SHEVARDNADZE SEEKS RECONCILIATION WITH ZVIADIST GROUPS.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 82
The Georgian Central Electoral Commission’s final official returns show that Eduard Shevardnadze was re-elected president on April 9 with 79.8 percent of the votes cast, to 16.7 percent of his leftist challenger Jumber Patiashvili. The voter turnout was 76 percent (Sakartvelos Republikas, April 20). On the strength of that mandate, Shevardnadze has launched an initiative he had planned for some time toward reconciliation with diehard, potentially turbulent opponents who did not take part in the election. National reconciliation had indeed been a theme in Shevardnadze’s reelection campaign.
On April 19, Shevardnadze signed a decree pardoning 279 individuals serving sentences for violent crimes committed during the internal armed conflicts of the early 1990s. Many of those pardoned had commanded or served in paramilitary units loyal to late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia both during his term of office and after his fall from power. Those Zviadists consider themselves political prisoners and term the Shevardnadze government an illegitimate “junta.” Some declared a hunger strike in March-April during the presidential election campaign. Not eligible for the pardon are those sentenced for murder with aggravating circumstances–the case of Loti Kobalia, former commander of Gamsakhurdia’s national guard.
Also covered by the pardon are leaders and members of the Mkhedrioni [Knights], the political and paramilitary organization with criminal ties, which was instrumental in overthrowing Gamsakhurdia and in inviting Shevardnadze back to power in 1992. The Mkhedrioni turned against Shevardnadze when he embarked on a pro-Western course. Mkhedrioni leader Jaba Ioseliani, serving an eleven-year sentence for his involvement in the 1995 assassination attempt against Shevardnadze and other terrorist acts, is among those pardoned.
Beyond its immediate judicial effect, the presidential initiative pursues reconciliation with Zviadist groups at large and involving them in peaceful political processes. Those groups are small, divided and wholly marginalized, yet potentially turbulent. One faction, led by renegade Lieutenant-Colonel Akaki Eliava–himself a twice-pardoned, yet relapsed Zviadist–periodically threatens to launch rebellions in Gamsakhurdia’s former stronghold of Mingrelia.
On April 20, the parliament overwhelmingly adopted a resolution “On Eliminating the consequences of the 1991-92 civil conflicts and seeking national reconciliation.” Terming the ouster of Gamsakhurdia “an unlawful act of overthrowing the legitimate authorities,” the resolution in effect held out an olive branch to the late president’s supporters on behalf of the governing Union of Citizens of Georgia. The parliament observed a minute’s silence in memory of those killed in the civil conflicts, irrespective of political affiliation. In an address to parliament, Shevardnadze called for a candid evaluation of “the horrible and tragic events which are part of Georgia’s recent history” and announced his decision to empanel a commission to study the legacy and perpetuate the memory of the first two heads of state of independent Georgia: Noe Jordania (1918-20, overthrown by Soviet Russia’s army) and Gamsakhurdia (1990-92).
Parliament chairman Zurab Zhvania, generally considered Shevardnadze’s likely successor, similarly called on the nation to “turn a new page.” The turbulent recent civil conflicts, he remarked, were “a tragedy for all Georgia with no winners.” As part of the foundation for societal consensus, Zhvania named national independence, “normal relations with Russia” and “all-out development of relations with the United States, which is Georgia’s main partner.”
Shevardnadze has requested the parliament to enlarge the presidential prerogatives of granting amnesty and pardons, which he plans to use in seeking reconciliation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, some of whose political and military leaders face criminal charges stemming from the violent secessions of those regions of Georgia. Meanwhile, the parliament has overwhelmingly passed in the first reading a constitutional amendment which enshrines the autonomous status of Ajaria. The amendment fulfills a promise made by Shevardnadze and Zhvania to Ajaria’s leader, Aslan Abashidze, shortly before election day, but which had been under discussion for some time.
Ajaria has all along enjoyed the status of an Autonomous Republic within Georgia, and Abashidze has since 1991 been the chairman of Ajaria’s legislature. But the present Georgian constitution, adopted in 1995, does not contain specific references to autonomous republics because the central parliament in Tbilisi did not want to prejudice the outcome of negotiations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The concession is probably only the first in a series of gestures to Abashidze and is almost certainly intended as a signal to Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well (Prime-News, Kavkasia-Press, Georgian Television, Tbilisi Radio, April 19-24; see the Monitor, January 14, February 24, April 3-4, 10, 13).
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