I was a bit surprised to get a warning text from the US Embassy on Friday evening. The last (and only) time I received a text from the embassy was when Osama Bin Laden had been killed. So needless to say I was more than a little intrigued by what it could be about. I was out with some people when we all got the message warning about a "planned demonstration" taking place in Tbilisi on Saturday. Saturday came and went (although the Rapture did not). I had completely forgotten about the demonstrations and I hadn't hear anything about them from facebook or my host family (my two primary sources of Georgian news). But then this evening I remembered about them. Apparently the protesters beat up a car. Here's the video from Reuters:
I have to wonder, who are these protesters and what do they want? Unfortunately I'm limited to English reports, but this well is thankfully not entirely dry. These "opposition" protesters are in opposition to the current Saakashvili administration (and my boss, to some extent). Their leader is Nino Burjanadze; she is the ex-President of the Georgian Parliament. She went to Tbilisi State University for undergrad and received her doctorate in International Law at Moscow Lomonosov State University. According to a recent television ad, or perhaps it was a very obviously biased news program (honestly I couldn't tell, it was too long to be simply a political ad, but too sinister to be a news segment. It was very strange), she is corrupt and in league with the Russians. I asked my host cousin what it was about, but only got this very vague description, so my apologies on that. But the frightening thing about what I saw of her on this television ad was the horror movie music and the cross-hairs that they put on her while showing her picture. From what I could tell the ad was not endorsed by anyone specific, but the message was clear: This woman is evil and bad for Georgia.
If this woman is so evil she must be leading protests that advocate the public murder of babies and puppies, right? No, actually what she and her party, the People's Assembly, want a reformation of the electoral system. There are eight parties, conveniently being called the group of eight, who were trying to reform the electoral system. The ruling party and the group of eight were in transparent negotiations, called the Election Code Working Group (ECWG), from November to the end of March when suddenly the group of eight pulled out of negotiations. Then on April 5 the group of eight came back with proposals, but no meetings occurred after that. On May 12 the group of eight issued a statement/ultimatum that stated they wanted a written response to the April 5 proposals before the end of May, despite the fact that in negotiations both sides had come to determine upon an autumn 2011 deadline for electoral reform negotiations to end).
So what is the opposition saying now? Well, I'll tell you that it doesn't sound non-threatening, although it doesn't sound completely threatening, either. The first protests happened on Saturday, reported number range from 6,000 to 10,000 people. The protests continued into today, Sunday.
Although these protests originated as outrage against negotiations for the reformation of the electoral system, they are quickly becoming about government oppression. The opposition is claiming that the government is oppressing the opposition parties, arresting activists, and the storming of the Batumi headquarters of the People's Assembly party (all of which the government denies). The protests are now supposed to continue into tomorrow, Monday. Nino Burjanadze said of Sunday's protest numbers that “is not enough.” According to civil.ge, she later said, "In separate remarks also on May 22 she said that that large number of people was needed in order to prevent a bloodshed as the authorities, she said, would not dare to take any actions against the protesters in case of large-scale rally." Personally, I find this to be a two-fold argument. Yes, it's true that a very large demonstration would lessen the likelihood of police brutality, however the fact that that is one of your arguments for encouraging more people to attend seems... fishy. It just doesn't seem on the up and up, for some reason, especially when you take into consideration these vague and potentially sinister remarks also given by Burjanadze, “If we are ready tomorrow we will act tomorrow… If we are ready by May 25, we will act on May 25, but it won’t be a long process; we will act in the nearest few days.” What exactly do you mean by "we will act?" And how will you define when you are "ready"?
And what is the significance of May 25, you ask? Nothing, yet. However the Georgian Party is calling for it to be “the Day of Rage of the Georgian people”, which would turn into “the last day of the Saakashvili’s regime.” And I'm sure it is no coincidence that May 26 is Georgia's Independence Day (which has me strongly rethinking this Independence Day powerpoint presentation that I just finished this afternoon. The last thing I need to set the youth of Telavi into a rebellious fervor- or maybe I'm just overestimating my skills as an educator).
The whole call for more protesters and the fact the protests are continuing two days past the original demonstration is a bit strange, and you factor in this when "we are ready" statement and it all sounds a bit foreboding. Although I don't know much about how far public opinion for the opposition spreads I can tell you that when I was watching the Reuters video, I recognized those yellow and purple flags from about two weeks ago when about five to ten cars packed with people were driving all around Telavi with those flags being held by the cars' occupants.
I'll try to keep you posted if anything else happens!
Here are the links to the articles I found. Civil.ge has been the most informative. They are in chronological order from oldest to newest:
November 28, 2009"Iron Lady Nino Burjanadze finds the steel to threaten her struggling ally," http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article5254306.ece
April 5, "Opposition's New Proposals on Electoral System," http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23315
May 12, "Opposition Wants Ruling Party’s Response by End-May," http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23435
May 12, "Ruling Party MP on Opposition's Electoral Talks Statement," http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23437
May 22, "Some Opposition Parties Warn Against Escalation," http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23488
May 22, "Clashes at anti-government protest in Georgia," http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h2cA13wWW9rZ-YxOSurs5GioVJJg?docId=CNG.cb370cb25e96ecba584d2568a4f90642.ea1
May 22,"Protest Leaders Say Rally to Remain at GPB," http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23490
May 22, "Anti-president protests continue in Georgia; opposition calls for massive turnout Monday" http://www.google.com/hostednews/canadianpress/article/ALeqM5jckCBLqI4bAs-wUojIxOeU6NhPdw?docId=6922621