The man hailed by George W. Bush in 2005 for liberating a nation that turned into a “beacon of democracy” is now, it would appear, frantic to prove his country’s light still shines, and he, its all-powerful leader, is simply inept, out of touch, and completely ignorant of crimes being committed by his own people under his rule. This is the classic posture of tyrants when popular opinion and events turn again them: I’m not vicious, just stupid. It might as well be the campaign slogan of President Mikheil Saakashvili, who wishes to remain in power.
The event: last week in Georgia, the two television channels supporting an opposition candidate (one of those channels is, in fact, owned by the opposition candidate) showed footage of the torture and rape of local prison inmates, and the country right now is swarming with protests.
In other words, thousands are publically gathering to demand the resignation of Saakashvili, who until recently was 20 points ahead of his rival. Not a simple decision on the part of those courageous thousands in a country where open opposition can lead to jail time, as a fair number of Georgian writers and publishers have discovered. And jail time can lead, as we now know, to just the kind of brutal treatment currently on view.
No one, no matter how many resources he has, is immune. Even Saakashvili’s powerful opponent has been targeted, as I have recently learned. According to well-informed Georgians and Americans, an investigative group led by Tedo Japaridze, a former Georgian ambassador to the US, discovered just weeks ago that computers owned by that rival and the rival’s wife were under government cyber-attack.
That rival happens to be Bidzina Ivanishvili, a self-made multi-billionaire who is currently exhorting crowds of newly won supporter to choose between “good and evil” by election day, which happens to be October 1st.
Up until now the US State Department hasn’t exactly been 100 percent positive that B.I., as he’s known to friends, represents all that is good—or even successful at either winning an election or governing afterwards. And perhaps the US reluctance to choose, despite Saakashvili’s reputation as a despot, is understandable. Until recently the current president was known in the West as the hero of a bloodless revolution that overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister. Ivanishvili, on the other hand, was best known as the person almost nobody knew. A family man, yes. A collector of Impressionist paintings—which he keeps in bank vaults, while copies of those Impressionists decorate his Georgian mansion—yes. A recluse, yes. And also a quiet philanthropist. None of these qualities, however, ensure wonderful poll numbers.
And in fact, since the Georgian government seized all of Ivanishvili’s campaign funds, using the simply expedient of plucking them out of banks, you could argue that his chances for victory—until just days ago—were pretty slim. Other impediments? The government imposed big fines on donors to the opposition. And Ivanishvili was stripped of his citizenship when he decided to run.
Now that the head of Tbilisi prison has handed in his resignation, along with two deputies and several prison guards, all that may change.
Georgia’s president claims that some prison guards who shot the incriminating footage of captives being raped, beaten, and punched were bribed to do by “politically motivated persons.”
Well maybe those persons were bribers and maybe they weren’t. Maybe, for that matter, they were politically motivated.
But this is a defense? These are the ringing, hallowed words of a bringer of light?
Photo Credit: European People's Party