November 24, 2003
GEORGIA'S 'VELVET REVOLUTION'
** Shevardnadze "had
little choice" but to acquiesce in his "overthrow."
** Commentators view
Shevardnadze as a "tragic" figure similar to Gorbachev.
** Russian mediation was a
bid for influence in "a volatile region."
'A fresh start'--
Editorialists concluded that Georgian President Shevardnadze
"finally bowed to the inevitable" by resigning from office. "The Tbilisi revolution was predictable,
taking into account that Eduard Shevardnadze had decided to keep power by
electoral fraud," wrote Romania's independent Cotidianul. Papers in Georgia declared that the
"velvet revolution" was a "historical event" marking the
beginning of "a new era."
Pro-reform Resonance stated that Shevardnadze's departure had
given birth to "a civil society."
Liberal opposition 24 Hours argued that the "velvet
revolution ended in a velvet manner" and that the opposition was not
"driven by revenge" but "defending their legal
rights." Dailies elsewhere noted
that the "only aim that united...Georgia's political opposition" was
toppling Shevardnadze, and held that "the mood for reform that has gripped
the country must be harnessed" through proper elections and "the hard
work of economic restructuring" if Georgia is to avoid continued civil
Like King Lear, surrounded by fawning courtiers, out of touch with
reality-- Writers in Europe and Australia viewed
Shevardnadze at least partly as a tragic figure. "If he had left two years ago, he would
be a national hero in Georgia today," commented Poland's liberal Gazeta
Wyborcza. "After the secession
and civil wars in Georgia he at least gave his people self-confidence and a
certain degree of stability," a German paper remarked, adding that he
"will keep his place in the history books." But Shevardnadze "frittered away"
the trust of his countrymen, "surrounding himself in the end with familiar
yes-men" and failing to tackle the corruption which "has eaten at the
country's soul, undermining repeated efforts at reform." Having championed the end of one politically
corrupt regime, Shevardnadze "drifted into actively leading another that
has sullied his reformist legacy."
An opportunity for Russia 'to open the door'-- Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov's
"positive role" in resolving the crisis led one Georgian daily to see
"a new beginning to Georgia-Russian relations." French papers observed that Russia's
"magnanimous" assistance comes after years of "creating chaos
and rendering Georgia impossible to govern" and that "behind these
latest events what has become clear is the forceful return of the Russians in
the Caucasus." Financial De Tijd
of Belgium averred that "Putin is ready to keep the former Soviet states in
line again." Other analysts
observed that the U.S. "has jostled with Russia for influence in
Tbilisi" because of Georgia's "geostrategic" position astride a
proposed Caspian oil pipeline. Writers
opined that Washington wants Georgia "stable and manageable" and
concluded that Shevardnadze's "infidelities" had proved too much for
continued U.S. support.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This
analysis is based on 34 reports from 17 countries, November 24-25, 2003. Editorial excerpts from each country are
listed from the most recent date.
Daily pro-reform Resonance editorialized (11/24): “President Shevardnadze’s resignation gave
start to a new era in Georgia. It also
was a new beginning to Georgia-Russian relations. Taking into consideration Minister Ivanov’s
positive role in the resolution of Georgian crisis, it becomes obvious that
Russian policy toward Georgia is changing.
Russia feels that Georgia is becoming a valued and decent state, that
has to be treated not though the policy of force, but respect and
friendliness.... A new era is launched
in U.S.-Georgia relations. In spite of
great respect and love of Georgians, the United States was still perceived as
supporting President [Shevardnadze] who
was feeding and strengthening his corrupt government while the U.S. did not
control the appropriation of donated assistance. There is no doubt certain U.S. political
circles are backing the opposition. It
is hard to believe that any opposition party or NGO had the economic capability
of producing and placing numerous adds on [Georgian] TV. It is hard to believe that without serious
backing or support the moderate part of the opposition would have taken these
risky steps. Obviously if the public protests failed, these opposition leaders
would have faced repressions and imprisonment.”
"November Lessons To Be Learned By Winners"
The political columnist of the daily liberal opposition 24
Hours wrote (11/24): “What happened
in Georgia yesterday was a historical event.
