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Tbilisi Lesson

By Matvey Ganapolsky
TSN, 24 September '12


The wave of very serious compromises in Georgia on the eve of parliamentary elections can play against its authors.

Everything went according to Dostoevsky who said "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons".

Obviously, there is no point to repeat in details with all the names the sensational story of prison that rocked Georgia. To remind briefly what the reader probably knows anyway: Georgian opposition has published video of bullying in a prison. Video is a nightmare, inmate is raped with a broom ... well, in general, do not want to describe all those horrors. After that, the spontaneous mass demonstrations have been held; the opposition said that they have many videos of that type, which will be published on September 25th - just ahead of the parliamentary elections on October 1. And the reader probably heard that [President Mikheil] Saakashvili had to make excuses and fired a couple of people. The newspapers are now writing that he will have hard times, as compromising videos would move voter sympathy to the main opposition figure [Bidzina] Ivanishvili. And because of this, Georgia may change totally.

Also, others write that Saakashvili's "bloody regime showed itself in all its glory".

Of course, all of this seems to be true, in fact, it is true.. But presented the way the Soviet newspapers used to describe life in the US. And they told us that the victory of the Communist Party was very close and all Americans were concerned about the fate of Angela Davis and Dr. Haider, if any of the readers still remember who they are.

But real life is different from the cliché by being, most commonly, the opposite. And in the story of the video the interesting part is not where it came from, but quite the other side, - very instructive one.

So, surprisingly, the first to report the sensation…. who do you think was? ... Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs! On September 18 the MIA issued an official report, which noted that three employees of the prison were detained on charges of "inhuman treatment of prisoners".

Soon, several officers immediately were detained, and then another one caught at the Georgian Armenian border. Simultaneously, part of the video was posted on the ministry's website! It was only later that day, that opposition channels showed entire video. Surely, there is the question whether the government was aware that the opposition had a video or not? Did they play it in advance for that reason? Supposedly they knew, supposedly they played, but important is the fact - that Interior Ministry immediately arrested suspects.

In the morning of 19th, of course, the street protests started with clear slogans, saying that prisoners were being killed and tortured and Saakashvili covered it all.

However, Saakashvili and Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili appeared right there on the TV screen. Saakashvili was furious, expressed indignation and demanded that the prime minister took immediate measures to punish those responsible and to reform the prison system. He ordered the right person, because Merabishvili - the former head of the Interior Ministry - is the author of the successful police reform in Georgia. Prime Minister immediately declared that he would personally control the prevention of such abuses in prisons.

But he did not limit himself with promises: patrol police units were quickly sent into prisons for control. Moreover, relatives of inmates were immediately invited to make sure that inmates were feeling well.

At the same time it was reported that the number of detainees for the case of torture in prison increased to twelve. Among them were the head of prison, his deputy, and the deputy head of the Department of Corrections - that means that superior officer was also arrested.

While there were arrests, the opposition, of course, did not stand still. Discussion of the scandal on opposition channels went almost 24 hours, with the promise from the screen, that more videos of torture would soon be published. Street protests also continue.

Meanwhile, the government makes next step: "Minister of Prisons" Khatuna Kalmakhelidze resigns from her post, and then the unbelievable happens: Saakashvili appears on screen again and presents the new head of the prison system (not to be confused with the Interior Minister Merabishvili, these are different institutions) Giorgi Tugushi, the Commissioner for Human Rights under the President of Georgia, who had written and spoken about warnings of violence in prisons for long time.

Improbability of such appointment could be compared to as if [Russian President]Putin would appoint [Russian opposition leader]Navalny as Prosecutor General, or [Ukrainian president] Yanukovych – would appoint [former PM, now jailed opposition leader] Tymoshenko.

Tugushi said that he accepted the position as Saakashvili gave the new Minister for Penitentiary, Probation and Legal Assistance (this is how the appointment is called) all powers. And in the evening of the same day, Mr. Tugushi said on TV that he wanted to close down prisons in Batumi and Zugdidi. But that's not all!

Protester demanded another head - current Interior Minister Bacho Akhalaia - it was believed that he knew about the torture and, perhaps, even participated in it.

And here is a sensation - Akhalaia resigns, accompanying this step with a statement, which is necessary to quote: "I, as a citizen of our country, was appalled by the crime, which has been revealed in the Gldani prison No.8 Although I was no longer the head of the penitentiary for years, some of the officials in its leadership, who were obliged to prevent such appalling cases, started working [in the penitentiary system] when it was led by me. Hence, I feel moral and political responsibility because we failed to prevent this terrible practice. So I have filed for resignation to the president," Akhalaia said in the statement.

Beautiful statement, is not it? Purely American-style!..

And now, a few conclusions from all described.

Surely, some day we will know who really ordered the torture video, if was it a provocation and who benefited it.

However, striking is the speed and uncompromising steps of the government's response to the scandal.

Government was saving itself? Absolutely! But you can save yourself differently. Acts of torture with horrible videos are everywhere, but does someone remember a similar reaction of power in their country?

Paradoxically, Georgian authorities, once again accused of "bloody regime", apparently were able to reflect a serious strike not by repression, but with quick implementation of democratic constitutional procedures.

No one really knows what did those resignations worth for Saakashvili - there are many rumors, on the undercover games in the government, but it is not important for the community. Important is how capable government was of self-cleaning, even under such big pressure. And here it appears what elections are for – so that among Special Forces, raids and self-rehabilitation, the government would choose the last.

Maybe right before the vote day the opposition will throw out the new wave of compromises, as now, as I write this, a new video has been published - this time the scoundrels bullied a mentally ill person in prison.

But exactly that terrible humiliation, against the background of all these arrests and appointments, raises a very different question: Why was the opposition waiting for the election to publish this video? After all, if it would be published earlier, the prison torturers could have been arrested earlier, right? Many months earlier, because the video was shot in 2011!

So what is more important for the opposition - to win the elections or save people?

That is the question.

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