Saakashvili’s Hunger Strike Mobilizes Georgian Opposition

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 18 Issue: 163

Mass rally in support of Mikheil Saakashvili, Tbilisi, October 14

On October 25, United National Movement (UNM)—Georgia’s main opposition party, established in 2001 by former president Mikheil Saakashvili—released a statement regarding the hospitalization of its founder. In the statement, the party appeals to the international community, the diplomatic corps accredited in Georgia, and international and local non-governmental organizations (NGO) to take all possible measures to ensure the life and personal safety of the third president of Georgia, who was jailed on October 1, after returning to his homeland from Ukraine (TV Pirveli, October 25).

UNM claims, “It has been 25 days since President Saakashvili went on a hunger strike at the 12th facility in Rustavi. His hunger has already entered a phase when it can become extremely severe at any moment, and he may require urgent medical care.” The party’s statement continues, “We categorically demand from the Georgian government: Ensure Mikheil Saakashvili’s health and personal safety! Otherwise, you will receive the hardest response from Georgian society. Remember that in any situation, you and [Georgian billionaire, founder of the ruling Georgian Dream party] Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose personal political prisoner is the third president of Georgia, are fully responsible for Saakashvili’s life!” The opposition faction asserts that the Georgian government has “sentenced Mikheil Saakashvili to death” (TV Pirveli, October 25).

Parliamentarian Salome Samadashvili, Georgia’s former ambassador to the European Union, said in an October 26 interview with this author that the Western response to the situation surrounding the third president of Georgia “is not sufficient to force the Georgian government to act in accordance with international norms for the protection of human rights.” Furthermore, Samadashvili stipulated, “At a meeting […] a few days ago, a commission of highly qualified doctors concluded that Mikheil Saakashvili should be transferred to a high-class clinic, which is not a prison hospital. But the Georgian government says that Saakashvili should be transferred to a prison hospital, where the president will be deprived of adequate treatment and his safety will be a serious problem. The same conclusions were made public by the Public Defender.”

In the early morning October 25, Saakashvili reportedly fell seriously ill, requiring urgent intervention with a resuscitator (Kommersant October 25). Earlier, Saakashvili vowed that he would refuse food “until his death.” “As long as I am in prison, I do not intend to take food in any form and [am] ready to die,” his letter reads. At the same time, wishing to “maintain clarity of consciousness and efficacy,” Saakashvili “agree[d] to take medication [that] will help [him] be conscious in order to participate in current events and be useful to Georgia.” With a dramatic flourish, he declares, “If I cannot help my country while I am alive, maybe my death will illuminate the path to freedom for the Georgian people” (Kommersant, October 14)

David Darchiashvili, a Georgian historian who personally knows the former president well, drew attention to another external factor: “Saakashvili is very serious. He is fully aware of the possible consequences of his actions and is ready to go to the end in the fight against the regime of the oligarch Ivanishvili. The authorities should take into account that all responsibility for a possible tragedy will be assigned to them” (Author’s interview, October 15).

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili opposes transferring Saakashvili to a private medical facility. The head of the Georgian government alleged that, in aiming to be transferred to a private clinic, Saakashvili “would resort to simulations,” as if the hunger strike had aggravated the state of his health. On October 30, Garibashvili continued that Saakashvili’s supporters “would remove” the former president from the clinic and “liberate” him. “But this plan will fail too,” the prime minister added (Imedi News, October 25).

In recent days, Garibashvili repeatedly stressed that Saakashvili “will not enjoy any privileges,” but if needed, he will be taken to medical facility No. 18. He stated that the former president will spend at least six years in prison following the verdict of the Tbilisi court. “There is no person on earth who can force us to release Saakashvili,” the head of government contended (, October 3).

The Georgian opposition, including Saakashvili’s party, is not passively watching this apparent tragedy unfold. On October 14, almost 30,000 people gathered on Freedom Square, in downtown Tbilisi for a rally demanding the release of the third president (Radio Tavisupleba, October 15).

One of UNM’s leaders, Khatia Dekanoidze, said, in an October 26 interview with this author, that Saakashvili returned to Georgia from Ukraine (where the former president heads the Executive Committee of the National Reform Council) “to help his homeland in the historic municipal elections,” the second round of which will take place on October 30 (see EDM, October 4). Opposition leaders retain a real chance to win in the key cities. David Avalishvili, a political expert with the independent analytical outlet, asserted, “If UNM wins in the capital and other big cities, a change of power in the country will be on the agenda” (Author’s interview, October 26).

In contrast, if the opposition loses, the fate of former president Saakashvili will remain uncertain. He was sentenced by a Tbilisi court to six years in prison after convicting him of abuse of power. Two additional charges of the same crime are pending in court (, October 26). On October 20, Saakashvili was officially charged with illegally crossing of the state border on October 1 (, October 20). The outcome of Saturday’s vote could, therefore, determine the political future of not only Georgia but also Saakashvili himself.