The signals of crisis events in Georgia appeared as early as September when five representatives of municipal government were arrested in the town of Gori. They were accused by the prosecutor’s office of embezzlement and corruption. A demonstration was held following the arrest. The municipal government deputies attempted to penetrate forcibly into the municipal government building, in which the investigation was under way, in order to summon an extraordinary meeting with the aim of taking stance on the apprehension. The police, however, prevented them from doing so which lead to a clash between the demonstrators and deputies on the one hand and the police on the other hand.
Mikheil Kareli, the Gubernator of the Shida Kartli region, spoke out against the arrest as well. Kareli was the last man, who collaborated with the former Defence Minister Okruashvili, that the President allowed to remain in a high office. However, he was deposed from his office after he had expressed discontent over the arrest. Vladimir Gegelashvili, a deputy who had been reputed to be a potential member of Okruashvili’s new political party, became the new Gubernator.
According to the media the animosity of Georgian political elites towards the former Defence Minister Okruashvili’s group, which had been in control of self-government as well as entrepreneurial structures in the region, was supposed to be behind the apprehension of the self-government bodies’ members. As regards the arrest the opposition politicians and analysts stated that such a situation arose due to Okruashvili’s ambitions to return to top-level politics. (1)
Okruashvili is a former Minister of the Economic Development of Georgia and also a former Minister of Defence and Interior. He used to hold the office of Attorney General and Gubernator in the Shida Kartli region as well. He used to be among the closest allies of Saakashvili. He became internationally well-known as the adherent of forceful problem solution in separatist regions. Along with the Interior Minister Merabishvili he belongs to the so-called hawks, i.e. politicians who push through a quick restoration of the control of separatist regions. In spite of this their mutual relations are at odds since several high-rank policemen from Okruashvili’s group were arrested at Merabishvili’s command. Okruashvili is a supporter of Georgian entry into Euroatlantic structures as well as close relations with the United States. Several severe affairs concerning corruption, smuggling and state property misappropriation are linked with his name.
In November 2006, he was removed from his post as Defence Minister and took the office of the Economic Development Minister. Okruashvili’s radical attitude to the problem solution in separatist regions, which was in conflict with the stance of Georgian political elite that time, might have been the reason. (2) At the beginning of 2007, a piece of information appeared that Okruashvili intended to return to high politics with his own political party which would have taken up a part of oppositional political space. Okruashvili also planed to run for presidential office. The President Saakashvili, however, suggested the postponement of the elections until a later term through constitution amendment and thus eliminated Okruashvili owing to his young age.
Okruashvili returned to politics in the end of September by the establishment of a new political party The Movement for United Georgia. In his first appearance in the media he stated that over the period he had been the Defence Minister, the employees of his department had arrested the President’s uncle Temur Alasaniya. He said that he had had to release him after Saakashvili’s intervention. In the live broadcast of the Imedi television channel he also accused the President of the responsibility for unceasing separatism in South Ossetia. He proclaimed that the President had made an error when he hadn’t given the command to commence the operation aimed at the return of South Ossetia under Georgian jurisdiction. Okruashvili went on that the President had allegedly attempted to contrive the murder of the entrepreneur Badri Patarkacishvili. This entrepreneur is the richest Georgian citizen. His property is estimated at 12 billion dollars. He is in charge of the Imedi television channel. In 2006 he sold nearly one third of its shares to the Rupert Murdoch News Corporation. Nowadays he possesses 70 per cent of Imedi shares. According to Okruashvili the President addressed him because of this matter as early as July 2005. The former defence Minister mentioned the death of the former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvaniya. He said that he didn’t die in the way the official death report described it. According to this report Zhvaniya died along with the Deputy Gubernator of the Kvemo Kartli region Raul Jusupov by an unfortunate mischance when he poisoned himself by carbon monoxide leaking from an ill-installed gas heating. Moreover, the former Minister Okruashvili accused the President of an incident which happened in July 2005 when the opposition deputy Valeriy Gelashvili was beaten up by policemen in plain clothes. He said that this was at the President’s command. (3)
The accusations were construed by political elites as the beginning of political war. On 27th September, Okruashvili was arrested and charged of blackmail, the legalisation of the income from criminal activities, the overstepping of authority and professional negligence. Okruashvili was labelled a detainee and his following staged demonstrations to support him. The protests took place under the umbrella of the following political parties: Movement for United Georgia, Republican Party, People’s Party and the Democratic Front deputy club. At a meeting, the opposition parties agreed on the necessity to topple Saakashvili’s regime. (4) Later on, the representatives of united opposition arranged further actions including the meetings with the intelligentsia and the projection of the film about Zurab Zhvaniya’s death.
