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Misha And His Team

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

Thieving bureaucrats were removed from their posts and forced to return the “stolen goods," but as a rule none of them were imprisoned. It was understood that there was actually nothing to be imprisoned for.

It is said that the regime did not shy away from dealing in weapons and rare elements, and that a whole narcotics factory was functioning in Kobuleti. I don’t think that the drugs factory story was true, and at any rate it was never confirmed after Abashidze was deposed. But it was a fact that the regime was absolutely unrestrained and could do whatever it wanted. The regime’s vulnerability was the desire to control all and everything.

Ajara is truly a paradise, and many entrepreneurs, seeing the region as an island of stability, were ready to invest their capital. But it was practically impossible to do this, since the authorities demanded a share of the profits from the start, from thirty to fifty percent, and financial guarantees. Naturally it was beside the point to speak about real investment under such conditions.

As a result, the economy of Ajara was a sorry sight, despite the presence of a significantly large amount of monetary resources. The participation of the existing business under the control of Abashidze’s family and the state enterprises in absurd and ruinous projects, such as the reconstruction of Pioneer Park, brought irreparable harm to these enterprises, and the projects themselves were never brought to completion.

Model businesses like “Revival M” were closed down after producing only a few sample products. Those few enterprises that continued working no matter what naturally could not provide employment for everybody who wanted it. But then work in the state organs was more prestigious. Even a small post in city hall could provide for an entirely respectable existence, to say nothing about a job in customs or in the port.

On the whole, given the state of affairs in Georgia during the Shevardnadze period, the Abashidze regime was sufficiently viable. But Abashidze’s ambitions grew far beyond the boundaries of Ajara. Already by the end of the 1990s regional offices of the Union for the Democratic Revival of Georgia were opened all around the country, and the party of Aslan Abashidze positioned itself as the second and only serious opposition force.

Abashidze began to cultivate people of the arts, and many representatives of the Georgian intelligentsia came to the Black Sea coast and made friends with Aslan Ibraimovich. Abashidze even counted Mstislav Rostropovich among his personal friends. Many Russian businessmen and politicians were Abashidze’s frequent guests. True, the renown “House of Luzhkov” on the seafront was never completed, creating a serious headache for the city authorities, but the desire was there.

Still one more characteristic of the regime was the institution of favoritism. Under Aslan Abashidze there was always an ideologist. At first this was Leonid Zhghenti, who after his fall into disfavor left for the US. He was replaced by the young and talented Giorgi Targamadze, who fell victim to intrigue and temporarily withdrew from politics, touchingly bidding farewell to his colleagues from the speaker’s podium in parliament.

And finally, the dictator’s last confidant was Tsotne Bakuria, who “was not able” to make use of the enormous financial resources assigned to him for the 2003 parliamentary elections. Today Tsotne Bakuria lives in the United States, from where he periodically publishes angry articles in pro-Kremlin publications attacking Saakashvili.

As concerns Giorgi Targamadze, having worked as the head of the information service of the Imedi television company, he then took leadership of the Christian-Democratic Party of Georgia, today the most significant opposition force in parliament. But in the fall of 2003 nobody could foresee the rabid and inglorious end of the reign of the Ajaran Lion.

On the contrary, it seemed that success was quite near. Just a bit more, and history would make the descendent of the Abashidze princes the ruler of all of Georgia. But it was only an illusion.

When speaking about Aslan Abashidze it is essential to remember that he was a child of his time. Could he have created something more qualitatively new? Categorically no: no, because he grew up and was educated in the Soviet system; no, because he was a Soviet bureaucrat, fully co-opted into a corrupt system; no, because he was a Georgian politician in a time of strife. Was Abashidze a patriot of his country? Of course he was, and he served his country to the fullest of his strengths, possibilities, and conceptions of good and evil. It was just that after thirteen years of his rule the population of the region became tired of him, and he himself, abandoning forever the his Batumi residence on that warm May evening, looked very tired, tired of power. But more about that in the next part.

May Rose bodyguards. Journalists clustered around the supremely exhausted Ajaran Lion, who turned to a handful of his supporters and said: “A huge military force is coming here. I don’t want bloodshed. Go to . . . home” (I’ve preserved the style here – G.V.). A short time later the silvery plane would carry Aslan Abashidze together with his family to the capital of that foreign northern state that he had visited so often recently. On that night everybody in Batumi was happy, or almost everybody.

publics faced the same complicated problem: that of the legitimacy of property. If the Baltic republics were able to overcome this problem simply through the only possible means, restitution, for the rest of the republics the problem not only remained unresolved, but it determined the course of development for years to come. Of course Georgia was no exception, although in my view Georgia in fact had a chance to follow the Baltic countries.

