. The opposition insists that there is a crisis in the country. The President and his team categorically deny this. So what can be discussed and what agreed?

As we reported in Thursday’s edition of this paper, when one of our reporters asked a question containing the term political crisis in Georgia at a press conference Georgian Foreign Minister Vashadze, who the question had not been addressed to, angrily interjected to say that there was no political crisis in Georgia. Maybe the word crisis could be replaced with hard times, difficulties, problems, or other terms of this nature. But no matter what you words you use the situation is the same and it is serious, as at is drifting into a deadlock which could paralyze the country. Both sides should be concentrating on resolving this situation.

The ‘radical’ opposition are still categorically demanding the resignation of the President, which they say is the only reasonable way to resolve the crisis/difficulties. Snap Presidential and Parliamentary elections would follow which Saakashvili would have no legal right to participate in, thus ending his Presidency. Therefore the major obstacle to overcoming the difficulties is Saakashvili personally, the opposition think. Unsurprisingly the President sees things differently. He seems sure that his resources are not exhausted and he intends to serve until the end of his legal term. Therefore he suggests doing other things to solve the problem: amending or changing the Constitution, holding pre-term local elections, working on the election code, holding direct and pre-term Mayoral elections in Tbilisi and offering the positions of Deputy Interior Minister, Deputy Prosecutor General and other posts to members of the non-Parliamentary opposition. But the ship is sinking. You cannot rescue it by patching up some holes. It should be towed straight into the docks and repaired substantially, if it can be saved at all.

After an impressive rally at the national stadium on May 26 the opposition has decided to pursue several different methods of putting pressure. Some consider this a split in their ranks, but optimists believe that this diversification could bring better results. Some of the opposition parties continue to hold street actions, and Levan Gachechiladze has stated that these might even become more radical within constitutional limits. Others have decided to spread their protest actions and propaganda into the regions, while others are ready to continue dialogue so that pressure is applied from all sides. Thinking that Saakashvili will resign as soon as people told him to was naive and romantic, but the opposition have driven themselves into a corner by demanding this and cannot retreat now. The administration acts on the basis of the number of people in the streets. If it sees many thousands it starts bargaining and offering certain concessions. If fewer people turn out Saakashvili becomes more obdurate.

One thing is obvious. So far neither side is prepared to retreat and make concessions. However it may be significant that Philip Gordon has now invited some of the non-Parliamentary opposition leaders to visit the US. What can this mean? We’ll see what when they return, but meanwhile Georgia’s Western friends should try to explain to the authorities that whatever term they use for it the situation the country is critical. Maybe it is not a crisis from a certain point of view, but conducting an ostrich policy is dangerous for the country, bearing in mind the fact that Russian tanks are 40 kilometres from the capital.