When Mikheil Saakashvili was in charge of Georgia he was always promoted as the friend of democracy and Western values. But it did not take long for his sponsors, the USA, to realize that he was nothing of the sort. Extrajudicial murder, massive embezzlement and criminality and terrorizing the population are not generally considered the actions of a democratic ruler. So for most of his time in office the US was looking for a way out. In fact it was openly suggested that, to avoid too much scandal, he would be allowed to serve his constitutional term and then sent on a lecture tour of US universities to provide him with a dignified exit strategy.
America knows that it only ever thinks about America. Therefore its universities go out of their way to invite statesmen from other countries to lecture there, even if they can’t pronounce their names, to demonstrate that their Principals are educated enough to know who these people are. True to form, it has now been announced that “The Honorable Mikheil Saakashvili,” “former president of the Republic of Georgia (2004–2013) and founder of Georgia’s United National Movement Party,” “will join The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University as Senior Statesman beginning in January for the Spring 2014 academic term. In this role, President Saakashvili will conduct major addresses and lectures on European governance and other contemporary international and regional issues.”
Why Saakashvili, rather than any of the other ex-leaders, from unquestionably democratic European states, who are now out of work? Admiral James Stavridis, Dean of The Fletcher School, says that “He is an accomplished leader and statesman, renowned for changing the course of his country’s history and moving it strongly into the trans-Atlantic community, as well as for his impact on the region and indeed the world.” The announcement cites his training as a lawyer, stating that “Saakashvili graduated with honors from the prestigious Kiev University Institute of International Relations and received his master of laws from Columbia University. He studied law at the doctoral level at the George Washington University National Center of Law in Washington, D.C. In 1995, he became the first former Soviet citizen to obtain a diploma in Comparative Law of Human Rights from The International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.” However, over and above all this, it cites his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize by Hillary Clinton and John McCain. This claimed that Saakashvili had an “extraordinary commitment to peace … to the universal values of democracy, individual liberty and civil rights,”and that, “because of Saakashvili’s efforts, the people of Georgia are now constructing new societies based on the rule of law and … resolving peacefully the complex ethnic and social issues that have in the past threatened to divide their nations.”
Fletcher School of Law can teach its students law itself. It does not need to import Saakashvili for the purpose. He has been invited because he is a manifestation of certain values – a living example the students can learn from. So how exactly does Saakashvili manifest the values which got him nominated for the Nobel Prize by senators from the guardian of these values?
In August 2008 Saakashvili sent his army in to violently retake South Ossetia, a breakaway republic which had been run as a de facto independent region since soon after Georgia regained its independence. Constitutionally, he had the right to do so, but there were many other options he could have explored rather than using force. This invasion had been planned for a long time, and the American soldiers who are always hanging round Tbilisi for some reason openly spoke about this. When given enough drinks, specific dates and details would emerge. He then jumped the gun to claim all the glory for himself, provoked Russia, sent hundreds of his own troops to the slaughter and ensured that more of Georgia is now outside the control of the former government. South Ossetia and Abkhazia now protected by Russian troops, even recognized by the Russian Federation for the sake of regional security.
During this short campaign Saakashvili shelled his own citizens for several hours and used cluster bombs, in defiance of international law. His actions are prosecutable under the same Nuremburg conventions used to try the Nazis after World War Two. Even Wikipedia, not known for being anti-Georgian or very accurate, lays out what happened: “At 11:45 p.m. Georgian forces began a major artillery bombardment of downtown Tskhinvali, surrounding heights and a number of villages. Several other villages were more lightly shelled. The Georgians used 27 rocket launchers, including BM 21 Grad and LAR-160 units. Georgian forces also used 152mm heavy self-propelled guns and cluster bombs. At this point OSCE monitors reported that shells were falling on Tskhinvali every 15–20 seconds.”
Many of the Georgians, who died, soldiers and civilians alike, were killed by those Israeli made M-85 cluster bombs, as reported by the Georgian Human Rights Center and HR Watch. Their launch system was found to be faulty, and cluster bombs by their very nature are prone to kill people at random, not whoever they are aimed at. It is impossible to know what a cluster bomb will hit, which is why their use is banned by a number of international conventions. Although still bound by them, the US, Israel and Georgia have not signed these conventions.
There is also considerable evidence that the main reason Saakashvili went into South Ossetia in the first place was to justify the purchase of vast quantities of weapons, which the Georgian, and to provide an excuse for their disappearance. The Georgian Army never saw except on paper, which actually went to end users who could not legally purchase them. Under Saakashvili’s regime, and not before, Georgia became the largest dealer in contraband weapons in Europe and the region. These weapons were only purchased and supplied with the intent of being used elsewhere.
