How Long Does Mikheil Saakashvili Have?

by Joshua Foust on 11/5/2007 · 6 comments

It happened.

“Thousands” have taken to the streets of Tblisi once again, demanding the ouster of yet another Georgian President amid accusations of electioneering of sorts (moving Parliamentary elections to a later date). While it might be fun to compare this to the so-called Rose Revolution—which probably had an American hand given the prevalence of Serbian among the placards (see here, pdf)—they’re really not quite the same. For one, this seems to have significantly less steam than the 2003 protests, dwindling by a factor of five in a single day. For another, it is not nearly as clear cut as before: though Saakashvili is rather unabashedly pro-American, and has allowed this bias to cloud his judgment regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he doesn’t have quite the same sorts of issues that faced Sheverdnadze.

Indeed, it is almost Georgia’s success that seems to have ruffled the most featers:

Mr. Saakashvili, a lawyer educated at Columbia University, has steered his post-Soviet country sharply toward the West, seeking admission to NATO and the European Union, while moving against corruption at home, especially in the police…

He has set new standards for education, increased tax collection and revenue-generation, improved the readiness of the country’s once-feeble army and repaired Soviet-era infrastructure to the degree that the country, once plagued by blackouts, now has a reliable electricity supply.

But some of the changes have made him enemies, and he has alienated several prominent politicians, who find him domineering and abrasive. His opponents accuse him of hoarding and abusing power, and of running the nation through a clique that will neither tolerate dissent nor engage in dialogue with the opposition, which Mr. Saakashvili has repeatedly made clear he despises and considers weak.

“The biggest shortcoming for us,” he said in an interview on Wednesday, “is that we failed to grow up a real, mature opposition. The problem with them is that they have no real national leaders.”

The arrest last month of a former defense minister who had criticized Mr. Saakashvili and accused him of crimes also galvanized the opposition. The former minister later recanted on national television and was freed on bail, and left Georgia this week under circumstances still in dispute.

We discussed some of the complex economic and political issues facing Georgia—which contain both tremendous good and truly unfortunate bad—back in April.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Bakinets November 5, 2007 at 4:19 am

The NYT piece quoted here misses the basic point. A key grievance, maybe the key grievance, against the Saakashvili administration is that after being relatively clean in the beginning, the level of corruption has exploded in the past year. Pretty much everything Okruashvili said regarding official corruption during his kompromat dump was true, and pretty much everyone knows it. (Okruashvili, of course, was corrupt before it was fashionable, but that’s neither here nor there.) No one could have said, “Meet the new boss — same as the old boss” in 2004 or 2005. But now they can.


Inkan1969 November 5, 2007 at 10:40 am

You sound like your headline wasn’t serious. In your post, you talked about how the issues between Saakashvili and Shevardnadze are different, and how these protests are small, and how Saakashvili’s reforms seem to be successful. So you don’t seem to think Saakashvili will be deposed anytime soon. I hope that’s true, that he won’t wind up overthrown. Instead I hope this opposition movement matures into a competitive political party in parliamentary elections, or they can field a competitive presidential candidate in scheduled elections, not rushed ones.

jb November 5, 2007 at 4:34 pm

As an american who just finds himself in Tbilisi at a convenient time, I have a rather different perspective.

Saakashvili isn’t going anywhere. The protests, which I’ve been able to attend for several straight days, are discordant and don’t seem to want anything except not this. I’ve yet to have heard a single progressive idea from anyone in the crowd (albeit limitted to those who can manage english I can understand and not just those who want their picture taken).

This isn’t the way to run a political overthrow. All they’re lacking are giant puppets and a few stubborn “free Mumia” folks to look just like the people who have unsuccesfually tried to overthrow Bush for yearhs.

But none of this is to say I don’t believe in them. There really ought to be more opportunities for Georgians, and the poverty problem is both real and accute.

But these are Badri’s protests. Imeda benefits from all of this more than anyone else, getting 24 hour coverage that anyone would watch (if they understood the language). The opposition and those who come out are being used. This won’t produce anything useful (or so in the eyes of those who just want the government to employ everyone) or not useful (kicking out Saakashvili, who is at least better than most of the opposition). It just won’t happen.

jb November 5, 2007 at 4:36 pm

Which all isn’t to say that I haven’t met and debated many fantastic people, and been invited to dinner more than once. But I still have to objectively think all parties here are naive.

jb November 7, 2007 at 3:18 pm

OK, now tell me Saakashvili is going anywhere.

Tbilisi was nasty today, by the way, and the weather matched nicely.

Emergency November 9, 2007 at 10:28 pm

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