[Marxism] Georgia on Their Mind

Tony Abdo gojack10 at hotmail.com
Mon Apr 5 12:59:04 MDT 2004

Georgia on their mind
John Laughland in Batumi
Thursday April 1, 2004
The Guardian

In 1918, when Lord Balfour was foreign secretary, he said: "The only thing 
which interests me in the Caucasus is the railway line which delivers oil 
from Baku to Batumi. The natives can cut each other to pieces for all I 
care." Little has changed in world geopolitics since the end of the first 
world war, when the Black Sea port of Batumi in Georgia was briefly under 
British rule. Although an oil pipeline from Baku to the Mediterranean port 
of Ceyhan in Turkey is planned, it will take years to complete. When it is 
built, it will deliver oil exclusively to the American market, but for the 
time being Caspian oil still trundles across the Caucasus to Batumi in 
This is why, in Sunday's partial rerun of last November's parliamentary 
elections, the world's media concentrated exclusively on the prickly 
relations between the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and the autonomous region 
of Adjara, of which Batumi is the capital. This is in spite of the fact that 
Adjara, unlike Abkhazia and South Ossetia, has never declared independence 
from Georgia. The standard-issue media fairy-tale pits a democratically 
elected Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili - who overthrew his 
predecessor Edward Shevardnadze in a US-backed coup last November - opposing 
an authoritarian regional leader in Adjara, Aslan Abashidze.

This is not how the Georgians see things. In an interview with a Dutch 
magazine, Sandra Roelofs, the Dutch wife of the new Georgian president and 
hence the new first lady of Georgia, explained that her husband aspires to 
follow in the long tradition of strong Georgian leaders "like Stalin and 
Beria". Saakashvili started his march on Tbilisi last November with a rally 
in front of the statue of Stalin in his birthplace, Gori. Unfazed, the 
western media continue to chatter about Saakashvili's democratic 
credentials, even though his seizure of power was consolidated with more 
than 95% of the vote in a poll in January, and even though he said last week 
that he did not see the point of having any opposition deputies in the 
national parliament.

In Sunday's vote - for which final results are mysteriously still 
unavailable - the government appears to have won nearly every seat. Georgia 
is now effectively a one-party state, and Saakashvili has even adopted his 
party flag as the national flag.

New world order enthusiasts have praised the nightly displays on Georgian 
television of people being arrested and bundled off to prison in handcuffs. 
The politics of envy and fear combine in an echo of 1930s Moscow, as 
Saakashvili's anti-corruption campaign, egged on by the west, allows the 
biggest gangsters in this gangster state to eliminate their rivals.

History is repeating itself: it was on the back of an anti-corruption 
campaign that Shevardnadze became first secretary of the Communist party in 
Georgia in 1972. Following his stint as foreign minister of the Soviet Union 
under Gorbachev, he returned to his former fiefdom, which he ran as a brutal 
dictator from 1992 to 2003. He was as assiduously lauded by the west then as 
his protege and successor is now.

And as for the operetta "revolution" staged against Shevardnadze's regime 
last November, it has allowed a changing of the guard within an unchanged 
power structure. Not only was Saakashvili minister of justice under 
Shevardnadze, but the thuggish Zurab Zhvania, the prime minister, had the 
same job under Shevardnadze, during which the worst abuses of power (now 
denounced) occurred. The head of national security is the same, and all the 
members of the former president's party have converted to the new 
president's party. Shevardnadze's old party has disappeared.

That November's "revolution of roses" was stage-managed by the Americans has 
been admitted even by the new president himself, who has said that his coup 
could not have succeeded without US help. Abashidze also confirmed it on 
Saturday in Batumi, when he said that his discussions with the American 
ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, had convinced him that nothing can 
happen in the country without a green light from Washington. Georgia, 
Russia's backyard, and the country used as a base by the Chechens, is now as 
thoroughly controlled by the US as Panama - and for much the same reasons. 
As in Central America, economic devastation has been the handmaiden of 
political control, reducing what was previously the richest Soviet republic 
to a miserable, pre-industrial subsistence.

As we know from Tony Blair's visit to Libya, the west is happy to make 
alliances with dictatorships if strategic interests dictate. Georgia 
certainly qualifies on that score. And events in the Caucasus are connected 
to events in Iraq. Because of the intensity of Iraqi resistance to US and 
British occupation, oil is not flowing from there as freely as had been 
hoped. Hence the imperative quickly to secure other sources of cheap fuel 
for America's gas-guzzlers. In Libya as in Georgia, western support for 
dictators, in the name of strategy, may be the oldest trick in the book. But 
it is also the most short-sighted.

· John Laughland is a trustee of the British Helsinki Human Rights Group

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