It is a fresh start, the beginning of something new for all citizens. Yesterday a civil society was born in
Georgia, a society which knows the price of freedom, which knows how to defend
this freedom, which believes in its own strength and which knows that from now
on each government has to serve the interests of the people and not vice
versa.... The velvet revolution ended in
a velvet manner. Opposition leaders
managed the key task. They decently
faced the victory.... The fact that the
opposition and Shevardnadze negotiated and he was granted freedom to stay in
the country, was in fact, a matter of dignity for the entire nation. It showed the world that people were not
seeking a political guillotine, but were rather defending their legal
rights. Young political leaders were not
driven by revenge, but strove for the peaceful resolution of the conflict.... Now the primary goal is to maintain what
we’ve achieved. People should not let
the future government act against their interests. Opposition leaders must realize that the
'rose revolution’ is a lesson for them to learn.”
"Journalist Eyes Will Watch New Faces"
Radical weekly Akhali Versia remarked
(11/24): “The velvet revolution is over
and even the main hero, ‘dictator’ Shevardnadze has left the stage with
decency.... [We] will continue to
develop investigative journalism in Georgia....
The events of the last few weeks showed that investigative journalism
works. Participants of the velvet
revolution knew everything about the government and the president’s
environment.... We believe that from now
on, each dishonest government official unveiled by journalists will be legally
and fairly prosecuted.”
"Russia Once Again Lost Georgia"
Georgia's right-of-center daily Mtavari
Gazeti contended (11/24):
"President Shevardnadze did not heed the West's advice and
recommendations and found himself on the 'dustbin of history'. At the most crucial point in Shevardnadze's
career the West not only turned its back on him, but also 'instigated' the
upheaval of the revolution. No
doubt--today we are dealing with the American revolution. The verdict was made regarding President
Shevardnadze right after he'd rejected the Baker plan. He appeared then to be dangerous for the
America's interests in the Caucasus.
Shevardnadze's rapprochement of recent times with Russia had finally
'upset' the West.... Yesterday,
Shevarnadaze resigned without any blood shed, leaving Russia incapable of
engaging in Georgia's internal political processes. Especially as political blackmail, on the
part of Russians through Agordsineba, had definitely been underway.... The West's primary demand that the opposing
sides should avoid bloodshed has been satisfied. It is obvious that this revolution did not
happen without United States support, which means that Georgia is moving toward
being under America's 'protection'. Igor
Ivanov was striving to save Russia's interests more than Shevardnadze's
chair.... Russia will not put up so
easily with the dominance of the Western regime in Tbilisi."
"Bloodless Revolt Could Trigger Violent Struggle"
Foreign Affairs Writer Robin Gedye observed in
the conservative Daily Telegraph (Internet version, 11/24): "Mr. Shevardnadze, who used the brutal
skills honed during years at the top of the Soviet political machine to bring
together the disparate clans of Georgia, eventually became a man out of tune
with his time. In his desperation to
cling to power the dictator made the same mistake as many of his contemporaries
in eastern Europe when they tried to hang on despite the overwhelming
opposition of the people they ruled....
Georgian opposition leaders called their coup a 'velvet revolution.' The problem for Georgia, however, is that
while Czechoslovakia had the charismatic Vaclav Havel to act as its guide from
dictatorship to democracy, Tbilisi has little but a fractured opposition. The only aim that united the clans that make
up Georgia's political opposition was to rid the state of Mr.
Shevardnadze.... Nino Burdzhanadze, the
parliamentary speaker who has been appointed as acting president, must move
swiftly if she is to steer Georgia smoothly to its second election in two
months. The possibility of a further
collapse in law and order is immense in what is effectively a political vacuum
that will be fought over by fractured opposition groups with no obvious
national leader. While Mr. Shevardnadze
may have been ruling on borrowed time, he was, because of his consummate
political skills, once the only figure able to unite his notoriously corrupt
and volatile country, which sits on a planned oil pipeline to open up the
Caspian basin to the West.... Georgia's
current political state, with its lack of any effective opposition leadership,
is more akin to Romania's situation in 1990....
