American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Revaz Sakevarishvili is a correspondent for Rustavi-2 Television. Margarita Akhvlediani is the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s Regional Coordinator in Tbilisi. Thomas de Waal, IWPR’s Caucasus Editor, reporting from Tbilisi, also contributed. This article, abridged here, originally appeared on the Caucasus Reporting Service, produced by the IWPR, www.iwpr.net.
Georgian President Shevardnadze is best known in the West as the man who as Mikhail Gorbachev’s foreign minister negotiated on behalf of the Soviet Union to end the Cold War. At home, his reputation has been more mixed. Credited with bringing stability and foreign aid to Georgia in the seven years that followed his return to the country in 1992, he has seen his support ebb away in the last five years as the country has been stuck in economic depression and a perpetual energy crisis.
A disputed election on November 2, 2003, widely regarded as stolen by Shevardnadze, triggered Georgia’s three-week-long crisis. David Berdzenishvili, leader of the opposition Republican Party and a political analyst told IWPR, "The people began besieging Shevardnadze on November 2." Street demonstrations, a caravan from the countryside to the capital, and a mass takeover of Tbilisi’s central square increased the pressure on Shevardnadze for weeks leading to the confrontations of November 22-24.
The Tbilisi newspaper, 24 Hours, called the takeover "The Rose Revolution," after the red rose that radical opposition leader Mikael Saakashvili held aloft as he and his supporters stormed into the parliament building on November 22. Shevardnadze was addressing the first session of what had officially been declared to be Georgia’s new parliament.
However, the police ringing the building melted away — the first sign that the security forces were no longer prepared to support the president. Opposition supporters charged in and burst into the chamber, with Saakashvili leading the way.
Irma Nadirashvili, a journalist with the Rustavi-2 television channel, was amongst those who stormed the parliament. "The only dangerous moment in the march was when it came alongside the state security ministry where it seemed violence might break out. But the cordon of security ministry troops parted before us, just as the interior ministry cordon had parted before that," she said.
As the opposition demonstrators piled into parliament, the opposition ranks encountered a new line of defense from representatives of the Revival movement of Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze, who had been called in to support Shevardnadze. Ajar is a region of Georgia whose leaders argue for greater autonomy from the Georgian state, and closer ties to Russia.
"Two walls basically collided with each other," Nadirashvili said. "People were pushing each other aside with their arms, heads and legs. But the hall filled up incredibly fast with people from the street and in a few minutes it was entirely full. It was a strange feeling — what had happened felt unpleasant but good."
Shevardnadze was physically bundled away by his bodyguards, soon to be followed by his supporters, leaving the parliament building — and soon the whole center of Tbilisi — in the hands of the opposition.
The president, having retreated to his residence, defiantly called the takeover a coup d’etat and tried to declare a state of emergency. But support further ebbed from him. A string of powerful state politicians resigned as the opposition, which claimed it had been cheated in the parliamentary poll, moved to consolidate its victory.
In an unexpected move, which has yet to be fully explained, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov flew to Tbilisi and -shuttled back and forth between the three main opposition leaders and Shevardnadze. Late on November 23, Ivanov arranged for Saakashvili to go and meet Shevardnadze. After a very short meeting, the president announced he had resigned.
The announcement broke the 48 hours of extreme tension when people feared a civil war was a real possibility. In the end, no lives were lost. Tens of thousands of younger Georgians, supporting the opposition, crowded Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square to celebrate the resignation of Shevardnadze with unbridled joy.
Ajaria could become the next clash-point now that the situation in Tbilisi has calmed down. Abashidze, who is a strong opponent of the Tbilisi-based opposition, declared a state of emergency and has virtually closed the border between Ajaria and the rest of Georgia.
The opposition also now faces an enormously high level of expectation from its supporters. "Until this moment, everything has gone as well as it possibly could," said Berdzenishvili. "I hope that in the future the political elite will live up to the hopes placed on them."
Please see the November 27, 2003 edition of the Washington Post for information on the role of nonviolence training and the importance of Bringing Down a Dictator, a film about the overthrow of Milosevic in Serbia, shown twice on independent Georgian TV in the 10 days before the insurrection.
Since the overthrow, Mikael Saakashvili was elected President in January 2004, claiming 97% of the vote. Georgia accelerated its effort to remove Russian military bases, but told the US it wants more military trainers and will send several hundred more Georgian soldiers to Iraq. Construction on major oil and gas pipelines through Georgia from Azerbaijan continues.