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In anticipation

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, August 5
Georgian society is always waiting for things to happen. There is always something new in Georgia, or at least there is a feeling that something is going on in the country.

Currently a Ďceasefireí has been achieved between the opposition and the administration. But ceasefire does not necessarily mean peace. You can feel and see the continuing tension in different spheres of everyday life. The authorities are still recovering from the feeling of threat and discomfort which the opposition created for over 100 days, but it now seems that they have elaborated a very rational approach to combating the opposition. If these tactics are the idea of the ruling elite we can assume they are pretty smart. If they have attracted some think tanks from abroad or hired a special management company to dream them up this also should be complemented.

One way or another the authorities are taking not loud but very consistent punitive measures, designed to deprive the opposition of the initiative and establish a syndrome of fear to show the people who the bosses are in this country. Low and mid-level opposition activists are being put under continual pressure. They are detained and beaten up, sometimes very severely. Some of them are being put into prison on different charges. Sometimes people with no history of lawbreaking are being arrested because the police have found either a bomb or narcotics in their residences, cars or pockets. Different types of pressure are also being exercised on businessmen who have expressed or are expressing sympathy for the opposition or have assisted it financially.

All this is being done against the background of an inevitable/possible/probable repeat attack by the Russians. In addition to all this, amendments have been introduced in the administrative law on protest rallies in a very hasty way, creating a situation in which protestors will think twice before they go out into the streets to support the opposition. The price they could pay for doing this is pretty high. They could be detained and put in prison for 90 days or have to pay a fine of GEL 4,000. Both these punishments will bear grave consequences. If an imprisoned protestor has a job he/she will certainly lose it because no employer will tolerate someone being absent for three months. If they are not working how can they pay such a large fine? So anyone feeling supportive of the opposition will think many times before openly expressing this support. Moreover if a rally gets agitated the state can now take stricter physical measures against protestors on the spot. The new amendments have made using non-lethal bullets legal.

What does all this mean? Has the opposition lost the fight for all time and left only Parliamentary means of confrontation? No definite answer can be suggested, but the administration has given itself further advantages which it can also use very successfully.

The term of service of a very dedicated, honest and straightforward person, Ombudsman Sozar Subari, is expiring on 16 September. In very short order Parliament has chosen his successor. The choice was made in such haste that neither the opposition nor NGOs could present a serious rival to the National Movement candidate, Giorgi Tugushi. Tugushi has a very good record in the field of human rights protection. However he has several shortcomings. When questioned before being appointed he refrained from directly saying whether there are political prisoners in Georgia. Current Ombudsman Subari has always insisted in his annual reports, public appearances and media interviews that in some instances when a well known opposition supporter with the cleanest reputation is arrested with narcotics in his pockets he might be considered a political prisoner. Tugushi however seems unconvinced by Subariís arguments, which is a source of concern to many.

Middle aged Georgians remember very well that according to the Soviet Constitution and law the USSR did not have political prisoners. All those dissidents, protestors and human rights defenders were detained by the Soviet militia or KGB for different reasons, such as hooliganism, violations of public order by blocking streets or picketing, producing anti- Soviet propaganda and in some extreme cases drug dealing or possessing firearms. Anything but their political beliefs in fact. There is a certain parallel here with the present situation in Georgia, but now the administration which has created this situation has appointed an Ombudsman who is not sure whether Georgia has any political prisoners.

Is this a victory for the Government? Letís not comment until Tugushi gets down to work five weeks from now. Letís also refrain from comment for the time being on the process of electing a new General Director of the Georgian Public Broadcaster. There is one clear cut pro-Government candidate for this post, Gia Chanturia. Two weeks from now we will find out to what extent the Public Broadcaster is fulfilling its duties.

So, everything is still the same. Georgia is in standby mode. Letís hope for the best.