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Misha And His Team

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

of Miracles in the Country of Fools sucked the blood from the Georgian economy, and problems with infrastructure, the breaking of lines of supply, and war eliminated any chances for a turnaround.

So this was the Georgian economy under Shevardnadze. As I mentioned earlier, the lucrative spots were taken up by the “family”: mainly trade in oil products and in mobile communications. But Eduard Amvrosievich was not called the “Grey Wolf” for nothing. There was no full monopoly on anything, so for example in mobile communications Shevardnadze’s son-in-law’s company “Magti” had to compete with “Geocell," founded by Turkish investors.

The main source of earnings for those in power was the state sector: customs, the tax inspectorate, the traffic police, together with the entire Interior Ministry, the Energy Department, and the mass of city and state industries that worked in everything from road construction to street sweeping. Streams of money flowed from everywhere to the central authorities, turning into a flood of finance.

One more means of profit was the so called “krysha” (“roof," or protection racket). Having dealt with the criminal element, the government itself took over the protection business with great enthusiasm, and every bureaucrat, from corner cops to parliamentary deputies, had their own businesses. Sometimes businessmen swindled (“kidali”) one another, and then things depended on who had the stronger “krysha." Many of them had both criminal and bureaucratic “kryshas."

Again, in general it was the typical post-Soviet mess, only even more vile. At the same time the state did not particularly interfere with money-making, and the country turned into a giant bazaar. The multitude of grants and humanitarian assistance was simply stolen away. But there was one issue that concerned all residents of Georgia, and that was electricity.

Georgia was in first place in hydro power resources in the Soviet Union, so during the Soviet period there were never problems with electricity. True, power was still turned off in December for a half hour over several days in small cities and villages, but this was because the power grid officials received big prizes at the end of the year for conserving resources rather than because of any deficit. The situation changed in 1993, when the capital was left without electricity and gas one cold January day. One can imagine the shock to people who were caught entirely unprepared for such a turn of events.

It was only later that Turkish gas lights, batteries, water heaters and other delights of micro-infrastructure would appear. Those who had kerosene stoves were lucky, and the others went into their yards to chop wood to cook food to feed their children. Shortages of bread suddenly appeared and huge lines formed. Then there came the concept of the “grafik," or schedule. In the winter, residents of the capital received electricity from seven until nine in the morning, and from eight until twelve in the evening.

The schedule was not always held to, and the cables in apartment buildings often broke, forcing residents to replace them by themselves. The electricity was in fact there: Russia supplied it in return for the export of power to Russia in the summer when the rivers were high. But this electricity was resold to Turkey, and the profits went into the pockets of the energy mafia bureaucrats. And there was a particular exception: as a rule electricity was provided according to the schedule from October 1 in those years when elections were taking place, and it would be shut off immediately as soon as the results were declared.

The first mass demonstrations in the Georgian capital began in the Fall of 2000, when the population closed streets with demands for “light and heat." In essence these were the first public demonstrations since the early 1990s. The government reacted almost immediately, and already from the next spring the energy shortages in the capital were reduced, although true, the rest of the country remained in darkness. Some villages went years without light. But the lessons of autumn did not pass unnoticed: the people understood that by going out into the street and making their demands they could achieve a practical result. There were still three years to go before the Rose Revolution.

“I always recall one and the same, the twenty-third, the first day . . . ," if the reader will forgive me for paraphrasing the poetry of our great countryman [Mayakovsky], but whenever I think of the Rose Revolution that line constantly comes to my mind. For a long time Russian-speaking readers were told that these events were planned and organized in the corridors of Langley, the techniques worked out and the roles planned down to the precise minute. Even today, years later, many in Georgia think it was a planned spectacle. I won’t try to dissuade the conspiracy theorists, but I will give my own personal impressions, and the conclusions that I reached in thinking about the events of those days. I immediately add the disclaimer that my conclusions are entirely my personal opinions, and I do not pretend to have the final truth.

By the end of the 1990s it was clear that the “Old Fox” had run out of steam. The country that might have started to rise from the ashes like the Phoenix had become mired in an inescapable swamp. To make a cynical but also an obvious observation, if Eduard Amvrosievich had been killed in the assassination attempt in February 1998, he would have gone down in Georgian history as a hero and a martyr. But this is not what happened: the armored Mercedes, a present from his friend Helmut, withstood the direct rocket impact, and traffic policeman Armen, out for some nighttime “fishing," drove the frightened President to safety in his own Lada. One way or another, all of Georgian history that followed was the story of the sluggish attempts of the authorities to preserve the system.

