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Georgia's Revolution on Granite

Wednesday, 01 May 2024, 18:30

Little short of a revolution is taking place in Georgia right now against Georgian pro-Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili's desire to establish the "Russian world" in the country – that is, a system of corruption, the eradication of civil society and freedom of expression, and a vast exodus of citizens overseas.

Until recently, Ivanishvili had had a good run. One in four citizens had left the country, he’d doubled his income, and in recent years, he’d laundered a lot of Russian money and facilitated the transit of sanctioned goods. And everything would have been fine and dandy if only he hadn't decided last year to push through a "foreign agents" law which closely follows Russian blueprints. 

Last year, mass protests by mostly young people compelled the authorities to revoke the law. This year, Ivanishvili has attempted to corrupt students through the ruling parties under his control and through student councils, and has made efforts to sow discord between young people and opposition parties.


Russia has made a considerable number of free places at Russian universities available for Georgian students. Most of these scholarships went unclaimed. The money given to the student councils was spent by the students on themselves, and when Russia once again insisted on the law being passed early this year, the young people rose up in protest once more, this time even more forcefully than before. Such is the scale and spirit of these movements that it could be concluded that Georgia is witnessing the birth of a new era of the national liberation movement against the Russian presence and in favour of rapid integration into Europe.

This movement did not appear out of nowhere. In my farewell address as President in 2013, I spoke of "Misha’s generation" [i.e. the Saakashvili generation], referring to the individuals who know nothing of the shocking poverty and criminality of the 1990s and never experienced the overarching corruption, particularly in the education system, that had existed since Soviet times.

We gave every student a free computer and brought Americans into almost every Georgian middle school to teach English. This generation grew up during a period of free elections in Georgia, as a consequence of which [in October 2012], I handed over power peacefully for the first (and last) time in the history of the Caucasus. 

This generation travels frequently to Europe thanks to the visa-free travel my government negotiated, flying on low-cost airlines from the airfields we built. A presidential scholarship has enabled tens of thousands of Georgians to attend the world's best universities.

This is a generation that grew up in a state of freedom and has no fear of Russia, and this has proven to be an insurmountable obstacle in the ambitions to turn Georgia into another Belarus.

In reaction to this rising tide, Ivanishvili organised a pro-government gathering. People were bussed in for it, mostly from remote and destitute communities. 90% of them were elderly, and half did not even make it to the venue. And the rest fled so swiftly that the authorities had to turn off the lights on Rustaveli Avenue to ensure that the emptiness would not be seen, either by people watching the broadcast or by Ivanishvili himself, who was giving a speech at the time. 

The other day Ivanishvili finally revealed his true colours. He claimed that the West manufactured the Rose Revolution to pit Georgia against Russia, and that Europe and the US are part of a worldwide war party that started the conflict in Ukraine and intends to drag Georgia into it. "I’m not Yanukovych and that won’t work with me," Ivanishvili stated. He declared that regardless of the election results, he would not relinquish power, and that the opposition – which he considers to include my party, the National Movement – would be prosecuted. In other words, we were officially informed of a change in foreign policy and the end of Georgian democracy.

Despite this grandiose statement, members of Ivanishvili's inner circle have plenty of things to lose sleep over. Many state workers refused to attend the demonstration yesterday for the first time. The ground is shrinking beneath their feet, particularly in the cities, and they have lost Tbilisi – which carries the most weight in Georgia – for good. 

It is vital that Americans and Europeans finally agree to impose personal sanctions against Ivanishvili and his immediate entourage. This would severely undermine the unity of the governing wolf pack. 

Events in Georgia have important implications for Ukraine too. It is abundantly clear that Russia's position will be significantly weakened if its power in Georgia crumbles.

Disclaimer: Articles reflect their author’s point of view and do not claim to be objective or to explore every aspect of the issues they discuss. The Ukrainska Pravda editorial board does not bear any responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided, or its interpretation, and acts solely as a publisher. The point of view of the Ukrainska Pravda editorial board may not coincide with the point of view of the article’s author.

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