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Thousands of demonstrators mark Georgia’s Independence Day

By Mzia Kupunia and Etuna Tsotniashvili
Wednesday, May 27
Over 60,000 demonstrators gathered at the National Stadium in Tbilisi on May 26, Independence Day. Dressed in white and waving white handkerchiefs, the demonstrators protested against President Mikheil Saakashvili and demanded his resignation. The non-Parliamentary opposition leaders, who have already been rallying continuously since April 9, have said that the May 26 rally will bring a “new energy” to the demonstrations. The opposition said the rallies will continue until they achieve the “final victory” – the resignation of the President.

Opposition supporters started gathering at the National Stadium at 12 pm on Tuesday. 59-year old housewife Venera Mdivani, who was dressed in a white shirt and holding a placard saying “we will defend Georgia,” said she had been attending the rallies almost every day since April 9. “I blame Saakashvili for the death of so many young people. I am a mother, and I mourn over every soldier who died in the August war as if they were my own sons,” Mdivani said.

Aleko Kapanadze, a 58-year-old lawyer, had his own reasons for joining the rally. Kapanadze said he was protesting against the “tyranny” in Georgia. “Human rights are being constantly violated. The Government does not belong to us, to the people. This Government should go and a national government should come into power, which will take care of its people,” he said.

Later on Tuesday Giorgi Gachechiladze (Utsnobi) joined the rally, accompanied by supporters from Western Georgia, where Gachechiladze had spent several days campaigning and calling on people to join the rally. The demonstrators greeted Gachechiladze with applause and chanting. Soon after Gachechiladze’s arrival the opposition leaders addressed the rally participants and outlined their demands – holding early Presidential and Parliamentary elections and Tbilisi Mayoral elections, creating the conditions for fair elections and returning Imedi TV to its “legal owners”. “The end of this fight will be the resignation of Saakashvili and the holding of free elections,” David Gamkrelidze from the Alliance for Georgia said.

Gamkrelidze suggested electing an “interim” President and Government after Saakashvili’s resignation. The leader of the New Rights said that the interim Government would create the conditions for holding fair elections in the country, but neither it nor the interim President would have right to participate in those elections. “This will be a guarantee for holding really free and fair Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Georgia,” Gamkrelidze noted.

David Usupashvili from the Republican Party said he had mixed feelings about the May 26 rally. “This is partly a protest and partly a celebration. May 26 will be a true celebration for every citizen of Georgia when the country is not divided into supporters of the opposition and the Government. The main goal of this day is to end this kind of division. We should celebrate next May 26 in free and democratic country,” Usupashvili stated.

Eka Beselia from the Movement for United Georgia said she had come to the rally with her family. “It is a very special, extraordinary day. We are close to victory and I think Georgia should start its final fight today. It is time for unity and sacrifice. We should do everything in order to end this regime,” Beselia noted.

“The rallies will continue till the people reach their goal,” Irakli Alasania, Georgia’s former UN Ambassador and now leader of the Alliance for Georgia told the demonstrators. “Maybe we can argue about which political force should rule the country, but we all agree that Georgia’s integrity should be restored, and only after this will we celebrate the independence of Georgia,” Alasania stated.

Well-known Actor Givi Berikashvili, who said he had come to the demonstration “to stand with the Georgian people,” noted that a “different game” was going on in the football stadium. “It has been quite a long time since I last saw so many people gathered at the National Stadium. We are seeing a different game here right now and I hope that this game ends with the victory of the Georgian people,” Berikashvili said.

Later the demonstrators and opposition leaders moved to Holy Trinity Cathedral to attend a pubic prayer service conducted by Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II. Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, a member of the governing party, also attended the service though not very much welcomed by the people. Before the Peace Prayer, the Patriarch addressed the congregation. “Part of our population is demanding the President’s resignation. This is a very complicated issue. I would like to say that this has become something of a habit for us. We dismissed the first President, we dismissed the second President and you know what these dismissals brought us. I am saying, as my own point of view, that maybe it is better if we listen to each other,” Interpressnews quoted Ilia II as saying.

Yesterday’s rally was not attended by all the opposition groups. In the early morning of May 26, leader of the Freedom Party Konstantine Gamsakhurdia made a statement on the behalf of the Alliance for Freedom, which also includes the Traditionalists, Party of the Future and Party of Women for Justice and Equality, and was established in March, 2009. Gamsakhurdia said that the Alliance had diverged from the rest of the opposition and was taking independent action to bring down Saakashvili’s regime.

“We can no longer stay together as we have so far. From tomorrow on, we shall begin implementing the schemes which we offered to the rest of the opposition but were ignored. We’ll act intensively from tomorrow and the goal of our activities will be the President`s resignation,” Gamsakhurdia said, adding that today he would nevertheless stand beside the people of Georgia because it was Independence Day, the national holiday.

President Mikheil Saakashvili has responded to the rally by saying that while the whole of Georgia is celebrating Independence Day, one part of society has assembled at the National Stadium to protest against the policy of the Georgian Government. At a meeting with pupils of Public School Number 10 he explained that the majority of people suffer hardship and therefore are discontented with the Georgian Government, however, those who were sacked from their jobs are dissatisfied for other reasons.

“Over the last 5 years, over 50,000 persons have been sacked from state jobs. But the system needed to be changed. I cannot confirm that all of them were sacked fairly, however, radical steps had to be taken,” Saakashvili stated. “Of course, I may not agree with some political leaders and the behaviour of certain of them may be absolutely unacceptable, but everyone should know one thing – we may not agree with each other but we all love our country. We all, except for some traitors, want Georgia to stand on its feet and become united and successful,” he said.

“With one hand Georgia continues its struggle for full liberation and with the other we are building our country, because we will respect our fallen heroes most of all by building a successful, democratic, European Georgia. By doing this we will also astonish our enemies, who thought our destruction irreversible… We will accomplish this task, building a successful and united Georgia, and this will be the major response to aggression, to any invasion and any attempts to destroy us,” Saakashvili stated.

Opposition analyst Gia Khukhashvili thinks the current political processes will end with the victory of Georgian society and not that of the opposition or the Government. “For me this is a day symbolising destroying idols. Everyone should understand that the rules of the game should be dictated by Georgian society and not some specific persons,” Khukhashvili has told The Messenger.

Khukhashvili adds that for the Government the large number of people at the stadium will not change anything. “A Government which starts counting the heads at protests is not a real Government. A Government which does not feel the protest of the people and only counts heads is not a Government. I am expecting the victory of Georgian society over the idols,” he says.