Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has responded to renewed claims of “political persecution” in Georgia by calling the Swedish and Lithuanian Foreign Ministers members of Saakashvili’s club. Previously he and his government have accused Saakashvili’s foreign lobbyists of being naïve and misguided rather than partisan for the sake of it, so this represents a new development in the ongoing saga of Georgia’s international relations and reputation.
Sweden’s Carl Bildt responded to Gharibashvili’s statement by saying: “If the Georgian Prime Minister does not want to listen to the best friends of his country in the EU that’s his choice. We take note.” As Bildt holds no EU office, he cannot mean the EU when he says “we”.
Rather, he is referring to a select club, which also contains a few Americans, the minions of John McCain, whose sole purpose is to prevent justice from being done. All these politicians take oaths of office which oblige them to do the contrary, but these are being conveniently forgotten to help one man get away with abusing his people for nine years.
But much more is involved here than just closing ranks for friends. These so-called “friends of Georgia” are trying to blackmail the country into remaining an embodiment of endemic and unpunished government criminality. This is more akin to “political persecution” than anything allegedly being done in Georgia today, and all the more disturbing because the Saakashvili apologists are linked in ways they have meticulously tried to hide.
What they are trying to achieve
The opposing camps are conducting a war of words. Recent media exchanges and Twitter posts are turning the dispute into an international talking point. This can only benefit one camp – Saakashvili’s. The more distinguished people defend him, the more reasonable doubt is created and the more difficult it is to find a jury whose opinions haven’t already been formed by these debates.
The aim of the Bildt camp is to undermine due process, provide a smokescreen of subterfuge, rather than convince the millions who lived under Saakashvili that their experience must have been a mirage, because foreign dignitaries say so. If their man can’t get a fair trial he must be declared innocent, but that does not mean he did not commit the crimes which happened on his watch, which only he and his government had the levers to commit.
It is sad to see the sort of people who are getting involved in perverting the course of justice. There is a tug-of-war going on between the Republican (IRI) and Democratic (NDI) Institutes, led by John McCain and Lincoln Mitchell, a Columbia University lecturer, respectively. Together these two bodies form the NED, the National Endowment for Democracy, the overseas programme of the CIA/USAID which is very visible in Tbilisi, its logo being on most signs you see in English and funds many hire gun NGOs and websites.
This isn’t a dispute between unconnected foreigners but the joint donors of significant funds for significant projects. Much more is involved and Georgia is where American political infighting is being played out too. With Georgia’s budget still based largely on aid, it is easy to see the consequences of the NED tearing itself apart, and which side has a vested interest in destroying the Georgia which has turned its back on Saakashvili’s terror by destroying its aid mechanism that meddles in Georgia’s domestic affairs.
What they are happy with
Whatever weasel words are used, senior members of the former Georgian government were involved in abominable criminal acts: war crimes, torture and violations of human rights on a massive scale. Georgians knows this only too well, including Saakashvili’s own supporters. This is evident in the responses to all the charges being brought: the accused ministers simply say they are being persecuted for political reasons, offering no evidence concerning the actual allegations, each of which have been spelled out in detail by the Prosecutor’s Office on its website, giving ample opportunities for rebuttal.
Saakashvili’s government terrorised the Georgian people and used fear as a weapon against them. No-one dared do anything because they knew it would only result in one or more of several outcomes: beating, deprivation of property, incarceration, torture, even death. If they could not get at people directly they would have their family members harassed or arrested on bogus charges and then beaten or raped in custody. Male-on- male rape was frequently used as a tool of intimidation.
Only now is effort being made to lay bare all the allegations against the former president himself. Saakashvili was charged late last month with exceeding his official authority in connection with the “punitive” breakup of anti-government protests on November 7, 2007 and the “seizure” of Imedi TV and other properties belonging to the late tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili.
After Saakashvili failed to answer the official summons for questioning, the Georgian Court ordered his pre-trial detention in absentia on August 2. Additional charges, that he ordered the beating up of an opposition lawmaker in 2005, were filed against him on August 5.
These are the tip of the iceberg. When Bidzina Ivanishvili, the man from nowhere, decided that enough was enough and set up the Georgian Dream as a credible opposition force Saakashvili and his team set about trying to bankrupt him and levying hefty fines and/or confiscation of property on anyone they could remotely link to the opposition. They also tried to deprive Ivanishvili of Georgian citizenship to prevent him standing, and disrupted media outlets, such as Maestro TV and The Georgian Times, which might be sympathetic to his candidacy.
