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Misha And His Team

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


situation in reality began in the country. The authorities must answer for the fact that the official emergency situation regime was declared only that evening. The demonstrative closing of Imedi TV is yet another flub on the part of the authorities that has cost the country dearly.

The results were negative all round. The country’s international prestige was dealt a serious blow, many analysts called the situation in the country a human rights crisis, and it is difficult not to agree with this evaluation. The population was divided in two, with one part violently hating the authorities and the other ready to go out on the street, even under the conditions of the emergency situation regime, to support their beloved government. The economy was also dealt a serious blow.

These days people often speak of the involvement of the special services of the neighboring state in the November events, I think with some justification. This brings to mind the episode in Ganmukhuri, which was meant to demonstrate the complete incapacity of the Georgian authorities. As far as the main actors are concerned, most likely [the neighboring country’s special services] made dark use of Irakli Okruashvili, and with Badri Patarkatsishvili there is no clear answer.

Answering the question of why all of this happened precisely when it did inevitably leads to conclusions about how destabilization in Georgia was necessary in order to block it from receiving the Membership Action Plan to enter NATO. After all, if the goal was just the seizure of power, then Okruashvili’s performance would have been much more effective closer to the parliamentary elections, or even better during the presidential ones. Destabilizing the situation precisely at that time was objectively beneficial precisely for the Kremlin. This does not at all take away responsibility from the Georgian authorities, however.

In such a situation Mikheil Saakashvili again showed himself to be a brilliant anti-crisis manager. The decision to hold extraordinary presidential elections and a plebiscite on the date of parliamentary elections was risky, but it was the only decision possible. But that’s another page of history.

The year 2007 in Georgia can be divided into two unequal parts, almost according to Immanuel Kant: the precritical and the critical. In the precritical period there was the Russian economic blockade, the detention of Turkish ships off the coast of Abkhazia, energy summits, and much more.

t makes sense to closely analyze this period in order to understand why “the Olmecs began to demand human sacrifices." There was a surplus budget, a strong national currency, reduction in foreign debt, high rates of physical infrastructure development, attraction of foreign investment and job creation, which seemed to assure further stability in the country.

But not everything in life follows a linear path. The reforms were impossible without a change in mentality, and change in mentality is not a pretty phrase, but a painful breaking of an entire way of life, and even more importantly a break in the psychology of the individual. If before the average resident of Georgia knew very well that the world was unfair, the Rose Revolution gave people the hope, and even the certainty, that the opposite was true.

However, the conception of justice held by the majority of Georgia’s residents was a holdover from that previous life. Of course, it’s a good thing not to have to pay bribes at every step, but, as it turned out, you have to pay taxes. And even though taxes had been sharply reduced, sometimes the total amount due was higher than people used to spend on bribes. Electricity, water and other utilities are also great, but they had to be paid for as well. Add to this the often Bolshevik methods of the authorities (although nothing else would have worked), together with the lack of desire to explain the motivations behind their actions (which was a critical mistake), and you get the events of November 2007, with all of the consequences that flowed from it.

One such consequence was early presidential elections, in conditions of a sharp decline in the approval ratings of the ruling party and of Mikheil Saakashvili himself. According to the experts, the ratings of Saakashvili and his team dropped to the critical level of 10–15%. In such conditions, the president found himself in a Zugzwang situation: not submitting to an election would mean losing the support of the international community, which ultimately would be the same thing as losing power; holding parliamentary elections would lead to a crushing defeat, as it would be simply impossible for the ruling party to increase its approval ratings in such a short pre- electoral period. Mikheil Saakashvili took the only possible decision in such circumstances: to hold presidential elections.

And so we once again saw the Misha of old, the enthusiastic, outgoing, driven Misha, passing on his energy to the entire country. This was a leader, demonstrating to the population that the country needed him. Misha on a tractor, in a car, on a train, with teachers and scientists, villagers and city-dwellers, and so on and so forth. It was rather amusing to observe an electoral campaign in which promises of libertarian reforms were combined with populist PR moves, like handing out fertilizer or foodstuffs to pensioners.

In addition to this, unpopular figures were kept off the TV screens. Some of them disappeared into political insignificance, and some of them transferred into the executive power system, where they continued to play important roles in defining the policies of the ruling team, but without publicity. At first glance, the replacement of the prime minister seemed entirely illogical. Zurab Noghaideli had been so passive, and even silent, that he was simply invisible.

It only later became clear why Saakashvili needed the flashy and even daring Lado Gurgenidze in place of the flaccid Noghaideli. Quite simply, the main focus of the pre-electoral campaign was reviving the country’s economy, which was in a state of shock following the events of November 2007. Relying on the scholarly Noghaideli was not an option in such a situation, and later events demonstrated that the president had been right in making this decision.

