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Next protest action on November 23

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, November 12
Recently the opposition has made it a tradition to organise protest rallies on significant days symbolising certain events. Their spring action started on 9 April, a very important day for the Georgian nationalist movement from Soviet Times, then a huge demonstration was arranged on May 26, Georgia’s national day. A rally was organised on 7 November to commemorate Government’s brutal conduct 2 years ago on that date, now 23 November, the sixth anniversary of the Rose Revolution, has been named as the date of another protest rally.

Maybe choosing dates is important but which is ultimately more important is the results of these demonstrations. The results of the November 7, 2009 protest rally were rather insignificant. The administration is triumphant. No more than 10,000 people turned out, which means that the administration should not be frightened by a potential big wave of protestors taking to the streets in the near future and can ignore opposition demands.

The big protest rally of 2007, 2 years ago, was in fact not even organised by the opposition, who only technically led it: the people came out to express their protest on their own, not because they were following instructions from political parties. This was a surprise for both the authorities and the opposition, who were left to try and turn a spontaneous public protest against the Government into a demonstration in their own favour.

Political analyst Zaza Shatirishvili thinks that the protests of November 2007 were mainly prompted by the controversial activities of the authorities, the public grudge against them having been accumulating for 4 years. On the one hand the administration was capitalistic, carrying out wide-ranging privatisation, but on the other hand it was socialistic, destroying private property and abusing people’s property rights. So the 2007 protests were the expression of the frustration of those displaced by the current leadership and those who object to the inconsistent application of reforms. But the consequence of November 7, 2007 was that country distanced itself even further from the possibility of democratic development. Georgia’s image as the beacon of democracy was much damaged by the excessive use of force by law enforcement bodies. Acute criticism from Western allies, principally the USA, forced the Georgian authorities to give up their state terror, or at least decrease it considerably. But the Rose Revolution leadership recovered quickly and starting making new promises about further waves of democratisation, dialogue with the opposition and the population and so forth, though in reality nothing much has been done.

The opposition tried to be constructive. They participated in the Presidential and later the Parliamentary elections in 2008, but claimed both these elections were rigged, something which triggered a yet further wave of protest in the opposition and the population. Therefore the question as to what extent the opposition should remain constructive is still open. The authorities are not prepared to make concessions. Unfortunately the system it has created is of such a character that there is no room for small concessions: either big concessions which could lead to big changes have to be made or none at all.

The opposition are split between continuing to hold protest rallies and participating in elections. Some opposition groups take a third position, that both these methods could be applied. The question however is whether real, genuine, fair elections can be conducted at all, and if the opposition participates in rigged elections after denouncing the last ones, can it be said to be expressing any opposition to the conduct of the regime?

So the next date for protest rallies is 23 November. By then the administration will have to have done three things, according to the NGOs who organised the November 7 demonstration: stop political repression and release political prisoners, free the media from political pressure and create conditions under which fair elections can be held at any time. This will not happen because the Government denies that there are any political prisoners in Georgia or that any pressure is exerted on the media. It also says it is working on amendments to the election code. So what are further protests likely to achieve? Not enough, it appears, for the public to be willing to support them.

Presumably the authorities will continue to wait and see what the opposition is capable of doing. The people are not in a hurry to rush into the streets for the opposition as they have failed to deliver. Comparing this November 23 with the Rose Revolution is unlikely to be a pleasant exercise for the opposition.