People wonder why so many articles are now appearing about the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. There are two reasons.
Firstly, this is not just any old country; it is what the democratic West has long hailed as the “beacon of democracy” – the standard everyone else should follow. So what happens there is what we can expect to happen in Western democratic countries, something their citizens might well be alarmed by.
Secondly, these stories are appearing now because Georgia is so democratic that it made sure they never came out when the previous government was in power. Many of them could have been written long ago, in other cases incontrovertible proof has only recently emerged. But so many pressures were applied, by so many serious forces, that telling the truth was tantamount to a request to be tortured in a hellish prison for years on end, lost of citizenship – or worse.
In most countries the public would have grown tired of yet another revelation about a discarded government eighteen months after its removal. But Georgia has suffered so much that each new story rouses the latent public antagonism to the old regime and its slogans about “democracy”, “liberal values”, “economic freedom” and all the rest. The latest, a video confirming what many knew about the “Mukhrovani Mutiny” in 2009, once again gets to the heart of what “Georgian democracy” is all about.
The so-called Mukhrovani Mutiny took place against a background of ongoing street protests against the Saakashvili regime and, in particular, its dismal handling of the August 2008 War with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two former breakaway regions, who finally made a clean break. The War had rescued Saakashvili from a previous wave of protests by uniting the country against a perceived common enemy. So the following year, running out of options, he tried the same trick.
First a number of opposition politicians, many of whom had been Saakashvili supporters not long before, were arrested on charges of purchasing semi-automatic weapons in an apparent attempt to overthrow the government. Far from alarming the public, it simply made them even more cynical about “official statements”. So how else could Saakashvili reinvent himself as the war “hero” and maintain his grip on the money and drugs for longer?
NATO came to the rescue, albeit unwittingly. It had scheduled military exercises in Georgia for 6th May 2009. There was nothing odd about this as such exercises are often held in NATO aspirant countries. But obviously it got people thinking about the military threat posed to Georgia – a constant theme throughout is history.
The day before the exercises it was announced that soldiers at the military base at Mukhrovani, a village in rural Kakheti, were refusing to obey orders. Descriptions of their actions ranged from “urging dialogue between opposing political forces to prevent the current standoff turning violent” to “plotting a coup against the government”, depending on how pro-government the source was.
Saakashvili described it as a Russian-orchestrated plot to undermine the NATO exercises. He entered the base in full military uniform, flanked by his bodyguards and Special Forces personnel. The disobedient soldiers were rounded up and disarmed and their relatives detained and tortured in some of the various “isolation units” recently discovered in the Georgian countryside.
The alleged ringleaders fled, but were later rounded up, one being shot dead and others wounded. Eventually the most prominent were given long prison sentences. Colonel Koba Otanadze received 29 years, Commander Levan Amiridze 28 years and Commander Shota Gorgiashvili 19 years. But was justice done?
From the beginning the Georgian rumour mill cried foul. How convenient, the President parading around in fatigues when he is accusing his opponents of working for the Russians, all the day before NATO came to town! A video was later released in which men with blurred faces talk about assassinating members of the government and 5,000 Russian soldiers coming to support them. They never came, even when NATO had gone and such a force would have met little resistance.
It later emerged that not only had there never been any plot, the soldiers had not even disobeyed any orders. The opposition had established roadblocks around Tbilisi, and there had been suggestions that troops could be used to remove them. Some officers had properly expressed concern about being asked at some future date to act against fellow Georgians protesting peacefully. They did not disobey orders because none had yet been given … so much for the mutiny.
The star of the latest video is former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, currently in a Tbilisi jail awaiting trial on a number of unrelated alleged abuses of power. Also featured are Zurab Adeishvili, who was – believe it or not – the JUSTICE MINISTER of the time, and Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, another awaiting trial, whose relevance to the action is unclear as Mukhrovani is not part of Tbilisim or his job description.
To begin with, a coterie of politicians and militia commanders’ people, are talking about how many bodies would be necessary for this operation, and suggest making two lines of ten people and checking that area very carefully. When Merabishvili, implicated in a number of violent crackdowns on demonstrators, arrives he is soon heard saying: “I want two men; I need two dead bodies. Bring two corpses for me! The reward for this is high.”
He then asks how many helicopters are available and demands that an extra one be utilised to search for these bodies. He therefore suggests that they might be found in the direction of Telavi, a regional town in the Eastern part of the country. As no deaths had been reported at the base or anywhere else, and the troops at the base had been disarmed, any bodies could only have been put there by the people who knew where to look for them.
The reader might well ask: what does any of this have to do with putting down any mutiny? Is this behaviour much more characteristic of a PR stunt – one in which people are going to be killed to serve the purposes of their government? Find the full uploaded version but without subtitle in English, as above. This second version shows all the players, and especially Saakashvili, the former Georgian president.