At the beginning of October, the State Duma of the Russian Federation passed a draft declaration on the antidemocratic policy of Georgian power and the violation of human rights in Georgia which was submitted by the United Russia deputies. It comprises accusations against Georgia of the breach of the freedom of speech, democracy and human rights. These deficiencies have sprung out from the Rose Revolution which this document equals to an illegitimate toppling of governmental power. (5) Okruashvili’s behaviour was advantageous for the Russian Federation also on the United Nations’ ground in New York where the President Saakashvili planned to subject Russian peacemakers to criticism. (6) Namely, the legitimacy of their actions was based on a planned attack on South Ossetia that was foiled by the President according to Okruashvili’s charge. Direct as well as indirect hints, which were dropped by analysts and politicians, occurred about the former Minister acting deliberately in favour of the Russian Federation. (7) A counter-argument is that he shaped himself to an overtly anti-Russian politician in his previous function.
At the beginning of October, the Speaker of the Parliament Nino Burdjanadze asked the opposition for a dialogue dealing with reforms and the strengthening of democratic standards. The opposition, however, was willing to negotiate solely the date of early elections. Regular parliamentary and presidential elections are in the pipeline in the end of 2008. From among the representatives of the opposition, Salome Zurabishvili, the Chairperson of the Georgia’s Way party and the former Georgian Foreign Affairs Minister, has recently proposed the transition to constitutional monarchy in which the legislative power rests with the Parliament and executive power with the Government (i.e. not the President). (8) Also remaining opposition subjects claim the strengthening of parliament competences at the expense of presidential powers, or even the abolition of the presidential office. Catholicos – the Patriarch of All Georgia Iliya II has spoken for the restoration of constitutional monarchy as well. (9)
In the end of September, the news that Badri Patarkacishvili played a key role in the opposition’s activities appeared again. The media brought the news that a discredit campaign against Georgian political elites was under way catering to the interests of this entrepreneur. He was supposed to conduct this campaign thank to the Imedi channel which, as a single one, provides larger room for opposition parties. Bardi Patarkacishvili is the former President of the Georgian National Olympics Committee, the former Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation TV-6, the former Chairperson of the Board of Directors of LogoVAZ Ltd., the former Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Russian Public Television (ORT). He is a friend of Boris Berezovky and his entrepreneurial activities are linked with him since 1990’s. He is also a former President of the Federation of Georgian Businessmen and a President of the World Jewish Television.
Since June 2001, he has been prosecuted in the Russian Federation’s territory owing to a charge of the contrivance of Nikolay Gloshkov’s, i.e. the man accused in the Aeroflot case, escape from prison. In the period given Patarkacishvili was in Georgia and under the protection of the President Schevarnadze. He blamed FSB for the accusations. FSB was supposed to declare a war on NTV and TV-6 due to the criticism of waging war in Chechnya. Patarkacishvili proclaimed that such fabricated accusations are the cause why did Boris Berezovsky, Vladimir Gusinskiy and he himself flee abroad. As early as 2000, alongside the ORT management he was charged of committing acquisitive offences. In October 2002, another accusation of blackmail concerning the embezzlement of the AutoVaz company was added. This charge applied to Berezovsky, Patarkacishvili and Dubov who were finally convicted later on.
