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Reading between the lines

By Messenger Staff
Monday, March 2
The US State Department’s annual Human Rights Report was highly speculated about in Georgia, which has a long “tradition” of reading between the lines as a result of its Soviet past.

Georgians always try to interpret what the actual words of this or that particular phrase really mean or hint at. The Human Rights Report is therefore not treated as a simple reflection of the situation in the country as assessed by experts. It is seen as a document which could answer the crucial question for Georgia – what is the attitude of the new US administration towards Georgia, its administration, the opposition and the general situation in the country? This question has become more acute as spring has come, and the time approaches when the opposition plans to launch its final “assault” to get rid of the Rose Revolution administration and the President.

One of the biggest claims the opposition parties make against the current leadership is that they consider the Presidential elections of January 5, 2008 were rigged. The State Department document, however, says that last year’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections were consistent with most OSCE democratic election requirements. Proceeding from this fact the Georgian opposition assumes that the US does not want a change of Georgian administration. Opposition Vice Speaker of Parliament, Christian Democrat Levan Vephkhvadze, has stated in the Akhali Taoba newspaper: “Indirectly the US State Department report means that, in the present acute political situation in Georgia, it does not want to give the opposition the chance to use this document against the ruling authorities. Therefore the US State Department does not want unrest in the country at springtime and a change of the country’s administration.”

The document however criticizes the Georgian leadership for violating the media’s right to free expression, citing in particular the cases of TV companies Imedi and Rustavi 2. Of course this criticism is an additional argument the opposition can use against the Government in spite of the foregoing conclusion, and hints that maybe the US does not want major changes in the country but will pay much attention to human rights protection in Georgia. This way or that the opposition is determined to continue organizing protest rallies countrywide, promising they will be continuous, and the US must be well aware that any criticism of the Government will be seized on by the opposition and quoted in these rallies. This implies that the US would be happy if the rallies achieved some policy changes, but not if they overthrew the Government.

The opposition will use the rallies for a different purpose. They will say to the US: you want stability in Georgia, but will never see this under Saakashvili’s leadership. The opposition thinks that eventually the US will realize that the Saakashvili administration is the source of instability in Georgia. Representatives of the administration, however, state that the Human Rights Report adequately reflects the situation in the country. State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili, currently being promoted as a possible Vice Premier, has said that Georgia is ready to consider all critical remarks. This therefore implies that the US should give the administration time to do so. Ironically, the more the report criticizes the authorities, the more it buys them time to rectify their shortcomings.

Of course no normal person from any side would want unrest in this country and dialogue would have been the best solution provided it was conducted honestly. The opposition has many doubts about the fairness of the administration and therefore there is a big deficit of trust towards it. Consequently the opposition claims there are no resources with which to conduct any dialogue. Unrest is now inevitable, and the US position will prove critical in resolving it, when it is provoked into taking an active stand one way or the other.

Concerning Georgia-Russia relations, Georgian analysts think that the US has not yet clearly elaborated its policy towards Russia. The report gives no firm evaluations. Everything will become clear after the US and Russian Presidents have met face to face. Then we will also see how far the US will have to reevaluate the situation in Georgia.