It will require the skills of a Shevardnadze in his heyday to see
Georgia through the next 45 days without a proper government. There will be hundreds of supporters of the
fallen regime who could be expected to plot revenge, both out of fear of
retribution at the hands of the mob as well as a sense that they were unfairly
robbed of power. If the passions of the
crowd become the lawlessness of the mob and the army is called out, Georgia may
yet descend into another dictatorship."
"Revolution Haunts The Land Of Monsters And
Robert Parsons wrote in the left-of-center Guardian
(Internet version, 11/24): "Eduard
Shevardnadze's departure need never have been like this. Although he is still lauded in the west for
his part in the end of the cold war, Georgians have always been more equivocal
in their assessment of his character and abilities. Yet when he returned to power in 1992 they
accepted him, albeit grudgingly. They
understood he was a giant on their tiny Caucasian stage. Shevardnadze, however, frittered away their
trust, surrounding himself in the end with familiar yes-men from his Communist
party past. The opportunity was there to
groom another generation for power, but he took fright when the young
politicians he introduced into office developed ideas of their own. He retreated into the security of his old
cabal, expelling the young pretenders into what he hoped was the
wilderness. This weekend they have come
back to haunt him. Georgians have a keen
sense of theatre and a subtle understanding of the nuances of Shakespearean
tragedy.... Today they are comparing Shevardnadze
to King Lear--a lonely, disconsolate figure, surrounded by fawning courtiers
and hopelessly out of touch with reality....
The country's record since independence has been desperately
disappointing. Corruption is a problem
in all of the former Soviet republics, but in Georgia it has eaten at the
country's soul, undermining repeated efforts at reform.... Much responsibility for that rests with
Shevardnadze. He repeatedly described it
as his country's greatest curse and promised, time after time, that he would
fight it to the bitter end. But these
were empty words.... The question now is
whether any of this will change under the new generation of politicians ushered
in by Georgia's 'velvet revolution'....
Most encouraging of all is the birth of civil society. Indeed, some argue that it is the emergence
of civil society in Georgia which ultimately ensured Shevardnadze's
downfall. The irony is that he made it
"Shevardnadze Had Little Choice But To
The center-left Independent argued
(11/24): "Nothing quite so became
Eduard Shevardnadze as president of the Caucasian republic of Georgia as the
manner of his resigning from the post yesterday. After weeks of resistance to the clamor for
his resignation after parliamentary elections widely dismissed as rigged, Mr.
Shevardnadze finally bowed to the inevitable and last night announced on
television that he was going.... In
truth he had little choice. His attempt
to prepare for his own agreed retirement by holding elections earlier this
month ended in disaster.... As in
Eastern Europe and the Balkans a president, well-known abroad but deeply
distrusted at home, fell to the sheer power of the people and the unwillingness
of the military to intervene. The
peaceful manner of his overthrow--for overthrow is what it is for all
Shevardnadze's final gesture of resignation--must give some hope for a country
which has suffered so much from corruption, separatist conflict and war with
its neighbors and Russian interference.
But it starts from a low base of economic stagnation, huge disparities
of wealth and deep internal divisions....
Georgia--crucial for its position along the path of the proposed Caspian
pipeline--...will need all our assistance, and the cooperation of Russia, the
EU and Washington, if it is to achieve what the Poles, Czechs, Serbians and
others have already done."
Gerard Dupuy wrote in left-of-center Liberation
(11/24): “Shevardnadze’s departure was
brokered by Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister.
The Kremlin, after creating chaos and rendering Georgia impossible to
govern, is playing the magnanimous role of troubleshooter. This attitude cannot make us forget the
brutality of the Kremlin’s actions in the Caucasus, both to control oil routes
and to establish its role as regional sovereign, even at the cost of a
"The Foreign Referees"
Francois Ernenwein commented in Catholic La Croix
(11/24): “It is Russia that will decide
whether Georgia’s revolution will be no more than a soft revolution.... But the U.S., which had begun to see the
uprising in a good light because of Shevardnadze’s infidelities, will also have
something to say about Georgia’s future....
For years Washington has tried to help Georgia get out from under Russia’s
control, hoping to profit from that nation’s geostrategic position.... After Ivanov, it is now Colin Powell’s turn
to visit Tbilisi.... Neither Russia nor
the U.S. really needs any more conflicts:
both have their hands full, one with Chechnya, the other with
Iraq.... But a peaceful scenario
presupposes caution on all sides, including the rebels.”
