Tbilisi Demonstrations

I make a deliberate effort not to come off as the blasé New Yorker who’s seen it all, because I think that can be obnoxious if it’s overused, but with respect to these demonstrations, a lot of people are making a very big deal out of something that I consider almost an everyday, ordinary occurrence.

Protests and demonstrations happen all the time, all over the world. In New York we get rather a lot of them, and as a result they rarely make the news unless there’s some kind of specific incident.

For example, in New York we’ve had a history of issues with one particular group. Two years ago there was a relatively high-profile altercation with police, where a police officer assaulted a demonstrator and then lied about it, but the incident was caught on video and the cop ended up getting convicted of falsifying information on a criminal report. If you look in the news, or on the group’s Wikipedia page, you can find a long list of demonstrations that have blocked traffic and disrupted daily life for some people and ones that have led to mass arrests and legal battles. The group that I’m talking about is called Critical Mass, and yes – they are a worldwide bicycle advocacy group.

Yeah, you read that right. Bicycles. Not revolution, not regime change, not the Arab Spring – just a bunch of sweaty dudes in spandex shorts and camelbacks stirrin’ up some shit.

And then there was that one summer when there was a Free Palestine rally at Union Square like every day – or is that still going on? – and of course the 2004 RNC protests (also involving Critical Mass, btw) and these are only some of the ones that I’ve noticed, but google helps you find many, many more. There are rallies and protests and demonstrations all the time, is what I’m saying, and none of them are really all that important to my daily life.

And don’t let me forget about the Crown Heights riots. I lived a few miles away from Crown Heights at the time, and there was actually tangible tension in the air. I remember my parents worried that the violence would spread into our neighborhood – didn’t happen, fortunately for me, but those were some rough times to be living in New York, especially for the couple of days when people were actually looting and setting shit on fire and stuff. In a way, that situation grew out of a protest or a sense of outrage at how our leaders were handling issues that affected our community.

So Tbilisi… yeah. You have a few tens of people camped out on Kostava street, and that one demonstration in Freedom Square that gathered six or seven thousand people – and of course you have to wonder how many were there because of deep dissatisfaction with Georgia’s President and how many were just there out of boredom or curiosity. The Saburtalo guys managed to get into a fight with ridiculous plastic batons – and if you see the video of them “attacking” the police car it reminds me of nothing so much as that Georgian sword dance where the men strike at each other with lightning speed but every blow is deflected and nobody wins the battle or even gets hurt.

By which I mean it’s all for show. Protesters hitting an unmarked car with plastic toys. Police firing rubber bullets into the air and tear-gassing an empty street just to let everyone know that they have rubber bullets and tear-gas. People camping out on the street on a series of beautiful sunny spring days – one good rain would wash this whole ridiculous spectacle away.

I’ve seen more Georgian riot police at a rugby came against Canada than there were at either one of the demonstrations. The point is, nobody seems to be taking this very seriously – certainly not as seriously as we’d take a group with real influence and organization, like those hardcore bicycle rights activists – except of course for the sensationalist media whose job is to make EVERYTHING SEEM LIKE OH MY GOD WHAT A BIG DEAL HOLY FUCKING SHIT.

And of course the geniuses in the media want to draw the inevitable Arab Spring comparisons, as if a fraction of a percent of Tbilisi’s population showing up and milling around for a couple of hours in Freedom Square before going home to dinner is even remotely comparable to a series of mass, weeks-long nation-wide uprisings despite the threat of harsh military retaliation; as if Georgia’s President serving out his last term in an office to which he was freely, legally, constitutionally elected by the people is functionally equivalent to a military dictator who maintains power with the support of the army and the secret police by operating in a state of emergency in which freedom of speech and association are illegal.

Anyway, this is not the Arab Spring. Georgia is not going to have a revolution. The media isn’t necessarily quick to point this out, but the opposition in Georgia is splintered and the funniest thing about this protest for me is that the top eight opposition parties are refusing to participate. Yes – again, you read me right – the top *eight* aren’t even involved in this. Talk about a fraction of a faction.

So yes, traffic in Saburtalo is a little bit fucked (because there’s one major traffic circle that routs traffic for like half the city, and one of its arms is basically cut off) but other than that, this whole protest thing just doesn’t have any legs.

So yeah… no worries here. Of course, tomorrow is the supposed “Day of Rage” so we’ll see where that goes. I may eat my words, but I doubt it.

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37 Responses to Tbilisi Demonstrations

  1. Keith says:

    hmmm….

