Georgia has requested the Council of Europe (CE) to recall its Tbilisi representative, and has severely criticized the CE’s Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer in the wake of the events in Ajaria that resulted in the peaceful removal of local despot Aslan Abashidze.
During those events, Schwimmer and his representative adopted a seemingly equidistant position between the Georgian government and Abashidze, failing to condemn the latter’s unilateral use of force, and urging a compromise that would have left Abashidze in power in Ajaria.
The position of Schwimmer (an Austrian conservative politician) and of his Tbilisi representative Plamen Nikolov (a Bulgarian citizen) contrasted with the position of the European Union, which supported Georgia’s sovereignty and criticized Abashidze’s actions as undemocratic.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has publicly associated himself with Foreign Affairs Minister Salome Zurabishvili’s request for Nikolov’s recall. Moreover, Saakashvili, expressed his own “disappointment, and the disappointment of many Ajarians, and of Georgians generally.
“At a decisive moment, when America, the EU in Brussels and everyone was alert, these people [Schwimmer and the CE] were talking as if nothing was happening, even though it is their business to protect human rights… The CE’s Secretary-General said nothing, when we needed their voice the most… Aslan Abashidze was the only one who benefited from silence at that moment.” (Imedi Television, May 11).
On May 13, Schwimmer met with Zurabishvili at CE headquarters in Strasbourg and agreed with her to cease public polemics. However, on May 15 in Moscow, Schwimmer declared that Georgia “misunderstood” the issue, and it is therefore “Georgia’s problem.”
Zurabishvili told journalists that she was “baffled by such a statement, made in Moscow of all places.” Saakashvili reacted with a prediction that Schwimmer will receive a response from Europe as such in the upcoming election to the CE Secretary-General’s post. The CE would have been duty-bound to raise its voice when human rights were being trampled upon [in Ajaria].” (Interfax, Rustavi-2 TV, May 15-17).
Schwimmer and Nikolov had in fact failed to react to the brutal assault of Abashidze’s police on peaceful demonstrators in Batumi at the height of the crisis. When they did speak up, they made serious blunders.
In several statements until the final day of Abashidze’s rule, the two CE officials called for dialogue and offered to “mediate” between the central government in Tbilisi and Abashidze. Even during the final days of Abashidze’s governance, CE officials regarded him as a legitimate leader and a qualified partner in such a dialogue. At a decisive moment the CE officials expressed concern over what they termed a “loss of capacity for dialogue on both sides,” offering to broker a mutually-acceptable constitutional compromise between the two factions, thus again treating them equally.
The CE officials made no reference to Abashidze’s usurpation of Georgian state sovereignty in Ajaria. Even after the peaceful and democratic outcome in Ajaria, Schwimmer portrayed the problem as a constitutional issue during a meeting with Georgia’s Parliament Chairwoman Nino Burnadze in Strasbourg (Imedi Television, May 17).
He is a candidate for another term as Secretary-General in the election scheduled for June 21-25.