"The Return of the Russians"
Alexandre Adler held in right-of-center Le Figaro
(11/24): “Should we fear trouble in
Georgia?... At this point it appears
that Moscow has played both ends against the middle, nurturing relations with
Shevardnadze and the opposition.... And
for a number of reasons, including a similarity of views with Moscow on how to
fight against terrorism, Washington has abandoned its old ally.... Behind these latest events what has become
clear is the forceful return of the Russians in the Caucasus, after,
successively: the weakening of Turkey
due to its alliance with the U.S., a convergence of views between Brazil and
Argentine, also based on anti-Americanism, South Korea’s turning to China, and
the creation of a Franco-German nucleus in Europe. What one can conclude from all this is not
that the American empire is on the move, but rather that a multipolar world is
Center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine argued (11/24): "The pictures from Tblisi resemble those
we saw in Belgrade three years ago. In
Georgia and in Serbia the presidents sought refuge in electoral fraud to stay
in power. Here and there people staged
mass protests in front of the parliament and called for their resignation. After some time the opposition in both
countries achieved 'breakthroughs.' But
on the other hand, the opposition forces in Georgia that are now trying to come
to power, are not only democratic beacons.
Appeals to storm the president's residence are no evidence of a
democratic background. The opposition
groups only agree on their opposition to Shevardnadze; a common will for
something seems to be out of the question."
"Creating Stability In Georgia"
Center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich opined
(11/24): "The Europeans can now
take advantage of this chance to help the future rulers and contribute to
creating stability in this strategically important region. In addition to economic support, Georgia also
needs support in the fight against the shortcomings of the past: rampant
corruption, the deficiencies in the justice system and administration, the
arbitrariness of the state. Opposition
leader Saakashwili called Shevardnadze a semi- dictator. But at the moment he is not even this. For Georgia this could be a writing on the
wall for better times."
"Resignation Of Shevardnadze"
Centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin noted (11/24): "Following Shevardnadze's resignation, a
power vacuum is threatening to develop in Georgia, for, in one point, he is
right: parallels to the events in the
fall of 1991 which escalated to a civil war later, cannot be overlooked. At that time, people in the streets ousted a
government, and this move was initially as bloodless as today. Swiad Gmsachurdia, the first freely elected
president, was accused of the same democratic deficiencies of which
Shevardnadze is rightfully accused today.
In this situation there is no supportive alternative to new
parliamentary elections. But the
opposition must prove to the world that it is willing and able to consolidate
its legitimate demand for a change of power with legal means. Then it will really gain the majorities in
free elections to which it has thus far only talked about. A power vacuum in Georgia can be prevented
only if democratic legitimation and the execution of power stabilize the
"A Tragic Figure"
Center-right Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung had this to say
(11/24): "The falsified results of
the parliamentary elections have now politically broken Shevardnadze's
neck. But he will keep his place in the
history books. As former foreign
minister under Mikhail Gorbachev he took considerable part in establishing
Germany's reunification. And after the
secession and civil wars in Georgia he at least gave his people self-confidence
and a certain degree of stability. But
power changes people. Now Shevardnadze
is turning into a similarly tragic figure as Gorbachev."
ITALY: "The Sad
Parable Of Perestroika
Valerio Pellizzari remarked in Rome's center-left daily Il
Messaggero (11/24): "Moscow's
embrace is still a decisive gesture, as effective as an excommunication, as
quick as a toast enriched by a sleeping pill.
The Kremlin envoy arrives in Tblisi overnight, as if he were visiting a
province of the Soviet empire, a rebel contingent, and not a sovereign state. A few hours after his arrival, Eduard
Shevardnadze realizes that he has no protectors any more and resigns. The Soviet empire no longer exists, but the
Kremlin still knows how to be very rapid when necessary, as was the case with
soldiers transferred from Sarajevo to Kosovo in order to arrive in that province
before the British soldiers.... This
personal case, alone, is a parable of Yeltsin's and Putin's Russia. But, most of all, it shows the reawakening of
the old imperial visions.... The
independence of Asian republics over the last few years has been conditioned by
the physical impossibility to export their oil resources without paying duties
to the Russians. There are three ways to
export: one goes through Iran, one will perhaps go through Afghanistan, and the
most used one goes through Georgia. Russia
does not want the Chechnya contagion to spread.
