Georgia’s “peaceful revolution” heralds new conflicts

Dramatic events in Tblisi indicate a sharp turn in the situation in the Caucasus. Opposition supporters stormed Georgia's Parliament on Saturday and took it over, forcing President Eduard Shevardnadze to flee as thousands of protesters outside demanded his resignation. Opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili led hundreds of his supporters as they forced their way into the chamber, overturning desks and chairs, fighting with members of parliament. Dramatic events in Tblisi indicate a sharp turn in the situation in the Caucasus. Opposition supporters stormed Georgia's Parliament on Saturday and took it over, forcing President Eduard Shevardnadze to flee as thousands of protesters outside demanded his resignation. Opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili led hundreds of his supporters as they forced their way into the chamber, overturning desks and chairs, fighting with members of parliament. 

Shevardnadze, who was foreign minister of the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachov, has ruled the ex-Soviet republic since 1992. But, in common with most other former Soviet republics, the country has been in permanent crisis. It slid into its biggest political crisis in years after the parliamentary elections on November 2nd, which the pro-Shevardnadze party won according to the official results. Opposition and many foreign observers claimed were rigged. 

According to final results, the pro-Shevardnadze For a New Georgia bloc finished first with 21.3 percent of the vote, while the Revival party, which sometimes has been critical of the government but sided with Shevardnadze in the present crisis, finished second with 18.8 percent. Saakashvili's National Movement came in a very close third with 18 percent of the vote, while the Democrats who allied with Saakashvili got 8.8
percent. The Labour party had 12 percent.

On Friday, the U.S. State Department called on Georgia's government to conduct an independent investigation into the results. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the poll results reflected ``massive vote fraud'' in some regions and ``do not accurately reflect the will of the Georgian people.''

This was undoubtedly true. The reactionary Bonapartist Shevardnadze was certainly no stranger to ballot rigging and all kinds of other dirty manoeuvres. Under pressure from the streets, Shevardnadze acknowledged that there had been some problems with the election. ``About 8 to 10 percent of the ballots were invalid,'' he said, but added that this should be dealt with in the courts. But he then proceeded to convene the new parliament amid tight security. Police, covered in body armour and holding shields, were posted in front of all the main government buildings.

But even as Shevardnadze was speaking, opposition supporters stormed through the chamber doors. Television broadcasts showed demonstrators overturning desks and chairs as they ran up to the podium. Leaping onto the speaker's podium, just after the president convened the body, the Opposition leader addressed the crowd:

``The velvet revolution has taken place in Georgia,'' Saakashvili said, as the hall applauded him. ``We are against violence.''

The 75-year-old Shevardnadze was hustled out of the chamber and then the parliament building by his bodyguards. Saakashvili ordered all pro-government deputies out of the building, amidst some scuffling. He then handed over the podium to opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze, who was the speaker in the last parliament.

``I will not resign. I will resign when the presidential term expires, according to the constitution,'' Shevardnadze said before he was driven away from the parliament, accompanied by armed guards in riot gear. His intention was clearly to hang onto power – by force if necessary. But his hand was forced when the armed forces went over to the Opposition. In the moment of truth the President was a general without an army. After talks with the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Sunday Shevardnadze agreed to resign his 10-year presidency.

The takeover came after at least two weeks of daily street protests by opposition supporters. Before Shevardnadze opened Parliament, tens of thousands of opposition supporters packed the capital's Freedom Square and other streets, kicking an effigy of Shevardnadze and carryting placards reading, ``Your century was the 20th. Now it is the 21st.'' They vowed not to leave the streets until Shevardnadze was removed. These events were immediately hailed in the western media as a “peaceful revolution”. But the reason why, in the moment of truth, the old regime collapsed like a pack of cards was that the so-called independence of Georgia on a capitalist basis was to bring wars, misery, chaps and unemployment that is officially admitted to be 17% but in reality is much higher. A huge number of people have fled the country. There is widespread discontent that found an expression in the events of the last few days. 

Unfortunately, this so-called “revolution” will solve nothing but only increase the sufferings of the Georgian people. Mikhail Saakashvili, a 35-year old lawyer studied in the USA and France. He is regarded as a pro-Western, radical reformer – that is to say, a bourgeois counterrevolutionary and an agent of US imperialism. His differences with Shevardnadze were more a question of personal ambition than anything else. A former head of Tbilisi council, in 2000 he was appointed justice minister by Shevardnadze but quit the government the following year, when he formed the United National Movement. 

