[Marxism] Background on overthrow of Shevardnadze

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 24 07:16:23 MST 2003

Richard Fidler wrote:
> Washington's reaction was swift. Within weeks, U.S. President George W.
> Bush had sent senior adviser Stephen Mann to Tbilisi with a warning:
> "Georgia should not do anything that undercuts the powerful promise of
> an East-West energy corridor," he said.

This would go a long way in explaining George Soros's role in Georgia.

 From the Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Burdzhanadze, the 50-year-old chairman of the outgoing parliament, 
broke with Mr. Shevardnadze in August over his handling of the departure 
from Georgia of U.S.-based AES Corp. The energy giant sold its 
operations in the country to a Russian state energy company at a 
substantial loss. The third is Zurab Zhvania, a former ecology activist 
and coordinator of Mr. Shevardnadze's mid-1990s reform team.

Western Support

The three politicians are backed by a raft of nongovernmental 
organizations that have sprung up since the fall of the Soviet Union. 
Many of the NGOs have been supported by American and other Western 
foundations, spawning a class of young, English-speaking intellectuals 
hungry for pro-Western reforms.

Chief among these is the Liberty Institute, which has received funds 
from the U.S. government and financier George Soros. It became the 
organizing juggernaut behind the move to push Mr. Shevardnadze out of 
office. How the institute's 30-year-old director, Levan Ramishvili, and 
its 31-year-old co-founder, Giga Bokeria, went from Shevardnadze fans to 
his biggest opponents is the story of the forces behind the revolution 
that took place over the weekend. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union's 
collapse back in 1992, Mr. Shevardnadze returned to his Georgian 
homeland promising a new beginning. Compared with the paramilitary 
groups and anarchy that plagued his country's first year of 
independence, his Soviet record didn't look bad. He had protected 
Georgia's culture and language from Russification, and Georgians were 
impressed by the plaudits he won from the West for his peaceful handling 
of the Soviet break-up along with former Soviet leader Mikhail 
Gorbachev. Messrs.

Ramishvili and Bokaria, who were working as part-time journalists while 
they finished their studies, initially supported Mr. Shevardnadze's 
efforts to bring back law and order. "There was this feeling that 
Shevardnadze might not be a big democrat, but he was in touch with the 
world, he would play according to the new rules of the game," said Mr. 
Ramishvili. "We thought he would build state institutions, a democratic 
and prosperous Georgia." U.S. officials also vaulted Mr. Shevardnadze, 
whom they viewed as one of the few progressive officials in the former 
Soviet regime, into the role of standard bearer for what they hoped 
would be a gradual migration of the former republics out of the sphere 
of Russian influence and into a more-Western orbit. In Georgia, though, 
Shevardnadze supporters such as Messrs. Ramishvili and Bokeria were 
becoming disenchanted as Mr. Shevardnadze gave up on trying to put down 
a Russian-backed secession movement in the northwest of the country and 
slowly moved Georgia back toward Moscow.

In 1996, Mr. Bokeria and Mr. Ramishvili were hired by a new independent 
television station called Rustavi 2. After it attacked a Shevardnadze 
minister, the government closed the station down. So the two men founded 
the Liberty Institute, initially to organize the station's defense. But 
by the time they won that battle with a court ruling in 1997, they 
decided to stick with the NGO. Fueled by grants from the U.S. Agency for 
International Development-backed Eurasia Foundation, George Soros's Open 
Society Institute, and others, the Liberty Institute did much of the 
backroom work on Mr. Saakashvili's radical legal reforms. The U.S. 
Embassy also helped behind the scenes, bringing in exam papers prepared 
by the American Bar Association to provide the basis of tests for 
Georgia's judges. Almost 90% of Soviet-era judges failed the exam, 
allowing the government to fire them. But even as reforms emerged, Mr. 
Shevardnadze began to change course. In 1998, he sustained the double 
blow of an assassination attempt that narrowly missed him and the 
economic collapse in Russia, Georgia's main trading partner. Although 
never accused of personal corruption, he became closer to his family and 
friends who had grown rich on their relationship with him.

"The main problem was that Shevardnadze could never rely on an army or a 
state, but only by balancing power among members of his team," Vakhtang 
Abashidze, a former Shevardnadze aide and chairman of the Georgian 
National Communications Commission. As the reformers distanced 
themselves from him, Mr. Shevardnadze became reliant on a corrupt 
clique. "Shevardnadze supported building up the NGOs. But as soon as 
they voiced some dissent, for Shevardnadze they became an opposition 
force," said Mr. Abashidze. Fighting Back Mr. Shevardnadze began to 
fight back. In 2001, he again tried to close down the Rustavi 2 
television, which had gone back on the air and was repeatedly accusing 
people close to him of corruption. The Liberty Institute and others 
responded with a mobilization of student demonstrations that forced him 
to leave the country's most popular TV station on air. Local elections 
in 2002 should have sent a clear message to Mr. Shevardnadze. 
Pro-government parties lost heavily, and Mr. Saakashvili swept to power 
at City Hall in the capital of Tbilisi, putting his office a few hundred 
yards down the hill from Mr. Shevardnadze's chancery.

The Liberty Institute came under more pressure. In July of that year, 15 
unknown men charged into their offices in a converted apartment, threw a 
computer at Mr. Ramishvili and beat him up. But international support 
for the Liberty Institute -- including a personal visit from the German 
ambassador -- shamed Mr. Shevardnadze into sending a state minister to 
pay a visit to the premises. The two sides agreed to work on three 
things: civilian oversight of police, decentralization of schools and 
above all work on new voter lists ahead of the November 2003 
parliamentary elections. "There was delay after delay. It was just 
lip-service. We withdrew from the talks in February 2003," Mr. Bokeria 
said. Mr. Bokeria did more than that -- with Mr. Ramishvili, he started 
planning the revolution. In late February, he took a Soros 
Foundation-funded tour of Serbia to see how the Otpor, or "Resistance," 
student opposition had ousted President Slobodan Milosevic in 11 days 
after he annulled the presidential election in 2000. "The biggest lesson 
I learned was that it was key to create absolute moral superiority, 
everywhere, including among the police," Mr. Bokeria said last week, as 
the protests built up steam. During the summer, Otpor activists visited 
Georgia, running three-day summer courses that trained 1,000 student 
activists from all over the country in revolutionary techniques using 
humor and peaceful subversion.

The students, fed up above all with corruption in their society and 
universities, organized under the slogan "Kmara!" or "Enough!" The 
fraudulent elections provided a greater catalyst for popular outrage 
than the Liberty Institute and Kmara expected. That was largely because 
of U.S.- and NGO-funded exit polls broadcast on Rustavi 2 TV, which 
showed everyone exactly how pro-Shevardnadze parties had stolen the 
election. Using the Liberty Institute's computer room as one of their 
main action bases, and backed with a steady barrage of advertising slots 
from Rustavi 2 television, Kmara's 5,000 students became the foot 
soldiers of the opposition politicians. In the last push into the 
parliament on Saturday, they flanked Mr. Saakashvili as he led the way 
in, holding a bunch of roses. "We did it! There was a huge number of 
people, nobody could stop it," Mr. Ramishvili said Sunday, watching the 
new interim government spell out its program on TV. He hoped it would 
really set about radical reforms, but worried that there might be 
clashes with the three regions of Georgia that remain virtually outside 
central control. "What makes me so happy is that it ended so peacefully. 
It's a good precedent for our future."


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