Georgian opposition facing problems of PR

As small and dwindling protests continue in Tbilisi and elsewhere in Georgia, their organizers are trying to find ways of provoking the authorities to acts of violence, in the hope of reviving the protesters’ public image as victims. So far the Saakashvili authorities haven’t fallen into this trap, and have studiously avoided physical contact with the demonstrators. Jamestown’s Vladimir Socor writes that the protesters seem to have misunderstood the nature of western human rights democracy, and find that they are having to justify to foreign observers their tactics of blockading the Georgian Parliament and other public buildings:

European envoys are increasingly concerned and frustrated by the opposition’s strategy of confrontation. French ambassador Eric Fournier declared, “Because of the [opposition’s] activists, the parliament chairman must hold meetings at a hotel, not in the parliament building. We regret that some people have decided to act against the law and violate the democratic constitution. It is inadmissible that we should gather at a hotel to meet the chairman of the parliament. This is a lamentable fact” (Rustavi-2 TV, April 25). The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly Secretary-General Terry Davis told the opposition that “any issues should be discussed in negotiations, not in the streets;” and reproached it for having refused to take up their parliamentary mandates after the 2008 elections (Rustavi-2 TV, April 28).

Opposition leaders, however, demand Saakashvili’s resignation and the holding of general elections (only one year after the last elections). They denounce the “criminal Saakashvili regime,” as they have done continuously since 2007, and insist that a dialogue should only pertain to the modalities of resignation and early elections (Imedi-TV, Public TV, Kavkas-Press, April 25-28).

Unaccustomed to and intolerant of European criticism, some opposition leaders bristle in response. One of them, French-born diplomat Salome Zourabichvili, felt duty-bound to apologize to the crowd at the rally over Fournier’s remarks; and she retorted to “Davis or any Englishman” that their call for dialogue was like “dialogue with Hitler” (Rustavi-2 TV, April 28). Other opposition leaders, parochial and unfamiliar with European institutions, imagine as “Conservative” leader Kakha Kukava told the crowd, that Europe will pressure Saakashvili into a dialogue about resignation (Rustavi-2 TV, April 25, 27).

The authorities adhere to the policy of non confrontation, no physical contact with the opposition in the streets, and openness to dialogue toward a political agreement with opposition groups. Saakashvili called for such dialogue most recently in his April 23 speech at a factory outside Tbilisi and his April 28 remarks in the city, following a special church service convened by the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II. The Patriarch had publicly appealed to opposition leaders to attend the service; but they did not seem to be on hand, with the exception of Alliance for Georgia leader Irakli Alasania, who accepted to shake the president’s hand (Imedi TV, April 28).

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