‘Georgian Dream’ Comes True

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

The presidential election in Georgia is not only significant for the Georgians, but also for its neighbors in Armenia and the entire region.

Georgian Dream is a political coalition put together by the Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili to unseat President Saakashvili and his United National party ruling for the last 10 years.

Mikheil Saakashvili came to power through the Rose Revolution, which ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze and set Georgia on a new political course. It was a time when political activists, funded and trained by the Soros Foundation, fomented political upheavals in the former Soviet republics with the avowed purpose of promoting democracy, but in fact, were reorienting the policies of those countries towards the West.

The following year, Ukraine was “democratized” through the Orange Revolution.

The US-trained Saakashvili placed his country in a path firmly heading towards the West and NATO and in the process, he antagonized his northern neighbor, Russia, to a point that in 2008, war broke out between the two and Georgia lost two regions — Abkhazia and South Ossetia — to Russia.

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That full decade of rule was marked by mixed results — the economy was developed, rule of law was established and corruption almost uprooted. But the campaign, which had started to bring democracy to the country, experimented with changes at the expense of harsh rules — excessive cases of detentions, torture and this time corruption by the new administration.

During the election campaign, Ivanishvili noted that tax collection mechanisms became very efficient only to be able to misappropriate the collected taxes.

Under Saakashvili, the Georgian government’s relations with Armenia were very unfriendly — if not outright hostile. This Georgia always voted against Armenia and with Azerbaijan at the UN, despite the fact they are the only Christian nations in this Islamic ocean. Saakashvili’s last hurrah was his speech at the UN last September, making unsavory remarks about Armenia’s joining the Customs Union with Russia. Saakashvili also conspired with Azerbaijan to isolate Armenia in all regional developments — oil and gas lines were routed through Georgia to deny Armenia access to those energy resources.

There were four main reasons that shaped the Georgian policy regarding Armenia:

• The Tbilisi government perceived Armenia as Russia’s vanguard in the region.

• Armenia, already blocked by two hostile neighbors — Turkey and Georgia — would not react to Tbilisi’s actions in order not to compromise a third border access with the world. Against all provocations by Tbilisi, Armenia soft-pedaled its Georgian policy

• The restive Armenian region in Javakhk would be agitating for autonomy, therefore Armenia had to be punished for Javakhk’s political aspirations and • Georgians have always been jealous of the Armenians who built their capital, Tbilisi, and handed it over to them on a silver platter.

Of course the 2008 war with Russia further complicated the relations between the two nations. But a revolution, which had started with roses, had begun to serve only thorns to the Georgian people, when Mr. Ivanishvili came into the picture.

Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream Coalition soundly defeated Saakashvili’s United National Movement Party last year, occupying a comfortable lead in the parliament with 85 seats. That began a year of French-style cohabitational politics, with a lame-duck president representing the opposition and a prime minister and the parliament representing the majority.

Although the West qualified the process as maturing democracy, the president and the prime minister exchanged openly-bitter barbs with each other until the October 27 presidential election, where Mr. Ivanishvili’s handpicked candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, won 67 percent of the votes against David Bakradze’s 20 percent, while Nino Burjanadze trailed in third place with 10 percent of the votes. She was a former Saakashvili ally who had turned against him during the 2008 war with Russia, openly advocating a policy of rapprochement with the Kremlin. Her 10-percent vote may also denote the measure of Russia’s popularity in Georgia.

Georgia’s constitution was changed to leave a ceremonial role for the president, except for being commander in chief of the armed forces, concentrating all executive powers in the hands of the prime minister, to be elected after Mr. Ivanishvili retires in 2014. The name of the next prime minister still remains a myster.

The new president is a colorless academic with scant experience in politics. He fits exactly Mr. Ivanishvili’s image of a leader. Indeed, the billionaire politician vowed to eliminate from Georgian politics the “superman” rulers, which Saakashvili tried to portray.

The NATO, PACE and EU representatives qualified the election as transparent and fair. They all found the elections moving Georgia towards a Euro-Atlantic sphere.

The leaders of the Georgian Dream Party plan to have a balanced policy; while moving towards European integration, they will try to mend fences with Moscow.

Western powers rushed to congratulate the victory of the new president. As of this writing, no message was issued by the Kremlin. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov wished that the new administration would have an improved relation with Moscow.

Armenia has become a hostage to the hostility and the rivalry between Moscow and Tbilisi. To measure the level of rancor and the grudge harbored by the Georgian president, it suffices to read about the exchange of insults between Mr. Saakashvili and Vahakn Chakhalian, an Armenian activist in the Javakhk region, jailed by the government for expressing autonomy aspirations for Javakhk Armenians.

During the presidential campaign, Saakashvili visited an Armenian Church in Akhalkalak, where he faced Chakhalian. The latter said, “You took four and a half years of my life.” Saakashvili called Chakhalian and a few others “bandits,” “separatists” and “criminals.” He boasted about having expelled the Russian military base from that Armenian-populated province (which was providing security and jobs to area Armenians) and he enforced the Georgian language to assimilate the young generation, while forbidding the importation of textbooks from Armenia.

Saakashvili’s policy was two-pronged: while assimilating the young generation of Armenians, he impoverished the province to force many Armenians to leave, which they did and he was able to quell the autonomy aspirations.

Mr. Ivanishvili thus far has made contradictory statements about Armenians in Georgia, since coming to power. But the majority of the Armenians voted for his candidate, perhaps out of spite toward Saakashvili’s policies, and also with the hope that some change could be brought in to improve the economy of the province.

If and when relations normalize between Moscow and Tbilisi, transit trade and movement of people and goods will be facilitated with the outside world.

As far as confiscated Armenian Churches in Georgia and the tacit discrimination against Armenians are concerned, only patience and non-violent resistance will help.

Georgian presidential election promises positive changes for the region, hopefully with some dividends also going to Armenia.