    Perhaps one of the reasons less people get involved in protests is not necessarily because they don’t agree w/ the message of the dissent but because they are afraid of incarceration and police brutality? This is how Saakhashvili has handled dissent in the past (see 2007 and 2009 for example)

    I am also somewhat critical of your stance on Critical Mass, which is an advocacy group who say “the roads are payed for by tax dollars and if that is the case they should be safe for all reasonable means of transportation, of which Bicycles are a large part.” I believe people in Critical Mass ride in large groups down major roadways (which is perfectly within the law, if roads are meant for us all, and not just drivers of cars) to draw awareness of the legality of riding bikes on the street, as lone bike riders are often harassed by ignorant drivers saying “get on the sidewalk!” or honking or trying to instil fear by driving too close etc.

    I have known someone who died because a truck driver wasn’t aware of his presence and broke a traffic law.

    Critical Mass, and all protest, are a viable means of changing our every day lives.

    And the fact that 10,000 Georgians (this is the stat I saw on BBC and other world reports not controlled by Saakhashvili) took to the streets this past weekend is very important, especially considering the history of Human Rights Violations when concerned w/ Saakhishvili’s track record on dissent.

    At the very least, to demean these people as “performers” dabbling in some tradition of Georgian protest, comes across to me as vapid support for the establishment…

    Did you take time to interview anyone on the street involved? Or do you only resort to mocking their efforts w/o any decent reportage? This is a poor excuse of an attempt at a balanced presentation of a political event.

    • panoptical says:

      More like a political non-event.

      Look, you’re clearly aligned with the opposition, which is a valid viewpoint in a free democratic society like the one from which I am writing now. That’s fine. However, my point in this article was not to express support for a political position; my point was that these protests do not pose a credible threat to Georgia’s stability or to public safety.

      Do grown men dueling in the streets with plastic sticks strike me as childish and ridiculous? Yes. Do I agree with any of the opposition’s claims? None that I know of – and the part about getting rid of all the foreigners who are “corrupting the Georgian language” in particular keenly reminds me of the uglier side of American right-wing politics. Does the fact that the opposition projected 100,000 protesters and got only “up to 10,000” as the BBC reports (or far less than 10,000 as Georgian-government-controlled media centers like Al-Jazeera and the New York Times and every other news source on the planet reported) make the opposition leaders seem histrionic, delusional, and out of touch with the Georgian people? Absolutely.

      So no, this isn’t “balanced presentation of a political event,” whatever that means… I’ll leave it up to opposition supporters like yourself to give it the “fair and balanced” Fox News treatment that, for example, Glenn Beck’s 9/12 rally got. What this is is an accurate portrayal of how the protests affect the daily lives of people living in Tbilisi (which is, almost not at all) and how the populace at large is perceiving and reacting to the protests (which is, one hundred percent derisively).

      And the reason I’m saying these things is that I’ve had numerous people inquire in public and in private about my safety during these events. The fact that the world news media is presenting the protests in Georgia in such a light as to cause people outside of Georgia to have concern for TLG volunteers or for the stability of the current regime means that the media is doing their job very badly – or rather, they’re doing their real job, which is to make lots of money by scaring the shit out of people over every little thing to win the attention span war, and they’re ignoring their journalistic responsibility to keep people informed of what is actually going on in the world.

      As a person who stands to gain nothing by having my friends and relatives panic over a demonstration that, again, is tiny and unimportant compared to what other world cities routinely go through, I am working to correct the false impression presented by the headline-grabbers of the world.

  2. Tamuna says:

    I understand the point made in the article about over the top hysteria that these demonstrations are causing. Still, I think it is important to keep in mind why alarm bells have been ringing during all these days. It could be worth repeating. Georgia is not the United States and Canada does not have its troops stationed 30 km away from DC ready to march on the capital in case “Obama’s violent regime raises an arm on the demonstrators”. This is Georgia. In Georgia demonstration organized by the so called radical opposition means several things because 1. Russia is an occupying force with military bases 30 km away from Tbilisi. 2. Opposition politicians and their friends on Kostava street are directly connected with Russian interests in Georgia. This could range from causing a bloodshed at a demonstration to rolling down the tanks from Akhalgori to “get rid of Osama Saakashvili (!).” 3. Three days after the demonstrations started Russian MFA issued an alarming statement condemning treatment of demonstrators in Georgia and generally the human rights situation (! Yes ridiculous). When Russian MFA does this, it basically means “don’t say we didn’t warn, if we decide to show up.” 4. There were increased troop movement and mobilizations by the administrative boundary line. 5. Some of the opposition leaders have openly said they would use any means available to get rid of the elected government in the country. There are much more threats and dangers in any potentially destabilizing incident in Georgia than in the United States.

    Luckily, the opposition did not manage to gather necessary amount of people to make any of this happen. The independence day celebrations are still to come. Meanwhile, have a look at this video from the demonstration cite. I had a good laugh.