When the people could take no more and gave the Georgian Dream a landslide victory in the October 2012 Parliamentary Elections Saakashvili was obliged to work with a parliament elected to get rid of him. This period was called “cohabitation”, but was in fact anything but. At every turn, the President of Georgia did all he could to cause as much harm to the country as possible – either by direct action against the economy or via lobbyist articles in various publications, such as The Economist. Compare this with what Bill Clinton was impeached for, and the scale of these crimes becomes apparent.
Their European values
Chief among the UNM’s supporters is the European People’s Party (EPP), the centre-right pan-European grouping it is a member of. When former Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava was charged with corruption and various other offences the EPP rode to his rescue, calling this “an attempt from the current Georgian leadership to implement its agenda of political retribution against Georgia’s main opposition party.” Why it has any need to do this, with its comfortable majority and general public distaste for the UNM, has never been explained.
When Saakashvili himself was summoned for questioning the Vice President of the EPP, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski MEP, commented:
“The unjustified charges against former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in relation to his work in Ukraine in support of Ukraine’s new government, are a worrying continuation of actions taken against many senior members of the main opposition party, the UNM, an EPP member party.” He then had the gall to cite the recently signed EU-Georgia Association Agreement (AA), saying that it calls for respect for justice and the rule of law. However it is Saryusz-Wolski who is commenting on a case which is under investigation, seeking to prejudice its outcome, and imply that UNM members much automatically be innocent, or not subject to rule of law.
Their hidden link
Carl Bildt, Catherine Ashton, the EPP executive and Saakashvili’s other lobbyists all present themselves as members of different democratic institutions, whose comments are thus motivated by a concern for democracy. However they are also involved with an exclusive organisation, whose members are not democratically elected but are predictable enough.
The Institute for Information on the Crimes of Communism was founded in 2008. Its “honorable members”, who contribute to its publications and activities, include Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Estonia Mart Laar, former Ambassador and EU Commissioner Sandra Kalniete from Latvia, etcetera.
This seemingly high-minded institute is a member of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, an EU educational project which brings together government institutions and NGOs which conduct research, documentation, awareness raising and education about the crimes of totalitarian regimes. The elected President of the Platform is former Swedish MP Goran Lindblad, and its Executive includes Andreja Valič Zver (Study Centre for National Reconciliation, Slovenia), Siegfried Reiprich (Stiftung Sächsische Gedenkstätten, Germany), Paweł Ukielski (Warsaw Rising Museum, Poland), and Zsolt Szilágyi (Head of Cabinet of László Tökés, Vice-President of the European Parliament).
The secretariat of the Platform is hosted by the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. The managing director of both these bodies is Neela Winkelmann. Its Board of Trustees, elected in 2012, consists of Sandra Kalniete MEP, Vytautas Landsbergis MEP, Tunne Kelam MEP, Laszlo Tokes MEP and Milan Zver MEP.
Compare this list with that of the individuals, institutions and countries objecting to the prosecution of Saakashvili-era ministers for crimes which only they could have committed or ordered to be committed. Compare this list, too, with that of the countries Saakashvili has been received in since he left office: he refused to answer the summons for questioning because he was in Hungary, saying how well his European partners were treating him. The similarities are so striking as to draw parallels with two planes which merge together on the radar before one of them ends up being shot down.
All these individuals and their member organisations signed the Prague Declaration. More on this can be found here
Now Georgia is being told to “forget the past” and focus on the future by the same group of people. This is blatant hypocrisy. But maybe there is a very good reason for it.
The real past they want us to forget
The Institute for the Institute for Information on the Crimes of Communism is trying to gather information on those crimes. It will then construct the definitive resource of such crimes, as similar organisations always do. If you aren’t on the official database of Holocaust victims, you weren’t one. If you are not named as a Communist criminal on the list this organisation will produce, you can’t have been one of those either.
So what exactly did Saakashvili, and several members of this Institute, do when they were active members of the Young Communist League? Did those information and repression networks, whose existence led Westerners to believe Communism would never fall, suddenly disappear with the collapse of Communism? What connections do those in non-Communist countries have with financiers, businessmen, politicians and agents who propped up that system for so long?
Whatever the answers to these questions are, this Institute will try and make sure that we never know. Its members will never appear on any list. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that there are some crimes, committed by some people, they want the world to forget.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.