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Georgia is witnessing the largest protest rally since the oppositional United National Movement rally in October 2016 and the protests of former president Mikhail Saakashvili’s opponents in 2007-2011. Thousands of Georgians, mostly young people, demand justice in the courts, the resignation of the government and early parliamentary elections. Protests in Georgia are unusual. The protesters were not led by the opposition politicians and businessmen, as it was during the revolutions in Armenia or Ukraine. The embodiment of popular anger in Georgia was the grief-stricken common inhabitant of Tbilisi Zaza Saralidze, who buried the 16-year-old son David, who was slaughtered by scoundrels during a street brawl in December last year. Six months have passed since the tragedy, but the father has never been able to obtain a transparent and impartial investigation and punishment of his son's killer from the local law enforcement bodies. However, the Georgians go out to protest not only to express solidarity to the murdered David Saralidze's father but also because they are not happy with the political course of the Georgian Dream party. Apparently, the interests of the Georgian opposition and the US also played their role.
Georgian Dream did not live up to expectations
Anti-government protests in Georgia indicate that a significant part of the Georgian society is tired of the unprofessionalism of the Georgian Dream Party. One of the achievements that became the hallmark of Georgian reforms during the years of Saakashvili's rule was the transformation in the law enforcement sphere, the fight against corruption and crime. The unscrupulous attitude of law enforcement agencies to the investigation of the murder of David Saralidze causes associations with the inefficient work of the Georgian authorities during the presidency of Eduard Shevardnadze. In the 90's and early 2000's, Georgia was in a state of collapse. It was impossible to solve any issue in the business or municipal sector without paying a bribe. Corruption cherished in the police offices and in the courts. The Georgian mafia had a significant impact on various spheres of society. Saralidze's protest found a response in Georgian society, as impunity generates impunity, and arbitrary behavior can affect any citizen.
After the Georgian Dream party came to power, crime began to grow and the quality of the work of law enforcement bodies decreased. Last year, 37.9 thousand crimes were committed in Georgia, which is 5.41% more than in 2016. The number of aggravated murders increased by 23% (32 murders). Robbery of banks by raiders in masks became more frequent. Last year, Georgia had 665 cases of bringing people to suicide. Over the past two years, minor Georgians committed about 1.2 thousand crimes but were punished only in 377 cases. For comparison, in 2011, under the previous authority, the number of crimes amounted to 32.2 thousand.
Georgians who suffered from the actions of the authorities came to the protest. Pankisi resident, Gorge Malkhaz Machalikashvili, whose 19-year-old son Tamerlane died during the anti-terrorist operation of Georgian special forces last year, has also joined the rally in Tbilisi. When the special forces examined their house, one of them shot a guy's head when he woke up and jumped off the bed at the sight of armed people. Later, the authorities began to assert that allegedly Tamerlan Machalikashvili had a grenade in his hands. Georgian law enforcers abused power during anti-drug raids in Georgian nightclubs in May this year.
The streets of Georgian cities are full of those dissatisfied with the internal policy of "dreamers". Despite the fact that the Georgian authorities report economic growth and low unemployment (13.9%), more than half of the working population of Georgia are considered self-employed. These are people who work free of charge in family enterprises. The highest unemployment rate is among young people (26%). Tbilisi residents themselves complain that there is little money in the country, and the domestic market is too narrow and competitive for doing business. The Georgians were not pleased with the introduction of the new taxes on the imports of cars, gasoline, engine, oil, and cigarettes for replenishment of the state treasury by 548 million lari by the government. In January 2017, the tax on imports of cars older than 14 years increased from 0.8 to 2.4 lari per cubic centimeter. You need to pay 3 times more for importing right-hand drive vehicles. Hybrid cars are now subject to a 60% duty on their value. The introduction of low import duties on cars was one of Saakashvili's most popular transformations among Georgians. Georgians bought used cars in the US for a pittance, imported them to Georgia, repaired them, and resold them on the domestic market or customers from near abroad (with an extra charge). The inhabitants of Kazakhstan were especially fond of buying cars in Georgia. Because of the new taxes, it became more difficult for ordinary Georgians to do business.
"Dreamers" could not agree with Russia on the return of separatist entities (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) to Georgia. One of the goals of the program of the Georgian Dream Party was the normalization of relations with Russia. However, apart from the partial restoration of trade and economic relations, nothing more could be achieved. In July 2017, Russian military and South Ossetian separatists seized part of the Georgian territory along which the Baku-Supsa pipeline section passes. Recently, the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad (Russia's ally in the Middle East) recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It is unlikely that this decision was without the influence of the Kremlin. Georgian Dream, which was founded by the Georgian-Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who turned a blind eye to the violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, acting in favor of the Kremlin.