  3. Gio says:

    It would be naive not to assume that some of the opposition groups are not Trojan horses of Russia. I only wish that the opposition would demonstrate for worthwhile causes, instead of demonstrating for nothing less than the overthrow of the government. What about overthrowing the government in elections, by winning popular support??

    • pasumonok says:

      that would be perfect except:
      1. u had 2 be sure that elections won’t be falsified
      2. u could choose from a list of plausible candidates
      unfortunately, neither option is available 2 us:-(

  4. geoskeptic says:

    even though it’s not 1992 people still remember and are afraid of this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_Civil_War

    opposition received substantial support (in form of weapons and ammunition) from the Russian base in Georgia during those days.

    and when former army top says he’d do anything to get rid of the regime.. and when he hints that “future of the country depends on the wise decisions of the army” then you actually have some reason … not to panic but at least to be alert and wary.

  5. Jeanne says:

    First off, I do not belong to the Georgian opposition, I am not a Georgian, but I know Georgians, and the sad fact is Georgia is not a free or democratic state, under ANY definition of those words. And the opposition is made up of several different parties and groups with widely divergent aims and political backgrounds, but they are all grouped together because they are all suffering from the repression of the Georgian state, as are Georgians with no political allegiance at all.

    • panoptical says:

      I’m sorry to let you down, but you are mistaken. Georgia is both free and democratic, and very much so, by commonly accepted standards of freedom and democracy as taught in political theory and comparative government classes. I don’t know what definitions you have heard, but I use the ones that I picked up while pursuing my degree in Political Science.

      • keith says:

        Is it free and democratic to be sent to jail for 25 days for participating in a peaceful protest?

        Your caustic dismissal of Jeanne’s opinion w/o any evidence is borderline demagoguery.

        Just do your own research people…

        There are countless stories, new and old,
        about how Misha has dealt w/ views opposing his own.

        Jeanne is absolutely correct about the fractured nature of the opposition groups… That is one of the major hurdles to them effecting any change and one of the reasons for the reduced turnout.

        All one has to do is read the news reports
        from a wide variety of sources to get a clearer picture
        of the demonstrations that is not dripping w/ the casual dismissal Neal has resorted to in these last few posts.

        Here is a true account of what actually happened today:

        ” Georgian riot police have forcibly dispersed several hundred opposition protesters from outside the parliament building in central Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

        The protesters, part of a larger group, had gathered in the early hours of Thursday demanding the resignation of Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president.

        Several thousand people had marched on parliament earlier, accusing Saakashvili of authoritarianism and vowing to stop a showpiece military parade to mark Georgia’s Independence Day.

        But only 300 remained outside the parliament in the early hours of Thursday when police moved in, using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse the group.

        Emergency workers were tending to several people with blood on their faces, according to a reported from the Reuters news agency who was at the scene.

        Shota Utiashvili, the Georgian interior ministry spokesman, said that at least 18 policemen had been injured in the operation to disperse.

        Nona Gaprindashvili, an opposition leader, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that dozens of demonstrators were arrested.”

        http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2011/05/2011525214035185227.html

        Why the heavy handed reaction to these 300 people if Misha thinks it is no big deal?

        http://geonews.110mb.com/index.php/2011/05/22/peaceful-protesters-arrested-and-beaten-across-georgia/

        This is not some laughable event
        as Neal seems to be trying to reduce it to.

        • --> says:

          So, 300 people need to impose their will over 1 million?

          Organizers declared their intention to hold their demonstrations UNTIL May 26th. They did not notify city government of their intention to extend demonstrations.

          On May 25th evening they’ve being being notified that they need to clear the street where next day parade needs to be held. They refused.

          They’ve being offered another place on 26th – they’ve refused.

          They’ve being offered to come back on 27th – they’ve refused.

          Organizers clearly declared that their intent is not to let government organize parade and provoke clashes. And when cleanup started leaders quickly run away killing a policeman.

          Could you tell the audience how Justice department in Western societies deals with individuals killing police officers on duty?

  6. Jeanne says:

    I kid you not: I also have a BA degree in Political Science.
    But I think it is completely unnecessary to possess such a degree in order to have an opinion on civil liberties and democracy.

    I am sure you can research it on the Internet. Georgian people in Georgia usually don’t publically discuss their politics, because they are afraid to.
    However Georgians abroad have told me about friends of theirs who were locked up for six months or more because of peacefully demonstrating. This is one example among many I could give.
    Also in Canada, Europe, etc Georgians can and do get political asylum, when they claim (not always truthfully of course) to be victims of human rights abuses and persecution for their political views in Georgia. The reason for this is that it recognized to be a large-scale problem in Georgia.
    Look it up, in any respected source of info on human rights, refugees, civil liberties, etc.

