In the West he is considered to be a more democratic politician than Eduard Shevardnadze, but even at the dawn of his rule, the latter did not suppress Orange-like figures, who did not conceal their ambition to get to power at all costs.
Indeed, the opposition, which is striving to build positive relations with its northern neighbor, is in the minority on the Georgian political scene. But this minority has its own activists and advocates, whose views on many problems of domestic policy are poles apart from the members of the ruling party. The ABCs of modern democracy is that representatives of the minority have the right to freely express political opinions and take part in parliamentary elections. Now the Russian-oriented political forces are deprived of this opportunity, and are actually treated as foreign agents and plotters. In other words, a whole direction of Georgian policy is being driven into the underground.
What are the arguments for this crackdown? By way of explanation, the authorities have shown televised interviews with some anonymous (and shown from behind), "repentant" Giorgadze supporters, who spoke about a secret meeting of top leadership of the Justice Party and its allies in Tbilisi in May. It was ostensibly mentioned at the meeting that in August Giorgadze would transfer a big sum of money for the purchase of weapons. It was not reported whether there exists unbiased evidence of this transaction.
Then one more story was told - the leaders of the same Justice Party allegedly decided to hold a rally this month in front of the parliament, and the president's residence, to be followed by a provocation and subsequent armed confrontation with the authorities. Georgian TV showed weapons being withdrawn from the basement of a house belonging to a Justice member. It is now clear how the weapons landed there. Did the owner bring them, or did the authorities "help" him? Another activist happened to have a large sum in dollars and national currency, which was stolen from her apartment. This takes care of the evidence of anti-government scheming, presented to the public.
Interestingly, the authorities implicate in the plotting Irina Sarishvili, a major figure of recent Georgian history. Her husband, Gia Chanturia, was an active dissident. He was among the organizers of the famous meeting in April 1989, dispersed by the Soviet troops. In 1994 he was shot by unidentified tommy-gunners in a Tbilisi street - the current domestic political elite was brought up in combat conditions. Irina was also a dissident, and was with her husband when he died. She was heavily wounded. When the current Georgian leaders were assiduous members of the Young Communist League, Irina Sarishvili was actively involved in the movement against the communist regime, and for Georgia's right to self-determination. It would be absurd to suspect her of encroaching on her country's freedom.
Weak arguments are buttressed by the intensity of emotions, and tough actions by the authorities. The demonstrative character of the operation - massive arrests and armored personnel vehicles at police check points at the main junctions show that the operation is not directed only against Igor Giorgadze and his supporters. This is a show of force against the opposition as a whole -- the pro-Western parliamentary opposition represented by the New Right-Wing Party, the advocates of former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili, and the populist Labor Party.
Needless to say, Saakashvili cannot afford to suppress the opposition completely. Otherwise, the West, which is quite indifferent to the arrests of Russia-leaning politicians, may change its condescending attitude to the Tbilisi regime. However, such measures may compel the opposition forces to be much more cautious in criticizing the authorities in order to minimize political risks. In this situation, any negative remarks about domestic policy towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be treated as almost state treason.
Modern Georgia is turning into a besieged fortress. In this situation any measures against the opposition are justifies, and the soil is fertile for the victory of the ruling party at the regional elections. This however provokes a question: What does it all have to do with democracy?
Alexey Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies