Robert Coalson: Burjanadze's Husband Becomes Focus Of Georgia Political Intrigue


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Police have arrested 10 men and released several videos purportedly showing the suspects purchasing arms and discussing potential violence at antigovernment actions. Two of the men have been charged with antistate activities; the remainder face lesser arms-purchase charges.

Bitsadze attempted to defuse the situation after the pictures came to light, telling reporters in Tbilisi that his meeting with Breus was innocent and private.

"I am certainly not going to forbid myself from meeting with my friends," Bitsadze said. "I certainly know Shalva Breus, although we don't have such a close relationship that it would prompt us to set up special meetings in various cities. I was in Vienna and also in Kyiv on private business, and wherever I go, I have friends and I see them."

Although the subject of the meeting remains unknown, the photographs are further circumstantial evidence connecting the DMES with Kremlin-connected Georgian émigrés based in Europe and Russia. And it has heightened concerns in Georgia that Russia has stepped up its activity in an attempt to destabilize its southern neighbor.

Breus, 51, is a former Russian deputy property minister who currently serves on the boards of several large Russian firms. According to reports in the Ukrainian and Georgian media, he is a longtime friend of Aslan Abashidze, a multimillionaire and the former head of the autonomous Georgian republic of Adjara.

Abashidze was ousted by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2004 and has since lived in Moscow. Both Breus and Abashidze are from the Adjaran capital, Batumi.

Batumi was a focus of attention earlier this week when police raided the local DMES office there and arrested the head of the party's Adjara branch, Zurab Avaliani, on charges of illegally purchasing and storing weapons. Burjanadze has said the evidence against Avaliani was fabricated.

Avaliani's brother, Mikhail Avaliani, sits on the city council in Arkhangelsk and is a member of Russia's ruling Unified Russia party. A DMES spokesperson told RFE/RL that the party had not been aware of this fact.

In one of the blurry videos released earlier this week as evidence of the antistate charges, an opposition member identified as Malkhaz Gvelukashvili is heard to say that the purported plot was being financially supported by Russian-based Georgians.

"You know the meeting that took place in Austria," the speaker says. "Those who were in Austria are practically our people too. I mean the Georgians who came from Russia. Do you understand? They have enough money to put the country back on its feet."
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The meeting between Bitsadze and Breus took place in a Kyiv restaurant on the evening of March 13. Bitsadze stated that he had also been in Vienna "on personal business," and the Ukrainian website DailyUA reported on March 26 that Breus was also in Vienna and met on the sidelines of the conference with unidentified participants.

The Vienna conference was entitled "Perspectives for Georgia's Future" and brought together about 100 Georgians living abroad, as well as representatives of Austria's Freedom Party and observers from Russia. It was organized by former Georgian lawmaker Levan Pirveli, who heads the so-called coordinating council of the Georgian opposition in Europe.

Also in attendance at the Vienna meeting were prominent Georgian publisher Malkhaz Gulashvili, Industrialists party leader Zurab Tkemaladze, Liberty party head Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, and Vladimir Khomeriki, head of the Moscow-based Russian-Georgian Unity Foundation.
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Read the full article on Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

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Shaun Walker (The Independent, Moscow): Viewing Georgia from both sides


Even though some eight months have passed since Russia's war with Georgia over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, both parties are still feeling its consequences and remain very sensitive to interpretations of these events that appear in the media. While the Russians continue to blame the Georgians' aggression (and even made a movie about it), the Georgians insist that they have fallen victim to a bully. Anyone who believes the truth to be somewhere in between is said to belong to the enemy camp.

...

Probably nothing has done more to convince many Russians that the Western media are anti-Russian; meanwhile the one-sidedness of Russia Today or other Russian TV channels on the conflict leaves me feeling queasy.

But contrary to what many Russians seem to think, suggesting that Russia may not have covered itself in glory in South Ossetia doesn't imply support for Saakashvili.