    • panoptical says:

      It’s not necessary to have a degree to have an opinion, but when you say things like “Georgia is not free or democratic by any definition” it makes it seem like you either don’t understand the terms you are using or you don’t understand the reality on the ground. Since you claim to understand the terms, I guess that you just have a very inaccurate view of what is actually happening here.

      For instance, did you know that there are currently anti-government protests going on in Georgia? They’ve been at it for five days and neither the military nor the secret police have been called in to crack down on these demonstrations. One of the marches passed by me today; I snapped some pictures from the diner where I’d just enjoyed a delicious lunch of Szechuan chicken. There wasn’t even a single police officer in sight.

      Now I know that last week riot police intervened when some protesters attacked a police car, but that incident doesn’t strike me as authoritarian so much as self-defense and ensuring public safety. Police arrest people who get rowdy. Sometimes police are overzealous and sometimes protesters are violent and then lie about it later. Sometimes both of those things happen. It happens in America all the damned time.

      Now one of the freedoms that we learn about in basic civics class, let alone at university, is the freedom to peaceably assemble. I have just witnessed Georgians exercising this freedom about twenty feet away from me. I don’t know where you are or who you are talking to, but I am actually here. Georgians have tons of freedoms and they exercise them whenever they damned well please – including anti-Saakashivili rants that I’ve heard, in public, on numerous occasions.

      So I don’t know why the internet doesn’t reflect reality – it’s certainly uncharacteristic because nobody ever lies on the internet – but I have trouble taking your claims seriously when I live in Tbilisi and actually enjoy much more liberty than I personally did in America, and see Georgians doing the same.

      • Gio says:

        Not to mention that in Georgia opposition politicians can openly call for an overthrow of the government. I am wondering how many countries with undeniable democratic credentials would allow such calls for a revolution.

      • --> says:

        Yaah, FlatEathers….

        I do not know how much you can understand from this video,
        http://police.ge/index.php?m=8&newsid=2503
        but a guy taped there says that he is ready to throw Molotov cocktails, burn cars and do all other stuff for good money (50 GEL) offered by other side.

        At the same here is states two 21 guys are arrested in Vegas when a women approached them in a casino and offered have threesome for $400. Both laughed and one asked what he can get for $1. They’ve spent 36 hours in county jail and are charged with misdemeanor soliciting prostitution. Here is the recording, of that talk show with a lawyer, starting from 3rd minute:
        http://vaca.bayradio.com/kgo_archives/m3u/21400.m3u

    • geoskeptic says:

      Jeanne: it’s not right to assert that Georgia is undoubtedly an un-free and un-democratic country with authoritarian rule and that this is beyond dispute.
      Despite all problems the country is ranked as a “hybrid regime” and “partly free” by international organizations. So all hope is not lost yet : )
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_in_the_World
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index

      Neal: Georgia actually has some major problems with freedom of media (there is actually not a single tv station that is not either pro-government or pro-opposition. journalists report about pressure from officials, the largest media organizations are controlled by government officials), judiciary system (judges being influenced and controlled by government officials), human rights generally (numerous reports submitted by various human rights organizations), police (frequent human rights violations against detainees or prisoners), election system (there has so far never been conducted elections without major violations and irregularities in Georgia!) and even freedom of speech (a relatively fresh US government report mentioning freedom of speech and press in this document: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/eur/154425.htm )

      http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/georgia
      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/07/world/europe/07georgia.html

      finally – last night’s footage from Rustaveli avenue.
      90% sure that these guys will not be punished. they might receive verbal warning or as it usually happens… transfered to another job in the shadows

      • panoptical says:

        I take your points, and I’m not saying that Georgia has no problems.

        Here’s what irks me. In Georgia you have a situation where protesters carried on for several days and the police only used force after being attacked. Then the protest’s permit expires and the police use force again to enforce what are actually very reasonable requirements regulating public gatherings. Yes, the police used excessive force, which pretty much always happens when police are called in to deal with protesters – it happens in America all the time, like I said, and see the Stanford Prison Experiment if you’re interested in some of the psychological issues surrounding why – but basically, what happened here in Georgia could have happened in any purportedly democratic country in the world (see the Critical Mass incidents, or for another example the Toronto G20 protests last year) and if the existence of police brutality completely negates a country’s claims to freedom and democracy, then the US (Rodney King, Sean Bell) is neither free nor democratic.

        But no, nobody’s on here ranting about how a country that now officially conducts assassinations without trials, fights wars with no congressional authorization, denies Constitutional habeas corpus rights and flouts international treaties on the treatment of prisoners, habitually arrests protesters, restricts demonstrations to Orwellian “free speech zones” miles away from the events being demonstrated against, allows national elections to be decided by unelected Supreme Court Justices in the face of widespread and well-documented irregularities, conducts warrantless searches and wiretaps, infiltrates political organizations in order to discredit them and disrupt their operations, openly supports the use of racial profiling and restricts citizens movements based on their religion and country of origin, and commits various other violations of human decency too numerous to list isn’t free or democratic.

