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Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Zhvania joined hands and marched with their supporters on a cold November evening from the Philharmonia to the parliament building. By then it was clear that the strategic initiative was in the hands of the Nationals and the Democrats, who had hoped for a painless transfer of power into their hands, found themselves in secondary roles. And so the revolution happened, and to paraphrase the poet: if revolutions happen, it means somebody needs it.
Plainly, Mikheil Saakashvili and his supporters needed it. Understanding that the successor issue had already been resolved, Saakashvili moved out in front, as in the case with the publishing of Vano Merabishvili’s article in the New York Times and as now, bringing the people out onto Rustaveli Avenue.
But for a revolution to become a reality it is not enough just to bring people out. In the end they’ll stand for a while and then disperse. For any revolution you need money, access to mass media, and support from the “world community."
Those who try to show that the Rose Revolution was planned in the West usually bring up as proof the fact that the US Ambassador to Georgia at that time was Richard Miles. “What else do you need, he’s a specialist in colored revolutions," they would say. But they are forgetting that before Georgia Miles had only the experience of Serbia, and there the situation was fundamentally different. Miles, of course, is a specialist, not in colored revolutions but rather in the transfer of power to the preferred group of individuals.
I will venture to say that neither the State Department nor any other agency planned the Rose Revolution. Power was supposed to be calmly and peacefully transferred to Nino Burjanadze, that is, in reality to Zurab Zhvania. When the newly-elected President Saakashvili presented Zurab Zhvania as the new Prime Minister in January 2004, Saakashvili made a joke at Zhvania’s expense, saying he would have hoped to see a woman as Prime Minister. “Well, a woman should have become President," Zhvania immediately parried.
*** So who supported Saakashvili in his struggle for power at that time? Lying on the surface is the Open Society Foundation, i.e. Soros. It was they who financed the Kmara!"(“Enough is Enough!") youth movement, and it was with their money that young people provided the demonstrators standing in the piercing November wind with sandwiches and hot chocolate. Kmara!, headed by Gigi Ugulava and Tea Tutberidze, made life a living hell for corrupt bureaucrats, which earned them the genuine sympathy of the public.
The ideological base for the Nationals was the non- governmental organization The Liberty Institute, whose activists had become known to the population thanks to their self-sacrificing defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were being beaten up by members of the radical Orthodox group of the defrocked priest Vasili Mkalavishvili. It was because of these terrifying scenes of people being beaten, burning biblical literature and pogroms that names like Giga Bokeria and Givi Targamadze became known around the country. It should be pointed out that to stand up openly for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia at that time required no small amount of civic courage. In difficult social and economic conditions people turned to the Church as one of the only consolations that remained for them, and anathema rang out from all the pulpits towards the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who had been aggressively proselytizing.
The future state ideology was being worked out in the bowels of the Liberty Institute, although it should be mentioned that the program of the National Movement itself was extremely eclectic, made up of populist slogans about struggle against corruption and the return of state deposits. Saakashvili’s activity as chairman of the Tbilisi Sakrebulo, when on his initiative the roofs, basements and elevators in many apartment buildings had been repaired with the help of the city budget, also played no small role. A considerable part of the National Movement financing came from donations by individual industrialists, whom the Nationals proposed to protect from the arbitrariness of the tax and law enforcement organs. The urban joke that “Misha made us a roof [“krysha," i.e., protection]" had an entirely double meaning.
A separate mention should be made of the role of television, and particularly of the channel Rustavi 2, founded by a member of Zurab Zhvania’s team, Erosi Kitsmarishvili. Over the course of several years various talk shows and even cartoons had shaken the authorities’ foundations. The practice of broadcasting demonstrations live had been tried out back in November 2001, and constant political advertisements were aimed not at supporting any particular party, but against the sitting government. Residents of Georgia certainly must remember the impressive ads that said “This is not their face” or “Enough! Why? Because I love Georgia."
Later the TV station of the oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili also began supporting the opposition. But we’ll speak about his role in recent Georgian history a bit later on. For now we will limit ourselves to mentioning that it was precisely Badri Patarkatsishvili who was financing Zurab Zhvania’s team. Some people say that that the Nationals were funded by another oligarch, Bidzina Ivanishvili. I have no information about this, and knowing Ivanishvili I could imagine that there might have been some kind of one-time assistance, but it is unlikely that he would get seriously involved in the Georgian political game. All the more so since he has no business interests in Georgia, and in his homeland he is engaged exclusively in philanthropy.
