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Opposition: regrouping or collapsing?

By Messenger Staff
Monday, June 29
The non-Parliamentary opposition, who began continual protest actions on 9 April with the demand that President Saakashvili resign, are currently facing very difficult days. Their tactics have not worked. Their confidence that Saakashvili and his administration would just quietly resign when confronted with several thousand opposition supporters has proven misplaced. Saakashvili has not resigned and the number of people attending the opposition rallies has considerably diminished. The opposition did manage to gather an impressive number of people in the national stadium on April 9 and May 26 but this did not make the President resign either.

From the very beginning the West did not approve of the continual street rallies and recommended that both sides settle their problems through dialogue. It maintains this position, not giving preference to either side.

The opposition has now exhausted its financial resources, which were rather limited to begin with. Levan Gachechiladze’s statement at one of the recent rallies that he had been to Europe, (to Berlin) in search of money seriously damaged the opposition’s credibility in the eyes of the moderate and the uncommitted. The revelation was immediately followed by the broadcasting of a secretly-recorded video of two leaders of the opposition, Levan Gachechiladze and Davit Gamkrelidze, meeting the odious Kakha Targamadze, Minister of the Interior during Shevardnadze’s administration. This man is notorious in Georgia for his alleged links with different illegal activities, and although these links have never been investigated rumours have abounded ever since his resignation in 2001. Although both Gachechiladze and Gamkrelidze deny discussing financial issues with Kakha Targamadze the administration-controlled Rustavi 2 and Imedi are bombarding the population with compromising information about the opposition daily.

Furthermore the Government is always suggesting that former Shevardnadze officials now in exile in Russia are financing the opposition. These allegations of course create dissatisfaction among those who don’t like the current administration but well remember and equally disliked the previous one. The opposition claim however that the meeting in Berlin was purely for information purposes, and Targamadze told them new things about the current administration. Specifically, Gamkrelidze said that according to Targamadze Russian Prime Minister Putin has strictly warned all Georgian businessmen active in Russia not to finance and support the opposition forces in Georgia. By revealing this information Gamkrelidze wanted to discredit Saakashvili and prove that he is indirectly fulfilling Russia’s will, whether willingly or otherwise, this explaining why Russia wants him to remain in power for now.

The Berlin meeting and the video of it were not appreciated by other opposition members either. Most of them did not know about it and were visibly unhappy when informed. However they did not condemn the meeting openly, saying that Targamadze is not officially wanted by the Georgian Government and there could be some interest in the information he has. There was nothing criminal in the meeting as such, but some opposition members have suggested that they themselves would not have made such controversial contacts.

The opposition’s financial problem is very serious. Of course continual street rallies need serious financial backing and most of the opposition parties cannot afford such expenditure. It is still unclear who is financing the opposition if Levan Gachechiladze has raised the funds he says he has. Legally no foreign entity can finance a political movement in Georgia, so the situation is vague and opaque. The different political entities which form the ‘radical’ opposition have different sources of income, and if some of the parties obtain funds they spend them primarily on their own decision rather than distributing this money equally among their allies. There is no common treasury shared by all the opposition parties. Almost all the opposition leaders have now started claiming that the parties survive on the voluntary contributions of people.

There are some claims that the money Gachechiladze has said he will be getting will be spent on organising a new civil movement which he would Chair and such political leaders as Goga Khaindrava, Davit Maghradze, Nana Kakabadze and others would join. These persons have no current party affiliation. However the pictures of the Berlin meeting will definitely delay the establishment of such an organisation. The National Forum, which welcomed the establishment of such a movement, has negatively assessed the Berlin meeting.

There are also different opinions in the opposition about what their future plans should be. Part of the opposition insists on the continuation of radical protest actions, giving key dates on which these should be taken, such as the day US Vice President Joe Biden arrives or August 7, the first anniversary of the Russian invasion. Other opposition entities are against giving dates and suggest a different strategic approach involving more long term actions. Whatever eventuates, we will not see all the opposition parties doing the same thing at once in sufficient numbers to embarrass the authorities.

Some political analysts express their concern that despite its temporary success the administration is not taking any steps to conduct genuine dialogue with the opposition. Now the ruling party is euphoric, but discrediting some opposition leaders has not reduced public dissatisfaction with the administration at all. Although President Saakashvili claimed some time ago that 60% of the people in Georgia support him this figure is much overestimated. If serious concessions are not made in the direction of conducting dialogue between the sides on the basis of trust more and bigger protest rallies could follow in a couple of months, and these may quickly spin out of the control of even the radical opposition.

Nobody knows how a second wave of protest will develop, bearing in mind that autumn is generally a very active period in Georgian political life and this time it could coincide with a second wave of economic crisis. The situation could become very complicated as no one can predict what kind of forces might emerge to lead the opposition. They could be more moderate ones but just as possibly more radical ones. Nobody knows as of yet.