This video is called South Ossetian refugees return to battered Tskhinvali.
By Tom Eley:
The political realities of “democratic” Georgia
18 August 2008
One of the constant themes in the US government and media presentation of the conflict in the Caucasus is the depiction of Georgia as a bastion of democracy. The Bush administration has increasingly invoked the terminology of the Cold War by referring to “democratic Georgia” as a symbol of the “free world” and its struggle against authoritarian Russia.
The reality of political life in Georgia is far different than the media image.
Only last November, in the midst of mounting protests against his regime, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili employed dictatorial methods against his opponents. On November 2, opposition demonstrations began in Tbilisi, demanding democratic reforms and the ouster of Saakashvili. These protests, while organized by billionaire media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, gave vent to grievances against government repression and the desperate living conditions of the population. They attracted tens of thousands to the streets of Georgia’s capital city.
The demonstrations continued until November 7, when the state police, acting on orders from Saakashvili, used tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and truncheons to disperse the protesters. More than 600 required medical attention after the crackdown. On the same day, Special Forces raided Patarkatsishvili’s broadcasting corporation Imeldi, beating journalists and disabling equipment.
Saakashvili declared a state of emergency, suspending democratic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly. Independent broadcasting was halted even before the state of emergency was declared, and only the state-controlled television station was allowed to broadcast for a period of fifteen days. Imeldi was taken off the air indefinitely.
During the crackdown, Saakashivli called for snap elections to be held less than two months later, on January 5. The elections, held under conditions of political intimidation and repression, placed the opposition at an enormous disadvantage.
All media were under the de facto control of Saakashivli. In addition, two opposition leaders, Konstantin Gamsakhurdia and Shalva Natelashvili, were declared “wanted for treason.” The government accused them of conspiring with Russia to overthrow the government.
Patarkatsishvili, who likewise faced a government investigation for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, began his campaign from Israel. He withdrew from the elections after the government released a recording of him attempting to bribe a police officer.
Patarkatsishvili died suddenly last February in London at the age of 52. Authorities attributed the death to a massive heart attack, but Patarkatsishvili believed the Georgian authorities were targeting him for assassination.
The early elections eliminated two other serious rivals for the presidency—former defense minister Irakli Okruashvili and lawyer Tinatin Khidasheli—both of whom were just shy of 35 years of age, the minimum, at the time of the vote.
Okruashvili fled the country shortly after the crackdown in what ABC News called “mysterious circumstances.” He had accused Saakashvili of corruption, but after being placed under arrest he was apparently forced to retract the allegations.
During the campaign, election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that the credibility of the election had been placed in doubt by allegations that Saakashvili had used state money, blackmail and vote-buying. With rivals under arrest, under police investigation, in exile or legally barred from running for office, it is little surprise that Saakashvili won reelection. After his victory, the opposition claimed that the vote had been manipulated. His vote total surpassed by 20 percent that which had been projected by an opinion poll released one week earlier.
The Saakashvili regime faced international criticism from foreign capitals and human rights organizations for its assumption of dictatorial powers. Though the level of repression Saakashvili employed exceeded the measures that had been taken by his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, against the so-called “Rose Revolution” that brought Saakashvili to power in early 2004, criticism from the United States was much more muted.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew J. Bryza, a close ally and personal friend of the US-educated Saakashvili, acknowledged that the State Department was “hearing more and more reports that people were grabbed from stores or that passers-by were beaten,” but concluded merely that “Things got out of control.”
From the Stop the War Coalition in Britain:
MARK ALMOND, lecturer in History, Oxford University and expert on the Caucasus, provided the meeting with the sort of background information on Georgia so sadly lacking on the BBC.
Visiting a Georgian prison he had expressed concern to the prison governor at the possibility that political prisoners may have been tortured. ‘Don’t worry,’ he was told, ‘We torture everyone.’
Even Human Rights Watch, often close to the United States government, also in the present Ossetia conflict, have sometimes criticized the Saakashvili regime: here.
Washington steps up its anti-Russian rhetoric: here.
Headline of Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad: Americans are governesses of the Georgian government.
NATO meeting in Brussels: US steps up pressure on Russia: here.
UK declares its support for Washington’s anti-Russian campaign over Georgia: here.