Two separate events affecting Georgia’s opposition groups vividly demonstrate the
extremes of contemporary political life in Georgia.
On October 17, the Conservative and Republican parties announced the establishment
of a new parliamentary faction composed of former members of the ruling National
Movement and former allies of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. After the 2003
Rose Revolution both the Conservatives and the Republicans quit the National
Movement. Now they seek to protect the gains made by the Rose Revolution through a
On October 3, the nationalist politicians not represented in parliament announced an
“Anti-Soros” public movement to repel the spreading ideas of billionaire
philanthropist George Soros, which, they claim, “threaten the nation.”
The anti-Soros movement confirms the increasing polarization of the already extreme
Georgian political spectrum and reveals the ongoing clash of basic values that has
become particularly visible since the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili’s team has dared
to shake the seemingly entrenched, archaic belief systems largely inherited from the
Soviet past but identified by segments of Georgian society as “national values.”
“I regret that I used a Soros grant,” lamented Maia Nikolaishvili, a well-known
forensic expert and co-founder of the movement. “Is it possible that Georgian
society still has not become aware that Soros is the enemy of Georgia and each of
us?” she asked.
The anti-Soros movement unites a diverse group of politicians and civic leaders,
including followers of former president Eduard Shevardnadze and the former leader of
Ajaria, Aslan Abashidze. The anti-Soros movement members seek to protect “national”
values against creeping Western values.
Several leaders of the movement, including Nikolaishvili, believe Tbilisi must
rebuild its relations with Russia to protest the excessive “Westernization” of
Georgia. “Uprooting Soros-ism” in Georgia is viewed one of the tools to accomplish
this task. The “Anti-Soros Movement” also plans to oust Saakashvili’s government but
in a constitutional manner. The anti-Soros group claims that Saakashvili’s
government places instructions from Soros above the Georgian Constitution.
But when Soros visited Tbilisi on May 29-31, he reportedly faced a rather cool
reception from the Georgian government, allegedly because of disagreements between
him and Saakashvili. In January 2005 Soros, together with the United Nations
Development Programme, established a “Capacity Building Fund” that provided high
salaries for Georgian officials. This program likely is the basis of rumors about
Soros co-opting the government of Georgia.
Now some politicians believe that a rift has developed between the two men and that
Soros has begun to finance the anti-Saakashvili opposition. Soros reportedly has
turned to the Republican Party as a counterweight to Saakashvili’s National
Movement. “Like the government, some of the so-called “opposition parties” are
financed by Soros,” says Mamuka Giorgadze of the Popular Party.
Whether or not the anti-Soros movement is a symptom of Georgian society’s
frustration, the consequences remain to be seen. Leaders of the anti-Soros movement
claim that Georgian citizens are becoming increasingly anti-American. A political
campaign that plays upon the sensitive topic of Georgian national identity, which
Soros and his Georgian henchmen have allegedly violated, may be attractive to the
public, especially to citizens unhappy with Saakashvili’s governance.
Some local analysts, who frequently refer to Saakashvili as a Soros puppet, believe
the anti-Soros movement is a precursor to an anti-globalization movement that would
condemn the Saakashvili government for its pro-globalization values. They argue
that, although the pro-Soros resources outweigh the anti-Soros forces, the emergence
of this movement sends a clear message that the West-supported reforms frequently
equated with Soros ideology are not popular in Georgia.
The announcement of a new parliamentary faction by the Conservative and Republican
parties surprised many analysts. Both parties have always been considered part of a
moderate opposition to Saakashvili (see EDM, July 11). David Zurabishvili, who
recently defected from the National Movement parliamentary faction, is expected to
lead the 15-seat faction, which has already invited MPs from other factions,
including the ruling party’s group, to join. So far the National Movement has
reacted surprisingly calmly, and parliamentary chair Nino Burjanadze expressed hope
for “constructive cooperation” with the faction. The two parties will preserve their
organizational independence at least for now.
The new faction’s stated primary goal is to safeguard the gains of the Rose
Revolution. “We both — Republicans and Conservatives — are democratic political
forces with a revolutionary background,” declared Davit Berdzenishvili of the
Republican Party. He stressed, “The revolutionary opposition should inspire the
people” since “the revolutionary authorities are worth nothing.”
While the new faction’s devotion to the achievements of the Rose Revolution suggests
that the National Movement can no longer claim to be the sole custodian of the
Revolution, Saakashvili and his pro-Western team can likely still count on the
Conservatives and Republicans in the ideological struggle with the
ultra-nationalist, anti-revolution opposition forces that, according to some
analysts, are unwittingly playing into Russia’s hands by criticizing American and
European policies in Georgia.
The relations between the new faction and the ruling party will largely determine
the balance of political power in Georgia.
(Regnum, October 4, 15; Argumenty, October 6; Akhali Taoba, October 6, 8,15;
TV-Imedi, Rustavi-2, Resonance, Kavkaz Press, Civil Georgia, October 17)