For many years Georgia has been helping America train terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge, giving them safe haven, safe passage and citizenship as well as weapons, thereby making violence a permanent factor in the country’s life. These were originally Chechens, armed to prolong that ongoing conflict, but are now a multinational force exported to every trouble spot you see on the TV news which the US has an interest in, provoking war and committing war crimes from their Georgian base despite the fact Georgia has no stated interest in these countries. Look at where Georgia is on the map, and where the world’s conflict zones are now, and try and draw a supply line for the violence which excludes Georgia. You can expect to see terrorist attacks in Russia prior to the Olympics.
The multitude of electoral and democratic procedure violations committed by the Saakashvili regime have well documented, and in English, by a number of human rights organizations and independent observer teams. Questions were asked in the European Parliament after the mass ballot stuffing, assaults on observers and opposition candidates, monopolizing of the media by the ruling party, misuse of institutional resources and terrorizing of businesses during the 2008 Presidential elections, like every other one held during Saakashvili’s term of office. Other documented violations include compiling fraudulent voter lists, consisting of dead people and the “residents” of non-existent multiple occupancy buildings which achieve a 100% turnout, returning officers turning up in the middle of the afternoon with the final result in their pocket on a piece of paper and mass grants of citizenship, in exchange for money, days before the ballot to foreign nationals who do not meet the already extremely liberal criteria.
The international observers, sent in droves by their governments, who later stated that these elections were free and fair could always be spotted in Tbilisi at election times, as they wore perpetually worried expressions and were always eager to talk to anyone, off the record, about what was really going on in order to establish their own credibility. Many of the violations reported were actually brought to light by these official observers, not independent ones, despite their subsequent disavowals of misconduct. Nevertheless, the systematic democratic violations were sometimes indirectly confirmed by the official reports, such as the one which stated that the 2010 elections, despite a host of acknowledged violations, were “a great improvement” on previous ones which had also been declared free and fair. You can make small improvements to free and fair elections, but not great ones.
When the Climate Change conference was held in New York Saakashvili attended and was due to stay for just a few days. Instead he remained in America for three months, trying to force Barack Obama to meet him (which he consistently refused to do) by gatecrashing events he was due to speak at, etcetera. One of the newspapers in Georgia rang his political party to ask what advantage Georgia gained by its president being outside the country for three months. His own political party stated, “the local elections are coming up, so the people will feel more confident that the elections will not be rigged if the president is out of the country”!
Ironically, the reason the USA gave for supporting the mob action which brought Saakashvili to power was that former President Shevardnadze had “stolen” (the phrase used by US envoy Matthew Bryza) the last election held during his time, as if he hadn’t stolen all the others too. However this is not so ironic when you consider that when Senator Clinton’s husband was the US President he told Eduard Shevardnadze that he had “embraced democracy” while the criminal gangs which had put him in power were still conducting a campaign of violence and murder against the 87% of the population which had voted for the democratically elected president the USA had then played a part in violently removing.
A long list of foreign businessmen invited to invest in Georgia have reported the same treatment – that the Saakashvili government did everything it could to help them to begin with, and then either closed their business down on a trumped up charge and took it into their own hands, the alternative being a long prison sentence for the real business owner, or demanded ever increasing “protection money” in the form of bribes to government members, financial support for the ruling party and forcing staff to vote for the government. Factories the usurping ministers could not run were then sold for scrap metal, still Georgia’s leading export. This is the “free market” introduced during the Saakashvili era.
Freedom of speech was severely curtailed, with those same prisons full of people such as Dr. Vakhtang Maisaia, a military analyst, professor, Georgia’s former liaison officer to NATO, and known Saakashvili opponent accused of spying for the Russians (in public) and then for NATO (at his trial, conducted in secret, with both charges and verdict being withheld from the public unconstitutionally) who was sentenced to 25 years, and Merab Ratishvili, now a novelist, who was convicted on fabricated drug charges merely for knowing the wrong people.
Other victims of this repression of liberty included Malkhaz Gulashvili, a fledgling newspaper owner convicted in absentia of crossing the Georgian border (to leave the country, not a crime), the former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, who was tortured to death by hit men working for the Interior Minister but allegedly died from a faulty Iranian gas heater, and Sandro Girgvliani, a young banker, picked up off the street, tortured and killed by police for arguing with the same Interior Minister’s estranged wife.
In addition to the above, there was no presumption of innocence in Georgia, despite Saakashvili’s legal training, as the accusations made against individuals by the government were reported in the government-controlled media, which included almost all the TV stations, without using the terms “alleged” or “according to”, thus prejudicing legal processes. Over 95% of all prosecutions brought by the government were successful. People’s private property was violated on a regular basis to make way for new building projects which were never completed, as they were money laundering exercises to begin with, often connected with the smuggling networks associated with various Arab states and their ruling families, which provoked, for example, sudden increases in purchases of Georgian sheep, many of which had undeclared precious stones and drugs in their stomachs.
