A so-called “Nationwide Protest Action” will be held in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, on June 10. This decision was made by the Council of Opposition Parties after Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili refused to resign (Kommersant, June 5). The opposition accuses the government of inability to investigate the brutal murder of two teenagers by their peers on December 1, last year. Suspicion is rampant that influential persons in the government are helping the guilty parties to avoid responsibility (Kommersant, May 31).
Zaza Saralidze, the father of one of the murdered schoolchildren, 16-year-old David, claims that several criminals participated in the killing of his son, not just two who received prison sentences. Moreover, these defendants were charged only with wounding his son with a knife—not for murder (Civil Georgia, June 4). One of the defendants is the son of prosecutor Mirza Subeliani. The opposition and Zaza Saralidze suspect that Subeliani is trying to thwart the investigation and is being supported in this endeavor by the prime minister or other cabinet members (Kommersant, May 31).
Prime Minister Kvirikashvili rejects all such accusation and has charged his internal minister with carrying out a new investigation. After meeting with the father of the deceased teenager, Kvirikashvili promised to punish all the guilty parties to this crime (Kommersant, June 5).
But the opposition is not convinced of Kvirikashvili’s sincerity. The leader of the New Georgia Party (NG), Giorgi Vashadze, called on all Georgians to “come to Tbilisi from all regions on June 10 to begin to dismantle the system and defend their dignity and Zaza Saralidze’s right to justice” (1tv.ge, June 3).
The well-known Georgian artist Giorgi Bugadze told this author that dignity is valued higher by Georgian people than maternal wellbeing: “There have never been rallies and protests in Georgia about social demands, although people live very badly because they have small salaries and incomes. But thousands of people go to protest rallies when the government violates their political rights and insults human dignity” (Author’s interview, June 4).
The current protest movement is being led by the party of former president Mikhail Saakashvili, United National Movement. Saakashvili now lives in the Netherlands and cannot return, because a Tbilisi court sentenced him to three years imprisonment. He was accused of abuse of official authority in the case of Sandro Girgvliani (Georgianjourna.ge, January 5). But judging by the former president’s posts on Facebook, he is closely following the events and directing the actions of his party from abroad (Kommersant, June 5).
The mass protests have already forced General Prosecutor Irakli Shotadze to resign. And the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party has agreed for the first time to create an interim parliamentary commission to investigate the “Khorava street murder” (Civil Georgia, June 4). But the existence of this commission has split the opposition, sparking a disagreement between UNM and the largest opposition faction in the parliament—European Georgia (EG).
Saakashvili’s party claims that by taking part in the parliamentary commission, EG facilitates the ruling regime’s prejudicial investigation. “This commission will not be able to change anything, and the authorities will not respect its decision,” declared Roman Gotsiridze, a member of parliament (MP) from UNM. He and the other UNM MPs have refused to participate in the work of the commission (Interpressnews.ge, June 4).
The political expert Tengiz Ablotiya argued that this key policy disagreement between Georgia’s two largest opposition parties—UNM and EG—reduces the opposition movement’s overall chance of success. “In Armenia, there was one opposition leader, Nikol Pashinyan. Everyone knew that it was he, who would assume the post of prime minister. But in Georgia, the opposition does not have a single leader to consolidate around,” Abotiya stressed (Author’s interview June 4).
Tellingly, the founder of the Georgian Republican Party, Levan Berdzenishvili, told this author that his faction will not support the revolution and will not take part in the planned June 10 rally, because, in case of a new revolution, Saakashvili might take advantage of it. “He is already [part of] our country’s history. We do not want Mikheil Saakashvili to succeed the current ruler of Georgia, the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. They both equally disrespect human rights and the ideals of democracy,” Berdzenishvili said. During the Soviet period, Berdzenishvili spent several years in prison for his support for human rights and Georgian independence (Author’s interview, June 3).
Disagreements within the opposition are reinforced by the fact that Saakashvili has unexpectedly announced his desire to participate in next year’s presidential elections in Ukraine. His lawyers are ready to file a lawsuit with the Strasbourg Human Rights Court for returning Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship. The former Georgian president had lost his Georgian citizenship when he took the post of governor of Odesa (Kommersant, June 5).
That said, Georgian authorities still expect the June 10 rally to go ahead. Georgian Dream MP Giorgi Gachechiladze is not worried the protests could spread nationwide, however. The opposition lacks resources to “destabilize” the country, he suggested. “Believe me, in a few days these protests will cease and we will not have to take radical measures,” Gachechiladze said (Author’s interview, June 3).
Political analyst Irakli Machavariani also doubts the ability of the opposition to organize a revolution or “dismantle the system.” Nonetheless, he warns that serious problems might not disappear after June 10: Georgian Dream and Kvirikashvili’s government will need to better manage the domestic situation. “They have to find good managers… Otherwise, they will lose the parliamentary elections of 2020,” Machavariani cautioned (Author’s interview, June 4).
The Georgian opposition is currently disoriented and weak. Therefore, the ruling party is not particularly concerned. Nevertheless, the government will need to take into account Georgian society’s loud calls for justice and for the authorities to punish all those responsible for last year’s murder of the two teenagers. No matter how the current political protests end, Prime Minister Kvirikashvili will be under pressure to take additional steps to restore the trust of ordinary people in his government.