The political realities of "democratic" Georgia
One of the constant themes in the US government and media presentation of the conflict in the Caucasus is the depiction of Georgia as a bastion of democracy. The Bush administration has increasingly invoked the terminology of the Cold War by referring to .democratic Georgia. as a symbol of the .free world. and its struggle against authoritarian Russia.
The reality of political life in Georgia is far different than the media image.
Only last November, in the midst of mounting protests against his regime, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili employed dictatorial methods against his opponents. On November 2, opposition demonstrations began in Tbilisi, demanding democratic reforms and the ouster of Saakashvili. These protests, while organized by billionaire media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, gave vent to grievances against government repression and the desperate living conditions of the population. They attracted tens of thousands to the streets of Georgia.s capital city.
The demonstrations continued until November 7, when the state police, acting on orders from Saakashvili, used tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and truncheons to disperse the protesters. More than 600 required medical attention after the crackdown. On the same day, Special Forces raided Patarkatsishvili.s broadcasting corporation Imeldi, beating journalists and disabling equipment.
Saakashvili declared a state of emergency, suspending democratic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly. Independent broadcasting was halted even before the state of emergency was declared, and only the state-controlled television station was allowed to broadcast for a period of fifteen days. Imeldi was taken off the air indefinitely.
During the crackdown, Saakashivli called for snap elections to be held less than two months later, on January 5. The elections, held under conditions of political intimidation and repression, placed the opposition at an enormous disadvantage.
All media were under the de facto control of Saakashivli. In addition, two opposition leaders, Konstantin Gamsakhurdia and Shalva Natelashvili, were declared .wanted for treason.. The government accused them of conspiring with Russia to overthrow the government.
Patarkatsishvili, who likewise faced a government investigation for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, began his campaign from Israel. He withdrew from the elections after the government released a recording of him attempting to bribe a police officer.
Patarkatsishvili died suddenly last February in London at the age of 52. Authorities attributed the death to a massive heart attack, but Patarkatsishvili believed the Georgian authorities were targeting him for assassination.
The early elections eliminated two other serious rivals for the presidency.former defense minister Irakli Okruashvili and lawyer Tinatin Khidasheli.both of whom were just shy of 35 years of age, the minimum, at the time of the vote.
Okruashvili fled the country shortly after the crackdown in what ABC News called .mysterious circumstances.. He had accused Saakashvili of corruption, but after being placed under arrest he was apparently forced to retract the allegations.
During the campaign, election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that the credibility of the election had been placed in doubt by allegations that Saakashvili had used state money, blackmail and vote-buying. With rivals under arrest, under police investigation, in exile or legally barred from running for office, it is little surprise that Saakashvili won reelection. After his victory, the opposition claimed that the vote had been manipulated. His vote total surpassed by 20 percent that which had been projected by an opinion poll released one week earlier.
The Saakashvili regime faced international criticism from foreign capitals and human rights organizations for its assumption of dictatorial powers. Though the level of repression Saakashvili employed exceeded the measures that had been taken by his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, against the so-called .Rose Revolution. that brought Saakashvili to power in early 2004, criticism from the United States was much more muted.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew J. Bryza, a close ally and personal friend of the US-educated Saakashvili, acknowledged that the State Department was .hearing more and more reports that people were grabbed from stores or that passers-by were beaten,. but concluded merely that .Things got out of control..
NATO head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer responded with little more than a wrist slap against the Georgian government, which was seeking NATO membership. He limited himself to the observation that .the imposition of emergency rule and the closure of media outlets. were not in line with .Euro-Atlantic values..
In fact, the .excesses. of Saakashvili in putting down peaceful protests were not mere aberrations. The US State Department, in its 2008 .Country Reports in Human Rights,. listed the following in relation to the Georgian government: .at least one reported death due to excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, cases of torture and mistreatment of detainees, abuse of prisoners, excessive use of force to disperse demonstrations, poor conditions in prisons and pretrial detention facilities, impunity of police officers, continued overuse of pretrial detention for less serious offenses, lack of access for average citizens to defense attorneys, lack of due process in some cases, and reports of government pressure on the judiciary..
The report went on to state: .Respect for freedom of speech, the press, assembly and political participation worsened, especially during the fall crisis. Other problems included reports of government pressure on the judiciary and the media, restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, and corruption among senior-level officials. Despite government efforts, trafficking-in-persons continued to occur..
The so-called .color revolutions. in Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004-2005) did not represent the spontaneous will of the masses. They were political coups orchestrated from Washington, with the aide of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) subsidized by the US government and private foundations.
Chief among the NGOs involved in Georgia.s .Rose Revolution. was the Liberty Institute, which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development.s Eurasia Foundation as well as billionaire financier George Soros.s Open Society Institute. The Liberty Institute.s co-founder, Giga Bokeria, took a Soros Foundation-funded tour of Serbia in February 2002 to learn how the Otpor, or .Resistance,. student opposition had ousted Slobodan Milosevic following a disputed election in the autumn of 2000.
Another US government outfit involved in the ouster of Shevardnadze was the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a center of international intrigue and subversion set up under the Reagan administration and relying heavily on the services of the AFL-CIO trade union bureaucracy. The Democratic Party wing of the NED, known as the National Democratic Institute, in the words of Wall Street Journal columnist George Melloan, .helped introduce Mr. Saakashvili to the methods insurgents in Serbia used to depose dictator Slobodan Milosevic..
Saakashvili.s reelection last January was based politically on an appeal to rabid Georgian nationalism. The central plank of his campaign was a pledge to restore Tbilisi.s authority over the pro-Russian breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. They had established de facto independence as a result of bloody fighting with Georgian government forces that followed the revocation in March 1991 of the autonomy guaranteed them under the Soviet constitution.
