Op-ed: What did the rallies against Namakhvani HPP show?
Implications of Namakhvani HPP protest in Tbilisi
After three days of mass rallies in Tbilisi, the Guardians of the Rioni Gorge have returned to Tskhaltubo and continue to protest there.
For more than six months, activists have been protesting against the construction of a large hydroelectric power station on the Rioni River in Western Georgia.
Tbilisi’s protest was supposed to be a turning point, but it failed to achieve its goals, as the authorities are still reluctant to make any concessions, and Guardians of Rioni’s, who have already set up camp near the village of Gumati, not far from the construction site of the hydroelectric power station, are not planning to retreat either.
What was the result of the protest rally in Tbilisi, why did not it turn out to be as large-scale as the organizers of the rally expected?
What did the protest show?
David Zurabishvili, political analyst: I am not against hydroelectric power plants in general and I think that the country needs hydroelectric power plants and other sources of energy, but I have no position on the Namakhvani hydroelectric power station, because there are many unanswered questions about this project.
The protests against the Namakhvani hydropower plant showed that the Georgian political establishment, including the opposition, did not receive this protest with great enthusiasm.
The restraint or negative attitude that the government officials showed towards the rally was fundamentally wrong for many reasons. One example of that was their attitude towards the investor, who, apparently, would not come to the country if everything was not as convenient for him, which, in turn, would be unprofitable for the state.
In addition, the ongoing processes around the hydroelectric power station have further revealed the crisis existing in the Georgian political parties. I got the impression that politicians are jealous of the Namakhvani protest leaders and the thousands of people who come to their rallies because they can no longer attract as much attention to themselves.
Large-scale rallies occur when people are running out of patience, and, in the when case of Namakhvani, many factors coincided, including people’s disappointment with the political elite and political parties.
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Tornike Sharashenidze, Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor of the Institute for Public Affairs (GIPA): The opposition refrains from participating in these rallies, and I believe that their position is very correct. Serious political forces state that these rallies are actually turning into a fight against hydropower stations in the country.
No matter how many protesters say that they are fighting only against Namakhvani, they often declare that all hydroelectric power stations must be stopped.
Thank God that most of our political forces have not decided to protest against the construction of hydroelectric power plants. It is really good that there is no populism of the idea among our political parties.
Giorgi Kanashvili, political analyst: During this protest, many issues were raised that many cannot fully agree with: the sale or refusal to sell land, or the refusal to build hydroelectric power plants. However, the main and fundamental problem that this situation has shown us that the country does not trust its own government and political forces.
Consequently, amid this distrust, it will be objectively difficult to implement any major project in the country.
Hydroelectric power station aside, this is a crisis of political confidence in general, which causes such a reaction from a significant part of the population, and I believe that such a reaction is completely fair.
Gia Nodia, Ph.D. in Political Science, professor at Ilia University: The course of this protest showed that there is no consensus in society. This is not to say that society as a whole requires something. Part of the society is against the implementation of the Namakhvani HPP project, while other part supports it.
This situation continues and has passed to another stage due to the fact that the rally did not lead to any unambiguous results.
The authorities did not agree to meet the demands of the activists, and the protesters did not withdraw their demands.
It can be said that it is positive that the slogan “There is no need to build a hydroelectric power station” has ceased to be popular. Specific arguments should be made for a specific project. If at first this protest began with general ideological slogans, then at the end there was a slight shift towards the idea that general ideological slogans are not enough and in a particular case it is necessary to provide specific arguments.
Will this protest turn political?
David Zurabishvili: I do not think that such protests will lead to any political changes or a change of power. Such rallies may become more frequent, but in the end, the political process will not go on like this, because I personally do not believe in a non-partisan political perspective.
Non-partisan politics can unite people on certain topics, as well as single out one or two people, a specific figure or leader, however, if someone from here wants to go into politics, they will not be able to maintain support from a very diverse spectrum of people.
I don’t see the prospect of, despite the disappointment with the parties, this protest replacing party politics.
However, I do not expect a revival of political life in the near future either. Our political parties have already been weakened by the boycott of parliament, and, in my opinion, their response to Namakhvani weakened them even more.
Tornike Sharashenidze: I think that this protest will not go far and will not go beyond what we have already seen.
People, unfamiliar to the public and not very gifted, come out to the rally and shout “Down with the hydroelectric power station”. Consequently, as we have seen, this rally is mainly attended by the extreme left and the extreme right.
This protest did not receive support in Tbilisi and without it, one cannot succeed in Georgian politics.
I also heard the opinion that the opposition is jealous, and therefore they took up arms against Varlam Goletiani [leader of the protests against Namakhvani – JAMnews], but I do not think that the restrained position of the parties is connected with this. I think this is more of a “Varlamist” fantasy. This made their goals more obvious – some actually believe in him as a leader. Some people think that a new political force is being born in his face, and they want to join him.
Giorgi Kanashvili: Unfortunately, both sides made statements about the financing of the rally, the forces behind them, etc. This has created a reality in which any unscrupulous force can easily stir up a conflict.
Another issue is that our main political players have been using external forces to discredit each other for the last thirty years. We then see how people who called each other “agents” sit together again, depending on how the political context changes.
On top of that, the issue of “pro-Russianness” began to wear out, which is also dangerous.
However, by constantly talking about external forces, we no longer take responsibility and always blame others. It is clear that this does not mean that an external force, that is, Russia, does not play a role in this. Of course, it does, but our attitude is also important here. We do not take responsibility upon ourselves, which is very important for a democratic and well-established state.
Gia Nodia: It is noteworthy that most political parties did not follow this process.
When a lot of people gather somewhere, political parties are always tempted to use it to their advantage and join, but this did not happen in this case, with the exception of the Georgian March and Levan Vasadze (a right-wing nationalist movement and politician).
Mikheil Saakashvili personally also tried to use this protest, but his party did not follow his lead so that in itself was very interesting.
In my opinion, the parties have shown some responsibility. They may end up in power and they will have to resist such protests, because water resources are one of the most important resources in Georgia, and the natural desire of any government will be to use these resources for economic development, and this usually provokes protests from some part of society.
Therefore, if you join the protest now, then if you come to power later, it will be a little difficult to implement such projects.
The protesters have different moods. In this case, the opinions of very different people coincided on one issue, but it will be hard to create a political platform based on his one-time protest.
Of course, it also matters how successful this protest will be in itself – whether the authorities will fulfill the requirements and stop the construction of this hydropower plant. The government is also going through a difficult time – in recent years, wherever there was an attempt to build a hydroelectric power station, there were protests, and the government would end up retreating. If we look at it from the perspective of the government, everything goes to the point of absurdity, and the government must also show that it will give in to every protest.