        No, the US is a shining beacon of freedom and democracy for the world and everything I mentioned above is just a minor or momentary lapse; meanwhile Georgia is an authoritarian regime despite significant and obvious progress towards freedom and democracy over the last generation. Georgia has been getting more free and democratic even as the US gets less free and democratic, but people want to go out in the streets and shit all over Georgia and act like that progress is meaningless and demean the struggles of the people who are actually helping move human rights and democracy forward in this country rather than engaging in cheap publicity stunts aimed at nothing more than self-aggrandizement.

        I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t support efforts to make Georgia more free and more democratic, and I’m not saying we should ignore abuses and violations. I’m just annoyed by the opposition constantly acting as if Georgia’s flaws are an aberrant and intolerable affront to humanity rather than the growing pains of one of the most free and democratic post-Soviet states out there.

        • geoskeptic says:

          I’m not saying that the demonstration had right to continue. They should’ve disperced peacefully. So officials did what they had to do.
          The difference between USA and Georgia when police uses excessive force is that in Georgia police gets away with it. Nobody takes responsibility, no one is fired or trialed and those incidents go on and on because the perpetrators know that they will go unpunished.

          Opposition has the right to protest against anything, should it be regress or progress. Everyone has a right to be an idiot as long as they don’t break the law.
          What opposition should be doing is not urging saakashvili step down but pressing the government towards more democracy, more transparency, better election laws, free media, etc. So that during the next election campaign they have equal opportunities to prove to public exactly how they’re going to be better than Saakashvili’s government.

    • pasumonok says:

      Actually, Jeanne, I really liked your comment and I guess it helps viewing this situation from outside, cause some people still can’t see what you wrote, despite the fact that we’ve been dealing with the same actors for 10 years!
      This whole situation hurts me so much that I chose to escape and ignore it, I literally went away from Tbilisi. I can’ tell you how powerless I feel. Cause there’s no one who I support, on either sides. And at times like this, we, Georgians understand that behind all this facade–we really have no country.
      One of my friends described it as learned helplessness: the feeling of no control is overwhelming.

    • pasumonok says:

      just to make sure no one blames me that i am defending some political party interests, i really dislike opposition as well

  7. Jeanne says:

    Of course people lie on the net, like they do anywhere else. But some people, and some sources, such as Human Rights Watch, or Amnesty International, or OSCE, or the Council of Europe, are thought to be more trustworthy than others.
    So don’t rely on my friends’ experience. Do some research of your own, if you want to.

    • keith says:

      Don’t take offense Jeanne:

      Neal is employed by the Ministry of Education…

      He has a vested interest in seeing things as he does
      and not offering any evidence to his views
      other than his own superior opinion.

      This blog is a big source of information for the TLG vols in Georgia
      and there is no way Neal would keep his job
      if he was anything less than dismissal about these events.

      If you read the reports, he is basically aping Misha’s
      position on the protests as being much ado about nothing
      or a “masquerade.”

      Neal cannot be bothered to check the facts.
      Research is for Russian stooges…

      http://www.modbee.com/2011/05/25/1704366/police-disperse-protest-in-tbilisi.html

      Hell, let’s bring the French Ambassador into the conversation

      http://www.georgiatimes.info/en/news/53553.html

      As reported by GHN, Furnier underlined that he was shocked by the recent report delivered by NGO “Open Community – Georgia” describing the state of human rights in Georgia.

      “All the European Council’s efforts on rendering help to Georgia seem to be vain. There is absolutely no progress. What is left of the European values in Georgia – there is nothing left!” – the French diplomat stated.

      According to him, the active pressure of the Georgian authorities upon the media and public organizations causes nothing but indignation.

      “I think we are talking about a neo-bolshevist country. Europe will have to change its policy in respect of Georgia”, – Eric Furnier underlined.

      • Gio says:

        Yeah, maybe you should also mention in what context the French ambassador was whining, that is about Georgia not being as heavily regulated as his own country. Rather ludicrous to equate European values with having trade unions controlling labour markets. But you are not interested in presenting a fair picture of the state of democracy anyway, so why bother.
        And depicting Neil as paid government stooges is beyond the pale, maybe for a change your should ask yourself what would happen to opposition groups that openly call for an overthrow of the government, arm protestors with batons and incite violence in countries with undisputed democratic credentials.

      • geoskeptic says:

        I don’t think Neal is a georgian secret police agent or a CIA agent deployed in Georgia in order to support Saakashvili’s regime.