The revenge of “mishysts” (Saakashvili-lovers) serves the interests of the United States
Saralidze called on opposition parties to join the protest. He asked to support ordinary people and help to destroy the existing system. Together with the head of the NGO "Center for the reform of law enforcement agencies," Zviad Kuprava they have consulted with the leader of "New Georgia" Giorgi Vashadze, a member of the party "United National Movement" ("mishysts") Nika Melia, leader of the movement "The state for the people" Nikoloz Machutadze , the leader of the "National Democratic Party" Bachuki Kardava and decided to seek early parliamentary elections. From the outset, the protests Zazu Saralidze supported the party "United National Movement" and its member Ani Tsitlidze organized a rally in Zugdidi.
The conflict between Saralidze and the regime of the "dreamers" is a convenient reason for the consolidation of the Georgian opposition led by the "mishysts". The main trump card of the opposition is the positive experience of reforms in Georgia, the ability to restore order in the law enforcement sphere. It would not have belonged to Saakashvili in Georgia, many recognize that during "mishysts’" rule the prosecutor's office employee Mirza Subeliani, whose son was involved in a fight and because of which deal supposedly is frozen, the murderer of David Saralidze certainly would be put behind the bars. Then the share of acquittals did not exceed 0.1-0.2% per year. 450 thieving officials from surrounding Shevardnadze occurred behind the bars, arrested 214 thieves, fired 40 thousand. Law enforcement employees who were involved in corruption. From 2006 to 2010 the number of especially serious crimes decreased by 37%, armed robberies - by 78%. Over the years of Saakashvili's rule, the level of trust of Georgians towards law enforcement bodies has increased from 5% to 87%. A new criminal code was introduced in the country.
Kvirikashvili and Georgian Dream do not intend to surrender. The prime minister publicly refused to resign. A rally of supporters of power was organized in Tbilisi, these people are often call "mishysts" supporters marginalists. Although both supporters and opponents of Saakashvili are rallying.
The United States benefited from the political revenge of United National Movement. Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and his associates maintain close relations with representatives of the Republican Party since George W. Bush. In his foreign policy, Saakashvili focused on the United States and pursued a policy of Euro-Atlantic integration, distanced himself from Russia. Georgia may be of the United States interest to reserve airfield in the literal sense. The US could transfer part of the equipment from the Incirlik airbase to Turkey. Since 2016, the Turks have held pickets with the requirement to close the base. Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, might close American military facilities due to uneasy relations with the United States.
Georgia has the military airfields at Marneuli, Senaki, Telavi, and Alekseevka, which can be used by US Air Force. Georgian naval posts can be hosted by the American warships. Therefore, it is advantageous for Americans to have the loyal political forces in Georgia. The US military presence in Georgia would undermine the monopoly of Russia's influence in the South Caucasus and would be another factor of pressure on the Kremlin.
The events in Georgia create a serious precedent for activating opposition sentiments among Ukrainians who are dissatisfied with the work of the current government. Similar problems exist in the law-enforcement sphere of Ukraine. The reform of the police and the fight against corruption were one of the key political slogans of the ruling coalition. The police reform in Ukraine has been carried out, but the crime rate is still high. In 2017, 495.7 thousand crimes out of 523.9 thousand were registered by the prosecutor's office in Ukraine.
The number of the crimes related to the illegal handling of arms increased by 29%, forgery of documents (by 3.7%), illegal drug trafficking (by 25.1%), and official crimes (by 16.4%). Over the past year in Ukraine, 260 thousand thefts were committed. In the first half of 2017, the number of cases of bribes identified increased from 1453 to 1557. Bribes are taken by the officials, public service employees, doctors, and police. In 2017, Ukraine committed 7,000 crimes by the minors (148 more than in 2016). Of these, 3196 are serious and particularly serious crimes, including murder, rape, and robbery.
As the events in Georgia show, when the authorities cease to protect the interests of their people and act solely in their own interests, the society begins to demand early elections and refuses to engage in a dialogue with the government. At least, Zaza Saralidze and his supporters are quite determined and want to achieve a change of power in Georgia. So it has already happened in 2003, when during the "Rose Revolution" Saakashvili and his supporters forced Shevardnadze to resign. The situation may recur, and not only in Georgia.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.