ArmeniaNow.com - Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 December 5 , 2003 


Unrest in the Neighborhood: After Georgia's "velvet revolution", what now?


Shevardnadze was firm in his resolve to stand fast. The resolve didn't last, nor did his control of his country.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned his post on Sunday, but the veteran politician lost control of his country long before.

By the time the president had declared a state of emergency last Saturday evening, emergencies in Abkhazia, Southern Osetia and Adjaria had long-since contributed to the general conditions that prompted an uprising in Tbilisi.

Those three troublesome regions are hardly connected to Tbilisi, as each has turned into a self-declared princedom.

One of Shevardnadze's last official acts was to dismiss his Secretary of National Security, Tedo Japaridze - probably in retaliation for ineffective police enforcement that allowed the overthrow of parliament during Shevardnadze's address Saturday.

Now the spotlight shines on the security, not of a capital divided politically, but of a small country split by factions.

Since the disputed parliament elections of November 2 and until his resignation three weeks later, Shevardnadze, who is 75, showed glimpses of the strong-willed politician that once earned Gorbachev's Kremlin's high regard as Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union.

But his stubborn vows to not give up his post turned to shallow rhetoric and the man himself seemed even confused as how it all happened. While parliament was being overrun, Shevardnadze couldn't stop reading out the speech of his appeal to deputies. He was shocked so much that his bodyguards pulled the president from the rostrum almost by force.

It was right for Shevardnadze to resign. Given the hard conditions in Georgia, it likely would have been in his country's best interests for him to have stepped aside earlier.

Opposition celebrated its revolution. But will the celebration last?

Still, despite his mistakes - the biggest of which might have been his trying to hang on too long (he was in power as president for 10 years) - he didn't deserve to go out this way. At the end, the "Caucasus Fox" was left to plead for safety from the very ones whom he had brought to power.

The past month, and especially the past week in Georgia is a reminder that, even in the detached world of politics and the idealized realm of democracy anyone can become a victim. Such is Shevardnadze's fate.

But while his reign is being chronicled as a conclusion (even he is saying he will write about these last days), it is far from the "dignified ending". It is, rather, a beginning of a new period that will begin with challenge when the dust of revolution settles to reveal a struggling country weakened internally and dependant on the outside world.

Watching how people are celebrating and dancing on Rustaveli Square in Tbilisi one could think that they had overthrown a dictator or tyrant. However, Shevardnadze was neither. Despite his wide experience he simply couldn't build a secure state system providing a normal, functioning country. He was a weakened president, who was poorly calculating his moves both in internal and foreign policy.

In the nearest future it will become clear whether new people will be able to institute control over the situation or whether their powers of government are limited only to Rustaveli Square. However, probably the most important question is whether they will be able to provide bloodless division in the various spheres of power and influence. Only then will it be evident whether this revolution is indeed "velvet". Will there be dancing in the square when a new conductor is orchestrating Georgia?

The resigned president left behind a cup of tea. The expected next president, Saakashvili, picked it up as a symbol of change.

For Armenia these unknowns are of primary significance. Instability and unpredictability in Georgia could have immediate consequences for its neighbor to the south. For instance, with borders closed to the east and west, Georgia becomes Armenia's land transport gateway to the former Soviet Union and Europe.

It is not a time yet for talking about predictability and for celebrating. It still must become clear who won, and what was their prize in Georgia. For the present moment we only know how it happened and only in general terms.

Official Yerevan expressed satisfaction that confrontation in Georgia had a peaceful ending.

"We are interested in a maximum stable and controlled situation in Georgia," said Armenian President Robert Kocharyan, adding "it will happen if processes develop in a legal and constitutional manner."

Armenian authorities expressed readiness to cooperate with new Georgian authorities and Speaker of Armenian Parliament Arthur Baghdasaryan has already had telephone conversation with interim president of the neighboring country Nino Burjanadze. During that conversation both sides confirmed their intentions to continue cooperation based on principles of good-neighbor relations and mutual understanding.

Western leaders, with whom Shevardnadze says he had brotherly relations, didn't make any attempts to intervene on his behalf, citing concerns of "internal affairs of a sovereign state".

From Shevardnadze's old post to the north, however, came Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov. But Ivanov didn't come to rescue the man who once held his position, but to mediate his resignation. By delegating its foreign minister, Russia confirmed its interest in Tbilisi and at the same time hinted that it was not going to save Shevardnadze's power.

The United States has expressed its willingness "to work with the president of transition period, Nino Burjanadze, taking part in her efforts on preserving the integrity of Georgian democracy."

On January 4, Georgia will elect a new president. Former Minister of Justice and protagonist of last week's "velvet revolution" Mikhail Saakashvili is the favored candidate.

As melodrama, events in Tbilisi have had something for all: scandal, betrayal, lyrical episodes, loneliness of the protagonist, who by the end of an act wasn't a protagonist anymore, only deepened the drama.

Everyone could find in that play any episodes according to their own moods and interests. For instance, supporters of gender equality must have been satisfied that a man was replaced (at least in the interim) by a brave woman.

On the whole, oppositional leaders of Post-Soviet territories may take Tbilisi "sketches" as lessons of demonstrative political arithmetic. Armenia might even see some of itself in what has transpired in its neighborhood.

After presidential elections of 1996 the situation here was developing as dramatically as in Georgia. Protests and discontent festered and led to a president's resignation - albeit two years after his election.

In 1996 authorities could hope for the support of security ministries. And leaders of opposition were following people rather than heading them. That's why Levon Ter-Petrosyan didn't resign in 1996 but only in 1998 when he realized that security ministries were not with him anymore. There was no need even for mass meetings and demonstrations. As with Shevardnadze, it became clear that the people had long before turned on their president.

 


According to Agnes
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  Inside
 

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Play for Pay

A concert in Yerevan last weekend promoted Thursday's All Armenia Fund telethon. Overall the telethon raised more than $6 million, with some $600,000 coming from within Armenia.

 

 





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