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Misha And His Team

By Gela Vasadze
Georgia Online, 08 August '12
Translated by Tim Blauvelt

the government. Instead of liabilities these things could have been made into assets if there had been a well thought out plan in addition to an effective public relations effort – a plan that could be understood and accepted by the majority of citizens. What is more, at some point the government acquired an attitude that it could do anything it wanted and that it had absolute truth on its side, which slowly but surely began to generate aggravation on the part of the populace. The unpleasant story of Sandro Gvirgliani stirred up the whole country.

Even the most devoted supporters of the government shook their heads in condemnation, so all Patarkatsishvili had to do to make PR use of the story was add in some filigree. Thus the seed fell on well fertilized soil.

The appearance of former defense minister Irakli Okruashvili live on Imedi TV signaled the start of the most serious political crisis in the country in four years. For nearly two days Georgia discussed the scandalous interview with the former Shida Kartli governor, interior minister, prosecutor general, defense minister and revolutionary. The fact that the media, and Imedi in particular, had been hyping from the moment of his resignation the thesis that Irakli Okruashvili had some exclusive compromising information on the Georgian government and would sooner or later use it to return to the political Olympus added spice to the situation. So when he promised on Imedi to “tell all," the whole country froze in anticipation.

That evening, Okruashvili, whose oratory skills are a rule are limited to saying things like “fecal matter," said a great deal and said it coherently. But he didn’t say anything new. The country’s formerly highest-ranking bureaucrat simply repeated all of the opposition’s accusations, maintaining his own personal participation in “criminal activities." To the question of why he did these things, the ex-minister answered plainly that “I believed that it would help return the lost territories."

The disgraced politician began with concrete accusations against the president. He said that Georgian Interior Ministry officials had arrested the president’s uncle, Temur Alasania, on charges of extortion, and as interior minister at the time he informed Mikheil Saakashvili about this. Then, without excessive emotion, the president ordered him to close the case, and the case was closed. So what forced Irakli Okruashvili to obey, thus committing a crime by abusing his authority? It’s impossible to believe that Interior Ministry officials would bring a case against a relative of the Head of State without informing their superior. That means that Okruashvili knew about the preparations for the arrest and did not inform the president about this. And if this is so, then Okruashvili was gathering compromising materials on the leadership of the country. Or was he simply creating them? No criminal case was officially opened, but with the help of a strong informant network any case can be fabricated. Okruashvili thus publicly admitted committing a crime.

His next accusation against the government was that the president and his circle “obstructed” Okruashvili in returning South Ossetia to Georgia: “We’re not talking about a war or a military campaign. We’re talking about fulfilling a plan that existed. It was a detailed plan, whereby as the result of a small operation and without heavy losses Tskhinvali would be returned. It was to be conducted in the spring of 2006." So it was to be a “small operation." For some reason nobody in the media asked what a “small operation” meant, if not a war or a military campaign. Was this plan accepted on the state level or did it exist only in the head of one excitable hawk? Were the international consequences of this “small operation” considered at all? Irakli Okruashvili gave no answers to such questions.

Of course, the ex-minister’s political striptease would have been incomplete without mention of one of the most tragic pages of recent Georgian history – the death of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Here Okruashvili simply “blew smoke," stating that he did not know how the Prime Minister died or what was the cause of death, but he insinuatingly said that he knew for sure that Zhvania died not on Saburatalo Street, but in a different place. Could a person in the president’s inner circle know only part of the “truth”? Perhaps Okruashvili was concealing something? No, in all other matters he went all out. The logical conclusion is that the disgraced politician did everything he could to make society believe that the authorities were complicit in Zurab Zhvania’s death without saying anything essentially new.

One did not need to possess any exclusive information to understand that Okruashvili and Patarkatsishvili were preparing a blow – to understand this one only had to watch the news broadcasts on Imedi TV. The interests of Okruashvili and Patarkatsishvili intersected, and these interests were composed not so much of hatred for the existing authorities as of the desire to return the power that they had once possessed, but now without any limitations. As concerns Okruashvili everything is clear: the once all-powerful minister had lost out in the “Byzantine” struggle with his alter-ego, Vano Merabishvili. Not so long before “Iron” Irakli had considered himself Saakashvili’s heir to the presidency after the latter’s two terms were up. And as for Patarkatsishvili, after the Rose

Revolution he had used his proximity to Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania to decide many “political-economic” issues, which gave the oligarch power that was no less, if not more, than that of Irakli Okruashvili.