It was a forceful campaign in the best traditions of modern political technology. One can snicker all one wants at political technology, but the unexpected happened, and people started to love Misha again. Not everybody and not immediately and, of course, not everywhere. In the capital and in the downtown parts of Batumi people didn’t forgive Misha so easily for the sense of injury and insult that many, even those far from the opposition, felt on November 7, 2007.

Meanwhile, the opposition leaders were not able to put forth a single candidate. Or more correctly, they put forth Levan Gachechiladze, perhaps the only realistic choice, besides the other serious candidate, Badri Patarkatsishvili. How and why the oppositionists could not reach agreement with the out-of-favor oligarch is understandable: each of the opposition politicians had presidential ambitions. In essence, the choice of a candidate from the opposition was sort of like playing in a lottery. But Badri Patarkatsishvili was not of their flock. They saw him more as a milk cow than as a partner. Patarkatsishvili himself was burdened with the experience of organizing the Rose Revolution and the unrealistic fantasies that came after it. Of course, the oligarch had his own candidate, Irakli Okruashvili, but he would not turn thirty-five years old by the time of the presidential election. Thus the oligarch was obligated to hoist the cross of being a candidate himself.

Had Patarkatsishvili supported the opposition, the chances of a single candidate, in this case Levan Gachechiladze, would have been extremely high. Had the opposition supported Patarkatsishvili, he had a chance at victory. But in splitting the vote, the opposition was doomed to defeat. According to some sources, Patarkatsishvili had a plan to become the single opposition candidate several days before the election. But there was one factor, about which we will speak later, that obstructed him from carrying this out.

Immediately after the victory of the Rose Revolution in Ajara in May 2004, some particularly talented individual in the ruling team decided that participation of government representatives in television talk shows and discussions was unnecessary and even potentially harmful. Reality demonstrated that this was incorrect. As it happens, the sharp rise in Mikheil Saakashvili’s popularity started with his appearance in a talk show together with his main opponent, Levan Gachechiladze.

In replying to the aggressive tone of the opposition candidate, Saakashvili proposed a clean fight and cooperation in the name of the unity of the country. In doing this, Misha clearly outplayed his competitor, as Gachechiladze was confused and couldn’t think of how to react. Indeed, the opposition had placed all its hopes on the feelings of antipathy and even hatred towards the government and towards Saakashvili personally.

All the same, in a country without democratic traditions and a developed civil society, truly clean elections are an illusion. Both Saakashvili and his opponents understood this. The main stimulus for the opposition was the fact that the only consistent support Saakashvili was receiving was from US Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza and his boss, Daniel Fried. Not to say that this was insignificant, but it would not mean much the case of a violent seizure of power.

Thus the contest was serious, considering the stakes and the tradition of politics in the Caucasus. The key moment, which deserves special attention, was the publication of the recording of a telephone conversation between Badri Patarkatsishvili and Interior Ministry Department Head Irakli Kodua.

In essence, what happened was that Patarkatsishvili made contact with General Kodua, who at the time was in unofficial disgrace, and proposed organizing a state coup immediately after the announcement of the results of the presidential election. General Kodua was a very serious figure, who had control of nearly all of the Georgian Interior Ministry’s special forces troops, and was also very close to Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. What came to light was a demonstrative conversation between Patarkatsishvili and Kodua, in which Kodua indicated that the main problem in removing Saakashvili from power was Vano Merabishvili. In the final result, Kodua framed Patarkatsishvili into recommending “neutralizing” Merabishvili by all available methods.

There are various theories concerning the details of the revelation of this conversation. The official version is that General Kodua had been prepared from the start by the Interior Ministry to participate in this game, and therefore his disgrace and dissatisfaction had been staged for precisely this reason, which actually is believable.

What is not so believable is that Irakli Kodua was able to record the conversation with Patarkatsishvili in his residence, considering that the latter was under the protection of the best security specialists that money can buy, the majority of whom were former Russian GRU officers.

There was one other version, according to which the recording might have been made by officers of the British Secret Services. But a more likely explanation is that the recording was made by Patarkatsishvili himself, and it then fell into the hands of the Georgian authorities as the result of treachery on the part of somebody he trusted. Of course, in the end it’s not particularly significant how the recording was made. What’s important is that Badri Patarkatsishvili himself, in an interview with his own TV station, Imedi, could not refute the fact that the conversation had taken place, and he appeared very unconvincing.

After this event it became clear that the opposition would not be able to defeat Saakashvili, and the gauge of public opinion swung sharply in favor of the government. It is noteworthy that the authorities did not remove Patarkatsishvili’s candidacy from the ballot, as this would not be beneficial, and a criminal case against the disgraced oligarch was

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