        And Neal is not the only one who needs to check his facts. The demonstration is actually one big masquerade. There are people who are sincerely bothered by unemployment, bad economy and unstable relations with Russia and they really want some change but most of the people seem to be there just because they hate “Misha” and want him to go.. without proposing what happens then and how they imagine solving the mounting problems.
        Opposition leaders are manipulative, populist, ignorant hypocrates who have no real plan whatsoever on what they’re going to do when (if) Saakashvili’s gone. They throw around populistic mottos, play on nationalistic and religious sentiments and succesfully control crowds of several thousand hungry citizens. Pluss people who really don’t have anything better to do and are enjoying the feeling that they’re “rebelling” against the tyrant.. playing tough guys and swinging around those sticks.

        A recording has been released by the government today where you can hear the opposition leader – Burjanadze discussing future plans with her son. They’re mentioning that they’ll have to shed some blood (a couple of hundred.. ) in order to get rid of Saakashvili as well as Russian troops helping them in case army is used against them.

        In other words – the case is a little bit more complicated than it seems.

  8. ggggg says:

    Comparig New York, or any other US state demonstration to Georgian demonstration is a bit difficult task. I’ve never heard that during any kind of demonstration inside USA there were also half of the Russian Federation troops at the borders of that state…(well except that comical situation when Georgia’s state’s citizens thought news was about their state). I know I’m saying something that Georgian government has been replying since 2008 to any kind of demonstration… but, that’s reality. And reality is that we should expect Russian forces to pull into other territories of Georgia or even in Tbilisi if they will have a strong reason. US and NATO gave them strong reason with Lybia’s example. Now, all they need is some gunfires and violation so they will “rescue” Georgian people from “tyranny of Saakashvili”. Also, have you heard about 9th April Tragedy? Was ever any of demonstrations in America dispersed by other country’s troops? …except maybe 18th century events.

    Any other serious threats?
    Any other reasons why demonstrations may be dangerous in US?

    Georgian defense system is still too fragile and the foreign threats are bigger than ever.

  9. Sture Stare says:

    Hi,
    yesterday I met a journalist from Lithuania who said that five persons are still missing from the demonstrations. Someone who knows anything about these missing persons?
    S.

  10. ana luna says:

    Two Bodies Found Near Site of Protests in Georgia

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/world/europe/29georgia.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y

    “MOSCOW — Georgia’s Interior Ministry reported the discovery of two bodies on a roof near the site of the past week’s antigovernment demonstrations, and said that the police were studying whether the deaths could have been related to the protests.”

    “Georgian riot police grappled with demonstrators on Thursday in Tbilisi, the capital.
    The ministry said the bodies were found on Friday atop a store near a subway station. The preliminary cause of death was said to be electrocution, possibly from touching an electric cable, officials said.”

  11. pasumonok says:

    so for the first time in about a year, your post makes me angry!
    yes, it is a big f***ing deal, in a conformist country like ours! where no one ever says anything!
    it is f**ing big deal, when some people choose to support stupid, corrupt, milking-government-for-all-its-worth-since-the-soviets joke of a politician, Burjanadze!
    It is a big deal, when instead of letting us witness how stupid opposition is, government shows fear, by blocking all the marshrutkas from the regions, thus preventing protesters from coming here!
    and finally,
    the 1st protests that began like this resulted in an armed conflict, civil war and our 1st (well, 2nd) president being killed and country ruled by bunch of military mafia. 10 years later, after what initially looked exactly like these protests, our 2nd president was overthrown.
    several times during recent years protesters were beaten and many illegal acts were performed, i am not going to get into that.
    we still remember that!
    you know what, it is like telling a person who was abused as a child, that this little screaming and fighting he sees now is normal in every family and he/she should not overreact. how can we not overreact?!
    sorry for yelling. but really, how can anyone, for example, judge the freedom of our media, if one:
    1. doesn;t watch and can’t understand georgian news (so one can hear how they’re lying 2 us!)
    2. have not seen any media analysis and compared georgian ones to foreign ones.
    3. have no point of reference, can’t compare to how it was 5, 10, 15 years ago.
    i just find this post too cynical. people around me are so hurt and feeling so helpless, so disillusioned…

    • panoptical says:

      I’ll start by answering your question: I can judge freedom of the media in Georgia by comparing it to freedom of the media in other countries using indices of freedom that are meaningful based on my beliefs about human behavior.

      As an example of what I’m talking about,there are some countries in the world that block the internet. You may have heard of “The Great Firewall of China” – if you’re interested in what it looks like to be in a country that actively works to make sure its population has no access to real information, I suggest looking into that. Then there are countries like Syria that arrest foreigners at random, and if they find that someone is a reporter they treat them as though they were foreign spies.

