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Misha And His Team

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


Saakashvili would become the new President of Georgia. He had earned it.

Thorns of the Revolution

Much has been said about revolution: that it eats its children like Saturn; that revolution is thought up by geniuses and carried out by fanatics, and its fruits are made use of by scoundrels. This is all true, but nobody ever thinks about such things in the first days after a revolution. The sense of participation in victory makes even those who the day before rolled their eyes at the huge crowds demanding change feel like victors. And the Georgian revolution was no exception.

In the end of November 2003, one could observe many irrationally happy people all over Georgia. Now everything will change, now we will live in a new way – this is the leitmotiv of any revolution. People never realize that getting rid of the old does not at all mean the triumphal creation of the new. But this is human nature, and nothing can be done about it.

Misha’s coming to power in many ways resembled the coming of the Bolsheviks. Over the course of the months- long pre-election campaign, and then during the struggle for justice, our ardent revolutionaries had promised all things to everybody: bread to the hungry, peace to the soldiers, factories to the workers, and land to the peasants. Now the time had come to bring to life at least some of these promises.

On the outside everything seemed like a celebration, although I imagine that for the revolutionary troika – Saakashvili, Zhvania and Burjanadze – the mood was far from celebratory. Any leader who unexpectedly finds himself in a high position spends some time in a state of shock. It would seem that no matter how much one thinks about what must be done and how, reality always turns out to be different. They had to think about how to preserve the power that had fallen to them, and how to divide it, which is much more complicated, and how to start to satisfy elementary expectations, since the revolutionary mood of the masses is always a dangerous thing for any government. There is no shortage of examples from history of how yesterday’s victors find themselves under the guillotine.

Since Shevardnadze’s time the main foothold of the Georgian authorities was the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It was no coincidence that Shevardnadze himself came to power in Georgia in the distant 1970s from the post of state security minister. As First Secretary of the Communist Party he used the repressive apparatus of the Interior Ministry to its fullest, and arrests and executions followed one after another. Over a few months the young First Secretary was able not only to eliminate all those cadres who were hostile to him and to place his own people at the commanding heights, but to implement an enormous propagandistic struggle with corruption in Georgia, which earned him both support from the population and approval from the USSR Politburo. It should be noted that Eduard Amvrosievich turned out to have worthy disciples, and thirty years later the aged Poobah of Georgian politics was forced to watch history repeat itself as his cadres mercilessly smashed the machinery he himself had created. But everything in its turn.

Immediately after the revolution only one of the power ministers was replaced. Kakha Narchemashvili, who defended his patron to the end and was ready to have a fistfight with Saakashvili outside of Parliament, was replaced by Giorgi Baramidze. It’s hard to say what would have happened if the interior minister in those November days had been the experienced Kakha Targamadze rather than the youthful Narchemashvili, but as we remember, Targamadze had been forced to resign as a result of a clever gambit back in November 2001, and the ministry of state security, on which Eduard Amvrosievich had tried to rely in recent years, turned out to be a poor foothold.

The appointment of Baramidze as interior minister should have been seen as a victory for the Zhvania team, but it was particularly this appointment that displayed the main weakness of this team: namely, the absence of“people of strong will." Baramidze looked even more out of place as interior minister than Narchemashvili had. But the system functioned well enough, and most importantly it was ready to carry out the will of its new masters.

The first victim of the revolution was Energy Minister Davit Mirtskhulava. Nobody loves a turncoat, and Mr. Mirtskhulava was no exception. Having been a member of Zhvania’s team, he was enticed to the post of energy minister and participated with enthusiasm in the divvying up of the enormous resources of the Georgian energy market that we discussed earlier. The arrest of Mirtskhulava had another subtext: the energy crises let itself be felt in the middle of winter not only in the regions, but in the capital as well. The system could not be changed in the course of several weeks, and that was all that remained until the new presidential elections.

There had to be a scapegoat, and one was found easily enough. The sight of the Energy Minister being led into a prison cell had a powerful effect on the population. Several months later highly visible arrests of bureaucrats would become a commonplace in Georgia, but then the country was still getting used to the new realities.

The 2004 presidential election in Georgia resembled a festival. Even the election of the first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, did not take place in such an atmosphere of unanimity. People knew the result in advance, but all the same they congratulated each other with Saakashvili’s victory as they would a holiday. Several days before, the presidential candidate had celebrated New Year’s together with a poor Tbilisi family, telling his son that he was taking power so that there would be no more poverty in Georgia. Few were entering into a social contract with Saakashvili on January 5, 2004, but the majority trusted their fate to him, seeing in the young and energetic politician salvation from all ills. With time this would do President Saakashvili a disservice.

