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Georgia: Opposition protests enter fifth day

protest

Despite dwindling numbers over the weekend, the opposition in Georgia has once again rallied an estimated 20,000 supporters in the capital, Tbilisi. Although well down on the 50,000 that demonstrated on Thursday, the number of those openly calling for the resignation of the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, did at least match those taking to the streets on Friday.

And as tents are erected outside the Georgian presidential palace, it has also prompted bloggers to examine the opposition movement and analyze their chance of success. At Kasrika’s Blog, for example, a GIPA journalism student introduces readers to one of the demonstrators.

20 years ago, Lia Lazashvili remembers standing with her friends in front of Parliament, demonstrating the soviet government. She recalls one of the leaders, Irakli Tsereteli, began to lead the group in prayer. Many were on their knees when Soviet soldiers came through the crowds with shovels and tanks, beating people to death, and causing a panicked stampede that killed several others.

[...]

Lazashvili eventually overcame her fears, and her history as an anti-government protester has placed her back in front of Parliament several times, including last Thursday, April 9. She was among the crowd during the 2003 Rose Revolution protests, where she became an active member of now President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement, and served as a Tbilisi City Council Deputy representing the party.

But she quit in 2006, disappointed in how the government spent money, and how they ignored the opposition.

“I told them ‘You are Neo-Bolsheviks,’” she recalls. “The freedom we gained 20 years ago we are losing and we need to fight for it again.”

Writing on her Resistance Georgia blog, human rights lawyer and political activist Anna Dolidze explains why she believes a campaign of civil disobedience is necessary. Indeed, she explains, such actions have defined history.

I believe that it is impossible to change things for the better in Georgia without peaceful civil disobedience. Saakashvili and his comrades (neo-bolshevik style retained!) will not leave their posts voluntarily. Ousting them with force and with unconstitutional means is unacceptable. [...] This should not be surprising to Americans, that have attained progress through civil disobedience during the civil rights movement; And neither to the British, that gave up India after civil disobedience campaign led by Gandhi.

However, the former head of the Young Georgian Lawyers Association also says that following the November 2007 unrest in Tbilisi, the authorities are targeting less well-known political activists.

Non-democratic regimes to try to pressure the support base of opposition groups as opposed to attacking talking heads directly. From the experience of 7/11/07 the government learned that they will pay a high price for attacking known opposition figures. [...] This way talking heads- opposition leaders continue to appear publicly while their support base is becoming smaller As these people are less visible, such cases are harder to prove. Beso Sarjveladze, a former TV star and civic activist was ambushed and assaulted yesterday. [...]

Meanwhile, Middle East and Eurasia Political Analysis says that despite some isolated cases of violence, it is uncertain how long a relative calm can last. The blog also wonders how genuine and united the opposition movement actually is.

With media coverage focusing solely on events in Tbilisi, it’s hard to gauge how much popular support there is nationally for the opposition.* Either way, it would seem foolhardy not to try to encourage support from Georgia’s other cities and towns enabling the opposition to highlight how unpopular Saakashvili is, if indeed that is the case. Not doing so almost presumes that one could characterize the opposition as mere political opportunists looking to secure their own paths to power.

The same could also be said of the failure to create a single platform acceptable to all parties now in opposition – something that continues to elude the current crop of protestors. If Nino Burjanadze -perhaps the highest profile opposition figure given her two-time stint as Georgia’s acting president – can be booed during a protest speech, then clearly for the moment, the Saakashvili regime has little to worry about.

Even so, another GIPA journalist student says there are signs that protesters have come from further afield than just Tbilisi.

While the bulk of demonstrators were in Tbilisi, gathering in front of parliament, similar protesters from Ajara and Guria moved towards the President’s official residence in Bobokhvati in Ajara. Some 50 cars and ten mini buses ignored the rainy weather as they converged on the Bobkhvati address in an attempt to find President Mikheil Saakashvili and show their dissatisfaction.

New tactics are being tried, though, with Sako's Blog reporting on some of the less conventional tactics adopted by the opposition.

Thousands of demonstrators surrounded the main entrance to the President Mikheil Saakashvili’s residence and office compound in Avlabari on Monday night, April 13, in an attempt to block anyone from entering or leaving the building.

[...]

The so-called “second wave” has breathed new life into a protest that was dwindling in fervor by the day. Opposition leaders did not get the numbers they expected even at the height of the protest on April 9, and the crowds had decreased from tens of thousands to hundreds by Sunday.

[...]

He also said the second wave of protests will include fake mini prison cells around the city in which famous Georgians would sit “as a symbol of being a prisoner of the government.”

Tomorrow protesters are going to have a ‘tie protest’. In front of the parliament tey will fasten ties at fense and will make a wish Saakashvili to resign. [...]

garbage

However, not everyone is happy about other aspects of the demonstrations, with one Armenian GIPA journalism student lamenting the amount of rubbish left behind each demonstration.

When the opposition accused a city street-cleaning team of vandalizing their sound system late Saturday night, April 11, Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava sarcastically retorted the protesters could clean up the demonstration sites themselves [...].

Some activists responded Sunday by sweeping up trash on Rustaveli Avenue and dumping it in front of the mayor’s office. According to official sources, when they left the sight, the garbage was taken away.

[...]

It’s not only the political leaders, both opposition and administration, who have a mess to clean up. Demonstrators themselves, while demanding a responsive political leadership, should also think about what they can do to be responsible citizens. It starts with picking up the trash, and disposing of it properly.

Such concerns, along with reports of abusive rhetoric coming from opposition leaders, might also be reason enough for the latest post from Anna Dolidze who wonders whether a third force is necessary in local politics.

[...] This should be a group of political forces and individuals that are not AGAINST someone by FOR something, for reforms, for better healthcare, for reduced military budget, for negotiations with Abkhazs and Ossetians and with Russians, for reforms and more money in education, for integration with the European institutions etc. This group would come up with a positive, progressive platform and would engage with everyone- not just Georgian- Orthodox population. It should be based on respect and not on swearing, cynicism and aggression. It would try to change current discourse. There are people that share these values within Georgian opposition now, yet they have been completely silenced by radicals from both sides. [...] Because the two existing platforms of Saakashvili and anti-Saakashvili do not instill much hopes for a better, more democratic future.

More updates will be posted on Global Voices Online as of when, but in the meantime it's worth keeping an eye on the GIPA Journalism School Blog as well as Twitter at #tbilisi.

Coverage of the first, second and third day of protests is also available on Global Voices Online.

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