      In Georgia, from what I understand, the government actively engages in the propagation of pro-government propaganda and exercises undue influence over the media outlets that reach mainstream Georgian audiences. I can assure you that we have similar issues in the US, although we have more sophisticated means of obscuring the connections between government, media, and their shared corporate overlords. Just as a tritely obvious example, look at how many Americans believe that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were involved in the 9/11 attacks – depending on the poll, between one third and one half of Americans – even after everyone involved admitted that Bush was completely full of shit when he made that connection.

      In fact, I would say that the US government has one of the best media machines in the world and directly and regularly contributes to the pathetic ignorance of the American population about issues that directly affect them. I would say that if you’re judging media on lies per capita, the US media would give the Georgian state media a serious run for its money.

      Furthermore, I have never heard of the Georgian government arresting anyone for going on TV and saying something that the government didn’t like. I personally work for the Georgian government despite having criticized Georgian society and the actions of Georgian government agencies several times. So I hope you can appreciate why I find it difficult to give credit to the idea that Georgia is restricting freedom of speech or the press. I have in fact been told explicitly several times by my employers who work in the Georgian government that they respect my freedom of speech and will not explicitly ban me from talking about any subject as long as I promise to choose my words carefully so as to avoid offending more traditional Georgians. When I have worked for the US government in the past I have worked under an explicit gag order that forbade me talking about the operations of my employers in any capacity whatsoever without prior consent and consultation. I admit I give a lot of weight to the fact that I am given more latitude in a Georgian government job than I was in an American government job, but I think it’s an important comparison.

      So look – maybe I am cynical, but the fact that Georgians “feel” disillusioned and helpless doesn’t change the basic realities of living here. Feelings are by definition that which occurs beneath the level of rationality. Here’s a fun fact – the USA has about seventy times as many people as Georgia. That means that each Georgian has an average of seventy times more say in who their next President is than an American – and I say “an average of” because as an American, your ability to influence the Presidential election varies, overtly, by state, with smaller states and early primary states having the most say per citizen, and big states (like mine – New York) having much less say.

      So yeah, it sucks that Georgian people “feel” hurt , but whether or not they actually are hurt – that is, whether they are free and democratic compared to other people in the world – is a question that requires more study than just watching the Georgian news or having lived in Georgia for x number of years.

      • pasumonok says:

        neal, u can’t be judging freedom of media just by the way u are treated becoz u are treated differently. i just read an article in “Liberali”, describing the night of 25th, when one of the people there put his hands up in the air, as a sign of surrender and he still got hit. after he shouted BBC several times, police officer apologized to him in english and let him go.
        i believe that people should be treated equally, whether they are BBC reporters or regular citizens.
        as for media manipulation, this could at least be done with some level of sophistication, so that we stop this doublespeak and develop at least some trust towards our leaders. both sides are so biased that one keeps having nostalgia 4 the times where news were lot less influenced–and that’s what’s driving us crazy–they were!

        • pasumonok says:

          and also, syria? i don’t want 2 insult any country, but our goal is 2 get away from the soviet past and become more westernized–whether it is good thing or not–and that 4 sure does not include moving towards banned internet. maybe we should be thankful that in the 21st century we live in concrete and steel buildings and not in wooden huts? because i am sure some people on this earth still live in wooden huts! should we compare ourselves to them?
          as the time passes, some things deteriorate ( some don’t) and this is why we are mad. and no, internet is not banned (yet), but russian channels were banned for a while several years ago, which is ridiculous–in this age of internet and satellite dishes and whatnot, people can still got information and that ban just created negative precedent, that’s all.

  12. Jeanne says:

    Some members of the opposition are clearly unsavoury characters, and would undoubtedly follow similar tactics to the present gov’t if in power. But this does not mean the gov’t does not have to answer for its actions. Growing pains? For the Georgian peoples’ sake, I wish you are right, but there are not many signs that you are.
    When speaking about Georgia’s “credentials” as a free and democratic state, I was not comparing it implicitly or explicitly to the USA, which was never a shining beacon in my book.
    But do you think it is polite to the victims (let alone objective) to downplay legitimate and widespread denunciations of human rights issues?
    These “issues” are people, could be one of your neighbours whose husband didn’t come home after the demo (I dont know if there are still people missing, but do you think it is inconceivable?), or woke up in the forest beaten up and concussed, with long term damage to their health.

    Aso, do you think it is a good idea to separate ideas from feelings so much, as you suggest that pasumonok should do?
    I don’t think pasumonok has turned off the thinking portion of his (or her) brain, but that they have experienced some very traumatic experiences in their country, and unfortunately I think pasumonok is the rule, not the exception in the country we are discussing.

