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Window on Eurasia: Georgian Ombudsman Says Saakashvili's Authoritarianism Must End

 Paul Goble

 
           
September 30 –Tbilisi's public defender says that the authoritarianism of President Mikhail Saakashvili must be replaced by genuine democracy if Georgia is to avoid losing even more than it has up to now, and Sobzar Subari called for "all forms of peaceful protest" to persuade the government to make these changes.

            In a statement issued last Thursday and posted online on Friday, Subari said that "a government that … listens only to itself and respects only its own judgment has lost the capacity for proper decision making," something he said Moscow had "taken advantage of" to seize Georgian territory (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19614). 

            And he warned that "new disasters are to be expected" if the government does not reverse its course toward greater authoritarianism, one that sadly mirrors within Georgia, "the Russian model of authoritarian governance" that "envisages the settlement of problems inside and outside the country by unilateral force."

            That authoritarian style, he continued, constitutes "a fifth column responsible for Georgia's failure." And despite that failure, the Georgian president refuses to "face the truth" and analyze this sad reality. Instead, he continued, Saakashvili has contented himself with "shouts that 'we won'" and other public relations efforts concerts.

            What makes Subari's statement so important is not so much his personal authority in Georgia but rather his insistence that Tbilisi lost control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia precisely because Moscow was in a position to exploit the presence of a Georgian leader who did not feel the need to listen to anyone but himself.

            And "as a result" of this intolerance for the views of others and for an honest discussion of Georgia's problems," the public defender said, "from dawn to dusk we are fated to listen to propaganda claiming that 'Misha is cool,' that everything is fine, that we won and that Georgia will soon blossom."

            To transform the situation from the current authoritarianism to what he called "irreversible democracy, Subaria urged that the government end the persecution of those with different opinion, promote the rule of law and honest elections, abolish state control over the media, and create a system of checks and balances within the central government.

            In addition, he said, Tbilisi must rein in presidential power, grant real authority to local governments, introduce the principle of accountability, guarantee property rights, and ensure the constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and protest, all things that will help end the attitude of those in power that Georgia belongs to them rather than to the Georgian people.

            And while arguing that the Georgian people have a responsibility to take action to promote these changes, he called on the international community to help: "The Georgian people do not deserve an authoritarian regime," he said. "Georgia is ready for democracy. Help us develop a democracy" lest the authoritarianism of the current regime lead to "catastrophe."

            Not surprisingly, pro-Saakashvili politicians denounced Subari's statement. Givi Targamadze, a senior member of the ruling National Movement Party, said the public defender was acting like an opposition politician instead of performing his "immediate" duties as defined by law (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19616).

            But Subari was not intimidated: he said over the weekend that in July 2008 he had submitted to the parliament a 1400-page report on the sad state of human rights in Georgia but that the government and its supporters had failed to address that, preferring to denounce him then as now for "political bias" and "incompetence."

            And yesterday, the ideas Subari has put forward attracted a new backer: Erosi Kitsmarishvili, who had served as ambassador in Moscow, announced that he could not "remain in Saakashvili's power structures" after the Georgian president failed to avoid a war with Russia (www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=19625  and www.izvestia.ru/georgia1/article3121029/).

            In an interview featured in the Georgian weekly "Kviris palitra," Kitsmarishvili said that Tbilisi could have avoided this conflict if it had been more careful and "if the current Georgia leadership had spent even one percent of what is has on military needs [on addressing domestic problems], "the results would have exceeded all expectations."

            And the now former ambassador added that "very highly placed Western diplomats has written that each such conversation" with Saakashvili about the need to avoid taking steps that Moscow might exploit "had an impact for only two weeks, after which [the Georgian president's] military rhetoric resumed" and Tbilisi fell into a carefully prepared Russian trap.

            Subari's declaration and the support he is getting from people like Kitsmarishvili, former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze and former prime minister Zurab Nogaideli  put those in the West who want to defend Georgia in a difficult position, a status that Saakashvili appears to be fully cognizant of and willing to exploit.

            No one appalled by Russian aggression wants to give Moscow another victory by helping to overthrow Saakashvili, but at the same time, no one concerned about the fate of Georgia wants to see the approach that gave Moscow its initial triumphs continue and cost the long-suffering Georgian people even more.

            As a result, the debate concerning what to do about Georgia is likely to be between those who take a short term perspective and back someone who they know has caused many of the problems in the hope that something will turn up and those who take a longer one and recognize that only democracy and a willingness to listen to all points of view can save Georgia.


 
 

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