And there was intrigue around these elections. Aslan Abashidze still held power in Ajara, and the main question was how people there would vote, or if they would vote at all. We’ll speak more about Ajara later, but it will suffice for the time being to note that the Ajaran Lion held out to the very end, and arrived at the polling station fifteen minutes before closing. It was probably amusing to observe how the Ajaran bureaucrats rushed to vote after their master. Certainly not all of them made it in time.

Mikheil Saakashvili received 96.5% of the vote, a result that, considering that the elections were conducted democratically, is worthy of the Guinness book of records. I cannot divert my attention as well from the pompous inauguration ceremony that continued for two days and began at eight in the morning in the Batumi port. Abashidze tried not to look in the direction of the beaming Saakashvili, who was reviewing a parade of naval officers in sharp white coats.

And then the unimaginable happened, when a crowd of people, having learned of the President’s arrival, broke through the cordons and threw themselves at the podium with shouts of “Misha! Misha!" Aslan Ibraimovich was hurriedly evacuated by his bodyguards, while Misha waded out into the thick of the exalting crowd. One can imagine how this scene acted on the aging dictator, who suffered from a multitude of phobias.

I will not exhaust the reader with details of the formal ceremony, with the exception of two incidents. After visiting Batumi and Poti, Saakashvili took the oath at the grave of David the Builder in the Gelati monastery. This was a beautiful and necessary step, symbolizing dedication to traditions, all the more so since David the Builder went down in Georgian history as the ruler able to unite a divided Georgia. But there was something else: while waiting for the start of the ceremony the exhausted Misha sat down on the throne in the temple. This might seem insignificant, but for an Orthodox person this looks very inappropriate, and television, that very same Rustavi 2, continued showing the President on live air, sitting in the temple and chatting with one of the archbishops. The treacherous thought came into my head that maybe he was being set up, since during the time before the ceremony started they could just as easily have shown picturesque scenes of Kutaisi.

The other thing was the President’s speech, in which he devoted most of the foreign policy part to improving relations with Russia, while also directly stating Georgia’s aspiration for European integration. From that moment the flag of the European Union, as a symbol of that aspiration, took its place in all official Georgian institutions, from the office of the president to the office of the administrative head of the most far flung region.

The holiday ended quickly, leaving behind some pleasant memories, and the working days began, the working days for a new country that in essence remained the old country. It is not entirely known how much form influences content, but nobody particularly argued that the country didn’t need a new flag, anthem, and coat of arms.

Of course, the accusations that the cross on the flag was wrong, that lions not really stand like that, and that only Hitler had made his party symbols the symbols of the country could not be avoided, but nobody paid particular attention to these protests. The existing state symbols, borrowed from the Georgian Democratic Republic, were genuinely worn out, and the national anthem was a nearly exact copy of the German Social Democratic one. But to enough about form – the content is much more interesting.

I would suggest that governance reforms in Georgia had been planned long before, under the supervision of Zurab Zhvania. The schema was rather smart: a cabinet of ministers would be created, Nino Burjanadze would become president and Zhvania the prime minister, and Georgia would turn into a parliamentary republic. The Rose Revolution shuffled all the cards, and an absolutely new configuration had to be worked out in keeping with the political realities. What was more, Nino Burjanadze suddenly started to feel herself more of a relatively independent figure, although clearly leaning towards her personal friend, Zurab Zhvania.

At this point it becomes necessary to make a lyrical digression. Moving from Kutaisi in the 7th grade as a chubby and self conscious young girl in big horn-rimmed glasses, Nino found herself in the Tbilisi beau monde of that time. The family of Anzor Burjanadze, for whom Nino was a late and only child, settled on Kipshidze Street in Vake, the well-to-do district of Tbilisi. Nino did very well in school, and was accepted without difficulty to the Law Faculty of Tbilisi State University, and the corresponding circle of acquaintances and level of education gave her a ticket into the world of the capital elite. Recall that Saakashvili went to university not in Tbilisi, but in Kiev, which had both its minus and its plus.

The minus was that it made it harder to select personally loyal cadres, while the plus was that a person linked with the Tbilisi elite by the umbilical cord would find it extremely difficult to carry out reforms that directly affect the interests of that very same elite. It is no coincidence that the “Vendee” arose precisely in Vake, although in 2004 that was still a long way ahead.

And so let us consider the changes that were made to the country’s Constitution. Most important were the creation of a cabinet of ministers and the consequent establishment of the post of prime minister. The cabinet of ministers must resign upon the re-election

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