But money isn’t everything. Before the 2003 elections it seemed to everybody that the West had bet on Zhvania’s team, and Misha was seen as a possible reserve candidate and as an ideal opposition. But something happened that I think no one could have expected: Saakashvili again got ahead of the game. When speaking about Richard Miles everybody for some reason forgets that the successor in Georgia was supposed be a figure that satisfied not only Washington, but Moscow as well. Shevardnadze, with his endless flitting back and forth between Moscow and Washington had annoyed both. Obvious Moscow clients like Aslan Abashidze or Jumber Patiashvili would not have suited the West. I really don’t know how Mikheil Nikolaevich was able to get an OK from the Kremlin, but the fact is that at a certain point in time Saakashvili seemed to be more acceptable to the Kremlin than Nino Burjanadze.
Meanwhile, very interesting events were taking place in Tbilisi. Following the weeks-long vigil in front of Parliament, the Nationals were preparing for the final showdown. The Democrats and activists of the pro-Russian Unity Party of Jumber Patiashvili were already standing together with them at the parliament. Having demonstrated their strength, the revolutionaries took their people off Rustaveli Avenue and headed for the regions.
At the same time Eduard Shevardnadze turned to his sworn friend Aslan Abashidze for assistance. Having unlimited administrative and financial resources, Abashidze sent to Tbilisi no fewer people than the revolutionaries had gathered. Rustaveli reverberated with shouts of “Babu, Babu” (“Grandfather, as Aslan’s supporters called him) and the blue flags of the Revival party.
It’s difficult to say if Aslan Abashidze was thinking at that time what might have been if his representative in Tbilisi, Tsotne Bakuria, had not simply “privatized” most of the money allocated for the elections, or if it seemed to Aslan that his star had risen and he would not miss the chance to replace the old Fox in the presidential chair. Fact remains fact that the demonstrators, receiving 20 Lari a day, spared no effort in expressing supportive feelings.
The date of the first session of the new parliament was looming inexorably close. To preserve his power Shevardnadze would not even have to annul the election results – all he would have had to do was declare a recount and give more seats in the parliament to the Nationals. But the Old Fox’s instinct betrayed him.
On the evening of November 21 residents of the Georgian capital became witnesses to a surprisingly beautiful spectacle, shown on live air on Rustavi 2, of a kilometers-long convoy of car headlights and blaring horns making its way to Tbilisi over the course of several hours. Everyone who was watching television that evening had a feeling of involvement in a historical moment, and at that moment the whole country was watching television. That same evening many of Abashidze’s supporters hopped on the Tbilisi-Batumi train and went home. The decisive day had come, a day that would go down in history.
The first and last session of the new parliament began as planned. Deputies from the Citizens’ Union and from Revival sat in the chamber, but there was no quorum. The Patriarch of Georgia, Ilia II, was also absent from the hall. The situation changed when the deputies of the New Rights, headed by Davit Gamkrelidze, decided to enter the chamber and take their seats. The session began, and President Shevardnadze appeared at the podium. All of this could be seen on Georgian Channel 1, but hardly anybody in Georgia that day was watching Channel 1. Rustavi 2 was showing completely scenes: small screen in the upper corner was showing the parliamentary session, while the rest of the screen showed what was happening on Freedom Square and Rustaveli Avenue, where Saakashvili had gathered more than a hundred fifty thousand of his supporters.
For some time the space in front of parliament was occupied by Abashidze supporters, blocked off by busses and dump trucks filled with sand. This was the most dangerous moment, as supporters of revolution began climbing over the buses, and anything could have happened. But the people who stood on the other side of the barricades were just the same kind people, worn out by problems and with no more desire to preserve the hated authorities. Soon the busses and dump trucks were pulled away and all of Rustaveli Avenue, Freedom Square and the adjoining streets turned into a sea of people demanding change.
It would have been impossible in principle to stop such a mass of people, and in practice nobody tried. The unimaginable happened when the deputy Interior Minister Irakli Alasania, on the direct order of his chief, who incidentally was Vladimir Putin’s good friend Valery Khaburdzania, opened wide to the demonstrators the central gates of parliament. The exalted crowd carried their leaders practically on their hands to the legislative organ.
The final interesting moment of that day, which might not be widely known to the public, was the unexpected hesitation that took place at the doors to the chamber. According to the existing legislation, only deputies had the right to enter, and Zurab Zhvania reminded the crowd of this, supported by Nino Burjanadze. At that moment Mikheil Saakashvili said something that would change forever the history of Georgia: “Either this will be our revolution, or my revolution. You choose."
The scenes that followed this were seen all over the world, as Saakashvili stormed into the hall of the parliament with a group of his supporters and shredded the legitimization of the new legislature. President Shevardnadze was hurriedly evacuated by his bodyguards. Power practically shifted to the hands of the revolutionaries, and Russian Security Council Chairman Igor Ivanov arrived in the Georgian capital to discuss with Shevardnadze the conditions for the transfer of power and guarantee of his safety.
A day later Shevardnadze would resign, and Nino Burjanadze, as speaker of parliament, would step in as acting president of Georgia. But on that same evening nobody had any doubt that Mikheil
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