January 5, 2008
The petals fall off the Rose
In November 2003 Georgia had its "Rose Revolution". The western media sat on their comfortable sofas, watched the news on their wide screen tvs, and declared a victory for democracy, a peaceful peoples’ uprising, and a glorious future under the Harvard trained Saakashvilli. Most of the world, myself included, swallowed this narrative. Bad, corrupt soviet leader Shevarnadze is forcefully ejected from his quasi-dictatorial throne by his own people, who yearned for European norms: human rights, democracy, membership of the EU, and membership of NATO. The people loved their new leader so much that 97% voted for him in the free and fair presidential elections the following January.
Unfortunately, this is not what really happened and the protests and emergency rule that marred the country’s media image four months ago and brought about the snap Presidential election today, aptly illustrates this.
The Rose Revolution was not a simple uprising but was aided by the CIA and Ambassador Richard Miles (think Serbia). From early 2002 onwards the CIA had been operating in Georgia, supposedly to combat Al Qaeda. And yes, Georgia is an odd place to fight the war on terror against OBL. One of the main groups that took to the streets and stormed the Parliament house was Kmer (meaning "enough") was almost certainly CIA funded. Saakashvilli was never the democrat and wonderful liberal he was made out to be. His was a strategic role. He would further US interests in the Caucasus, especially with respect to Caspian sea oil in return for US and EU protection. However, Saakashvilli could never guarantee total support at home and thus slipped into heavily using patronage (what other may call corruption) and strongman tactics. He vamped up the nationalist rhetoric and classed with Russia over Southern Ossetia (population 70,000, about the same as Tunbridge Wells). He called Georgia’s participation in the USSR as the "Soviet Occupation" and put up posters around the Capital Tblisi stating that entry into the EU and the European Peoples Party specifically was his key foreign policy goal. The Prime Minister mysteriously died. All the time the EU was favourable towards Georgia’s entry into the EU and the US pushed heavily for Georgia to be brought into NATO. Saakashvilli has viewed and presented membership of NATO as not being part of the "western alliance" but in terms of nationalism. If Georgia is part of NATO it can play hard ball with Abkazia and South Ossetia, the two Russian backed breakaway regions (for a good economist article by Tim Judah click here), with the power of NATO behind it. That is why this small, often forgotten nation is of great strategic importance: oil and "great power politics".