Most of the participants of this protest were not disgruntled residents of Tbilisi, which they would have been had it been a genuine protest. They were bused in from West Georgia, where former United National Movement (UNM) people still hold considerable power, either within the official structures or through the criminal networks which touch everyone’s life. Most Tbilisi residents did not join the protest because, whatever problems the present government is causing, they do not see Saakashvili’s UNM as the solution.
As Georgian Mamuka Areshidze, a noted local political scientist had predicted in an interview with the Georgian newspaper “Kviris Palitra” a few days earlier,
“The United National Movement, UNM will not be able to change the Georgian government by force and return to power. The former government has been discredited by its track record of human rights abuses and corruption. To achieve success and a change of government by bringing the people out in mass it would have to have influence and political resources, but apparently lacks both.”
But despite the lack of enthusiasm for the protest itself, it is not the end of the story. The protest was a trial run for the real coup attempt planned for later, and a justification of it. The UNM knows it cannot regain power through the people. So it will use the impression of popular discontent to destroy the state from within, with a few well-placed bullets. As always in Georgia, the people will be given no choice but to accept the situation, and this will be treated as consent.
The big day
So what actually happened on the 21st? A seemingly large crowd gathered in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square, where much larger ones had gathered in mass protest against Saakashvili. The official media photos of the gathering are interesting, as they appear to show the same people standing in several different places simultaneously, but even then the crowd was nowhere near as big as those which gathered several times to demand Saakashvili’s resignation, but failed to achieve it.
A few dozen people chanted “Misha! Misha!” for a few seconds in an attempt to get the crowd going, and a few dozen more politely applauded. Misha did indeed speak to the gathering on a screen, via video link as he is wanted on criminal charges in Georgia, but failed to rouse them to action. For the most part it looked like the participants would much rather be back home in their villages tending their crops and animals instead of being used like this.
Vakhtang Gomelauri, a current minister, had predicted “that nothing will happen, provided that the demonstration is held peacefully.” The nothing that happened must have exceeded his wildest dreams. A few people at the front waved red cards like a referee does in a soccer game when he sends a player off. The national anthem was played, people moved off somewhere, probably home, and that was the end of the live broadcast which was supposed to bring the public flocking.
While all this was going on a counter-protest against the rally was being held in front of the Public Broadcaster building. Signatures were being collected at the scene. The petition people were being asked to sign was in support of “the National Movement disappearing for good”. Doubtless we will be told this is another attack on democracy, although the banning of the Communist Party, without public consultation, during the last days of the Soviet Union was not so regarded for some strange reason.
The upshot of the protest was that the government remained in power and the protestors got back in their cross country minibuses, each way about 300 km, carrying four or five passengers at a load despite the fact the vans hold twenty people. By comparison, you never see those same minibuses travelling around Tbilisi with less than ten people on board. If anything, the protest was a show of defiance by those the UNM had threatened with retaliation if they did not agree to be bussed there, at least from the West of Georgia; it will be interesting to see what happens in West Georgia in the coming weeks-a last remaining stronghold of UNM support.
Who’s who and what’s what
I had written a warming up piece about this much touted protest a few days beforehand, which was posted on the morning of March 21, 2015.
What we witnessed was not a coup attempt but a logistics exercise. It was a dry run for the real attempt, used to determine how many people could be brought in, how many Tbilisi residents would take any notice and what support the international community would give to the protest. During Saakashvili’s rule various ambassadors in Georgia forgot their job description and publicly attacked peaceful anti-government protestors for exercising their democratic rights in the media, but that trick didn’t work this time.
One of the locals who attended the meeting described how “the government is working badly and that is why people went there”. This is a genuine concern in Georgia, so the attendance would have been much larger if someone else had organised the demonstration, but the UNM seems unable to capitalise on this concern.
Another genuine concern which drove some to attend was the UNM itself. In recent months there has been a disturbing trend of known and despised former UNM people being reappointed to their old jobs at the expense of supporters of the present government. Some have lost their jobs for no reason, others for their friends and postings on face book.
People do not like the fact that the government is allowing this to happen in certain regions. Their anti-government protest is even more an anti-UNM protest, but they turned out for the first available demonstration nevertheless. Various persons still in the government, both within the Georgian Dream Party and newly appointed member from the UNM in West Georgia, especially in the regional towns of Zugdidi, Poti and Batumi are willing to be both actual and economic hit men.
It is true that many in Georgia are angry at the Georgian Dream for now providing them better jobs and services. However, they fail to mention that they have better health care and pensions now than before.
