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Ivanishvili's struggle for political legitimacy

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, November 7
The issue of citizenship--one of the most important issues for the new Georgian politician, Bidzina Ivanishvili--is now on the agenda. His team is actively exploring options to have his citizenship restored, as without this, the businessman will be unable to form a party, finance political movements or participate in elections.

Ivanishvili's lawyer, Eka Beselia, recently appealed to the Public Defender of Georgia, Giorgi Tughushi, "to examine the removal of Ivanishvili's and his wife's citizenship" in as short a time as possible, given the importance of the issue.

The Ombudsman's response was positive. The Public Defender's Office released statement only hours after the lawyer’s appeal, saying that his office had already begun investigating Ivanishvili's citizenship case on October 20 at its own initiative, and on October 21 had requested that the Civil Registry under the Justice Minister provide all the documents related to the case. Tugushi said his office had received the requested information on November 3 and informed Beselia immediately. "The Georgian Public Defender will release his conclusions as soon as the investigation is completed," the Public Defender's statement reads.

Meanwhile Ivanishvili will have a meeting with Georgian non-governmental organizations on November 7, with nearly 80 representatives from active NGOs.

It is difficult to predict what impact the Georgian Public Defender’s conclusions can have on the citizenship issue or what influence NGOs will have, since there is currently no sign that the President will restore or grant citizenship to Ivanishvili. Authorities' have remained staunchly opposed, illustrated by statements such as "Ivanishvili is sent by Russia" and "Georgians will give such people their answer". For the moment Georgians haven't been as clear with their answers as the authorities, whose negative responses are stark--they continue to blame Ivanishvili for his own citizenship problems, stating that he violated Georgian legislation when he accepted another country’s citizenship, the fact that Ivanishvili was doing business in Russia and his “anti-Government statements “ that “the Georgian Government’s thoughtless steps caused the Russian embargo” and that “Saakashvili was provoked and Georgians fired first in 2008". These attitudes have been enough for the present Government to accuse him as an "enemy of the state". Based on this it isn't difficult to guess whether the President would grant or restore citizenship to a man declared as an "enemy" by the authorities.

The strong supportive reaction by Georgians for the politician and involvement by the international community after such statements against Ivanishvili, could in fact work to restore citizenship, said Irakli Sesiashvili, analyst and current member of Ivanishvili’s Advisory Council, to The Messenger staff.” According to him the authorities acted with "animal instinct". He said Ivanishvili's appearance on the political scene was so unexpected for the authorities that it frightened them. "In a situation of fear, people resort to either "fight or flight". The authorities selected the first way, and since they had no compromising evidence against Ivanishvili, President Saakashvili made an absolutely unsatisfactory and legally unjustified decision," he said.

Sesiashvili further clarified the issue. "A person can become Georgian in two ways: When he is born in the country, lives here and receives citizenship, or in the second way: the President bestows citizenship on a person having special merit for the state, or if the person's citizenship has some importance for the country. Ivanishvili is an example of the second case: the President gave him citizenship in 2004 and he had a legal right to be the citizen of another country as well. He could lose his citizenship only if he, himself, had repudiated it."

Fellow analyst, Gia Khukhashvili told The Messenger that by depriving Ivanishvili of his citizenship the authorities are trying to push him "to radicalization". However, he believes that the politician "will not play the authorities' game, since he puts his country's interests above his personal ones."