Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 102

The commotion around the terrorist conspiracy just unveiled in Georgia (see the Monitor, May 24-25) has obscured a potentially significant political event–the release of former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani from prison. Kitovani, 60, served four years of an eight-year sentence for having organized an unlawful armed force. He was pardoned by President Eduard Shevardnadze on May 22 on medical grounds as part of an amnesty involving approximately 100 detainees and arranged by Rusudan Beridze, the National Security Council’s deputy secretary responsible for human rights.

Kitovani–along with his jailed ally Jaba Ioseliani, whose release he has vowed to seek–was one of the more colorful and also fateful warlord figures responsible for the turmoil which gripped Georgia during and after the rule of Zviad Gamsakhurdia. In the tradition of feudal barons who in Georgia, as in Europe, made and unmade kings, Kitovani and Ioseliani organized armed units loyal to themselves which knew no clear-cut distinction between politics, civil warfare and sheer brigandage. They rebelled against Gamsakhurdia, overthrew him in a bloody coup in 1992, and invited Shevardnadze to return to Georgia and to power–but attempted to turn him into a figurehead. It took Shevardnadze almost three years of political maneuvering before he was able to offset Kitovani’s and Ioseliani’s strength and emancipate himself and the country from their influence. Kitovani was ultimately arrested by the army in January 1995 when he staged a march on Abkhazia at the head of his paramilitary force. The detention severely damaged his health–the official reason for his being included in the amnesty.

Shevardnadze’s gesture is timed to Georgia’s Independence Day, which is being observed today. The president has presented the pardon of Kitovani as a contribution to national reconciliation and mutual tolerance among all political factions. Shevardnadze and his advisers evidently seek to heal the divisions of the recent past and cater to a wide array of constituencies with an eye to the upcoming parliamentary elections (Prime-News, Kavkazia-Press, Reuters, May 22-23).