"Freedom to Misha": Georgian experts assess the rally for the release of ex-President Saakashvili
Georgian experts on the rally for the release of Saaakashvili
Tens of thousands of people gathered on October 14 at Freedom Square in Tbilisi to demand the release of the third president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, from prison. “Freedom for Misha” was the main slogan of the meeting.
According to political observers and journalists, it was the largest opposition rally in the nine years of the Georgian Dream party’s rule.
What does the protest of so many people under the slogan “Freedom to Misha” mean and what are the prospects for demanding the release of Mikhail Saakashvili – JAMnews collected comments from political observers:
Iago Kachkachishvili, sociologist:
Saakashvili’s arrival in Georgia and his arrest (in my opinion, also calculated by Saakashvili himself) determined what we saw yesterday. There were many critical moments in the country (we also remember the attempts to mobilize people) but we have not seen as many people on the streets since 2012.
Saakashvili realized that the resources of his remote intervention in Georgian politics had been exhausted, and his National Movement party began to “walk in circles”. Upon arrival in Georgia (which meant his unconditional arrest), Saakashvili acquired a new role of victim.
This new role, in turn, made people focus not on what the former president did bad in his time (and he did a lot of it) but on what good he did.
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The focus of the vision of Saakashvili’s “era” has changed – some of the citizens who are in opposition to Saakashvili (obviously, I do not mean those who have a physiological hatred towards him), began to look at his rule from a different, positive side.
I think the rhetoric of yesterday’s rally about cooperation was a continuation of this: the leaders of the National Movement (especially Nika Melia) stressed in their speeches that the National Movement was not going to come to power alone.
This statement has a background effect and further softens the boundaries between the National Movement and other opposition parties.
In my opinion, they should follow the rhetoric of the “National Movement” claiming that the government will not change without their participation.
However, at the same time, talk about the merits and differences that they have in comparison with the “National Movement” (by the way, in this context, I think it was right for other opposition parties not to join yesterday’s rally).
Otherwise, the barely emerging / fledgling and slightly strengthened “third” parties will face even greater bankruptcy, since the strengthened “National Movement” is expected to suck up the scattered supporters of the “middle” parties like a vacuum cleaner.
It might be worth considering creating a united, alternative political front.
Gia Nodia, political scientist:
Yesterday’s rally was an important psychological turning point. Historically, when so many protested, the government could not stay in power for long. But this does not mean that now everything will be the same.
Difficult processes still have to go through. The Ivanishvili regime remains a very serious challenge. We love extremes: sometimes confusion and despair, sometimes excessive hope. Both are wrong. The rally went well, but in one step. The next milestone is to achieve something in the second round of elections. There is a chance of this, but there are no guarantees.
In connection with yesterday’s big rally, some fear that we are “moving in a circle”. If the one-man rule of Bidzina ends, he will be replaced by another one-person rule – again Misha.
In general, I also think that for thirty years, in a sense, we have been walking in circles and there is a danger that this will continue. We replace one super-leader with another, and then we complain about why we don’t have democracy. This is a legitimate concern. I will say more: I think Misha-2 may turn out to be worse than Misha in 2004-12.
At least, relations with the West have become very complicated, and if there are no friends in the West, except for Orban and Kaczynski (as it is now), this will create problems for us. But this is general reasoning.
I have some idea of what the so-called “full-fledged” democracy. I sometimes give lectures on this topic. But now we must proceed from the choices we have.
First of all, walking in circles is bad, but much better than the stabilized authoritarianism of the Azerbaijani-Belarusian-Russian type. If Bidzina stays for a long time, this will happen only due to the transition of his regime to these models.
I hope he cannot do it, but he cannot survive otherwise. Compared to that, even the return of “bad Misha” is much better.
Secondly, it has always been unacceptable for me to compare Bidzina and Misha, as if they were both equally unacceptable. Both may be unacceptable, but not equally.
Not making a difference between them, in my opinion, is a manifestation of extremist “Shuashism” [from the word “Shuashist” in Georgian political jargon – that is, a person who does not equally support both main parties – JAMnews], it consists in aggressively ignoring differences.
The “national” government, with all its shortcomings morally, intellectually, and most importantly, with its results stood head and shoulders above the “Dream”.
Freedom House ratings are important, but they are not the only ones.
Saakashvili’s government has brought the country to a qualitatively new level of development. “Dream” does not even pretend to achieve anything, except that it drove out the “nationals” and does not let them back in.
Bidzina never had any other agenda, except to make the country his personal “dacha”. The most important thing is that if Bidzina loses, then Misha, of course, has a chance to return to sole rule, but it is not that great.
You cannot step into the same river twice. The experience and mood of society is changing, not to mention legislation. Misha has fanatical supporters, but the euphoria that existed in relation to him after the Rose Revolution is already impossible to return.
Lasha Bugadze, writer:
Yesterday’s rally was probably the most optimistic and encouraging in the long process of protests that have been going on for the last three years. Niki Melia’s speech was also promising and new, from which flowed the prospect of the unity of the coalition forces and the strengthening of faith in democracy.
We must remember that the key to ending a long-term era of harmful politics of freedom and selectivity is the [second round of municipal elections] on October 30th. Georgia is not and never will be a backward and apathetic region of the Russian Caucasus, and this should manifest itself in Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Batumi and Zugdidi.
Vakhtang Dzabiradze, political scientist:
This action has already yielded results, the society saw that the “National Movement” can organize a fairly large-scale action. I did not really expect such a result, there were indeed quite a large number of people.
As for whether this will bring results to Saakashvili, there is no question of him and cannot be. I do not think that this action will affect the release of Saakashvili in the near future. It depends on many factors, not just the number of people who came to the event.
The National Movement has not been happy with such powerful actions for the past nine years. In total, they had half a million voters, they went to the polls and voted for the National Movement, but they were not ready to take to the streets. Now they are ready not only to go to the polls, but also to go out into the streets.
Gia Khukhashvili, political scientist:
Two words about the supporters of the “Georgian Dream” who say that they will also take to the streets and show their numbers. I want to tell you the unpleasant truth – in fact, there are not many of you.
Even Misha’s opponents, at the expense of whom you bragged and who you hoped for, no longer like you. Of course, you can still build everything on their hatred for Misha and drive them away like sheep, but there is one problem: as a rule, any action is inspired not only by denial of the past, but also by belief in the future.
What to do with the fact that this faith no longer exists in you?