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Whose Georgia?

In recent weeks, leaders of various opposition organizations in Georgia, such as Antisoros and Fairness, have been jailed on unfair accusations of plotting a coup on behalf of Russia. But the wave of political repression merely reflects President Mikhail Saakashvili’s desperate effort to cling to power. With popular dissent growing and opposition forces strengthening, the authorities have sought to controll non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and strengthen the security forces. But this will only make mass protests inevitable, ultimately jeopardizing the democratic transition in Georgia that Saakashvili claims to represent.

Saakashvili sees a “Moscow hand” in every challenge to his authority, which could be explained by his government’s close alliance with the United States. But the people rounded up in the latest raid against the opposition were originally imprisoned by Eduard Shevarnadze’s government, which Saakashvili helped depose in Georgia’s supposedly democratic “Rose revolution” in 2003.

The latest events clearly indicate that a czarist mentality survived the revolution, reflected in a Byzantine model of political power — an emperor and his court — that has as its main vehicle largely unconstrained presidential authority. Before the security forces targeted the opposition bloc that I represent, supporters of educational reforms were prosecuted, while most of the press is under the influence of the government.

Saakashvili claims that the opposition forces that I represent oppose Western values. But we advocate parliamentarism – genuine separation of executive and legislative power – in Georgia. And, in supporting the Western model of parliamentariansm, we are on the side of Georgia, not Russia. It is strange that Saakashvili, a graduate of Columbia Law School, fails to see the disparity between his own democratic rhetoric and autocratic actions.