In journo-speak, it was only a “brief.” A tiny, one-column mention of an event that is usually only of interest to State Department wonks and expats.
Only a fortnight after Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice warned Georgian President Mikhael Saakashvilito avoid bloodshed in the continuing Mexican standoff between that country and the breakaway South Ossetia, violence broke out.
Fighting between Georgian forces and separatists in the neighboring country, which is being backed by Russia, left six people dead and 13 wounded. The news was bleak, if not exactly front page.
But if that doesn’t get Miss Rice’s attention, nothing will.
Her bag wasn’t even unpacked by the time the shooting broke out. Who’s to blame for six human lives lost? And why is there no world outcry?
First, President Saakashvili – who came to power backed by George Soros in the so-called Rose Revolution – promised the Bush administration that he would behave himself. But the temptation was too great. He had head-butted Vladimir Putin when he was Russian president and will continue to do so with the new administration, much to the dismay of the struggling Georgian people.
As long as Americans naively support his administration, he will continue to ignore the advice of the hand that feeds him.
Georgia is not Iraq. There are no famous journalists, no Anderson Coopers, no Katie Courics embedded in the capital, Tbilisi. In fact, there is no free media. Not unlike Iraq under Saadam Hussein, my country is under a blanket of secrecy. After the May 21 parliamentary elections – in which Mr. Saakashvili claimed a constitutional majority – television and radio stations were under threat. In fact, there is only one television station (Rustavi 2) left with permission to air any news at all. The station, as it happens, is owned and operated by the Georgian government. How convenient. My friends and relatives back in Tbilisi report weekly of the media blackout, and they are deeply disturbed by the current, dangerous state of affairs.
Several months ago, the country was rocked by political demonstrations as Georgians took the streets demanding a new government. A state of emergency was declared. The unpopular president allowed for new elections, which were immediately deemed fraudulent by nonpartisan election observers, including the OSCE (Organization of Security Cooperation in Europe.)
The regime has systematically, detained “criminal” elements opposed to Mr. Saakashvili’s reign of terror. In the last two weeks, I received word that six members of the major opposition party, the Labor Party, were detained by police and arrested for phony money-laundering charges. There is no judicial system, because the flotilla of so-called and highly corrupt judges have been personally appointed by Mr. Saakashvili himself. The charismatic head of the opposition party, a highly respected, extremely popular and talented professor of law, Shalva Natelashvili, is now a target. Government officials, according to taped conversations, threatened to murder his teenage children and his wife, a high school teacher. He was informed by a government official that his fate would rest in a 6-foot by 3-foot jail cell in Tbilisi One, reputed to be the filthiest, rat-infested, disease ridden prison in the world. The caller also bragged that all land line and cell phones and e-mails were being bugged, as well as those at the American Embassy. No doubt this will be news to the ambassador and his staff.
Mr. Natelashvili then asked Javier Solana, commissioner of European Union for international affairs, for political asylum for his family. Bravely, he refused to ask for himself because he loves his country. As I write this, he may still face fraudulent money-laundering charges, trumped up by a government that preaches democracy but in fact, has become a dictatorship. Secretary of State Rice has met the Georgian Jackal, and warned him of the consequences of his brash, impulsive and often inhuman behavior. How long can this slowly unraveling relationship sustain itself?
When Miss Rice said “no bloodshed,” she meant it. Georgians admire the United States, but how can they live and thrive under a man who says one thing and does another?
Tsotne Bakuria is a former member of the Georgian Parliament, and a senior fellow at Global International Strategic Group.