But, most of all, it does not want the control of oil and gas meant for
the West to suffer interference."
Stopped Being Leader Long Before Resignation"
Sergey Strokan commented in business-oriented Kommersant
(11/24): "The latest events in
Georgia have dispelled illusions that, in the one-and-a-half years left before
the presidential election, Eduard Shevardnadze will be allowed to run the
country as he has done for the past decade to some or for eternity to
others. It has been clear right from the
beginning of the last political crisis that Shevardnadze is no longer an ace
and will never be able to unite the nation again. This is what brought him to power and helped
him overcome one crisis after another.
Shevardnadze started out as one who united Georgia and ended up as one
who divided it, running out of his potential as a national leader. His dilemma was not whether he should quit
but when and how he should do so. That,
in large measure, will determine what people will make of him and his
times.... As the current crisis revs up,
Georgia increasingly resembles the USSR shortly before its collapse, and
Shevardnadze's position Gorbachev's in 1991.
The resemblance is all the stronger in view of the fact that, after
helping dismantle the Soviet Empire, Shevardnadze tried to reproduce it in
Georgia on a smaller scale. He could not
but fail. But then, you can't be sure
that the exulted people who will succeed Shevardnadze will do better."
"U.S.-Russia Quarrel Over Georgia Unlikely"
Maksim Yusin mused in reformist Izvestiya (11/24): "In the Georgian crisis, Moscow and
Washington are on different sides of the barricades. The Americans openly support and finance the
opposition.... But even so, a serious
quarrel is unlikely. It is good for the
Kremlin that the Bush administration has been mired in Iraq and is hardly
willing to get embroiled in yet another crisis or endanger its relations with
Russia as it may need its assistance elsewhere in the world, in areas that,
unlike the Southern Caucasus, are of vital interest to the United States."
"West Doesn't Care About Shevardnadze"
Dmitriy Suslov wrote in centrist Neazavisimaya Gazeta
(11/24): "The West wants stability
in Georgia but does not care about its leader.
Gone are the days of Washington's unqualified support for Eduard
Shevardnadze. Now the United States
wants the Caucasus to be stable and manageable."
"It Dates Back To James Baker's Visit"
Business-oriented Kommersant asserted in a piece by
Vakhtang Dzhanashia and Boris Volkhonskiy (11/24): "It did not start last Saturday. Not even on November 2 (the polling day). A visit to Georgia by former U.S. Secretary
of State James Baker last July and the Americans' efforts to rally
anti-presidential forces in the intervening months became a catalyst. But at the closing stage of the crisis,
Russia, launching a counteroffensive, made a strong bid to retain its position
in post-Shevardnadze Georgia."
BELGIUM: "A Democracy
Needs To Be Built"
Deputy chief editor Jean-Paul Duchateau editorialized in
independent La Libre Belgique (11/24):
“A velvet revolution does not automatically mean that a country will
become a peaceful and steady democracy.
History has sufficiently shown that the end of a dictatorship or the
ousting of an authoritarian regime does not systematically bring an end to
autocracy and corruption. A democracy
needs to be built, and it does not only need responsible leaders but also a vigilant
population, who can demand that their rights be respected, but who must also be
aware that they have duties. Actually,
Georgians’ luck is that both Washington and Moscow are quite interested in
their country. It was in the interest of
both capital cities that the situation did not turn sour in Georgia. But this luck has also a down side, as it is
clear that the Russians as well as the Americans have a ‘plan’ for Georgia, and
consequently for Georgians as well. Good
for them if that plan for the time being corresponds with their great
democratic aspirations. One simply hopes
that, tomorrow or the day after, they will not, like many others, be
disappointed because of realpolitik considerations.”
"A Lot At Stake In Georgia"
Foreign affairs writer Erik Ziarczyk remarked in financial daily De
Tijd (11/24): “There is a lot
at stake for the United States and, as is often the case, it is all about oil
interests. Georgia is of crucial
importance for an expensive project that exports oil from the Caspian Sea. American companies paid millions of dollars
for a pipeline through Azerbaijan and Georgia to the port of Ceyhan in
Turkey. To protect those investments the
U.S. government was generous these last few years with financial and military
support to the Shevardnadze government.
