The messenger logo

Georgia on the brink

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Wednesday, March 3
The February 22 attack on the UNM office and the arrest of Nika Melia, the party's leader, provoked strong reactions both within and outside the country. With this step, the government virtually ruled out the possibility of a dialogue with the opposition, while the Georgian Dream from the West came under a hail of critical statements. Georgian Dream still talks about the rule of Law, but it says that Georgia is on a dangerous threshold and that authoritarian rule is taking shape in the country.

The arrest of Nika Melia also cost the Georgian Dream a change of Prime Minister. Melia was scheduled to be arrested on February 18, but then-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia no longer took responsibility for the consequences of Melia's arrest and resigned. Gakharia's impending dismissal has been actively talked about in the media lately, and he no longer seems to want to do the 'dirty business' with his own hands and then be fired. Gakharia resigned himself in a favorable situation for him. He deserved praise from many after taking this step, but many won't forget the June 20 raid when several people lost their eyesight due to special law enforcers' violence.

After Gakharia's resignation, the Georgian Dream urgently needed a new Prime Minister. Irakli Gharibashvili, who previously held the post of Prime Minister and was the Minister of Defense in Gakharia's government, was nominated for the post. Gharibashvili is a staff member of Bidzina Ivanishvili, who brought him to power in his time, but also fired him and returned him to the government later. According to opposition members, the appointing of Gharibashvili is another sign that Bidzina Ivanishvili's recent departure from politics is fake, only trying to avoid responsibility for the crisis, which may have been planned earlier.

Irakli Gharibashvili is considered to be a 'strict' politician; his statements against the opposition are harsh and his appointment as Prime Minister was considered by the opposition as a sign that the Georgian Dream resorted to repression. Such an expectation was justified - Gharibashvili immediately sent special forces to the office of the United National Movement, where many people and leaders of almost all opposition parties were present in Melia's support. The footage of the capture of the UNM's Nika Melia was widely broadcasted- no one resisted the police, although the office was aggressively raided and tear gas was used. For those who planned it and supported it, probably filled with satisfaction, but the protest was much stronger.

Why was Nika Melia arrested? He Refused to pay extra bail. Why did the court order him to pay bail twice? Georgian Dream accuses him of attempting a coup. The coup attempt, according to the authorities, took place on June 20, 2019 when the appearance of the Russian Duma Communist-Orthodox in the Georgian Parliament and the sitting of the Speaker of the Parliament caused a sudden mass protest for the government. Eventually, the protesters dispersed, but Kobakhidze, then speaker of parliament, resigned, and Bidzina Ivanishvili made a public speech promising proportional elections. The government later accused Gavrilov of being linked to the United National Movement and accused several opposition leaders, including Nika Melia, of plotting a coup.

Nika Melia's political weight is growing rapidly. Melia took the post of the Chairman of the main opposition party United National Movement and covered the negative associations the party caused among the opposition due to Mikheil Saakashvili. Melia was acceptable to a number of opposition parties previously opposing the United National Movement. Leaders such as Nino Burjanadze went to the UNM office in solidarity with Melia, saying that their appearance in the UNM's office used to be unimaginable.

With the arrest of Melia, Georgian Dream seemed to want to show its strength and principle, but it backfired: the opposition has accused it of trying to establish authoritarian rule, which will lead to his rejection of transparent elections and the country's return to the Russian orbit. The opposition believes that Georgian Dream is dealing with a political force pursuing Russia's interests and recalls the events of exactly one hundred years ago, when the Russian Red Army invaded Georgia. The opposition is organising protests; its main demands are the release of political prisoners and the appointment of early parliamentary elections. Georgian Dream categorically refuses to meet these requirements.The opposition warns the Georgian Dream that if the concerns and criticism from Western friends are not taken into account, the case will lead to sanctions. Probably a few personal sanctions, if it ever comes down to this, might teach a few a lesson, increasing chances for a dialogue.
(Translated from Georgian by Mariam Mchedlidze)