This week two Georgian newspaper articles stood out from the typical reports about current events. One was about the sanity of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and the other was about his plans to reshuffle the cabinet once again.
On Monday, June 26, Khronika published a report suggesting that Saakashvili suffers from psychological disorders, including a mild form of insanity. The article was based on semi-confidential reports from prestigious international psychiatric clinics.
The newspaper could not determine who had actually asked seven leading medical institutions (Norway’s Tonsberg Psychiatric Center; Norway’s National Institute of Public Health; Germany’s Center for Diseases of the Nervous System at Christian Albrecht University; the Psychiatric Department of Geneva University; Vienna Medical School’s Department of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy; Finland’s Psychiatric Department; and Amsterdam University’s Department of Clinical Psychology) to evaluate Saakashvili’s mental health. The evaluation excerpts published in the weekly describe the Georgian president as a negative and aggressive person with a strong sense of egocentrism. Georgian government officials have yet to comment on the article. Meanwhile, the vicious, highly personal information campaign being waged against Saakashvili by his adversaries is becoming increasingly evident.
Saakashvili’s political foes have long cultivated rumors about his mental stability. The first mention of Saakashvili allegedly receiving treatments in psychiatric clinics appeared in 2001. The anti-Saakashvili gossip usually surfaces when his government’s reforms become increasingly unpopular among the Georgian public. Many Georgians, according to polls, consider the government’s reforms to be a source of severe social-economic distress, high unemployment, and declining standards of living.
The latest independent polls indicate that Saakashvili and the ruling National Movement have lost considerable popularity (from 65-70% approval to 25-30%) since their triumphant victory at the presidential and then parliamentary elections in 2004, although Saakashvili and his party still lead the political ratings. However, the percentage of those believing that Georgia is going in the Wrong Direction has increased from 25% to 51% for the last eight months. The public mood is dangerously
tilting away from the government, despite the government-initiated plans for summer camps, private clubs, decorative water fountains, and other public distractions.
Government shuffles are a longstanding, and usually successful method to shift the Georgian public’s attention from lingering problems and defuse social-political tensions. There have been constant predictions about changes at the top levels of power throughout 2006. On June 19, Saakashvili conducted a closed-door meeting with lawmakers from his National Movement Party.
On June 26, the influential Resonansi daily cited sources within the National Movement to report that new constitutional changes are in the works to justify upcoming cabinet changes. Saakashvili reportedly plans to combine the ministries of energy and economic development, dismiss his closest confidant but highly unpopular Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, and divide up the ministry, which had been given security services after the cabinet reorganization in 2005. The pending changes are reported to affect another branch of power — the judiciary.
The reshuffle, if actually implemented, would allow Saakashvili to kill several birds with one stone. First, the changes will temporarily distract public attention from the many unresolved problems. Second, the changes should calm civic organizations and opposition members who have long demanded the sacking of Merabishvili, whom they consider to be behind the excessive police violence that resulted in several high-profile murders (see EDM May 24, March 31, March 9). Third, Saakashvili could then present himself as a strong leader who makes cabinet decisions based on state interests not outside pressure. Fourth, the personnel changes could restore the balance of power among the interest groups in his entourage (see EDM January 18, November 3, 2005).
One of these groups is said to be the influential Liberty Institute, an NGO that rendered tremendous assistance to Saakashvili during the 2003 Rose Revolution. At the time, the institute dispatched many of its members and associates to key positions in the power structures and reportedly gained excessive influence over Saakashvili. A reported associate of the Liberty Institute, Minister of Education and Science Alexander Lomaya, the former chair of the George Soros Foundation in Georgia, managed to sack the rector of Tbilisi State University, known as a Saakashvili appointee
and protegee for implementing reforms too slowly. Lomaya presented the president with this fait accompli, and Saakashvili calmly swallowed the bitter pill. The process of supplanting National Movement cadres with the more reform-oriented Liberty Institute group will likely continue. Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, Saakashvili’s close confidant, is reported to be a leading target. National Movement member Badri Nanetashvili, whom the parliament stripped of his MP credentials on June 21 for combining law making with management of the private television company Trialeti, recent disclosed that representatives the Liberty Institute have been urging him to make public statements compromising Okruashvili.
(Resonansi, Khronika, Kviris Palitra, June 26; TV-Rustavi-2, TV-Imedi, June 22, 25, 26; Civil Georgia, June 21, 22, 24)