It is obvious that Okruashvili was the only politician in Georgia besides the president to have particular charisma. But charismatic leaders can be divided into “standard bearers” and “servants of the people”. “Standard bearers” have their own vision of reality, have a goal, and are able to draw people to them and to define the character and pace of events. “Servants of the people” express the interests of their followers, act in their name, and say what they expect to hear. Saakashvili is a typical example of a “standard bearer”, while Okruashvili positioned himself as a “servant of the people." In his television appearance Okruashvili said exactly what the majority of viewers expected him to say, and this was easy to do since the answers to all the questions had been formulated in society’s consciousness as the result of all of Imedi TV’s painstaking efforts.

After this performance the government was placed in a no-win situation. Okruashvili’s arrest was due to several causes. The two principal ones were the threat of the physical elimination of the ex-minister, which would inevitably have lead to a real danger of public disorders, and the understanding on the part of the authorities of the vulnerability of Okruashvili’s accusations, that were lacking in proof. With the help of a powerful PR campaign one can create the impression in society that something could be true. But to prove it one needs much more serious arguments. Speaking on live air from Munich later, Okruashvili said that pressure had been used on him in prison. I think that this was probably so, and the main argument of this pressure was that he had lost. After his “tele- repentance” the “revolution” (or coup d’état) in preparation had lost its real leader and was practically doomed to failure.

November 2007 clearly showed that change of power, either by constitutional or by “revolutionary” means, is possible only given the appearance of a strong leader who is able to win over large segments of the population and who has the necessary charisma. Okruashvili had been blocked from this, and there were no other leaders. But the main result in November was the general destabilization of the country.

The start of large-scale demonstrations on Rustaveli was preceded by an intensive information campaign, and the whole country was frozen in anticipation of November 2. That date was chosen deliberately, although the majority of people who went out onto Rustaveli Avenue on that warm, sunny day probably didn’t associate it with the November 2 of four years prior. Dates have a more sacred character in Georgian politics for politicians than for the electorate.

Exactly four years earlier parliamentary elections had taken place in Georgia, the falsification of which had led to the Rose Revolution. The opposition did all it could to make this analogy with the events of four years earlier visible to the naked eye. The same protests in the regions, the same convoy of automobiles, the same bus from Tsalenjika heading the convoy from Mingrelia, the same standing on Rustaveli Avenue.

But in essence November 2 this time became a continuation of Tbilisoba, the crowds of people in their holiday best going to Rustaveli Avenue not so much to express opposition to the government as to participate in events for the sake of participating. Since 1988 demonstrations in Georgia became something of a national pastime.

This is what Tsotne Gamsakhurdia failed to understand when he criticized opposition leaders in an [intercepted telephone] conversation with his brother for bringing out, according to his information, 150,000 people to Rustaveli and not using the moment to “bring down” the hated “Saakashvili regime." Tsotne understands the psychology of our people poorly. Even if a half million people had gathered on Rustaveli Avenue, it would have been impossible to cause a “revolution” on that day. The people gathered to show their dissatisfaction, to see and be seen, but not to overthrow the existing government.

Understanding the mood of the people, the opposition began to raise the temperature with the help of ultimatums, while the government, of course, balked. The result was a gradually dragging out demonstration, supported with the help of a concert of beloved performers. On the evening of November 6 there were all of about 200 people at the demonstration. It became clear that society had grown tired of “revolutions” and dreamed of an evolutionary path. It is not at all coincidental that the quantity of demonstrators began to decrease in geometric progression as soon as the so-familiar shouts of “Go away! Go away!" started to be heard on Rustaveli.

Thunder beaconed in the early morning of November 7. On this red-letter day, the authorities for some reason decided that it was time to put an end to the all the ugliness of hunger strikers on the capital’s central street, all the more so since they (the opposition) had stated their desire to set up a tent city in front of parliament, which pushed the government out of its indifference. There would later be rumors of a government meeting at which ill-fated decision was taken. Those “in-the-know” maintained that the most active supporter of force was Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava, while Vano Merabishvili was categorically against it.

It’s difficult for me to judge how reliable this information is, but the fact that Mikheil Saakashvili bears personal responsibility for this decision is absolutely obvious. The smart thing to do would have been to provide the hunger strikers with nice tents and hot food (if they decided to partake in it), and to bring groups of foreign tourists and show them the level of democracy in the country. But history bears no conditional clause. What happened, happened.

Demolishing the tents on live TV caused a consequential reaction in society. On the morning of November 7 the protesters were not coming to a peaceful protest action, they were coming to overthrow the government. The desire to close off Rustaveli Avenue spilled over to a brawl with the forces of law and order, and fists and then the “weapons of the proletariat” were put to use.

At that moment the authorities had to take a difficult step, but the only one that was possible in such a situation. Riot police were given the order to bring the disorders to a halt using special means. From that moment an emergency

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