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An interesting thing is that the president appoints not just the prime minister, but the other ministers as well, although the prime minister has the right to remove them. In case the parliament votes no confidence in the government, the president has the right to disagree with this decision, and to raise the question again in the course of three months.
The president has the right to sack the government entirely, and to remove the security service, interior ministry and defense ministry heads. It is not hard to see that all of this is warped in favor of strengthening presidential power, but, as everybody knows, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and Misha would have to pay a political price for these concessions from the Zhvania team.
In my opinion, the price was too high: this was the combining of the United National Movement with the United Democrats. In my view this was the most tragic moment in recent Georgian history. Georgia lost the chance for a strong impulse for the development of the institutions of civil society. Political competition moved from public life to back office intrigues. Perhaps Zhvania thought that he could easily outplay Saakashvili on this playing field. If that is the case, then he was sadly mistaken.
But it was the National Movement that suffered the first losses, as the general secretary Koba Davitashvili and Zviadist representative Zviad Dzidziguri quit the party in protest over the unification. The Nationals’ allies in the Republican Party also did not conceal their dissatisfaction, and the decision resulted in open protest on the part of rank-and-file members of that party. Attempts to name the party “National Movement – Democrats” ran into such difficulties up through the fall of 2004 that by the first national party congress on November 23 of that year it was decided to leave the name of the party unchanged as “United National Movement."
Those who lived in the autonomous republics during the Soviet period should recall the principal of appointment by ethnicity. In the Tatarstan ASSR, for example, the first secretary of the regional party committee had to be a Tatar, while the second secretary was always a Russian. This principle of appointment by ethnicity extended practically down to the level of collective farm chairmen.
A similar picture emerged in personnel appointments in the first days of the revolution. Bitter struggles took place around political appointments at the ministerial level, but after that everything was simple: if a minister was from one team, the deputy minister would be from the other team. Zhvania’s attempts to outplay Misha by introducing Nino Burjanadze’s independent team did not meet with particular success. Further, Saakashvili was stacking more and more the power ministries with his own people.
The first and most effective step was the appointment of Vano Merabishvili, with whom we are already familiar, as secretary of the Security Council, and from that moment all decisions about the power ministries were made precisely by this organ.
The effective and talented manager Irakli Okruashvili, who did not belong to any grouping within the National Movement and was personally devoted to Saakashvili, was appointed as Prosecutor General.
Next was the appointment as Justice Minister of Zurab Adeishvili, a person who by all parameters resembled his friend and colleague Merabishvili. And finally, concluding the accord, Saakashvili’s personal friend Gela Bezhuashvili was appointed as Defense Minister. This left the Ministry of Internal Affairs, headed by Giorgi Baramidze, and this is where things got tricky. In order to gain control over that most powerful of power structures, Saakashvili named Petre Tsiskarishvili as Deputy Minister.
A distinguished lawyer from an elite family and who graduated from a prestigious American university, Tsiskarishvili was the kind of figure who should have been acceptable to everybody. It is not entirely clear why, perhaps because of his natural hot temper or maybe in order to feel out the strengths of his opponents, but immediately after his appointment Tsiskarishvili made a shocking announcement, accusing Nino Burjanadze of protecting corrupt individuals.
This was a blow to one of the leaders of the revolution. Misha immediately reined in the errant Deputy Minister, but it was already too late: the powerful media machine of the Zhvania team launched into action (recall that Rustavi 2 was still under the control of Erosi Kitsmarishvili). After a series of “expose” segments connected with the construction of a house of some sort, Saakashvili had to remove his favorite far away from the clashes of the capital, naming him governor of Kakheti. Meanwhile, the punishing sword of the revolution was swinging at full strength.
In the winter of 2004 the entertainment TV channel 202 aired the following advertisement: “Dear friends, we understand that the viewership of the news program “Kurieri” (on Rustavi 2) is much higher than our channel, since everybody is interested in finding out who’s been arrested today and to what country Mikheil Saakashvili is flying this time. But “Kurieri” only lasts an hour, and the rest of the time our audience is no smaller than Rustavi 2’s. So remember that advertising on our channel costs ten times less than on Rustavi 2."
This commercial was funny because it was true. We’ve already spoken about Davit Mirtskhulava. The most high-profile case was the arrest of Shevardnadze’s personal friend Akaki Chkhaidze, who for many years was head of the Georgian railroad. One can imagine the resources of this individual, considering the scale of corruption in the agency entrusted to him. Understanding full well what was awaiting him, Chkhaidze took refuge in Batumi, territory outside the control of the new authorities.
What happened next amazed everybody: a special helicopter team headed by Interior Minister Baramidze himself seized Chkhaidze from a Batumi hospital and delivered him to Tbilisi.