As it happens, a restitution law was passed under Gamsakhurdia, and several families were able to have their property, particularly buildings, returned to them. But after only several months the law was suspended and then finally halted entirely. The main obstacle to returning properties to their former owners was not the possibility of social tension, but rather the sadly notorious ethnic issue.

The problem was that before the Bolshevik revolution most of the merchant class in Tiflis was made up of Armenians. Georgian aristocrats had their estates in the countryside and apartments in the city, but the landlords from whom they rented them were again usually Armenians.

After the establishment of Soviet power, these buildings were naturally confiscated from their owners. Thus the Gamsakhurdia government would have to return buildings in which several generations of Georgians had grown up to Armenians, who were often their neighbors. In many cases, the Soviet authorities showed an uncharacteristic humanitarianism when expropriating property, leaving one of the apartments in a building to its previous owners. That was in the city.

he situation was much worse in the countryside. For seventy years everything was collective, so returning the land to the descendents of Chavchavadze, Gurieli, Dadiani and whomever else might have led to a Georgian peasant rebellion no less pointless and bloody than the Russian one, about which so much has been written.

So even though there was a chance to show society that the right of ownership is sacred and inviolable if only the Georgian leadership of that time had displayed sufficient political will, all the same I would not hurry to unequivocally condemn Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his supporters for the failure of restitution.

In considering any event, one must always take into consideration the condition of society and the state at that given stage of historical development. The Rose Revolution and the first years of Saakashvili’s governance are no exception. Let us then take a close look at that Georgia.

The formation of the modern Georgian nation (not to be confused with medieval or more ancient analogies) began in the period of Ilia Chavchavadze. It was then, during the economic boom at the start of the 20th century, that various Georgian ethnic groups began to feel themselves to be a united people, linked not only by Chavchavadze’s well known triad of “Language – Fatherland – Faith," but also by solid economic ties.

The development of the cities, particularly Tiflis, Kutaisi, Batumi and Poti, where Kakhetians settled together with Kartlians, Gurians with Mingrelians, and Rachans with Imeretians, and also the colossal educational efforts of the Georgian intelligentsia of the period, laid the foundation of the new Georgian nation.

The acquisition of statehood in 1918 was an entirely logical step, and despite the rapid Sovietization of Georgia, several generations of Georgians grew up with a sense of conscious belonging to a new commonality, one that gradually became dominant over belonging to a specific smaller ethnic category.

By the early 1990s, Georgian society was prepared for the creation of its own national government, precisely on an ethnic foundation. Thus the “nationalism” of Zviad Gamsakhurdia was historically determined. The first step in the formation of this national government, starting with the raising of ethnic self-consciousness on April 9, 1989, reached its conclusion with the creation of the institutes of state under Shevardnadze.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s team faced a task of an entirely different order: to complete the process of creating a European-type state based on the principle of citizenship. But in order to fulfill this task they had first of all to preserve power, that is, to create a vertical of power in the conditions of that society that existed in Georgia in early 2004.

In modern Western society there is a functioning triad of money – power – money. That is, the leading political forces gain financial support from particular circles who in turn receive dividends in the form of one or other economic policy implemented by the government.

In the post-Soviet space there is an entirely different schema of power-money-power, that is, that politicians who come to power try to concentrate control over monetary flows in their hands as much as possible in order to preserve power.

In this sense, the policies of Saakashvili’s team differed little from those of other post-Soviet elites. What is more, if one were to analyze the arrests and confiscations that took place in the first years after the Rose Revolution, they would serve as perfect textbook examples of how to strengthen power through taking hold of the commanding heights of the economy.

Immediately after coming to power, Saakashvili stated that he believed the political ambitions of his team members were much greater than their financial ambitions, and therefore he was hopeful for a quick and total victory over corruption. I have no basis to think that the president was being dishonest, and accusing Saakashvili’s team of excessive material greed would not be methodologically sound.

The problem was that in those conditions of post- Soviet reality it would have been political suicide to give their opponents the opportunity to make use of major financial resource streams. It was not particularly difficult to reorient these streams towards themselves, since any property that had been acquired during the period of primary capital accumulation was inherently illegitimate. Did the Nationals use Bolshevik methods? Undoubtedly. Did they have any other choice? Unquestionably, no.

It should also be taken into consideration that the government was composed of two opposing camps, each of which was trying to provide itself with the best advantages. At first the Zurab Zhvania team looked more solid, first of all because it had the backing of one of the wealthiest Georgian industrialists, Badri Patarkatsishvili, and when the Prime Minister was able to bring back to Georgia another Russian oligarch, Kakha Bendukidze, it seems that its financial possibilities were practically limitless. This was particularly relevant during the period of total

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