Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 62

On national radio yesterday, President Eduard Shevardnadze yesterday offered "apologies" to Ajaria’s leaders and people for "ill-conceived declarations" made recently in the Georgian parliament about Ajaria. "Not a single man in the Georgian leadership entertains the idea of abolishing Ajaria’s autonomy," Shevardnadze observed. By the same token, he does "not believe the talk that Ajaria may decide to violate Georgia’s sovereignty and stab the mother country in the back." The president described recent friction as stemming from "misunderstandings which can soon be overcome through dialogue." (Tbilisi Radio, March 30) Last week, the Main Council of the governing Union of Citizens of Georgia — chaired by Shevardnadze — disavowed the idea of abolishing Ajaria’s autonomy. (Prime News, March 26)

Shevardnadze and the Main Council did not specify who had made such proposals. Jemal Gogitidze leader of the Ajar deputies’ group in the Georgian parliament, has, however, publicly identified the parliamentary majority leader Giorgi Baramidze as the main author. Speaking from Ajaria’s capital Batumi, Gogitidze warned that the Ajar deputies may withdraw from the Georgian parliament. He also warned that those proposals fuel strife between Tbilisi and Ajaria, "jeopardizing Georgia’s integrity." Ajaria’s Supreme Soviet last week sent a strongly worded appeal to the Georgian parliament and to Shevardnadze on that issue. (Kavkazia Press, March 26; Prime News, March 27)

The Ajar deputies in the Georgian parliament belong to the Revival Union, which won the last elections in Ajaria by an overwhelming margin and has until recently behaved loyally toward Tbilisi. However, Ajaria’s authoritarian leader Aslan Abashidze has taken a series of steps since 1996 to enlarge both Ajaria’s and his powers at the expense of the central Georgian government. Last week, Abashidze unilaterally enlarged the powers of Ajaria’s security agencies, which he heads. (See Monitor, March 24 and 25) He also — in violation of the Georgian constitution — appointed an Internal Affairs minister of Ajaria. (Prime-News, March 26) Official Tbilisi is responding in a conciliatory spirit, despite some nationalist pressure to deal with the violations in a more forthright fashion.

April Fools in Kyrgyzstan.