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Analysis, book reviews and photography from Abkhazia and the wider Caucasus — updates when time permits

What to think of Saakashvili and his government?

Most independent observers will agree that President Mikheil Saakashvili and his government have their flaws. No one was happy with the November 2007 crackdown of opposition demonstrations, the attack on Imedi TV and its take-over by government-friendly owners, the unfair advantages enjoyed by government candidates in election campaigns and especially the lack of a pluriform, responsible media landscape. And most people put at least a certain amount of blame for the August 2008 war at Saakashvili’s feet. This slow but steady tarnishing of his image has been accompanied by an equally steady outflow of former allies into the opposition ranks.

But it is also generally felt that Saakashvili and his government have done a lot of good things for Georgia: reducing corruption, modernising its society and, perhaps most importantly, stimulating economic development throughout the country. It is also often pointed out that despite everything, Georgia’s opposition can express its grievances as loudly and as many times as its wants, and that Georgia is anyhow a lot freer than Russia, Armenia or Azerbaijan.

So the question arises: does Saakashvili’s government have the right intentions, despite its flaws, or is it essentially on the wrong track, despite its positive achievements?

A number of incidents from the last couple of months suggest that Saakashvili and his government are fundamentally misguided.

In January it surfaced that in July 2008, the Ministry of Defence-affiliated TV station Sakartvelo TV had run a documentary quoting Hitler:

It must be thoroughly understood that the lost land will never be won back by solemn prayers, nor by hopes in any League of Nations, but only by the force of arms

The choice to quote Hitler reflects a very poor sense of judgement, but as they say, mistakes happen. What is perhaps more worrying is the content of the quote itself, which betrays a deeper misguidedness.

Then on the 26th of January, Saakashvili himself evoked Nazi Germany and Hutu Rwanda, comparing Russia to the perpetrators of two genocides and Georgia to their Jewish and Tutsi victims. Not even by Georgia’s own sanctimonious account of the August 2008 war does this remotely make sense – Saakashvili’s statement can only be qualified as deeply immoral.

And now we have Imedi TV’s absurd fake Russian invasion news bulletin. As with Sakartvelo TV quoting Hitler, it thoroughly discredits the people responsible for its production. What is more troubling is that Saakashvili’s first reaction was that the fake story “maximally reflected reality”. Even if demonising Russia can be explained (though not excused) by misguided nationalism – it is unforgivable that the programme portrayed opposition politicians Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Noghaideli as Russian collaborators.

These are in a way ‘just’ a couple of incidents, but each of them is worrying, and taken together they show that there is a fundamental problem. Saakashvili’s greatest political example is probably Mustafa Kemal ‘Atatürk’, but he may be emulating him in more ways than one. Despite that man’s positive reputation for thoroughly modernising and emancipating Turkish society, his economic and especially his democratic and human rights track record was less than stellar.

Filed under: Georgia, Human Rights, Media, , , , , , , , , , ,

Not the latest peace proposal for the Nagorno Karabakh conflict

On the 15th of March, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov gave a press conference on the ongoing peace talks with Armenia over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Mammadyarov claimed that the latest draft proposal discussed by the parties proposed to resolve the conflict in two phases:

– The first phase would witness the withdrawal of all Armenian forces from all Azerbaijani districts (outside of Nagorno Karabakh itself) except for Kalbajar and part of Lachin, the restoration of communications, the organisation of a donor conference and the deployment of peacekeeping troops.

– The second phase would see all Azerbaijani refugees return to Nagorno Karabakh, followed by the determination of Nagorno Karabakh’s status within Azerbaijan.

Then on the 18th, Mammadyarov said in another press conference that Nagorno Karabakh’s status would not be determined in a referendum.

These proposals do not in fact look very realistic – in every way they give Azerbaijan what it wants, and Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh nothing what they want. It is unimaginable that Armenia would agree with anything even remotely similar – we have to conclude that Mammadyarov is misrepresenting the proposal being debated at the moment between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Filed under: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno Karabakh, Negotiations, , , , , ,

Georgian investigative journalist requests asylum in Switzerland

Three weeks ago, the Georgian investigative journalist Vakhtang Komakhidze requested asylum in Switzerland. Komakhidze worked for the Reportiori studio, which has been responsible for several government-critical documentaries. One documentary revealed that the attack on two buses in the village of Khurcha on the day of the 28 May 2008 parliamentary election had been staged by the government, which had itself accused Abkhazian forces. Another documentary questioned the official account of the death of Zurab Zhvania.

Komakhidze has said that he has come under severe government pressure following his visits to Tskhinval for a documentary about the August 2008 war. To the extend that they are true, the findings of Komakhidze and his colleagues are a disgrace for the Georgian authorities. But the fact is that in many neighbouring countries, they wouldn’t have been able to do their work in the first place, and this speaks in Georgia’s favour. That is what makes this recent development so very sad. It can only be hoped that he will be able to return, and in the meantime, that he is able to finish his documentary.

Filed under: Georgia, Human Rights, Media, Switzerland, , , , , , , ,

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