Others went there for the political show, just to take in the sights of the day. This again is a Georgian tradition, borne out of a desire to be part of history and also to cover all bases by showing support for all sides. Given the repressive nature of most Georgian governments this is a wise course of action, but again does not demonstrate any genuine enthusiasm for the return of the UNM, only to be against whichever government is in office.
The international media did cover the story. That was a significant achievement. But that is exactly why the lack of enthusiasm will be ignored, and more will happen, to keep the story going. The UNM has no other card to play, but with wars being won and lost on CNN these days it may prove to have the ace in the hole.
The next step
Under usual circumstances UNM rallies will now fade away, just as opposition rallies faded away during the UNM’s rule when people didn’t trust the opposition to run the country any more than Saakashvili. But these are not usual circumstances. The problem is that the UNM came to power in the first place, and held onto it for so long, by choosing the most effective friends.
The UNM turned Georgia into the regional illegal arms and drugs transit hub, allowed the CIA to establish a terrorist training camp in Pankisi Gorge and did everything else it could to replace Georgia’s sovereignty with America’s criminality, which is linked to the black business of many in the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia (AMCHAM). What the US couldn’t get away with at home it did in Georgia. Saakashvili is still walking around today, for now, because he knows exactly what he did when in power, and how much of that the CIA doesn’t want anyone else to know.
When Saakashvili became too great an embarrassment the US turned its attention to Ukraine. Now things haven’t worked out in Ukraine. Poroshenko’s government is patently as corrupt as any other in Ukraine’s history and has not purged itself of the neo-fascist element the US inserted into the “struggle” for its military usefulness alone. It is now clear that Ukrainians are not rallying behind their government against the pro-Russian separatists, and therefore blindly accepting whatever the US wants to do there in exchange for military and financial support, include even larger IMF credit lines and cash payments to key individuals.
The US has to find another base in this strategically key region. Where better than the previous one, where it still has he criminal infrastructure it needs? Changing regimes must be America’s national sport, as it spends more on that than baseball according the Treasury Department’s own accounts. All it needs to do is pretend people are taking to the streets demanding the return of the UNM and it has all the justification it needs to do the same again.
Reading the script
Commentators who have plenty of genuine happenings to report, in this region and elsewhere, are again showing interest in Georgia as a result of this demonstration. See for example:
Georgians Hit by Fallout from trouble in Russia and Ukraine and Thousands in Georgia call for government to step down, AFP. There is one story most of the media has not picked up on however. While the demonstration was taking place the First Squadron of the 1/82 Cavalry Regiment of the Oregon National Guard entered Georgia. NATO has foreign management control over much of the National Guards in the US, state by state, which is exercised through a body called the Allied Command Transformation, ACT, of NATO Norfolk. This is the body which got a number of anti-NATO protestors arrested in Chicago before they had even assembled, on the basis of surveillance of their social media accounts.
Can the Oregon National Guard have any good reason to be in Georgia? Is any Georgian threatening the residents of Oregon? These are NATO troops by the back door. Georgia wants to join NATO and has long received official military assistance from the US. A bunch of irregular troops, which are nevertheless commanded by NATO, can only be in Georgia to support a force NATO happens to support but this does not mean the government of the country. For the reasons just mentioned, Saakashvili’s UNM is the only one in Georgia which fits the bill, as it has proved that it will follow US instructions regardless of what is in Georgia’s own interests.
A coup is going down in Georgia in the next few weeks or months, in defiance of its sovereignty and its people. As one former European Embassy employee shared, “I have some of the same information as you are suggesting. The question is when do you think they will put the plan in action? Some months ago rumors talked of October, but do you think they will start earlier?”
Adding, ironically, “It would be very interesting to have a glance at Victoria Nuland’s calendar! I am sure she has taken note of special occasions, obituaries, and a variety of disasters. My bet (10 dollars): May/June.”
Another trusted source, one who is insightful as to who is who, a long-term Tbilisi resident, shared an interesting footnote, as to a possible surprise visit by Nuland to Tbilisi prior to the protest.
“It was Sunday on March 15 when at Moda Moda “Je Suis Charlie” Tbilisi cafe brunch garden, the woman sitting next to us speaking with a 40-ish guy within earshot of us was looked just like Victoria Nuland. I don’t think it was a preposterous observation. The timing fits into all what we discussed. It is interesting that Nuland visited Athens 36 hours later, on her way to Slovenia. She went on also to Rome and also German Marshall Fund’s annual Brussels Forum.”
It is quite possible her private neocon agenda and connections brought her here first on the sly, quietly, to a town with no public recognition of her face whatsoever, not even familiar to most European NGO kids working here. The March 21st demonstration was a media event which prepared the ground. The only way to forestall it would be to erect another opposition figure who will let the US do whatever it wants, but the US itself has made that impossible, and now others will pay the price.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.