Tbilisi protests – what they mean and what to expect
Tbilisi is the epicenter of a domestic political crisis in Georgia today.
At dawn on June 21, police special forces in Tbilisi broke up a protest in front of the Georgian parliament, which had lasted from seven o’clock in the evening of the previous day.
Journalists say not less than 30,000 people took to the streets and demanded the resignation of the heads of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the state security service, as well as the prime minister and the speaker.
Several hundred people were injured after police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.
On the afternoon of June 21, Georgian Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze announced his resignation.
The protests continued at the same place in the evening on June 21 with the following requirements:
1. The resignation of the Minister of Internal Affairs Giorgi Gakharia. The majority of the public believes that the police used force disproportionate given the circumstances against the protesters.
2. The dissolution of the parliament and the holding of early elections by a proportional system
The Inteparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy was to open on June 19 in Tbilisi. The right to open the assembly was given to Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov, and he did so from the seat reserved for the speaker of the Georgian parliament. An outraged parliamentary opposition left the meeting room. The authorities said that the appearance of Gavrilov in the chair of the Georgian speaker was a “protocol mistake” – but thousands of people took to the streets of Tbilisi.
What has caused this domestic political crisis? Who should be held responsible, and what is the solution?
Below are the comments of experts after the most difficult night for the ruling Georgian Dream party.
• Op-ed: The fight for Bidzina Ivanishvili
Ghia Nodia, Chairman of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development:
“The main thing is that the authorities should agree to early parliamentary elections under the proportional system.
“The authorities have now twice cut their own throat: Gavrilov was invited to take the chair of the speaker, and then there was the dispersal of the protest.
“Yes, the authorities had a reason to break up the rally. Yes, the call of Nika Melia – one of the leaders of the United National Movement – to seize parliament was absolutely irresponsible, and there is no excuse for this. Attacking the police is unacceptable.
“But the authorities must take into account several factors:
“In dispersing the demonstrations on November 7, 2007, and even more so on May 26, 2011, the then-authorities had an absolutely legitimate reason. But they had to pay a serious political price for this.
“The speaker of the current government and its supporters say the dispersal of those demonstrations was an unforgivable crime.
“Now they themselves have done much worse.
“In this case, the dispersal process itself was, on the one hand, unprofessional, and on the other hand, unjustifiably cruel. The use of rubber bullets can be justified only by the fact that they are less dangerous than real bullets. But they were used when there were no threats of seizure of the parliament building. Rubber bullets were shot at people in the streets and squares. This can not be justified.
“The government has lost the remnants of the legitimacy that it possessed. This is a great danger to the state. The return of the process to the constitutional framework is in the interests of all. But now it will be extremely difficult to do this.
“As for the opposition, they should abandon any intentions to rush somewhere and seize something.
“As for the peaceful mass protest, it is justified. But it will be absolutely unproductive if any of the parties tries to ‘saddle’ it (even if a certain coalition is announced).
“To overcome the crisis, the government must take extraordinary measures.
“In 2007, after the dispersal of the protest rally, the president resigned. Now it is meaningless, because the informal leader who really controls the country will not simply resign.
“The resignation of Speaker Kobakhidze and Interior Minister Gakharia is necessary. But this is unlikely to be enough.
“The government must, of course, agree to conduct elections under the proportional system, since this issue in one way or another will unite the society. I don’t know if this will be enough to help the cause, but this step needs to be done.”
Gia Khukhashvili, Georgian analyst, former advisor to the informal leader of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili:
“The Georgian Dream does not deny that it is in fact the successor of the United National Movement.
“For many years now, these two forces have been busy clarifying the relationship between themselves, and in these clashes the whole country has been bogged down. It is impossible to watch all this. The Georgian Dream United National Movement are a vicious symbiosis that prevents society and the country from developing. It must end.
“I personally will refrain from carrying out the analogy from November 7, 2007. Special forces are a very specific group. When they are allowed to perform a task, cruelty becomes inevitable. Another thing is that you can not bring the situation to the need to use special forces.
“Responsibility for the incident lies entirely with the authorities. This has come down to the fact that the authorities are not able to make normal decisions.
“There was a situation in which both the authorities and the opposition had the same opinion – the speech about Gavrilov in the Georgian parliament. They had no disagreement. The authorities simply had to find out who was responsible for what happened.
“But the vicious symbiosis led to the fact that even in a question in which the opponents were of the same opinion, they went for each other’s throats.
“Unfortunately, this government completes its path in the way the previous one completed it. I will not say that this will happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, but the process has assumed an irreversible character, for the Rubicon has been crossed.
“We will see attempts by both sides to justify themselves. But in fact, political responsibility lies with the entire political elite, without exception. The question of responsibility and the Georgian Dream and the National Movement should be raised simultaneously.
“It’s about the political responsibility of both Mikheil Saakashvili and Bidzina Ivanishvili. And the best solution is if both of them leave the political field of Georgia. Declare that they are takking political responsibility and leave.
“This would lead to a healing process.
“But no one has such an illusion. Therefore, what the elite do not voluntarily do, should be done by society.
“Another question is who and how. These questions are still unanswered. Although the historical pattern dictates: if we want to return the country to the path of development and not to get stuck completely in the swamp, it is necessary to get rid of these two forces.”
Tornike Sharashenidze, a specialist in politics and international relations, professor of GIPA
“It is shameful that the authorities did not react to the arrival of the Russian Communist [Sergei Gavrilov]. And only when the angry people went out into the street did they get scared and begin to apologize. This is their first insanity.
“The second insanity is the dispersal of the rally. I did not like the attempts to break into parliament, it was unacceptable for me, and so I left the protest. But when the authorities responded inadequately and thoughtlessly to these attempts, it became a disaster.
A maximum of two hours had to be endured – the protesters would have dispersed, and the authorities would have gotten out of this situation. But they did exactly what the [previous authorities] did on November 7, 2007. Everything is very similar, including using frightening signals, stalking and capturing people through the streets.
“Was it necessary to pursue people in order to catch up and beat them around the philharmonic [about a kilometer from the scene]? The only difference is that after the dispersal of the rally, the special forces did not break into one of the TV companies.
“12 years have passed since then, and no conclusions have been made.
“What about the fact that people were going to break into parliament? Did they break in? Why was it necessary to pursue people and shoot rubber bullets at them? Could this really be an excuse?
“If Parliament Speaker Kobakhidze had resigned immediately, he would have saved his own team and his career. And now all this power will be swept away, and this will end.”