Saakashvili represents a new generation of bourgeois politicians – young, pushy, confident and impatient to push aside the older, more cautious leaders like Shevardnadze and occupy their places – and the lucrative salaries, perks and privileges that go with them. There is an old established tradition in the Caucuses that political office is simply a convenient way of filling one’s pockets at the public expense. Of course, the same can be said of Britain and the USA, but these activities are normally carried on with a modicum of discretion, whereas in countries like Georgia the plundering of the exchequer is carried on shamelessly and in full view. 

The new “independent” capitalist Georgia combines all the most repulsive features of the old bureaucratic regime with the monstrous injustices and exploitation of capitalism. And these crimes are carried on blatantly. The new regime will carry on the same honoured tradition, with the difference that the scope for robbery will be even greater with the inevitable flood of businessmen arriving on flights from Dallas and New York with suitcases full of dollars for bribes in order to secure profitable contracts. The ordinary Georgians will see not a single cent.

The present euphoria will soon wear off once the people of Georgia realise that they have been deceived. 

Nothing substantial will change. The previous parliament will remain in place. The same old gangsters, thieves and swindlers will stay in place. This was the central message of the “revolutionaries” – continuity. 

"The country must [now] get back to its usual rhythm of life," Ms Burdzhanadze said, asking security forces to resume their duties.

The one big change will be a further shift towards the West and especially the USA. The United States has welcomed the new government. In a statement, the US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he looked forward to working with Ms Burdzhanadze "in her effort to maintain the integrity of Georgia's democracy as she strives to ensure that this change in government follows the constitution." 

"The United States and the international community stand ready to support the new government in holding free and fair parliamentary elections in the future," the statement said.

The indecent haste with which Washington supported the Opposition indicates that there is more than this than meets the eye. Ever since the fall of the USSR, the Caucuses has been the centre of a ferocious struggle between Russia, the USA and Turkey for control over its rich resources and oil wealth. In this great power struggle, Georgia occupies a key position. This small country of nearly 5 million inhabitants is strategically located on the Black Sea south of Russia and north of Turkey. The former Soviet republic is the site of an important pipeline to ship oil from the Caspian Sea to Turkey beginning in 2005.

Russia remains a key power in the region, and has been trying to reduce America’s influence. In order to pressurise Georgia and retain its control over the country, Moscow has accused Tblisi of giving support and refuge to Chechen fighters. It has backed separatist movements in Abkhazia and Ossetia, as a means of weakening Georgia. There is no love lost between the Kremlin and Shevardnadze, who, despite his past as a Kremlin bureaucrat and “Communist”, adopted a the position of bourgeois nationalism. The problem is that the Opposition is, if possible, even more pro-American than Shevardnadze. Therefore, although Moscow acknowledged that the election war marred and called for the ``mistakes to be corrected, it insisted that this must be done “in the realm of the law […] The alternative is chaos,'' the Russian Foreign Ministry growled. And Moscow has it in its hands to cause tremendous chaos in the region, if it wants. 

This was a warning to the Americans and their Georgian friends not to push things too far. But the warning fell on deaf ears. With Georgian President Shevardnadze's resignation, a radical, pro-U.S. opposition has come to power in Tbilisi. This is part of a general thrust to increase Washington’s influence in the Caucasus, but it will have set alarm bells ringing in the Kremlin. The Russians will not remain with arms folded while a key country on her southern border passes directly into the camp of US imperialism.

These events will undoubtedly pave the way for greater conflict and disintegration in Georgia. The Russians will tighten the screws on Georgia. So-called independent regions and pro-Moscow political leaders are only too willing to pick a fight with the new leadership in the capital. Since neither side enjoys majority support, chaos and violence will likely prevail, causing further upheavals, wars, bloodshed and misery throughout this beautiful but unhappy region and sabotaging U.S. plans to pump Caspian oil westward.
Nino Burdzhanadze was giving her first televised national address following the resignation of Eduard Shevardnadze. 

"We have managed to overcome the gravest crisis in Georgia's recent history without shedding a single drop of blood," Ms Burdzhanadze said. But she spoke too soon. The intrigues of the imperialists will cause a lot of blood to flow before the crisis is settled one way or another. The new leaders are already casting a nervous look over their shoulders at Russia. Declaring the disobedience campaign over, she said the country must work to strengthen its ties with its neighbours and "the great state of Russia". But fine words will not impress the Kremlin. Russia will be looking very closely at the policies and conduct of the new government in Tblisi, and preparing to tighten the screws. The result will be new wars, chaos and horrors without end.

