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Domestic Frictions as Georgians Await EU Deal

As interior minister claims opposition wants to copy Ukraine unrest, a pro-Moscow movement grows.
By Sopho Bukia
  • Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili (left) on Tbilisi's Europe Square. (Photo: Georgian  president's website)
    Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili (left) on Tbilisi's Europe Square. (Photo: Georgian president's website)

Georgia’s governing and opposition parties may share a common vision of closer ties with the European Union, but they are still squabbling, with one accusing the other of plotting Ukraine-style disturbances.

Members of the governing Georgian Dream coalition and the opposition United National Movement (UNM) parties appeared together at a concert on April 13 organised by more than 100 NGOs that back closer ties with Europe.

“This sacred goal unites us all. It isn’t just a choice made by one political group, it isn’t just the choice of one politician or official, and it hasn’t just been made by those of us who are standing here,” President Giorgi Margvelashvili told the crowd at the event. “This is a choice that was made by our forebears who created this country.”

Philip Dmitrov, the European Union envoy to Tbilisi, then spoke in Georgian, telling the audience that the imminent Association Agreement with EU would give the country free movement of goods, services and capital.

“We are now doing a lot of work on a new freedom – the freedom for people to move around,” he said.

Amid the sense of common purpose, remarks by Georgian interior minister Alexander Chikaidze a week before the concert sounded particularly discordant.

Chikaidze accused the UNM of importing activists from the Kiev protests to help with a plot to stage similar unrest in Georgia. He said the UNM planned to kill its own supporters and blame it on the government.

“They are holding training sessions and doing preparatory work,” he told the newspaper Prime Time. “Several NGOs are working on how to bring people out onto the streets, then shoot at their own people and blame the government. Their plan is to put up tents and mobilise 300 to 400 people.”

Chikaidze said the plans might go into effect after Georgia held local elections on June 15.

The UNM dismissed his claims out of hand.

“It’s hard to comment seriously on the interior minister’s remarks,” said Zurab Japaridze, a member of the UNM minority in parliamentary. “It’s a very cheap trick by the government to cover up the many problems that have appeared of late. It’s clear the prime minister told him to say this, and it’s absurd and stupid.”

Japaridze said there was no need for protests to rid of the current government “because it will soon fall apart by itself.”

Some analysts took the minister’s warnings a little more seriously, although they based their suspicions largely on the fact that ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili had spent a long period in Ukraine recently.

Others, however, said it made little sense for an avowedly pro-European government to be casting aspersions on events on the Maidan, the Kiev square that was the epicentre of a protest movement that, among other things, called for an EU Accession Agreement for Ukraine.

“I don’t understand why anyone, the UNM or anyone else, would want to create a Maidan here, since the government hasn’t deviated from its course towards European integration,” Tornike Sharashenidze, a professor from the Institute of Civil Affairs, told IWPR. “Why would people come out onto the streets and create a Euromaidan? Because the government is planning to give up on the EU? The [interior] minister should answer that question.”

Chikaidze did not elaborate on his accusations, and Deputy Foreign Minister David Jalagania told journalists he was not aware of activists from Ukraine being present in Georgia.

Amid the recriminations, there are concerns that Russia-Ukraine tensions are affecting Georgia in a different and potentially more alarming manner. A number of pro-Moscow demonstrations have taken place in recent weeks. Participants spoke out against Georgia’s plans to join NATO one day, and denied that Russia was occupying Georgian territory in the shape of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgia and Russia have had a frosty relationship since the August 2008 war, which led to Moscow recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states. Many Georgians worry about the implications for them of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and troublemaking in eastern Ukraine.

The pro-Russia rallies are organised by the Eurasian Institute in Tbilisi and a group called The Earth is Our Home. Many political analysts in Tbilisi are concerned about where the movement has come from and where it is going.

“Of course their freedom of speech should not be restricted, but I am interested in who finances these organisations. The government should look into this,” said Eka Gigauri from Transparency International – Georgia.

Defence Minister Irakli Alasania told IWPR that the organisations were funded by “those who wish Georgia ill”, but declined to be more specific.

“The defence ministry and our armed forces are very concerned about the absolutely amoral statements made by these civil society representatives who justify the position of Russia, our principal enemy,” he said. “No one will allow a fifth column to appear in Georgia.”

Sopho Bukia is an IWPR-trained journalist and works for the Rustavi-2 broadcasting company.

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