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eXiled Alert! / Fatwah / May 12, 2009


(This article first appeared in on May 11, 2009.)

The May 7 edition of the Washington Post features one of the most poorly timed op-ed commentaries in recent memory. Carrying the harmless headline “A Friend to Georgia and Russia,” it features the soothing bipartisan co-byline of Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Congressman David Dreier. The editorial argues that the best way to “reset” relations with Russia while at the same time support Georgia’s “fledgling” democracy would be–are you ready?–to enact a free trade agreement with Georgia.

There are only two problems with this position: 1) free trade agreements are widely considered to be a big cause of the mess America and Georgia are in today; and 2) Georgia doesn’t have a functioning democracy, as the tens of thousands of antigovernment protesters can attest. Just hours before the Kerry-Deier editorial was published, Georgian riot police brutally attacked protesters in the capital, Tblisi, using truncheons and rubber bullets, according to the protesters, sending dozens to the hospital, including some of the opposition leaders as well as several journalists. A popular singer turned protester, Giorgi Gachechiladze, was reportedly pinned to the ground by police and beaten with truncheons, breaking one of his ribs. Police reportedly were chanting the nickname of Georgia’s authoritarian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, during the melee.

saakashvili-chewing-his-tieSaakashvili chews on his tie during his disastrous  invasion of South Ossetia.

Pro-democracy demonstrations against the savvy English-speaking Georgian strongman first gelled in November 2007, when 100,000 people took to the capital’s center square to demand real democratic reforms. Saakashvili responded with force, sending in his Special Forces to brutally crush the demonstrations, shutting down the opposition media and imposing martial law, leading to worldwide criticism. Last year he nearly sparked World War III after recklessly invading South Ossetia and provoking a war with Russia, leading to war crimes accusations by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

Over the past few years, human rights organizations have increasingly condemned Georgia’s deteriorating democracy record, while most of Saakashvili’s prominent former allies have abandoned him for the opposition, accusing him of turning into a mini version of Vladimir Putin. Critics have been jailed and forced into exile; powerful figures mysteriously died, including a former prime minister and Georgia’s former top oligarch. Others have been harassed with classic police-state tactics, such as Nino Burjanadze, the former parliamentary speaker who co-led the 2003 Rose Revolution with Saakashvili, but who last year joined the opposition after accusing Georgia’s leader of creating a dictatorship. On the eve of the recent protests, members of Burjanadze’s party were arrested on trumped-up charges of allegedly trying to acquire weapons to stage a violent coup d’état.

In response to these crude attacks on Burjanadze, other former allies of Saakashvili’s, including his former prime minister as well as Georgia’s former UN ambassador, a figure popular among Western diplomats and journalists, rushed to her support. Both are now in the opposition calling for Saakashvili to resign and for democratic principles to be restored.

This past week, again, Saakashvili has been arresting figures in the military, accusing them of planning a coup. He regularly dismisses any opposition as a Russian plot to unseat him, which suggests that he’s spinning deeper and deeper into the sort of paranoia common to tinpot Third World dictators.

Yet none of this is mentioned in the Kerry-Deier commentary; rather, some variation of the word “democracy” appears seven times in their short editorial, reinforcing the sense that Georgia really has a democracy. Interestingly enough, the name of the country’s authoritarian strongman, Mikhail Saakashvili, doesn’t appear once.

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  • 1. Chema Pino Suarez  |  May 12th, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Get em’ Ames.

  • 2. napoleonkaramazov  |  May 12th, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Investigative article of the year. Quality.

  • 3. napoleonkaramazov  |  May 12th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    And I forgot. The present Georgian regime can be summed up in one sentence…
    George W Bush avenue.

  • 4. napoleonkaramazov  |  May 12th, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Meanwhile, the British newspaper The Guardian has an article critical of the WAPO regarding it’s refusal to label waterboarding as torture.
    I commented and posted a link to your article.

    Enjoy. Hope it helps.

  • 5. ed austin  |  May 12th, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Reminds me of Michael Bass outside the then Chesterfields circa 1997…

  • 6. buginthebox  |  May 12th, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    So what’s the greater form of torture? Waterboarding, or listening to a pacifist whine about waterboarding?

  • 7. RanDomino  |  May 12th, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    The important question is, what’s going on with that guy on the right? Why is his baseball cap pulled over his eyes, and is he pushing something or waving his arms around in front of himself like a buffoon?

  • 8. Brokenrecord  |  May 12th, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Goddamn, Saakashvili’s folks have their claws deep in DC, and some mighty effective lobbysists.

  • 9. Andrew  |  May 13th, 2009 at 12:55 am

    Actually quite a few factual errors in this article.

    1. The protestors attacked a police station in which 3 of their number were being held for beating (severely) a female journalist who was reporting the comments of residents in the Tavisuplebamovidan district about the behaviour of said protestors.
    Giorgi Gachecheladze was injured after climbing the fence surrounding the police compound. His own stupid fault.
    Try attacking a police station in ANY democratic country and see where it gets you.

    2. Nino Burjanadze is INCREDIBLY unpopular with the Georgian public. She left the governing party after her husband was refused a “safe” seat in Parliament.