Other large scale arrests concerned high-level officials of the customs service, interior ministry, energy ministry (naturally), and other ministries and agencies. Transportation Minister Merab Adeishvili was arrested, as was Deputy Interior Minister Davit Todua, Education Minister Aleksandre Kartozia, and Communications and Post Minister Fridon Indjia, who had rushed to give testimony to the Prosecutor in the week before his arrest, and the chairman of the Chamber of Control, Sulkhan Molashvili. The revolutionaries’ most ardent opponent, Kvemo-Kartli governor Levan Mamaladze, fled the country. In March 2004 Shevardnadze’s son-in-law, Gia Jokhtaberidze, owner of the Magticom mobile telephone company, was arrested.
Of course this is not a complete list by far, and arrests became commonplace as purges both in the center and in the regions reached their apogee. Observing all of this, the population boiled with righteous anger, and very few stopped to consider the simple fact that the basis of any revolution is the redistribution of property.
Naturally, personnel purges took place in all ministries and agencies without exception, as in January all the heads of the Georgian customs service were dismissed and on March 1, 2004 the heads of police administrations and departments tendered their resignations all over the country, with the exception of Ajara, of course. A week later the members of the Energy Regulating Commission did the same.
But not all bureaucrats resigned or found themselves behind bars. The arrests and resignations turned out to be a rather effective instrument in the struggle for power. A demonstrative example is Shalva Ogbaidze, the head of one of the most corrupt structures in the Interior Ministry, the traffic police. He was able to avoid arrest despite the fact that many assumed it was only a matter of time. Several years later Shalva Ogbaidze would receive a rubber bullet wound during the storming of the Georgian police administration while standing together with opposition leader and close personal friend Nino Burjanadze.
One can talk endlessly about that time. The storytelling format does not allow me to dwell on all of the very interesting events, such as the sealing of all the property of the Omega company, the owner of which, Zaza Okuashvili, was the son of one of Eduard Shevardnadze’s closest friends, the arrest and trial of Vasili Mkalavishvili, the false priest who attacked Jehovah’s Witnesses together with his supporters, or the individual initiatives of Shida Kartli governor Irakli Okruashvili, who began bringing order to the region by raiding a bordello for truck drivers. For the time being I will simply point out that besides the struggle for power and the absolutely radical measures to pull the country out of the swamp, the main concern of the new authorities was Ajara.
Muslim Georgia, as this region was still called by the beginning of the 20th century, Ajara had been torn away from the Princedom of Guria and was part of the Ottoman Empire for three hundred years. Much changed in those three hundred years, and it would be incorrect to say that the residents of Ajara viewed the Russian troops as liberators. Just as three hundred years ago Chorokhi and Ajaristskali were stained with blood in the war against the Turks, this time many Georgian “mukhajiri” fought in Machakhela against the new Russian invaders.
Many could not accept the Russian conquest and left for Turkey, while others remained to live in the Russian Empire. The subsequent history of Ajara differed little from that of other parts of the expansive empire: the economic boom of the end of the 19th and early 20th century, the first Baku-Batumi pipeline, free port status, revolution, wars, German and British occupation, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks.
By the end of the 20th century the population of Ajara was practically indistinguishable from that of the rest of the Georgian, aside from the occurrence of unusual first names such as Ali, Haidar or Refide, usually among people of the older generation. Thanks to the educational activities of Ilia Chavchavadze and his successors and the universal literacy policies and atheistic propaganda of the Bolsheviks, the differences between Muslim and Christian Georgians practically disappeared in the course of several generations.
But there was another side of the coin that flowed directly from the Bolsheviks’ personnel policies. According to the conditions of the Treaty of Kars, Ajara became an autonomous republic within Georgia. As a result, a cadres system was put in place in the party and government organs in which the first secretary of the regional party committee had to be an Ajaran and the second secretary a non-Ajaran, the first secretary of the Batumi city committee to the contrary had to be a non-Ajaran and the second secretary an Ajaran, and so on.
Thus in one way or another the system of division was preserved at the state level that was characteristic for any region. For example, the first secretary of a regional committee in Kakheti had to be a Kakhetian, in Guria a Gurian, and so forth. As a result, tribal identity remains sufficiently characteristic for Georgia, so that if you ask Georgians about their place of origin, as a rule they answer “Mingrelian," “Rachan," “Kakhetian” or “Ajarian."
The changes in the party leadership in Georgia naturally were instantly reflected in the party leadership in Ajara. The blessed land of mountains and sea was one of the richest regions in Georgia, and since Ajara was one of the main suppliers of citrus produce for the Soviet market, one can picture how much money was made on these yellow tasty delights for the New Year’s table. One of the most
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