An operation to disarm the Georgian opposition27.03.2009 | 18:00
The Georgian opposition has started talking about repressive measures. This is how they have viewed the arrests of members of Burjanadze's party whom the police accuse of purchasing weapons. The party's office in the Isani-Samgori district, where one of the recordings was made, has been closed. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry has demonstrated video clips of secret talks. One of the accused has partly admitted his guilt. Could Saakashvili achieve his goal if one of the candidates for his position - Nino Burjanadze - is effectively discredited in the eyes of the public and falls out of the running in the presidential race?
Nino Burjanadze herself is not giving in. Since the "weapons' scandal", she has met the aide to the deputy US secretary of state, Matthew Bryza, and the US Ambassador to Georgia, John Tuft. Nino Anzorovna has expressed her willingness to cooperate with the investigation. At the same time, she denies any link between one of the arrested men - Rosin Bugashvili - and her party. "Rosin Bugashvili has no role in the party, no fully-fledged party member knows him," the GHN news agency cites her. Another of the arrested men - a member of the "Democratic Movement - United Georgia", Georgi Tsertsadze - has partly admitted his guilt. The others are denying it. The Tbilisi Municipal Court has sentenced them to two months' detention on remand. All this "spying fervour"
is shocking the public. "They are all the same: those who are in power, and those who are hungry for it," that is how most people are describing the situation in Tbilisi.
In Georgia, disputes are still raging over whether the Interior Ministry's video recordings were fabricated or not. The former head of the intelligence service, Irakli Batiashvili, told the Medianews agency: "I myself was the victim of editing, when my conversation with Emzar Kvitsiani in 2006 was re-edited primitively. As far as the video footage released on 23rd-24th March by the Interior Ministry is concerned, with the latest equipment, nothing is impossible. I am surprised that they are asking for an independent examination. They seem not to know that in Georgia there is no such thing as an independent examination." But the director Georgi Shengelaya has a different view: "It is absurd to think that the footage has been fabricated," he is quoted as saying by the Georgian media. "As a professional director, I can say that this material is genuine. In order to restore trust in Burjanadze, all they can do now is argue that the people shown in the clips are not members of her party."
The dispute could last for a long time. In the end, everyone will hold on to their opinion. But it is already clear that the authorities have achieved the stated goal. Burjanadze and Nogaideli's parties (two of those arrested were part of the "Movement to save Georgia") have been severely discredited. Of course, many circumstances remain to be clarified. But people have lost their heads. Georgians have already suffered enough: at New Year's time during the 1990s when Shevardnadze returned to Georgian politics; and during the wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia; and in August 2008. Sabre-rattling is no longer to be seen in Georgia. However, deep within Georgian society a rejection of even the slightest mention of military confrontation has been fostered.
So it means that, on the eve of the mass actions, Saakashvili has quite easily neutralized two of the rivals to his post. But the opposition are not letting their heads drop and are saying that they have no intention of cancelling the protest events. What will they lead to? The expert Mamuka Areshidze, as GHN reports, comes to following conclusion: "This amoral action (the release of the video clips by the Interior Ministry - I.P.) from the leadership serves the direct purpose of discrediting the opposition. I suspect that the leadership will achieve their goal. Because the people have no information. They only put their hope in television, especially in the regions. And the clips that were shown will provoke distrust for the opposition within society. People will have less desire to join the opposition ranks in the protest actions. The fact is that the clips show groundless bragging and bravado, and the people in them are provocateurs and exiles. All this was done to reduce society's activism."
Not so long ago Mikheil Nikolaevich admitted to the American New York Times: "If I was in the opposition, I would have destroyed this government within three months. I know how to, but I don't want to teach them (the opposition - I.P.)" By all accounts, Saakashvili also knows how to destroy the opposition. As a result of the current "spy story", the authorities have secured another trump card: on the backdrop of the confrontation and intimidation of society, they have again made a show of appealing to the opposition to enter into dialogue. So on 25th March the speaker of parliament, David Bakradze, who is on an official visit to the USA, made the following televised appeal to his compatriots: "The only way to defuse the situation is always through dialogue," he said. "Once again we declare that we are ready for such a dialogue, not just rhetorically but in the form of concrete steps."