One corpse was delivered to Merabishvili – that of General Gia Krialashvili. He was fleeing in the same van as Otanadze and Amiridze, the ones sentenced to the long prison sentences for alledged piloting. Those two survived the deadly assault on all three of them, conducted by armed police when they allegedly refused to stop and be questioned. This is a new departure in traffic control.
Krialashvili’s sister maintains that Otanadze’s was the other corpse Merabishvili wanted. She has long experience of all those concerned and no political axe to grind. Nor can Colonel Otanadze do her any favours. However, having been released as a political prisoner, he is now appearing on TV openly talking about the case, no holds barred.
Givi Targamadze, a leading figure in Saakashvili’s party who was also implicated in the video, sees nothing wrong with what is depicted in it. After admitting he was there, he lamely told the press that certain generals who had served under previous de facto president Eduard Shevardnadze had always served Russia’s interests and plotted against the Georgian government.
Saakashvili was Commander-in-Chief of the Army, ultimately responsible for hiring and firing the staff, and he had succession of Defence Ministers. All these people had a statutory obligation to know what was going on in the Army. If these allegations are true, who was responsible for these generals still being there?
Targamadze’s interpretation of Merabishvili needing two corpses is that if the “rebels” continued to defy him and use weapons he would be justified in shooting them. Apparently he knew there would be exactly two rebels, therefore. He has also said that Otanadze was killed, confirming that he was intended to be the second corpse – IF he continued to defy them, IF he used weapons – a man targeted for liquidation while the liquidators are admitting that he hasn’t yet committed the acts which would justify this liquidation.
At the time these events took place the US Envoy in the South Caucasus, based in Georgia, was a certain Matthew Bryza – so much of a diplomat that before joining the State Department he had been directly employed by the Bush White House. Though it is no longer within his area of responsibility, something has compelled him to comment on this video. At a recent press conference he said, “Was it an anti-terrorist operation? In this case, it is acceptable to use the phrase “I need corpses”.
As Bryza very well knows, the only occupants of the Mukhrovani base are a tank battalion of the Georgian Army. This has been trained, equipped and funded by the US for many years, US train and equip programme, even though ministers have successively creamed off a sizeable chunk of the supply contracts. It is nice to hear Bryza, representing the US State Department, finally acknowledging that the US funds, trains and arms terrorists.
He did say that an investigation should be launched into the case. However he is unlikely to recommend that it includes why he believes it is appropriate to liquidate possible terrorists, without knowing if they actually are terrorists, who they are or what they might have done, and how this is consistent with the US Constitution and he oath that he took.
Why does this matter?
When the US decides it wants to change the government of countries it has influence in, even ostensibly democratic ones, it manufactures that government’s removal and then steadily vilifies it – even though, in most cases, the US has supported that government at various levels, and even installed it to begin with.
Georgia has had four presidents since it gained independence. The first, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, kept reminding the US that the Soviet Union really was all the things the West had long claimed it was, not the decent strategic ally it was suddenly pretending it to be. So he had to go, and be demonised ever since for allegedly doing all the things his successors have openly done without anyone uttering a single word.
The second, Shevardnadze, was the favourite son of the West because he was the arch-manipulator, he played the game. A safe pair of hands when corruption is the only language you know. Despite not having a single friend in Georgia, he was allowed to bring back the former Communists – the alleged enemies of the West – and run the country as a web of kickbacks in which all were beholden unto him.
Finally his abuses because too blatant and the US suddenly discovered the fraud and corruption they had seen and supported daily for twelve years. Now he too is demonised for what he was put there to do, because the US transferred its favour to Mikheil Saakashvili, a former Young Communist League chair untainted by Soviet servitude simply because he wasn’t old enough to have been part of the inner circle then.
This Western-educated (for a few weeks) lawyer (through the post) was the “leading reformer”, the reflector of the huge “beacon of democracy” his Georgia was trumpeted as. His actions, and those of his government, were supposed to set the standard for democratic nations everywhere. Sorry Uncle Sam, you won’t get away with it this time. Defend him or vilify him, it makes no difference. He’s still only a kid, in geopolitical terms. So who do you blame but the parents?
Remember that he [Merabishvili and Saakashvili] are just figure heads and symbols, that even with ‘Big Brother’s support’…bad deeds can come back to haunt you. If we cannot put any fear of consequences into them, then they will never ease off, and it can become worse.
They all must be hunted down and get the maximum punishment, and then that get maximum publicity.
The latest video, featuring a former minister whose trial on other charges is rapidly approaching, is the latest of the vast heap of evidence of what “democracy” is perceived to be by those who claim it is their highest value. This is the vast majority of countries, containing the vast majority of the world’s population.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.