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May 26: at the crossroads

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, June 2
One week has passed since May 26, when protesting people gathered at the national stadium, at least 60,000 of them, expressing their discontent with the administration. The Georgian media and politicians from both sides continue speculating on the event. The opposition think they have gained a serious victory by proving to the international community that a serious number of frustrated people can be mobilized, and in reality the majority of the population shares the protestors’ sentiments. The administration does look concerned and shows certain signs of being willing to make concessions. President Saakashvili soon left for Italy and has not appeared in public since.

The non-Parliamentary opposition are continually repeating that thousands of people gathered at the Boris Paichadze stadium of their own volition and everything went off peacefully, with those present cheerfully supporting the opposition slogans throughout the rally. However the opposition only managed with the utmost difficulty to keep the crowd under control. It has become quite clear that Saakashvili will not resign even if the whole population takes to the streets. Some people demanded another revolution, and when the opposition refused to behave unconstitutionally they had to lead the protesters to Sameba Cathedral to try and calm their aggression.

When the Patriarch met the people in the cathedral he expressed his concern about the tense situation and suggested that the practice of forcing the President to resign was wrong. He said that both the first and second Presidents had been forced out but nothing good had come of this. The opposition understood by this that the Patriarch was criticising Saakashvili coming to power, but the President’s supporters though that the same words implied that the President should not resign. The question is: what should we expect the Patriarch to say? Politicians should not involve the Patriarch in politics, but Ilia II himself made further political comments again on May 28 after hearing the reaction to his first ones. “The situation is still serious and nearly explosive. We think that the administration should take active steps to defuse the tension, be they snap elections, dialogue or other steps,” his statement read.

The Patriarch was under no obligation to make any further statement at all. Again however his words were interpreted differently. The authorities highlight the reference to dialogue, the opposition the bit about snap elections. The Patriarch did not say exactly what kind of elections he was referring to, but there is speculation at present that these elections could be Parliamentary ones. Political analysts think that it would not be difficult to hold these, and indeed the opposition has started to reorganise itself as if to cover all bases. One part, led by Burjanadze, Beselia, Zourabichvili and some others prefers to use the existing tactics, whereas Irakli Alasania, the leader of the Alliance for Georgia, and the National Forum suggest there are other ways to remove Saakashvili from office, and are therefore broadening the opposition’s activity, meaning it will appeal to more people, exclude no one and be ready to embrace any development.

The opposition are quite diversified and their unity is determined by their common goal to get rid of Saakashvili and his administration. Therefore, different parties pursuing the same goal in the ways which happen to suit them best is to be expected. However one does not need to be a fortune teller to suggest that if they achieve their goal they might immediately disperse and even start confronting each other. So this unity is very fragile and based on the negative of removing Saakashvili rather than a positive view of what they might put in his place, something which will come back to haunt them sooner or later.

To conclude: So far, Saakashvili is in a winning position. He has not resigned, he has remained quite confident, and he has not used direct force against the protesters, although this is a limited victory because he has not managed to actually extinguish the protest charge. He avoids appearing in public in the capital and most probably his administration will be forced to make some serious concessions, not cosmetic but substantive. But this does not mean that he himself will leave, or that he will change his views or methods, whatever system is put in place around him as a result of the continual protests.

Dialogue and serious concession is the only way forward for both sides. This is demanded not only by the Patriarch but the Western friends of Georgia. There is no alternative, and we should be glad that this option is still there to take.