There was no consumer protection mechanism in Georgia and no protection of employee rights, Georgia’s Labor Code favoring employers so much that the Council of Europe ultimately intervened and forced the country to introduce fairly tepid measures against obvious acts of unfair dismissal such as firing journalists for turning up to work with a cold. Prisoners were routinely tortured and abused, as the now-famous “broomstick videos” made clear, and the Saakashvili regime constructed a network of torture chambers in various locations, some of which are now being exposed on TV. Tax raids were commonplace, assessments being made without foundation or reasoning and used to remove enemies from circulation, and minority groups were told to learn Georgian or receive no education or opportunity to take part in the national examinations, a precondition for entering university.
This is the legacy of Saakashvili
By no definition does it constitute a basis for saying that “the people of Georgia are now constructing new societies based on the rule of law [and] … resolving peacefully the complex ethnic and social issues that have in the past threatened to divide their nations.” Quite the contrary: Rule of Law, which one could reasonably expect lawyer Mikheil Saakashvili to support and be interested in, just didn’t exist during his time and his abuses still permeate government practice because a generation of public servants owes their current jobs to doing nothing else. The complex ethnic and social issues in Georgia, which are no more complex or inherently divisive than those in most countries, are now further away from resolution than ever, as Saakashvili has given those with an existing beef even more reason to distrust Georgia and its authorities. Yes, as is often claimed, Saakashvili eradicated most of the petty corruption of the Edward Shevardnadze years, but he did so by making it large scale corruption which benefitted his own inner circle. Look into who actually owned and funded any business, aid program or media outlet, and who the link men were between international criminal networks, foreign missions and their Georgian operatives, and what his regime actually achieved becomes clear.
“As you know, I have decided to focus for the moment on academic work in order to reflect, discuss and debate what has been achieved and what remains to be done in our region. I cannot think about any better start than the opportunity offered by such a leading American school,” Saakashvili said when given his cushy new job. His problem is that those who have actually experienced his rule have already done all this reflecting, and drawn conclusions from it.
European politicians with links to his party have derided this as political persecution, but ordinary Georgians are complaining that the new government is not delivering because not enough former ministers have been arrested. Saakashvili himself has yet to be touched by these actions, and it therefore why he cozied up to them (the main road to Tbilisi Airport is called George W. Bush Avenue) for so long. But as Dr. Crippen discovered, the Atlantic will not separate anyone from their crimes indefinitely. The same Bush that that Georgia security and the FBI staged an assignation attempt as part of the never ending PR that because the Georgian trademark. And shortly thereafter, the same FBI agent was involved in the cover up of the murder of the former PM, as reported in the Georgian media, and now under investigation.
The Americans are known to take care of their partners in crime. There are no limitation to the degree of disgrace the Americans go, for instance Saakashvili’s recent sponsored appearance in Ukraine, championing the European integration he failed to achieve due to his own actions but his successors swiftly have, was one such display of hypocrisy; the lecturing job at Fletcher is another. Saakashvili is indeed qualified to give speeches at universities – but on what NOT to do, particularly when your country wants to join the European Union. The sordid human rights record of his regime, the summary executions, torture, use of the criminal justice system as a cottage industry to make money for the budget and a hybrid of top-down corruption would make even the leadership of Azerbaijan blush. Saakashvili is of course a longstanding friend of Azerbaijan – or was, until he started chasing President Aliev’s wife and Aliev sent him a horse’s head in the post.
History is full of petty crooks with the psychopathic mentality necessary to gain and abuse absolute power. Compared to the likes of Pol Pot, Macias Nguema, Bokassa, Duvalier or Idi Amin, Saakashvili is small fry. But his actions, rather than his rhetoric, put him in the same league as these people, not the European democrats he claims himself to be. If his American senator friends do not know this, they should. If they do, there is a strong case for their impeachment, as it is not permitted for servants of Congress to support or advocate continued, systematic, flagrant violations of the principles enshrined in the US Constitution.
Now Saakashvili is being imported to the USA to give Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy students, the leaders of tomorrow, the benefit of his vast experience. He is therefore being presented as an example of the values the university, and the USA itself, claims to have. There is no corner of the world untouched by American policy, American diplomacy and practical attempts to assert American values. Everyone, everywhere, and not least the people of America, should be gravely concerned that Mikheil Saakashvili is apparently the exemplar of what those values really are. What country will be the next Saakashvili’s Georgia?
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.