America’s meddling was ill received by Russia. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union
in 1991, Moscow continued to view the former Soviet states as Russia’s
backyard. However, the early Russian
democracy was no match for the American companies which became very generous
with money--with the support of the U.S. government.... The election of Vladimir Putin as president
gave Russia new self-confidence....
After more than ten years of absence from the Caucasus, Putin is ready
to keep the former Soviet states in line again.
The fact that he is irritating his American friends is not a real
problem for him. It was no coincidence
that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was the first to land in Tbilisi...so
that he had a free hand to bring things under control. With some Russian pressure, Shevardnadze
resigned.... Maybe, Shevardnadze’s
successors have already understood that Moscow is expecting something in return
for its support to the ‘velvet revolution.’
Perhaps and extra oil or natural gas contract, or a few military
"Shevardnadze Had No Choice"
Foreign affairs writer Isa Van Dorsselaer observed in independent
Christian-Democrat De Standaard (11/24): “For ten years the Americans considered
Shevardnadze a stabilizing force and supported him with money. Last week, however, the State Department
criticized the ‘massive fraud’ during the elections. Observers viewed that as a signal that
Washington was ending its support to Shevardnadze--also because the once
pro-Western President was moving into the direction of Russia this last
year. Suddenly, young pro-Western
Sakaashvili became an interesting person.
For Russia--which is not happy with the American influence in its
backyard--the crisis in Russia was an opportunity to open the door. Russia dispatched its Foreign Minister Igor
Ivanov who mediated between the opposition and the President on Sunday.... Without the support of the army and the
police, with a divided circle of advisers and under pressure from thousands of
people in the streets, the United States and Russia--which all urged for a
peaceful solution--Shevardnadze had no other choice.”
Center- right daily Dnevnik commented (11/24): "The manner in which Georgia exited the
Shevardnadze era seems like a distant echo of the velvet revolution wave of the
late 80s-early 90s.... In such cases
everything hinges on the side that the military and the police will take. In the Georgian case there was another factor
involved--Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov personally asked the president to
sign his resignation, essentially Moscow sacrificed Shevardnadze for the sake
of its strategic interests. After 1991,
Russian troops based in Georgia have always taken part in every national unrest
and every losing party has relied on their weapons. This time Russia scored high by avoiding a
civil war in a region expected to play a major role in the transiting of
Caspian oil. And a lot of Caspian oil,
Liberal Magyar Hirlap editorialized (11/24): “Why Georgia, many ask this question. Georgia has become, not voluntarily, a buffer
state of East and West. More precisely
Georgia has been made a buffer state. It
has ‘put’ Georgia into an uncomfortable situation that the West handled the
Chechen conflict as a human rights issue but still turned away from Russian
President Putin’s acts. The Russian
planes that were after the Chechen rebels jettisoned their murderous cargo over
Georgian soil, which incident sharpened the Moscow-Tbilisi relationship. And the United States has taken advantage of
the situation. The U.S. officially
complained about the developments in Chechnya, but sent at the same time
military experts to Georgia to train and prepare the armed forces. Tbilisi has become strategically important in
the international political an economic competition too. The oil-pipeline, which carries oil from the
Caspian Sea to the West stretches across Georgia’s territory. That is why the State Department also urged
those involved in the crisis to seek a peaceful solution.”
POLAND: "Step Down In
Editor-in-chief Adam Michnik opined in liberal Gazeta Wyborcza
(11/24): “The old fox was skilled in
maneuvering between Moscow and Washington.
Georgia was not a British-type democracy, but it was not a
Turkmenistan-like dictatorship either.
If Shevardnadze had left two years ago, he would be a national hero in
Georgia today. But nothing in politics
is more difficult than to know when to step down. Shevardnadze did not understand that the
world had changed, that Georgia had changed, and that even a limited democracy
must respect some rules.”