Within months of his reelection, Saaskashvili was assuming unprecedented powers in what the Manilla Times called .a distinctly undemocratic one-party state..
Saakashvili is the representative of one faction of the Georgian ruling elite. Including in its ranks former officials of the old Stalinist regime, the new financial oligarchy emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union, amassing its wealth by plundering the formerly nationalized economy.
In contrast to Western tributes to the economic growth and modernization of Georgia under Saakashvili, his government oversees a miserably poor and highly polarized society. Formerly one of the wealthiest Soviet republics, in 2007 Georgia ranked 108th in the world in per capita gross domestic product (GDP), below countries like Bhutan, Equador and Guatemala. Its GDP ranks 114th in the world, below that of Equatorial Guinea.
If it were a US state, Georgia.s GDP would rank at the bottom, equaling about one-third of Vermont.s. The official unemployment rate in Georgia stands at nearly 13 percent. More than one half of the population lives below the official poverty level. Over one quarter lives on less than $2 per day. Last year the average monthly pension was $30.
But Saakashvili.s pro-Western, .free market. economic policies have fostered the growth of a small but growing wealthy elite. Georgia earned the World Bank.s 2008 designation as .the number one economic reformer in the world. because it improved in one year from 112th to 18th in creating what is euphemistically called .a friendly business environment..
What this means in practice is the scrapping of all regulations and encumbrances limiting the exploitation of the working class and the accumulation of personal wealth by a rapacious financial elite. In 2004, Saakashvili.s first year in power, his government abolished the progressive income tax and replaced it with a 12 percent flat tax.
Two mysterious deaths in Georgia.s .Rose Revolution. regime
Georgia.s .rose revolution.: a made-in-America coup
[5 December 2003]
The Israeli-Georgia connection is estimated to be worth $1 billion, according to a former Georgian ambassador to Israel. The Jewish state and private investors have provided military assistance and advisors to Georgia, where pipelines pump oil destined for Israel. A new pipeline is being built to bypass Russian territory.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Israeli companies in Georgia have begun evacuating their staff and that Israeli tourists are leaving for home.
Georgia: Russian Cluster Bombs Kill Civilians
Stop Using Weapon Banned by 107 Nations
(Tbilisi, August 15, 2008) – Human Rights Watch researchers have uncovered evidence that Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs in populated areas in Georgia, killing at least 11 civilians and injuring dozens, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called upon Russia to immediately stop using cluster bombs, weapons so dangerous to civilians that more than 100 nations have agreed to ban their use.
“Cluster bombs are indiscriminate killers that most nations have agreed to outlaw,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. “Russia’s use of this weapon is not only deadly to civilians, but also an insult to international efforts to avoid a global humanitarian disaster of the kind caused by landmines.”
Human Rights Watch said Russian aircraft dropped RBK-250 cluster bombs, each containing 30 PTAB 2.5M submunitions, on the town of Ruisi in the Kareli district of Georgia on August 12, 2008. Three civilians were killed and five wounded in the attack. On the same day, a cluster strike in the center of the town of Gori killed at least eight civilians and injured dozens, Human Rights Watch said. Dutch journalist Stan Storimans was among the dead. Israeli journalist Zadok Yehezkeli was seriously wounded and evacuated to Israel for treatment after surgery in Tbilisi. An armored vehicle from the Reuters news agency was perforated with shrapnel from the attack.
This is the first known use of cluster munitions since 2006, during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions or bomblets. They cause unacceptable humanitarian harm in two ways. First, their broad-area effect kills and injures civilians indiscriminately during strikes. Second, many submunitions do not explode, becoming de facto landmines that cause civilian casualties for months or years to come. In May 2008, 107 nations agreed to a total ban on cluster munitions, but Russia did not participate in the talks.
Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed numerous victims, doctors, and military personnel in Georgia. They examined photos of craters and video footage of the August 12 attack on Gori. Human Rights Watch has also seen a photo of the submunition carrier assembly and nose cone of an RBK-250 bomb in Gori. The Gori video showed more than two dozen simultaneous explosions during the attack, which is characteristic of cluster bombs. Two persons wounded in Gori described multiple simultaneous explosions at the time of the attack. Craters in Gori were also consistent with a cluster strike.
Doctors at the two main hospitals in Tbilisi described numerous injuries to civilians hurt in the attack on Gori they believed were consistent with cluster bombs. Human Rights Watch researchers saw a submunition fragment extracted from one victim’s head.
Human Rights Watch interviewed several hospitalized victims of the attack in Gori. Twenty-five-year-old Keti Javakhishvili suffered massive trauma to her liver, stomach, and intestines, as well as hemorrhagic shock. Two other victims sustained fragment wounds to their legs and abdominal regions. All the wounds were consistent with those caused by submunitions from cluster bombs.
Photographic evidence on file with Human Rights Watch shows a civilian in Ruisi holding a PTAB submunition without realizing it could explode at the slightest touch. This incident highlights the dire need to educate immediately the population of Georgia about the dangers of these submunition “duds.”
Human Rights Watch called on Russia to provide precise strike data on its cluster attacks in order to facilitate clean up of the inevitable lingering contamination from cluster bomb submunitions that failed to explode on contact but remain deadly.
Human Rights Watch also called on Georgia, which is known to have RBK-500 cluster bombs in its stockpiles, to join the international move to ban the use of cluster munitions and publicly to undertake not to use such weapons in this conflict.
Russia was not part of the Oslo Process launched in February 2007 to develop a new international treaty banning cluster munitions. In May 2008, 107 nations adopted the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which comprehensively bans the use, production, trade and stockpiling of the weapon. It will be open for signature in Oslo on December 3, 2008.
“Russia should never have fired cluster munitions against a town in Georgia and now it should help in the clean-up to avoid any more deaths,” Garlasco said.