I've always been a bit of a Saakashvili-sceptic, and it's true that a lot of the Western reporting on Georgia before last summer was rather naive and tended to take all the noble words the Georgian president said about democracy and neo-imperialism at face value, while ignoring some of the less savoury aspects of his regime.

But I think that since the war, the Western media - or the printed media at least - have struck a reasonable balance, reporting on the atrocities that were carried out by Ossetians under the eyes of Russian troops, covering various pieces of evidence that suggest that Russia was looking to provoke a conflict all along, while at the same time accepting that Georgia was responsible for sparking the war and waking up to the real nature of Saakashvili's regime.

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As so often in international relations, the truth is surely that both sides behaved appallingly. Last year's war was rather like an obnoxious little kid picking a fight with the school bully and getting crushed. That the bully had been behaving badly before doesn't make the kid any less obnoxious, and vice versa."

Read the full article on Moscow News.

Shaun Walker is the Moscow correspondent of The Independent

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Georgian dance



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Ter-Petrosyan – Yerevan mayor? Clever move by Armenian opposition, and good news for democracy in Armenia

"Armenia’s first president and opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan will head the list of opposition Armenian National Congress candidates in Yerevan municipal election (= Yerevan mayor election). No. 2 in the list is Stepan Demirchyan. (I do not know if Ter-Petrosyan would step down after winning the election, to make Demirchyan a mayor, but this is not important right now) They will now continue formal consultations with the parliamentary opposition Heritage party for joint participation in election. I do hope that cool heads in the opposition (parliamentary + extra-parliamentary) will prevail to contest the election united.

“This is almost like presidential election, it’s a political election, and winning Yerevan municipal election will amount to regime change and restoration of constitutional order in Armenia” – this would be the main message by opposition directed at electorate. Not quite the regime change, but they have a point." ...

Read the full article on Unzipped (Blog by ARTMIKA).

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Philip P. Pan (Washington Post) - Georgia: Autocracy no more, not yet democracy

The article offers great inside into the problems transferring a post-communist-state into a western democracy:

... "The experience of this nation of 4.5 million after Saakashvili came to power in the Rose Revolution illustrates how difficult and complex the task of building a lasting democracy can be, even with ample funding and high-level attention from the United States and Europe.

"You have to change cultures, institutions, norms," said Larry Diamond, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. "It's a profound challenge. What you're talking about is changing the way people use power."

On May 10, 2005, a huge crowd assembled in Tbilisi's Freedom Square to see Bush. "You gathered here with nothing but roses and the power of your convictions, and you claimed your liberty," he declared. "Because of that, Georgia is today a beacon of liberty for this region and the world."

At the time, some Georgians were already accusing Saakashvili of monopolizing power and undermining Parliament, the courts, the news media and civil society. But criticism from the United States was expressed in private, when expressed at all.

When Saakashvili pushed through a constitutional amendment giving him the power to dismiss Parliament, for example, many supporters of the Rose Revolution objected. But U.S. officials were reluctant to take a position or even host a public debate on the subject, recalled David Usupashvili, an opposition leader who at the time was a Saakashvili ally and worked for a U.S. aid organization.

Lincoln Mitchell, a scholar at Columbia University who served as the National Democratic Institute's chief of party in Tbilisi, said the Bush administration equated support for Saakashvili, who studied law at Columbia, with support for democracy in Georgia.

"The relationship got personalized," he said, noting that Saakashvili named a highway after Bush and sent Georgian troops to Iraq. "The idea was don't make problems for the English-speaking leader who is our best ally in the region."

U.S. support for Saakashvili resulted in a sharp increase in foreign aid to the Georgian government. But funding for the advocacy groups that had been at the heart of the Rose Revolution dried up, forcing organizations to shut down programs that could monitor and challenge his decisions.

Civil society also suffered, because activists flocked to join the new government. If Western officials overlooked Saakashvili's autocratic drift, so did many of these reform-minded Georgians. Several top leaders of the current opposition worked with Saakashvili for years before quitting.

