According to La Russophobe, Russia “has failed” in Georgia, and Georgia is coming back “stronger and better after Russia’s wanton invasion”. That’s the sort of claim I view with a good deal of eye-rolling, considering its source. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Leaving aside for a moment the question of who was the invader, although Saakashvili’s own Defense Minister said the attack on South Ossetia was planned in advance rather than being a reaction to provocations, let’s focus on Georgia’s leader – U.S.-educated and American-backed Mikheil Saakashvili. When we left him last, he was slurping champagne with Hillary Clinton, although there didn’t seem to be much to celebrate. More on that later; for now, let’s look at Saakashvili’s climb to power. Back to about 2000 should be far enough, when he was Justice Minister in Shevardnadze’s government. The USA was Eduard Shevardnadze’s biggest international backer, pouring over $1 Billion in aid into his ten-year reign. At that time, Saakashvili was a vocal critic of the United States, for its support of the Shevardnadze regime.
In U.S. foreign policy, though, loyalty is often fleeting and transitory: new leaders can often count on U.S. support if it keeps governments America doesn’t care for destabilized, and promises to further American aims for their country. Mikheil Saakashvili quickly marshaled U.S. support. American agencies such as the congressionally-funded National Democratic Institute backed and trained Kmara, the Georgian youth movement which supported Saakasvili’s leadership bid – ironically enough, one of the big-money backers was billionaire George Soros. I say ironically, because La Russophobe adores Saakashvili but would normally not walk across the street to spit on Soros, as he typically supports Democratic candidates in U.S. elections.
Once the uprising known as the Rose Revolution swept Saakashvili to power, American support solidified. America pressed for reforms that had the effect of increasing social inequality, poured millions into building up Georgia’s military, and successfully encouraged Israel to send advisers and trainers. You have to wonder at this point how throwing so much money at the Georgian military was supposed to help the average Georgian, but the facts are what they are.
Things didn’t improve significantly for that average Georgian over the next couple of years. Poverty and corruption remained endemic. According to the Human Rights Watch 2008 Report, the Georgian government “instituted a violent crackdown on opposition protesters and instituted a nine-day state of emergency, saying this was in response to a coup attempt”. Over 550 protesters and 34 police were hospitalized with injuries. Riot police raided the private Imedi television station, held the staff at gunpoint, destroyed archives and smashed equipment; both Imedi and another private station, Kavkasia, were taken off the air. All news broadcasts were banned with the exception of state-funded Georgia Public Broadcasting. The prison population increased by 50% in 2007, rising by an average of 400 per month. The minimum age of criminal responsibility was lowered from 14 to 12. The significant events of this period caused Newsweek Magazine to speculate if this was the end of Saakashvili’s stint as the darling of the west.
As you well know, it wasn’t anything of the kind.
The west continued to support Saakasvili, and perhaps he began to think he was bulletproof, untouchable. Whatever he might have thought, he kicked over the apple-cart for real with a military attack against the breakaway province of South Ossetia, indiscriminately shelling its capital, Tskhinvali. Said college lecturer Taya Sitnik of the attack, which killed her 21-year-old son as he sheltered with her in the basement of their apartment block, “How can you trust those people now? What possible friendship can there be? Let them all be cursed, cursed for the deaths of our children”. Saakashvili’s media-management campaign seems to have consisted of phrases like, “Oh, yeah? Well, you’re/he’s/they’re just lying”, as reports began to suggest Georgia was responsible. The U.S. briefly considered military action to assist Georgia. A situation which might under other circumstances have been funny occurred on the American Fox News network, when 12-year-old Amanda Kokoeva was being interviewed as an eyewitness to the opening of the brief war – an American, she and her aunt had been visiting family in South Ossetia when the war started. When she said, on live television, that she wanted to thank the Russian troops that had saved their lives from the invading Georgians, the presenter began to cough and mumble, and went to an unscheduled commercial break. When the program resumed, the girl’s aunt said President Saakasvili was to blame, at which point the presenter ended the segment early.
Ah, well; water under the bridge, right? Just as long as Saakasvili learned a lesson, and has since improved the quality of life of his citizens….what? He didn’t, and he hasn’t? Of Internally Displaced Families (IDP’s), almost all live below the poverty line and more than 90% are dependent on external food aid? Well, the government says they have some income from the state, which they can “invest in food or personal development”. How much? 28 lari per month; that’s, what…let me see… $15.16 USD! Well, what’s the problem? Who couldn’t feed their family on that, and not still have money left over for personal development? The Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation’s budget has been cut by better than 50% against last year – that’s a positive sign of economic growth, surely? Smokin’ job, President Saakashvili! Well, hasn’t something improved? Not artistic freedom of expression, evidently, as only 3 days ago a publicist and 2 poets protesting the naming of President George W. Bush Street were arrested, charged with resisting police, detained and released upon payment of a 400-lari fine: hey, you could feed 26 poverty-stricken internally-displaced people for a whole month on that. Well, how about law? Nope; sorry. A new amendment to Georgia’s freedom of information law is introducing strict limits to third-party access to information about cases involving the Georgian government in international courts.
President Saakashvili isn’t some thug – he’s an extremely intelligent man who speaks 5 languages fluently and can get around in 2 more. He has the benefit of an American education, via Columbia and George Washington Law schools. He should know better than to toss around derogatory language like, “Are we the niggers?” Considering he hauls down pretty good money in the form of foreign aid, mostly from the U.S., on which he depends to offset steadily falling Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), he shouldn’t be tolerating the “humor” of Liberty Institute leader Levan Ramishvili, who posts insulting caricatures of the American president on his blog.
Grow up, President Saakashvili. The international supporters that keep throwing money at you expect it, and the people who depend on you for the most basic human necessities deserve it.