The issue of change of power, after all, is one of the hardest questions all over the post-Soviet space. This is simple to explain: in the absence of institutions guaranteeing the inviolability of property, the issue of the change of power almost inevitably becomes a question of transfer of property, and this is a more than serious question. In the post- Soviet space the usual scheme of money-power-money becomes replaced by another: power-money-power. So from the start of the 2000s the question of how power would change hands in Georgia was given serious consideration in the corridors of power in Tbilisi and also in Washington, Brussels and Moscow.

Naturally, the preparing of an heir started long before X hour, which was supposed to take place in 2005. The problem was that there were no clear candidates. Shevardnadze, like other post-Soviet leaders, couldn’t stand any implication of a competitor. And although there was constant discussion about a successor, nobody seemed to measure up to the president’s chair. The final individual suggested was entirely cartoonish: Avtandil Jorbenadze, Eduard Amvrosievich’s personal doctor and family friend who had been named as State Minister, which was indicative not only of the weakness, but also of the hopelessness of the existing regime.

The more credible and natural candidate for the post of successor would have been Zurab Zhvania, the young and energetic politician who had support from the West and was able to weave complex intrigues in the best Byzantine traditions. But there were several serious issues here that put a brick wall in front of Zhvania’s ambitions. Nearly all of the then Speaker’s political opponents understood the great likelihood of his coming to power. Smear campaigns to discredit him followed one after another, and the potential candidate was accused of every possible thing, from Armenian-Jewish heritage to a non-traditional sexual orientation. Zhvania himself was not a charismatic figure or a skilled orator, which reduced his chances for victory in presidential elections to nil. But there were plenty of people in Zhvania’s camp able to play the role of president under a strong prime-ministership.

The most promising of these candidates were Mikheil Saakashvili, who was young and charismatic, and Nino Burjanadze, who could serve as a link between generations. It was entirely natural that in the end the choice should be made in favor of Burjanadze: the young woman was a good lawyer and her father’s daughter, and she clearly won out compared to the impulsive Saakashvili, whom even the Tbilisi elite did not entirely accept as one of their own. But Mikheil Nikolaevich himself disagreed with this choice. He had taken too literally the words of the President of Georgia, spoken in a metro wagon heading for the newly opened Vazha Pshavela metro station: Shevardnadze had laid his hand on the knee of the young parliamentary candidate in a fatherly manner and said before the television cameras: “This guy is your future president." Several years later the President’s words would turn out to be prophetic.

So Saakashvili gathered his team around him and began to play his own game. The most significant members of this team were the parliamentary deputies Vano Merabishvili, Zurab Adeishvili, Koba Davitashvili, former deputy Justice Minister Irakli Okruashvili, the businessman Beso Jugeli, the journalist Giorgi Arveladze, and many other young and talented people.

Of course, it is very important for a party to have a charismatic leader, able to inspire and lead the masses. But it is no less important to have a first class organizer beside him. For those who have at least a passing knowledge of Georgian reality, it will not be difficult to guess that this was the party general secretary Vano Merabishvili.

Vano was able in a short time to create a party structure that could organize a march on the capital from nearly all regions of Georgia without significant financial resources. The main thing that distinguished the Nationals from activists of other parties was the critical mass of “people of strong will," ready to take risks and even to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the eroded but nevertheless still concrete idea of freedom. What was more, in order to draw the supporters of the first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the Nationals joined up with one of the staunchest Zviadists, Zviad Dzidziguri, and in order to gain votes in Batumi they linked up with the Republican Party, headed by the Berdzenishvili brothers.

The elections of November 2, 2003 went as usual, with total falsification and a cynical and predetermined result. But nobody could agree with such results. During the week the votes were being counted first the Union of Georgian Citizens came out ahead, and then the National Movement, and the final vote count results from Ajara and Kvemo-Kartli were delayed. These two regions were the “administrative resources” of Revival and the Citizens’ Union, respectively, and it was clear that whoever would turn in their number last would win. After the results from Ajara were published, as might be expected Revival jumped into first place, and then a day later the results “arrived” from Kvemo Kartli.

The final vote tally looked as follows: the Citizens’ Union was in first place, followed by Revival, and the National Movement was third. In any other situation the population would feel deceived and that would be the end of it. In any other situation, but not in this one.

“They’ve stolen our votes!" shouted the National Movement leader to his electorate. The people, who had already become accustomed over the preceding two years to demonstrating en masse, instantly came out onto the streets. Few then supposed that this was not simply a demonstration, but a revolution.

It is difficult to say if anybody was planning for a change in power in the beginning of that November. Even without that the stakes were already very high: gaining the majority in parliament during the period of the changing of

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