The Caucasus, for those who know them, are like a paradise on earth. A wonderful climate, staggeringly beautiful scenery, a rich agriculture and colossal mineral wealth. The peoples of the Caucasus, despite all the linguistic, ethic and religious differences, share a common history and traditions, and close cultural affinities. They are among the most delightful, hospitable and generous people on earth. In that respect they have something in common with the peoples of the Balkans, which the region resembles in some respects. 

Yet this beautiful garden with its tremendous potential for development and prosperity has been reduced to a burnt-out shell, a horrific battleground where people slaughter one another for the sake of artificial frontiers that have no real meaning. The great historical tragedy of the Caucuses is that the peoples of the region have been cut off from each other, cruelly divided and Balkanised. This renders them incapable of resisting the constant interference of the great powers, both those that surround them and the transatlantic giant. 

All are now queuing up to get their greedy hands on the wealth of the region, and in order to realise this objective, are prepared to plunge it into chaos. Behind every rival faction we will find some foreign power or other – Americans, Russians, Turks, Germans, plotting, inciting to murder, bribing, corrupting, provoking wars and secessions in the name of “self determination” and everywhere and always spreading misery, chaos and death. Here we see a perfect reproduction of the history of the Balkans before 1914. And the results for the Caucasian peoples will be no less terrible.

At bottom, the problem is the absence of an independent movement of the working people of the Caucuses. The proletariat has allowed itself to be dragged behind other classes in an alleged struggle for “national independence”. It has subordinated itself to bourgeois nationalist demagogues whose only interest is to stick their snout in the pig trough of the state treasury and sell themselves and their country to the highest bidder among the imperialist states. What kind of “national independence” is this?

Nationalist demagogues like Shevardnadze, encouraged by US imperialism, promised the peoples a glowing future of prosperity and “democracy” under an independent capitalist regime. But ten years later, all these dreams have ended as a heap of smouldering ruins. The balance sheet for millions of people has been death, destruction and misery. 

Washington and Moscow treat the small, weak, divided Caucasian states as mere pawns in a game in which the whole region acts as a gigantic chessboard. America makes a move, Russia responds, and the result is a war, an assassination, an explosion, a military coup or – a “bloodless revolution”. We are now awaiting the next move in the game. We do not know when or where Moscow will be respond, but one thing we do know: the losers will be the ordinary people, the poor, the defenceless. 

The only hope for the peoples of the Caucasus lies in a radical break with capitalism and imperialism. Drive out the bourgeois robbers and expropriate the property of the imperialists! Then perhaps the word “independence” might acquire some kind of meaning. But for these small countries in their mountainous stronghold, no progress can be made by erecting artificial barriers. Georgians, Abkhazians, Armenians, Azeris, Chechens, and all the other peoples of the region must come together in a socialist federation of the Caucasus, on the basis of complete equality, democracy, fraternity and friendship. 

Does this seem impossible? But it has been achieved once before. The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 gave the peoples of the Caucuses land and freedom. It united them in a Transcaucasian Federation that put an end to centuries of strife and created a spirit of genuine proletarian internationalism and brotherhood. It pulled the Caucasus out of semi-feudal backwardness and opened the way to economic and cultural development through a nationalised planned economy. This is what radically transformed the lives of the Caucasian peoples and gave them a future. 

It is true that under Stalin and his successors much of this good work was undone. What was achieved once can be achieved again. The spotless banner of Leninist internationalism was replaced by loathsome Great Russian chauvinism, and this was mirrored in the Soviet republics by local nationalist bureaucrats, such as Eduard Shevardnadze, who deliberately encouraged separatism and national antagonisms that resulted in the break-up of the USSR

What was achieved before can be achieved again. The ordinary people of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and other Caucasian nations, look back with longing to the days when they lived at peace. If they had a choice, they would chose to enter a voluntary federation in which the resources of the Caucuses would be pooled for the benefit of all. The establishment of a socialist federation under modern conditions would be on a qualitatively higher level than in 1923. It would prepare the way for a rapid development of the productive forces, with the elimination of unemployment and poverty and the creation of conditions for prosperity and abundance. Under such conditions, the basis for conflict and war would cease to exist, along with the old, primitive hatreds and feuds. 

Only on such a basis can the true potential of the Caucuses be realised. A beautiful garden can bloom at last. Men and women can raise themselves up to their true height and the Caucuses will cease to be a bloody battlefield where rival imperialists settle their scores and become a real example for the whole of humanity.

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