"The End Of Shevardnadze’s Era"
Slawomir Popowski observed in centrist Rzeczpospolita
(11/24): “Shevardnadze’s misfortune was
that he was unable to transform Georgia into a normal civilized state. The country was controlled by corrupt clans
whose positions were defined by connections and support from the president. The new authorities will have to dismantle
this system. This task will be their
first serious test to prove how credible their slogans of building a civic
society in Georgia are.”
"Miserable King, Lousy Courtiers"
Wojciech Jagielski wrote in liberal Gazeta Wyborcza
(11/22): “To admit a mistake is a
difficult thing to do. But admitting a
mistake much too late may be an inexcusable error that disqualifies such a
seasoned politician [as Shevardnadze.]”
Foreign policy analyst Ioana Lupea opined in Cotidianul
(11/24): “The Tbilisi revolution was
predictable, taking into account that Eduard Shevardnadze had decided to keep
power by electoral fraud, despite American warnings, which had targeted him
even since last year. The former
communist leader sought support from Moscow and did get it, despite the fact
that, under his leadership, Georgia was a rather hostile presence for
Russia.... Shevardnadze’s time has
passed, it is now Shaakashvili’s time, a young politician, greedy for power,
having done his studies in the United States, and more anti-Russian than the
disputed president has ever been....
Saturday, it was in Tiblisi. The
next time, it might be in Kiev.”
Centrist La Vanguardia contended (11/24): "Shevardnadze's government was
pro-West. So are the winners of the
disturbance--a disturbance with strong influence from the U.S.--those most
interested in building a pipeline for oil from the Caspian sea to Turkey. This importance makes Georgia a volcano. But this is not the only reason. Abkhazia, Adzaria and South Ossetia...are in
practice out of the central authority's control. That's why the faceoff between Shevardnadze
and those who have overthrown him could be an incentive for separatists. In this context, the crisis in Georgia, where
Russia has military bases, can be overcome only through democratic elections
under international supervision."
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
AUSTRALIA: Georgia trapped
in its history
The liberal Sydney Morning Herald editorialized (Internet
version, 11/25): "There was a
palpable sense of relief in the jubilation which greeted the resignation of
Georgia's President, Eduard Shevardnadze....
Mr. Shevardnadze retreated from his threat to crush street protests by
force. This last act of statesmanship
will go a long way in defining his substantial historic legacy.... When Georgia's first democratically elected,
post-Soviet President, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was hounded from office by a huge
popular uprising in 1992, Mr. Shevardnadze was quick to join the
celebrations.... Mr. Shevardnadze then
seized the opportunity to seek the presidency for himself. Mr. Shevardnadze has fallen on the same
sword. He finally drained the last of
the West's goodwill, and active support of the United States, in rigged
elections earlier this month. However,
it is a crisis which has long been building.
There is no doubt Mr. Shevardnadze failed to address endemic corruption
and violence as his nation slid further into poverty and despair. Nor did Mr. Shevardnadze resist the arrogance
and vindictiveness of power. But the
demise of one of the former Soviet Union's most prominent reformists must raise
very difficult questions for those who will govern next. The deep ethnic, territorial and geopolitical
tensions which have historically plagued Georgia remain. The U.S.-backed opposition will face the same
overwhelming challenges in wresting control from powerful interest
groups--without the tools of authoritarian rule--and in resisting the expedient
alliances with unsavory warlords which hastened Mr. Shevardnadze's
fall.... Since independence in 1991 the
U.S., keen to secure political stability in a volatile region and to protect $2
billion oil pipeline, has jostled with Russia for influence in Tbilisi. Russia's brutal war in neighboring Chechnya,
its decision to arm separatists inside Georgia and frequent cuts to Russian
supplied gas and electricity greatly destabilized the new nation. In combination with internal divisions,
including the rise of the post-communist mafia, these pressures have pushed
Georgia to the brink of state failure.
Any popular revolution is burdened by high expectations. In Georgia, the welcome fresh start for
democracy is not enough. For democracy
to prevail, the rule of the warlords must be replaced by the rule of law."
"A Reformist Lost Stands Down"
Melbourne's liberal Age remarked (Internet version,
11/25): "Eduard Shevardnadze was
once a darling of the West.... Since
[being elected] he has presided over the rapid failure of one of the world's
newest states. Tiny Georgia could be
held out as a textbook example of the fragility of democracy in
post-authoritarian regimes.... The
United States pumped huge amounts of aid into Georgia, helping prop up the
regime, while relations with the Russian Federation remained frosty after Mr.
