[Marxism] Georgia revolt carried mark of Soros (Toronto Globe & Mail)

Richard Fidler rfidler at cyberus.ca
Wed Nov 26 06:58:37 MST 2003


Georgia revolt carried mark of Soros

By MARK MacKINNON
>From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

UPDATED AT 2:03 AM EST  Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2003

Tbilisi - It was back in February that billionaire financier George
Soros began laying the brickwork for the toppling of Georgian President
Eduard Shevardnadze.

That month, funds from his Open Society Institute sent a 31-year-old
Tbilisi activist named Giga Bokeria to Serbia to meet with members of
the Otpor (Resistance) movement and learn how they used street
demonstrations to topple dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Then, in the
summer, Mr. Soros's foundation paid for a return trip to Georgia by
Otpor activists, who ran three-day courses teaching more than 1,000
students how to stage a peaceful revolution.

Last weekend, the Liberty Institute that Mr. Bokeria helped found was
instrumental in organizing the street protests that eventually forced
Mr. Shevardnadze to sign his resignation papers. Mr. Bokeria says it was
in Belgrade that he learned the value of seizing and holding the moral
high ground, and how to make use of public pressure - tactics that
proved so persuasive on the streets of Tbilisi after this month's
tainted parliamentary election.

In Tbilisi, the Otpor link is seen as just one of several instances in
which Mr. Soros gave the anti-Shevardnadze movement a considerable
nudge: He also funded a popular opposition television station that was
crucial in mobilizing support for this week's "velvet revolution," and
he reportedly gave financial support to a youth group that led the
street protests.

He also has a warm relationship with Mr. Shevardnadze's chief opponent,
Mikhail Saakashvili, a New York-educated lawyer who is expected to win
the presidency in an election scheduled for Jan. 4. Last year, Mr. Soros
personally presented Mr. Saakashvili with the foundation's Open Society
Award.

"It's generally accepted public opinion here that Mr. Soros is the
person who planned Shevardnadze's overthrow," said Zaza Gachechiladze,
editor-in-chief of The Georgian Messenger, an English-language daily
based in the capital.

In the eyes of Mr. Soros's employees, it was all done in the name of
building democracy. Laura Silber, a senior policy adviser at Open
Society, said the foundation sponsored the exchange because "some of the
experiences are very translatable" between Georgia and Serbia. In
Georgia's current political climate, she said, "it looks more charged
than it is."

That's not how Mr. Shevardnadze saw it, however.

"George Soros is set against the President of Georgia," he said during a
news conference in Tbilisi a week before his resignation - it was at
least the third time during the protests that he had complained about
Mr. Soros. He threatened to shut down Open Society's Georgia offices,
saying it was not Mr. Soros's business "to get involved in the political
processes."

Mr. Bokeria, whose Liberty Institute received money from both Open
Society and the U.S. government-backed Eurasia Institute, says three
other organizations played key roles in Mr. Shevardnadze's downfall: Mr.
Saakashvili's National Movement party, the Rustavi-2 television station
and Kmara! (Georgian for Enough!), a youth group that declared war on
Mr. Shevardnadze last April and began a poster and graffiti campaign
attacking government corruption.

All three have ties to Mr. Soros. According to Georgian press reports,
Kmara received a $500,000 (U.S.) start-up grant in April, some of which
may have been used during the three weeks of street protests when it
bused demonstrators in from the countryside and set up loudspeakers and
a giant television screen amid the crowds surrounding the parliament
building.

Rustavi-2 got start-up money from Mr. Soros when it launched in 1995 and
more funding a year ago when it began the anti-Shevardnadze newspaper 24
Hours.

Observers say that Rustavi-2's role during the protests is hard to
overestimate. The channel began its campaign years ago when it produced
a popular cartoon called Our Yard, in which the animated president was
portrayed as a crooked double-dealer.

The government twice tried to shut down the station after its reporters
exposed corruption in various government ministries and Mr.
Shevardnadze's inner circle. And it was Rustavi-2 that showed the
Georgian people how flawed the Nov. 2 parliamentary election was,
broadcasting exit polls conducted by American non-governmental
organizations that contradicted the official results. During the
protests that followed, it was the channel everyone watched for the
latest news.

"They were a tribune," Mr. Bokeria said. "People knew where to get real
information. They were informed about the details of the election, when
to go into the streets, where and how."

Meanwhile, Mr. Saakashvili, the man expected to replace Mr.
Shevardnadze, has a relationship with Mr. Soros that dates back to late
2000, when the financier paid the first of several visits to Tbilisi.

Mr. Soros arrived in the country then at Mr. Shevardnadze's invitation -
the two have known each other since the 1980s, when the Georgian was
Soviet foreign minister - to set up Open Society Georgia, with the
stated aim of building democratic institutions and civil society. On
that same trip, however, he met with Mr. Saakashvili and publicly
praised a program the then-justice-minister was promoting to tackle the
country's corruption problem.

Less than a year later, Mr. Saakashvili quit his post over Mr.
Shevardnadze's slow progress in implementing the program and went into
opposition. After his departure, Mr. Soros's relationship with Mr.
Shevardnadze began to sour.

In mid-2002, Mr. Shevardnadze made his first of many complaints about
Mr. Soros's political interference in the country, and shortly
afterward, more than a dozen young people stormed the offices of Mr.
Bokeria's Liberty Institute, smashing computers and beating up several
members of the staff. Mr. Soros responded by suggesting during a news
conference in Moscow that Mr. Shevardnadze's government could not be
trusted to hold a proper parliamentary election in 2003.

"It is necessary to mobilize civil society in order to assure free and
fair elections because there are many forces that are determined to
falsify or to prevent the elections being free and fair," Mr. Soros
said. "This is what we did in Slovakia at the time of [Vladimir] Meciar,
in Croatia at the time of [Franjo] Tudjman and in Yugoslavia at the time
of Milosevic."

Mr. Soros's money and seeming good intentions were initially welcomed in
former Soviet states when Open Society moved in after the fall of the
Iron Curtain, but some of those relationships have since broken down.
Ukraine and Belarus expelled Open Society, accusing the organization of
political interference, and the foundation's offices in Moscow were
raided recently by masked gunmen over an apparent real-estate dispute.

Mr. Soros, whose large-scale currency market interventions have been
blamed by some for the 1997 currency crisis in Southeast Asia, has said
that his next goal is making sure U.S. President George W. Bush does not
win re-election.


http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20031126.wxsoros1126/
BNStory/Front/






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