Georgian opposition: Jailing political opponents leads to Putin

Giga Bokeria

Giga Bokeria, of the Georgian opposition United National Movement (UNM), warned in the European Parliament yesterday (13 November), that intensifying political persecution in his country was favouring Russia, which already illegally occupies part of his country.

Bokeria, who is international secretary of UNM, the political force of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, spoke to the press alongside EPP Vice President Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, who hosted the event.

Recently, Georgia’s pro-Western politicians were either sacked or left the governing coalition, depriving it of a parliamentary majority in a rift over the pace of integration with the West.

>> Read: Georgian coalition rocked by defections

Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili said he remained committed to closer Western ties, but suspicions are rising over the country’s geo-strategic direction.

Bokeria said that he and Georgi Kandelaki, a UNM legislator, had come to Brussels at very critical moment, when, in his words, more Russian tanks are pouring into Ukraine, a country part of the same region as Georgia.

“The next months will decide whether the historic dream of my nation and other nations will be fulfilled or postponed further,” Bokeria said.

Nearly the entire leadership of UNM is either in pre-trial detention, convicted, under investigation or in exile, he stated, adding that up to 100 key government officials are under investigation, and several thousand have been questioned.

“This happens in the context of a rise of political violence against minorities, impunity towards those violent acts, and a clear picture of selectiveness in which people with charges against them have their cases dropped if they switch sides”, Bokeria said.

The Georgian politician expressed worries that the political rhetoric of Garibashvili’s government was becoming similar to that of Russia, with accusations of conspiracy, with NGOs being labelled subversive or UNM stooges.

“The road to imprisoning political opponents leads to Putin,” Bokeria said.

Saryusz-Wolski said that the moment had come to ask the question is Georgia is still on a European course.

“On behalf of EPP, I would like to say we are increasingly concerned by the recent political instability in Georgia, which is applying more and more selective justice towards the opposition,” Saryusz-Wolski stated.

He added that until recently, selective justice was applied against Saakashvili’s allies, but now the same applied to the ruling party’s very recent coalition partners, the Free Democrats.

Indeed, Irakly Alsania, the country’s pro-Western defense minister who was recently sacked, is leading the Our Georgia – Free Democrats party, affiliated to the liberal ALDE political family.

>> Read: Georgian PM sacks pro-Western defence minister

Saryusz-Wolski made it clear that the European Parliament was prepared to ratify the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, but that this support was not unconditional.

“Those repeated trials, arrests, pre-trial detentions, with so many former deputies and ministers in prison, make us think this is an abusive use of justice as an instrument for retribution and goes contrary to declared goal of Georgia becoming a country associated to the EU,” he stated.

“Around us, there is not what we have expected, a ring of friends. There is a ring of fire and the fire has been put by Russia. By Russia, who is supplying aggressive and war-like invasion methods to prevent and to deter our partners from making their legitimate European choice to choose partners for economic and political relationship,” the EPP Vice President stated.

Call on the Socialists, the Liberals

Saryusz-Wolski further said that until recently, the EPP was alone in expressing scepticism with regard to the credibility of those in power in Tbilissi and was the only European political family to criticise the political persecution of the UNM. But now the situation has changed, because the same fate is shared by the liberal force, the Free Democrats, he said.  

We ask the Social Democrats to rethink their support, and the Liberals to withdraw their support to the government of Georgia, Saryusz-Wolski stated.

Giorgi Kandelaki, member of parliament from UNM, said that a number of dynamics in his country were beneficial to Putin, “who sees the proliferation of democracy as a threat”.

“We have a number of pro-Russian forces or camps very much activated, who feel very much empowered by the departure of the pro-European forces,” Kandelaki said. He added that those forces consisted of former Communist high officials who “with a very high probability cooperated with KGB”.

Kandelaki also said that UNM had conxwena about the infiltration of Georgia’s security apparatus by “individuals with very questionable affiliations”.

The UNM MP also expressed concern abour the rise of violent anti-Western groups conducting pogroms against minorities, which according to him, enjoy support from Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s strong man. Ivanishvili, who established the Golden Dream – Democratic Georgia Party and won the elections in 2012, retired from politics the next year and appointed his political ally Garibashvili as Prime Minister.

“Ivanishvili is no longer Prime Minister, but he is the power holder, he is the decision maker”, Kandelaki said. He pointed out at a recent statement by Ivanishvili on TV, in which he quoted at length from a classified court case against Alsania’s associates, a case to which even lawyers have no access.  

Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August 2008. The conflict saw Russian troops repel an assault on the breakaway pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, which broke free from Tbilisi's rule in the early 1990s.

Russia later recognised South Ossetia and Georgia's second breakaway region of Abkhazia as independent states. Russia has thousands of troops stationed in both regions. 

Vladimir Putin, then the prime minister of Russia, was quoted at the time by a French diplomat as saying that he wanted Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hanged. 

Privately, EU representatives generally recognise that Saakashvili was to blame for the August war. Saakashvili in no longer president, but he still enjoys Western support as a symbol of the 2003 'Rose Revolution' in Georgia.

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