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Possible consequences for dispersing veterans

By Messenger Staff
Monday, January 10
On January 3rd at Heroes Square, the Memorial for the war victims, a hunger strike organized by the veterans of military conflict in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions was cracked down by the police. Because the country was in a euphoria from the New Year celebrations, the event did not receive due coverage. Maybe this was the intention of the officials: to conduct the brutal act under the cover of the New Year celebrations. However, the event did not go unnoticed and the scandalous issue remains widely discussed. The Opposition as well as NGOs demand a rightful investigation and the punishment of those who masterminded the act and carried it out. The international community has also become involved with making protest statements. It is likely that the opposition will use this occasion to activate its shallow position since it is currently occupied with internal confrontations.

So what happened? The veterans of military actions in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali from the beginning of the 90s as well as participants of the war against Russia in August 2008 started the protest and hunger strike at the site of the war memorial on December 27th. They stated that this was a short term strike, which would end on January 6th, on the eve of Orthodox Christmas. They pitched tents and 21 people started a hunger strike. It should be mentioned from the very beginning that the veterans separated themselves from politicians and announced publicly that their protest was in response to their social and economic hardships, making no political claims. As it was said above, on the 3rd of January the protest was brutally dispersed just 3 days before they would have finished it themselves.

As the Ministry of Healthcare informs, in Georgia there are 54 thousand people identified as war veterans. They have the option to receive either compensation or pension. A veteran may not receive both of these simultaneously. The pension for the first and second groups of war invalids is a monthly 129 GEL. The war participants who are not identified by invalid certificates may receive a pension of 80 GEL. Invalids of war also receive a utility subsidies voucher for 44 GEL, whereas war participants receive a 22 GEL voucher. We do not comment here about the amount of the pension, but instead rely on the depth of your imagination and the consciousness of the country's leaders.

Veterans were protesting because of a cynical attitude towards their service for the country. Analysts, media as well as politicians are curious why the police committed such a brutal act. The protest was fading: less people were able to stay on the hunger strike, partially because of the cold weather but mainly because these were mostly invalids and their health conditions were rather poor. Some analysts suggest that today, the ruling administration feels confident that the act was yet another manifestation of the state's might. Only after the international community condemned the act, did the state administration make some concessions. Very categorical was US Ambassador to Georgia, John Bass, who stated that such kind of things should not happen in a democratic country, and that no force should be used against protesters. Though he also mentioned that in the USA people have limited time of protesting at the state memorial sites. This caused an immediate reaction from the Interior Ministry and police officer Gvenetadze was then discharged from the service because as the official statement said, he violated police ethical norms. The question appears how the term “ethics” is interpreted. A video shows a man, who was later identified as Gvenetadze, dressed in plain clothes punching a woman activist.

Different NGOs, as well as opposition representatives stated that the protesters did not violate the law. However, the officials claimed that the protesters were insulting symbols of the country’s statehood and therefore detained. Veterans were released only after they paid GEL 400 fine each. Of course the opposition wants to use the failure of the ruling administration to rehabilitate their currently weak position. It demands an investigation of the case and the punishment of the policemen who exceeded their powers. The opposition claims that the government must be reminded of article 25 of the Georgian Constitution which allows the people of Georgia to carry out protest actions, and to organize protest actions on the 25th of each month. Nobody knows whether it will yield some serious results, or if it will be much ado about nothing.