Georgia: ‘Velvet coup’ will solve nothing

THE THOUSANDS of Georgians waving the flag of St George outside the parliament building in Tbilisi weren’t celebrating England’s rugby world cup victory – they were cheering the resignation of Georgia’s President Eduard Shevardnadze.

The so-called ’bloodless revolution’ by Shevardnadze’s opponents was the culmination of the country’s long running political crisis. Most recently the parties opposed to the president had accused the government of ballot-rigging and widespread corruption. Moreover, a decade of Shevardnadze’s rule had seen secessionist movements, civil war and economic collapse.

After sections of the armed forces and police went over to the side of the demonstrators the game was up for the beleaguered president. Russia, the giant power to the north which has military forces in Georgia and controls its natural gas energy supplies, despatched foreign minister Igor Ivanov to tell Shevardnadze to go quietly.

It seems that Russia, which is fighting a bloody secessionist war in neighbouring Chechnya, wants to put a lid on the crisis rather than see it develop into renewed civil war, causing even more regional instability.

US imperialism too wants stability and has quickly recognised the new provisional regime of Mikhail Saakashvili. The US, who had previously backed Shevardnadze and ignored the corruption of the elite, is backing an important oil pipeline project from Azerbaijan through Georgia to the Mediterranean.

Georgia, like many of the other former Soviet republics, seceded from the Soviet Union after the Stalinist bloc collapsed in 1991.

A violent struggle rapidly ensued as different elements of the former ruling bureaucracy attempted to gain political control. This subsequently led to a breakaway republic in Abkhazia, a Muslim fiefdom of Ajaria run by the warlord Aslan Abashidze, and a separatist movement, backed by Russia, in South Ossetia.

The main victims of this mayhem have been the working class. Some 60% of Georgians live below the poverty line, electricity is intermittent, roads and buildings are crumbling and there is mass unemployment. The black economy is actually bigger than the formal legal economy.

The new regime of US-educated and former Shevardnardze loyalist Saakashivili – who advocates a pro-Western capitalist economic model – will not be able to solve the country’s deep seated problems. Without a revolution led by the working class and the establishment of a democratic socialist society, Georgia’s ills are set to continue.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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November 2003