In the course of the all these problems occurring in Russian Federation, Patarkacishvili established the Georgian Media Holding Imedi as well as the football and basketball club Dynamo Tbilisi. In terms of charitable activities he used to sponsor sportspersons and finance the restoration of cultural sights. He furnished the Tbilisi Municipal Government with an interest-free loan so that it could pay off the debt for Russian gas, when Russia threatened to cut supplies. He rewarded the Georgian national football team with the sum of 100,000 lari (approximately 50,000 dollars) when they beat Russia at the EURO 2004 Football Championship Qualification. It was thanks to him that the citizens of Tbilisi got 24 hour electricity supplies for free in January 2004. As early as 2001 he provided two million lari (approximately one million dollars) for the support of energy sector in Tbilisi. He became the Chairperson of the Taxpayers Union, he was elected President of the Georgian National Olympic Committee, the head of the international consortium for the construction of oil terminal in Kulev with a capacity of 12,5 million tonnes. He’s been one of the shareholders of the Kommersant newspapers (Ukraine) since 2005. In spring 2006, he obtained a part of Berezovsky’s assets and the Kommersant publishing house.
At the beginning of 2006, he scathingly criticised the economic policy of the government as well as its activities in the fields of human rights protection an investment security. The representatives of political elite of Georgia dubbed him the secret leader of the opposition. Subsequently he sold a part of his media assets to western entrepreneurs in order to minimise economic risks in Georgia. In August 2006, he sold his share in Kommersant to the Russian entrepreneur Alisher Usmanov. (10)
Patarkacishvili left for London quite unexpectedly when the Rustavi-2 channel broadcasted a recording of Okruashvili dropping all charges against Saakashvili on 8th October 2007. The former Defence Minister stated that he coordinated the discredit campaign with Patarkacishvili with whom he agreed on the support of his own political activities through Patarkacishvili’s channel Imedi. Okruashvili was subsequently remanded on bail of 10 million lari (more than 6 million dollars). The former Minister’s statements triggered an avalanche of accusations of contriving state putsch which Patarkacishvili was supposed to be behind. (11) Owing to the charges mentioned he was recalled from the position of the President of National Olympic Committee. After his recall he returned to Georgia and made an appearance on television Imedi during which he rejected his participation in the state putsch. In addition to this he revealed his plans to keep on intervening in the Georgian political life.
After dropping all charges against the President, Okruashvili’s political career came to an end that very moment. Oppositional forces joined within the National Movement, however, keep on struggling for the change of political power in Georgia. A demonstration to protest against the President and the Government is to be staged on 2nd November. In the end of October, the daily Alija announced that till that time Patarkacishvili proposes to establish his own political party members of which will be several acknowledged journalists and politicians. Patarkacishvili’s political programme was released by the Interpressnews agency in the middle of October. It includes the support of the idea of Catholicos – the Patriarch of All Georgia Iliya II to restore constitutional monarchy. The document encompasses also the suggestion for the solution of the separatist republics issue by means of federative system and the decentralisation of state authority. In the document the entrepreneur touched upon foreign policy as well in terms of which he expressed the necessity of a constructive collaboration with the Russian Federation. (12)
In connection with the crisis events in Georgia it is generally assumed that they fully cater to the Russian Federation and that their key participants act on an impetus from Moscow. Patarkacishvili is said to have ensured impunity in Russian Federation’s territory through Okruacishvili’s support. (13) However, the situation is thus much non-transparent at present that no unequivocal statements are feasible. Except for some representatives of clearly oriented political parties the statements made by top figures acting in the crisis events are rather contradictory. The same holds true for their shaping of orientation in the past (Okruashvili is an overtly anti-Russian politician, Patarkacishvili is Berezovsky’s close business partner) as well as current activities on the political scene. We may say said that Saakashvili’s Government weathered a political crisis, anyway, possible changes in terms of the state system concerning the weakening of presidential competences cannot be ruled out at all in the future. Unless the opposition’s requests for the postponement of the election date are fulfilled, it will be the parliamentary and presidential elections held at the end of 2008 that will show what the influence of political crisis on the people’s political attitudes is like. Up to that time, however, several protest marches will be held. The last one took place on 2nd November in Tbilisi and was attended by approximately 300,000 people. (14) Protesters begun to gather as early as the eve of the announced demonstration and remained at the square also the night after the protest. To what extent the protests will leave its mark on the stability of supreme power depends primarily on the acts of Georgian political elite.
(10) for further information about Patarkacishvili seehttp://www.lenta.ru/lib/14159667/