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17 June, 2011

Nino is No Saint

I was expecting bad news this year before Georgia’s Independence Day on May 26. Reports from Tbilisi sounded like war communiqués. Some of the implacable people who called themselves the opposition announced a quick mass “revolution” that would topple the “dictatorship.”

Some people, such as ex-Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili who had fled all the way to France, even promised to stage a triumphal comeback and said menacingly that he would be inspecting the military parade instead of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Fortunately, all of this proved to be lies. The bulwark of the opposition, Tbilisi, did not throw its support behind the “protesters” this time. The police were ordered to avoid responding to provocations. Meanwhile, the “protesters” used sticks to beat the policemen, passers-by and, if they had enough time and inspiration, even each other.

Dozens of videos recorded in Tbilisi are available on YouTube showing these “Jedi” beating people on their heads with cutoff pipes, attacking journalists and throwing rocks at the public television office.

The government seemed to stand by allowing the “opposition” to show what it was made of. A live broadcast from the site of the protests – something “revolution” leader Nino Burdzhanadze wanted so badly – easily convinced people that the people in the central square were either paupers or bandits.

The popular war fizzled, but there was no happy ending. Two people, a policeman and a protester, died after being run over by opposition leaders’ 4x4's as they sped away from the site of a lost battle.

At this point, I need to make an important remark. Virtually no-one in Ukraine knows anything about Georgian politics. Let me give you a responsible estimate: 99% of Ukrainians know nothing more than that Saakashvili is a man and Burdzhanadze is a woman.

Unfortunately, this is not a joke but a result of, so to speak, empirical observations: monitoring TV news and press coverage.

Of course, I have no bone to pick with average citizens, who are stupefied by Savik Shuster, Yevgeny Kiselyov and their likes. The problem is that those who take the time to comment on events in Georgia fail to identify Natelashvili and Tortladze, Gachechiladze and Alasania, Ulugava and Batiashvili.

There is, I presume, just a handful of Ukrainian journalists, editors and experts who know these and other politicians by sight, understand their political goals and the background for their actions and statements and have any real interest in Georgian affairs.

Even the most authoritative Ukrainian media use Russia’s Interfax as the main or only source of information on Georgia and often add a reference: “Source: TV channel Russia Today.”

What nonsense! It is like listening to Levitan’s icy voice speaking on Stalin’s SovInformBureau about the ruses and provocations of Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels.

I have written this entire passage above about (ir)responsible commentators only to bluntly ask one question: Colleagues, why the hell do you admire Nino Burdzhanadze so much?

This rhetorical question would have no point if another passionate figure, Natalia Vitrenko, commanded similar admiration from the media. She is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party in Ukraine, but long interviews with her and multiple quotes from her paradoxical speeches are nowhere to be seen. All of this is out of the question because journalists figured her out a long time ago. They do not quote, invite or popularize her, because this is pointless, and damages your reputation as a journalist. But let me say this: what Vitrenko is not allowed to do, Burdzhanadze does.

The leader of Georgia’s radical opposition has an equally Bolshevik mentality; it is merely covered with a nice, Tymoshenko-style gloss.

Paradoxically, Burdzhanadze is much more popular in Ukraine and Russia than in her own country where her support rating, political impact and parliamentary representation are all zero.

Now why would Vladimir Putin regularly meet with her in Moscow? Why does Viktor Pinchuk invite her as an honorary guest to the Yalta European Strategy gathering? She has constant presence on various Ukrainian TV channels where she speaks with aristocratic aplomb about spurious results of reforms in Georgia and insists that she is the only person capable of securing freedom and democracy for the country.

And then she returns home where she casts off her dove-of-peace mask, she distributes baseball bats, iron rods and gas-filled bottles to her followers. She goes live on television speaking complete nonsense about a “Fascist dictatorship.” During a telephone conversation with her son, which was intercepted by special services, she speaks about “necessary” bloodshed: let 100 or even 500 in the opposition die and then the special mission units of Russia’s Chief Intelligence Directorate will come and complete the job.

Moscow-based political writer Yulia Latynina aptly captured this family trait in the Georgian opposition: as long as a person has power, she is normal, but as soon as she is cast overboard, she becomes a downright idiot.

Most of my friends in Tbilisi consider Burdzhanadze to be Moscow’s fifth column – without any qualification. Why? Because when she gladly meets with Putin, it does not occur to her to ask him on what ground he has cut off 20% of Georgia’s territory. You will not hear her answer any one of a number of questions: Why is the Russian army stationed near Tskhinvali and Sukhumi? Why can’t 300,000 refugees return home? Why do Georgians have no right to vote in Abkhazian elections? Why did the separatists ban the teaching of literary Georgian in schools, replacing it with the regional Mingrelian language? This is as if Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk were to introduce the Polissia dialect of Chernihiv region in schools to replace Ukrainian.

Burdzhanadze, her husband (who is now in hiding somewhere) and her son, who boasted of having connections with the Russian special mission units are all asking to be penalized as criminals.

As long as they were disseminating their absurd slogans in society, they were an opposition of sorts. But after attacks on government representatives and policemen (the Georgian police enjoy a whopping 87% support rate, according to the most recent poll) and attempts to seize the central TV station, it is now time to change the tone of the conversation.

There is nothing left for Burdzhanadze to do now except drive up the hysteria. And she has lots of reasons to try. Her popularity rating is within the margin of error. Russia has financed the protests but received only a video recording of brutal beatings in return rather than a new government. It will now count on other people than Burdzhanadze. Her husband is wanted by the police and her son is facing criminal charges. Her political future has fallen victim to her political past.

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