WHITHER GEORGIA'S SAAKASHVILI? A LOOK AT THE NEW KAVKAS CRISIS
The events in Georgia in the past week, have seemingly turned recent history on its head completely: Mikhail Saakashvili, the favorite leader of the State Department in the Kavkas region, and, indeed probably in the entire CIS, has with his heavy handed response to the demonstrations in the Georgian Capital Tbilisi, with the declaration of martial law, and, the banning of protests has almost completely undermined his carefully crafted image of the 'Rose Revolutionary' of 2003. Indeed, according to today's Financial Times, the Secretary-General of NATO, Mr. Jan de Hoop Scheffer, had decried what he characterizes as the Georgian leader's failure to maintain 'Euro-Atlantic' values (see:www.ft.com). This statement and the like by other European especially Central European members of NATO, are perhaps the reason why the Georgian leader tried to make amends for his behavior by announcing that he will call early elections, on the 5th of January. Thus complying with a key demand of the fragmented Georgian opposition.
As per the whys of the Georgian leader's behavior? That is perhaps to be explained by a variety of reasons: a) like all populists, Saakashvili's tenure in office has been not quite what he promised to his people, prior to his ousting his predecessor, id est, not very successful, particularly on the economic front; b) the period since his coming to power in December 2003, has seen a gradually tightening of the inner circle around the Georgian President, with many of his early collaborators, many with strong Western ties, falling by the wayside or directly into opposition; c) the siege mentality that the Georgian President has fostered, seemingly for domestic and international purposes, in his conflict with Moskva has resulted in an atmosphere, where even the most vociferous Georgian patriots, like the sacked and then jailed Defence Minister, are privy to being in the pay of Russia.
In short, like his two predecessors in office: Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze, Saakashvili started well, but it seems that as in the past, an atmosphere of paranoia and hostility towards Moskva appears to override everything else. Under the circumstances, it is to be hoped that unlike Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze, Saakashvili will turn back from the brink and regain his political sanity and moderation. Of course many in Moskva will state that the Georgian leader never had any to begin with. But, that I feel is too harsh a judgement just yet. However, if nothing else, this episode does reinforce the need for NATO to stay clear of involving itself further by adopting Georgia as a candidate member. Not at the very least until its conflicts with Moskva and its allies in the area or peacefully resolved.