Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 214

The wanted Lieutenant-Colonel Akaki Eliava, leader of the October 19 Zviadist-military mutiny, made an unexpected appearance on the Tbilisi TV station Rustavi-2 on November 16. Interviewed at an undisclosed location, Eliava demanded the release of Zviadists detained in connection with that mutiny. He confirmed that the heavily armed rebels had intended to advance on Tbilisi and “negotiate” Eduard Shevardnadze’s resignation as president. Eliava further alleged that Azerbaijan and Armenia had sent troops to help Shevardnadze suppress the October 19 revolt (Tbilisi TV, Itar-Tass, November 16 and 17). This charge was apparently calculated to inflame residual Zviadist xenophobia or at the very least reflect it. This interview, and Eliava’s ultimatum to Shevardnadze recently published in the Tbilisi press (see the Monitor, November 5), cast some doubt on the authorities’ stated belief that Eliava has been cornered in the forests of Mingrelia.

The Mkhedrioni association made itself heard–and seen–on Georgian state television yesterday through Tornike Berishvili, “political secretary” of a recently reconstituted Mkhedrioni group which says it has renounced violence. The group obtained television airtime from the authorities in return for a promise to stop picketing in downtown Tbilisi against the sentencing of Mkhedrioni leaders on criminal and terrorism charges (see the Monitor, November 11). In his television appearance, Berishvili warned that the group would call for “mass protests within the framework of the law” unless Jaba Ioseliani and other Mkhedrioni leaders are released and the verdicts against them quashed. The day before Berishvili’s appearance, Shevardnadze had told the country both that the trial had been conducted properly and that the conviction of Ioseliani and accomplices should “put an end to that horrible and shameful phenomenon–the criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime” (Radio Tbilisi, Georgian TV, Russian agencies, November 16-17).

These back-to-back challenges to the legitimate order by marginal, violence-prone groups would seem to reflect, first, the security authorities’ ineffectiveness (which was acknowledged during the recent change of command there) and, second, the political authorities’ calculated policy of conciliation. That policy has in some cases avoided all-out confrontation with radical opposition groups, but has backfired in some other cases–notably with Eliava’s Zviadists, who mutinied after having been amnestied and coopted into the army.