Shevardnadze refused to assist Moscow in the war in Chechnya. But he also allowed himself to become hostage
to vested local interests, turning a blind eye to corruption to secure
political support.... The humiliating
scene in the parliament on Saturday of Mr. Shevardnadze, now 75, being hustled
mid-speech from the chamber by his security guards signaled a sorry political
demise.... Having championed the end of
one politically corrupt regime, Mr. Shevardnadze drifted into actively leading
another that has sullied his reformist legacy.... If Georgia is not to descend yet again into
civil war, the mood for reform that has gripped the country must be harnessed. The first requirement is for properly supervised
democratic elections. There is a role
here for the United Nations. After that
must come the hard work of economic restructuring. Its strategic position between Europe and the
Middle East must not allow Georgia to become a new big power playground between
Russia and the U.S., let alone a base for terrorism. That will call for restraint and
Resigns In Bid To Defuse Crisis"
Zhao Ying provided this analysis for China's official news agency
Xinhua in English (11/24):
"Considering complicated internal circumstances and hoping to
prevent the current unrest from escalating, the veteran state leader finally
made a difficult but bold decision to hand over his power to the
opposition.... Many Georgians criticized
Shevardnadze for misruling, failing to tackle rampant corruption and economic
deterioration in the once affluent Soviet republic. The president was also blamed for the decline
of living standards and rising unemployment.
Shevardnadze's final concession was also made due to the close concerns
shared by foreign nations, particularly Russia and the United States.... Although Shevardnadze adopted a pro-West
strategy during his rule, Washington was still disappointed at the widespread
corruption and some unstable factors in the government's foreign policies. What the United State wants is a regime that
meets the requirements of western-molded democracy. Receiving no firm supports from its Caucasus
neighbors and western allies, the helpless Shevardnadze realized that he had no
other choice but to give up his post to powerful opponents.... But it is still unclear whether new Georgian
leaders will properly solve all the economic, political and social problems in
Georgia. The emerging new government may
face tough challenges in the future in navigating the development of the
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Caucasian Domino Falls?"
Lahore-based liberal English-language Daily
Times commented (Internet version, 11/24):
"Georgia...seems no longer able to govern itself. Its president for nearly a decade, Eduard
Shevardnadze, has been forced to flee the parliament house by a united
opposition that has rejected the elections held earlier this month because they
were fixed by him in his own party’s favor.
The deadlock has caused the Russian foreign minister to pay a flying
visit to try and resolve matters. But
the Georgians know that Russia could intervene as it has in the past.... When Shevardnadze tried to prolong his
decade-long rule, the Georgians balked.
This raises the question: has
democracy worked in the ‘republics’ that were supposed to go back to sovereign
independence after 1991? Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, all have ex-communists ruling them. They are mostly opposed by the
Islamists. Will the Islamists usher in
democracy? No, since the Islamists have
serious objections to democracy. The
region is therefore fated to remain undemocratic and problematic."
"Georgia's Velvet Revolution"
Tehran's pro-Khatami, English-language Iran
News commented (Internet version, 11/24):
"The impoverished Caucasus...plus the others classified as the
Caucasus are very important to the West compared to Central Asian republics
which the Europeans and the Americans have basically written off as being
within the sphere of influence of Russia....
The West considers the Caucasus region as Russia's Achilles Heel because
of the region shared culture with Western nations. Analysts believe that the West has not had a
clear and well-defined strategy toward the CIS.
As a result, former communists have been ruling these republics as
'lifetime presidents' with very little political development taking place in
these countries. But what has transpired
in front of our TV screens in Tblisi is a sign that Washington has turned its
attention to this long neglected region and is looking for a political turnover
with new leadership taking over the reigns of power in the Caucasus
region.... Will Georgia's unfolding
'Velvet Revolution' give rise to a domino effect for the rest of the CIS
similar to what befell Eastern Europe exactly 14 years ago? Are we about to witness another monumental
political earthquake on the same scale as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the
velvet revolutions of former Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe? Only time will tell."