"We made compromises, telling ourselves that it wasn't so easy to achieve democracy overnight," said Georgi Chkheidze, a former chairman of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association who joined the Justice Ministry. "We waited too long to speak out."

...

Nino Zuriashvili, a vivacious, hard-charging journalist, produces investigative reports most Georgians never see. "We offer them to television stations for free, but the national broadcasters won't air them," she said.

In the years before the Rose Revolution, the news media operated with few restrictions, and she worked for the Georgian version of "60 Minutes," a top-rated show on the country's top-rated television station, Rustavi-2. The independent broadcaster's support of the opposition helped put Saakashvili in power.

But Zuriashvili ran into problems soon afterward. Station managers squashed a report on the seizure of property from private businessmen by government officials, then refused to broadcast an expose on prosecutors forging evidence. When she confronted them, she learned the station had been sold to new owners who wanted to take it easy on the new government. They canceled her show, giving her a different job.

So she quit and started her own news organization, Monitor Studio, which relies on international aid groups for funding. She and two colleagues have produced 26 investigative video reports, the latest of which documents how the government pressured the owners of nearly a dozen TV stations, including Rustavi-2, to sell to businessmen friendly to Saakashvili.

But the media environment in Georgia defies a single, sweeping verdict. Conditions under Saakashvili have varied over time, and there are two local stations in Tbilisi now run by the opposition. Newspapers, too, are generally critical of Saakashvili.

The mixed picture has allowed Saakashvili to ridicule critics who accuse him of stifling the news media by pointing out that they often make their allegations on live talk shows broadcast across the nation.

"If somebody in the morning has some idea and is a public figure, it just takes six to eight hours before most of the country hears about it. You can't shut up anybody here," he said, denying any effort to transfer TV stations into friendly hands or dictate coverage. "You can argue that some TV stations are more pro-government and some are less and some are against us, but it's like that in every country."

Journalists say the problems with the media here fall short of direct censorship and require long-term solutions, such as programs to raise journalistic standards and encourage media independence. "In some ways, this quasi-democracy we have is much more dangerous than a dictatorship," said Nino Burjanadze, a top Rose Revolution leader who joined the opposition last year. "The issues are less straightforward and more difficult to explain to our friends."

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The problems led the advocacy group Freedom House to remove Georgia from its list of electoral democracies this year. But the opposition has also fared poorly in elections because it has been unable to unite behind a substantive agenda beyond replacing Saakashvili.

Several parties refused to take the seats they won in the May elections. The boycott further divided the opposition, with those outside Parliament accusing those inside of acting as Saakashvili's puppets.

Ghia Nodia, a former minister of education, blamed the problem on immature political parties, including the ruling party, that see revolution as the primary means of winning power. "The problem is this very confrontational political culture," he said, noting that not a single president has completed a full term since the country declared independence after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Targamadze, the minority leader, said his Christian Democratic party is losing patience. "I'm trying to be a moderate, but if Saakashvili doesn't start real political reforms, we'll become more radical, too."

You can find the whole article here on SFGate, home of San Francisco Chronicle.




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Hermes in Tbilisi / Tiflis / Tbilissi

seen in Leselidze street, Tbilisi. / Gesehen in der Leselidse-Straße, Tiflis.


Typical is the helmet with wings. The two snakes facing each other usually sling around a baton.
Hermes the protector of travellers, merchants and herdsmen, but also of thieves, art-sellers, of rhetoric, gymnastics and magic.
Quite possible, that this house was erected by a merchant or art-seller.

Typisch für Hermes der Helm mit Flügeln. Zwei Schlangen, die sich anschauen, findet man sonst eher um seinen Stab gewunden.
Hermes ist der Schutzgott der Reisenden, Kaufleute, Hirten, aber auch der Diebe und Kunsthändler, der Rhetoric, Gymnastik und sogar der Magie.
Gut möglich, dass das Haus von einem Kaufmann oder Kunst-Händler errichtet wurde.



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