    3. The evidence of the “trumped up charges” against the husband of Burjanadze include him being filmed attempting to purchase military firearms up to and including anti-tank RPG’s and explosives, and discussing with a government agent an attempt to seize government buildings.

    4. Alasania is not supporting Burjanadze (thank God) except in the matter of general umbrella support, and is the most moderate of the opposition leaders.
    He is the one who wants (in true democratic fashion) to continue dialogue with the current President and governing party, and is interested in structural reforms.

    5. I really do suggest you get a bit more of an education Mr Ames. For your info, I am actually in Tbilisi, and live in a regular (not rich) part of the city, I have a Georgian wife, and love this country greatly. I want to see it as a fully fledged parliamentry democracy.

    6. I won’t comment on the criticisms by Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, or all the human rights NGOs in Georgia who have been warning about Saakashvili’s turn to authoritarianism. But that doesn’t mean I have an agenda here–it’s just that I don’t feel like commenting on those things. I have better things to do.

    6. If you call me a “tool” of Saakashvili, well, congratulations to you, mister. If you’re saying that I’ve profited from his regime, again, what’s that have to do with the facts I’m laying out? In fact, what am I doing married to a Georgian and living here? Don’t force me to answer that, too depressing. Anyway, scratch everything. I support a tyrant, you don’t. Let’s leave it at that.

  • 10. Scott  |  May 13th, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Funny thing about Egypt: Rice did push Mubarak to stage elections, but eventually compromised and allowed Mubarak to basically select which candidates could run against him.

    Mubarak chose the hardline Muslim Brotherhood. That way when the results came in, and the polls showed huge votes for the Muslim Brotherhood (because they were the only opposition)Rice, Bush and co flipped out. Mubarak essentially created the illusion that the US needed him to be repressive otherwise Egypt would go Islamist. A few weeks after the elections Mubarak hauled many of the reps that won seats and threw them in jail. The US said nothing, and never pressed him again.

    Obama will not push him either, Egypt will continue to be a major recipient of US military aid while it perpetrates more terror and impoverishment upon its people than Syria and the other mid-eastern boogeymen.

  • 11. Skööby Döö  |  May 13th, 2009 at 2:35 am

    If those are Georgian riot cops in that photo, why do their shields say “police” in Turkish?

  • 12. cut it out  |  May 13th, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Yeah, free trade is the problem. I’m assuming you wrote this on a computer that was made in Philadelphia?

  • 13. Chema Pino Suarez  |  May 13th, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Skooby the cops are Georgian. I can tell you that for two reasons.

    1. The Soviet era gas masks. 2. The MARPAT (Marine Corps camo) which they are using. The Georgians are the only ones in the region that use it.

  • 14. porkers-at-the-trough  |  May 13th, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Nice to see an understated Ames article.
    Of course, when dealing with the Washington Ho Post’s abject corruption, & (Bushesque) in-your-face lies, not only do you not need to “go postal,” but doing so undermines your case.
    Mark either forgot, or intentionally downplayed, the Jewish/neo-con/Israel-Saakashvili angle. Which, when no less than (uber neo-con) Time magazine splashes it (that angle) all over a entire article, can hardly be overstated –,8599,1834785,00.html
    And here is hitting the Washington Post pretty damn hard (for Consortium’s usually understated sytle) for being a “Neo-Con Propaganda Sheet” is actually posting a good number of articles on the Post’s treacherous Neo-Con double standards (browse that index link) including this one about the NY Times –

    The bigger question is, “what could Obama possibly be thinking?” taking the _entirety” of his “advice” from his Emanuel/Rubin/Summers/Liberman Neo-Con crew. There is a very real possiblity that Pakistan and/or Afghanistan will go down the tubes in the coming year or two, and that the economy will continue to shed 500,000 jobs per month – including the bankruptcy of GM & Chrysler, not only shutting down thousands of down-stream venders, suppliers, and auto dealers, but shutting down the pensions of thousands of auto company pensioners (future & current) as well.
    Obama may be having fun with the DC gliterati – and all his “loyal” neo-cons now, but Bush Sr., and Bush-Jr. both enjoyed _80%_ approval ratings (at end of Gulf-War 1 and “Mission Accomplished”, respectively.)
    How would YOU feel if you went door to door for Obama in 2008, then lost your GM union job, AND GM pension, while Obama sits on Stimulus dollars, and hands tens upon hundreds of billions of dollars to the bankers?
    THAT scenario is unfolding even as Obama masters the DC glitter show…

  • 15. aleke  |  May 13th, 2009 at 6:13 pm


    I’m glad you found out free trade isn’t the problem. I assume you get your clothes personally made by a happy, healthy young boy in Malaysia who only works 1 hour a day. Free trade’s even better now that the American middle class lives longer, has less diseases, is growing, and has increasing wages! (starting since around the 70s and accelerating after Reagan)

    What a lovely world we now live in!

  • 16. Tam  |  May 13th, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    @14 porkers-at-the-trough : Thanks for the links.

    It’s a revelation to discover Time is capable of publishing interesting articles. In my experience, Russians and Israelis seem to have curiously similar temperaments so it’s always fascinating to see how the two countries are getting on with each other.

  • 17. Roy15  |  October 22nd, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Here’s what happened the week, back in 1982, I spent with Rocky. ,

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