On April 19, the United National Movement is set to stage a rally in the central part of Tbilisi (https://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2833_april_4_2013/2833_edit.html). City officials have issued permission to hold the rally by the former parliament building on Rustaveli Boulevard. This spot around the building, which was built by German prisoners of war in the wake of WWII in the capital of Georgia, witnessed the inception of all vital events in Georgia’s recent history. In November 1988, a rally was held in front of the stairs of the parliament building in demand of the country’s independence (https://sobchak.org/rus/books/Izlom/6.html). On the same spot, Soviet troops dispersed a peaceful demonstration with wanton cruelty on April 9, 1989, killing. 21 people, most of them women. Rustaveli Boulevard witnessed the bloodbath of the civil war of 1991–1993 (https://www.country-studies.com/georgia/the-struggle-for-control.html). Moreover, in November 2003, tens of thousands of supporters of Mikheil Saakashvili celebrated the victory of the “Rose Revolution” there (https://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4532539.stm). In May 2005 President Bush delivered a speech at Freedom Square, which is adjacent to Rustaveli Boulevard (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=9845).
In Georgia, if a political leader and his party manage to gather hundreds of thousands of supporters on Rustaveli Boulevard, such a demonstration indicates that they are a serious political force that cannot be ignored when resolving any important political issue in the country. Thus, the primary objective of Mikheil Saakashvili and his supporters is to show to Georgia and to the world that, in spite of the electoral defeat on October 1, 2012, the rumors of the death of the United National Movement are “greatly exaggerated.”
“The United National Movement continues to exist, to struggle; and on April 19, the Georgian people will be reassured about this again. The people will learn many new things, as the day of April 19 will become the day of surprises and revelations for many people. The political situation will change radically on April 19,” the general secretary of the party, former Prime Minister and Interior Minister Vano Merabishivili stated (https://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25912). Merabishvili did not specify what “surprises” he was talking about, but answering a journalist’s question, he noted that the United National Movement might nominate a candidate for Georgian presidential election during the rally. Although he noted that “it is not the most important and not the most interesting thing.”
The primary topic of the rally on April 19 will be foreign policy and a prevention of Georgia’s turn “to the north” toward Russia. “We clearly see that the country’s course is changing and the government is casting doubt on everything that we have attained in the process of rapprochement with the West,” member of the parliament (MP) Akaky Minashvili told Jamestown. If the rally turns out to be big, then it will have serious consequences for domestic politics, too. Recently, the United National Movement has shown that the ruling Georgian Dream coalition cannot pass important decisions in the parliament without the consent of the opposition (see EDM, March 27). A large rally in the center of Tbilisi may become an important message to all domestic and foreign actors that are still undecided about the complicated process of “cohabitation” (see EDM, March 4) of President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. That is why the authorities are visibly worried. Several young people in Tbilisi recently were fined only for writing graffiti on the walls, calling on people to come to the opposition rally (https://www.georgiatimes.info/news/88689.html). Members of the Georgian Dream coalition, in the meantime, spread rumors that the ex-officials who lost their jobs after the elections in October 2012 exerted pressure on Tbilisi’s residents to force them come to the rally. “What pressure are they talking about, if we are just the opposition, which has no leverage over the situation?” the former speaker of parliament, David Bakradze, said indignantly, responding to accusations made by deputy Nukri Kantaria. The latter alleged that the opposition “used unscrupulous methods to attract people to its event” (https://www.myvideo.ge/?video_id=1997711).
The majority of Georgian TV companies that are loyal to the government refuse to spread the news about the rally. A short video announcement can be watched only through social networks and on public TV. However, most residents of Tbilisi are already aware of the upcoming crucial rally. The president’s supporters are expected to arrive in Tbilisi from all regions of Georgia.
With the rally, the United National Movement has a chance to become a true opposition party that reflects the opinion of the part of the society that is displeased and disillusioned with the new government for its failures to make good on the majority of its electoral promises. Many people expected from Ivanishvili’s government rapid life improvements and salary increases. “I thought that after Ivanishvili won the election, the prices for gas would be slashed in half and it would be easier for me to work, but my expectations have not come true,” a Tbilisi cab driver complained to Jamestown, admitting that he and all his family had voted for the Georgian Dream coalition. “If the elections were held now, I would not have voted for them [Georgian Dream],” the cab driver added.
And yet, sociologists warn that society’s disappointment, which naturally followed the euphoria surrounding Georgia’s first ever peaceful transition of power, does not necessarily translate into an automatic revival of public support for the United National Movement. “Saakashvili’s party, even after a replacement of its leader, will not be able to regroup [completely] after its electoral defeat and become an influential political force again,” Merab Pachulia, the head of the reputable social research institution Gorbi, told Jamestown. However, the former speaker of the parliament, Nino Burjanadze has a different opinion: “If the current authorities continue displaying weakness and do not actually launch criminal proceedings against the leaders of the United National Movement, anything might happen. We do not even know what they [the United National Movement] are planning for April 19,” Burjanadze pointed out in an interview with Jamestown.
The next few days will show how well-founded the fears of some and the hopes of others actually are. It appears that the rally planned for April 19 is going to be a turning point—even if not on the same scale as previous demonstrations held there over the course of Georgia’s modern history—at least for the country’s unfolding presidential race.