    • panoptical says:

      I think that if you don’t separate ideas from feelings in political discourse it’s an excuse for people not to take you seriously. If ten thousand people marched on Freedom Square demanding greater transparency in government, or election reform, or due process and the upholding of habeas corpus rights, then the focus of the world would be on that conversation and it might put meaningful pressure on the Saakashvili government to actually address some of those issues. Instead, they marched demanding that Saakashvili step down, and none of the issues that you think are important got any real press at all.

      In fact it’s fairly obvious that the “unsavoury characters” in the opposition don’t want Saakashvili to address the issues that you’re talking about. What they want is for Saakashvili to fuck up really badly so they can gain more power and support for themselves. Regardless of Saakashvili’s flaws, I have trouble believing that Georgia would be better off in the hands of people who are explicitly willing to sell Georgia out to Russia just to enhance their own political prospects.

      So yes, I think that you have to separate feelings from ideas, because there are people in Georgia who make a lot of hay by preying on peoples’ feelings, and if what they’re offering is in fact substantially worse, then feelings are going to get you into a lot of trouble. Remember how crappy Americans felt after 9/11? Well now we’re occupying two countries – Iraq and Afghanistan – neither of which is the country in which the man who orchestrated those attacks was eventually found, and one of which had literally nothing to do with 9/11 whatsoever. That’s because Americans are, by and large, mindless drones who “feel” their way through everything and go with their gut and elect fucking morons just because they seem like they might be fun to have a beer with. Yeah, feelings are a great way to run a country.

      Also, I never said that the Georgian government should not try to improve, but “answer for its actions” sounds like a call to arms. From what I understand, generally speaking, in a functioning representative democracy, politicians are held accountable for their actions by voters at intervals determined by a constitution and/or by well-defined legislative processes like impeachment or votes of “no confidence.” It strikes me as ridiculous that the people who are claiming that Georgia is not sufficiently democratic are *also* supporting opposition parties who want to discard the democratic process entirely and enact regime change through a coup d’etat. If you believe in democracy, shouldn’t you be arguing for greater transparency in elections, or for constitutional changes, rather than arguing for people who seem to want Georgia to become a Russian colony again?

      A free society is not enhanced by the kind of mob rule that early theorists of democracy warned us about and that Burjanadze and her cohort seem to be relying on for self-aggrandizement.

      • Jeanne says:

        I am with you on some of the points you have just made. If I were in Georgia, I would not simply want to replace the present government with a potentially worse one, and I would not be in favour of violent methods that would open new wounds and create vicious circles of violence.
        But, HOW does one go about convincing the government that it is good to hold free elections?
        You have to protest, but then you are AFRAID to. You might even be afraid of verbally criticizing them in your everyday life. The secret services are listening…
        Oh, and also you might not even be living in your home country, because you had to go abroad to survive, i.e. you were going hungry there. Unlike the friends of the ruling party.

    • pasumonok says:

      her 🙂 i am a female:-)

  13. In2Travel says:

    Neal
    I agree with all of your comments here and would like to draw your attention and that of your readers to the latest survey results from the International Republican Institute as reported by the Russian media. Interesting that Saachashvili currently has the highest approval rating of his career and the highest in Europe. I also found it very heartening as a TLGer to see that “Trust to the education ministry has grown by 12% in the past 12 months.”
    This annual survey was conducted in early May with 1500 respondents throughout Georgia.
    http://www.rustavi2.com.ge/news/news_text.php?id_news=41737&pg=1&im=main

    Also, a very good parody on European politics is this piece titled “If World War One was a Bar Fight” I thought you would like it.

    http://www.tentimesone.com/if-world-war-one-was-a-bar-fight/

  14. pasumonok says:

    listen, i fully agree with u that opposition sucks! in fact, i am way more mad at them (i am still talking about feelings:)) than i am at the gov. they started this whole thing and they didn’t even have any goals that a normal person could support. however, just becoz ur opponent is a dick, doesn’t mean u can take his/her rights away and beat him/her up in the forest!
    as 4 the argument that the police is always violent, maybe sometimes, though if police does get caught on tape being violent, should there be no consequences? becoz i have seen several policemen repeatedly kick one person in the head during last protest actions (that image is stuck in my head, coz they could have easily killed that man) and no one got punished for it. there are many stories like this, never investigated and listen, i might be emotional, but strasbourg court, amnesty international and human rights watch claim the same thing….
    and lastly,
    it is not possible to strip our judgment from emotions, as it is not possible to be objective, true or unbiased. the best we can do, is understand our emotions and make conscious decisions. also, i am the type of person who lives by emotions, who esteems emotions, who values emotions more than rational thoughts (i mean not always, but as a default). every personality test i’ve taken has confirmed this. if not my emotions, i would still be in the states, getting my ph.d. and caring less about this country! however, i understand that emotions are not an argument 4 u and i will try 2 be more rational 🙂

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