Peaceful protest topples Georgia's president
Besieged by thousands of protesters, Shevardnadze resigned Sunday.
(Page 2 of 2)
Nino Burjanadze, an opposition leader and former parliamentary speaker is widely seen as more moderate. But the good-cop, bad-cop opposition front may not survive the next phase of the conflict.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"The fact that they [the opposition] couldn't unite before the election," says Brenda Shaffer, head of the Caspian Studies Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, "means that if they get the keys to parliament and to the president's house, I'm not sure they're going to be able to keep running together."
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had flown to Georgia overnight Saturday but announced Sunday, shortly before the resignation, that his mission was over.
Both government and opposition sides had played hardball. Shevardnadze, with two assassination attempts, four regional uprisings and a breakaway republic under his belt, has a reputation as a master of brinksmanship.
Shevardnadze has long been feted in the West, as the Soviet foreign minister under Mikhail Gorbachev who helped craft the peaceful end to the Soviet empire. Washington alone - hedging against Russia's own historical interest in its small southern neighbor - has sunk more than $1 billion into Georgia during Shevardnadze's decade-long rule.
Many Georgians, however, have become increasingly angry at Shevardnadze, blaming him for the country's deepening impoverishment.
As an independent nation, Georgia has become an ally of the US in its war on terror. American troops have been training Georgian units to battle Chechen rebels they say have links to Al Qaeda in the lawless Pankisi Gorge along the Russia's Chechen border to the north. But US officials have been critical of Shevardnadze's handling of the election, and had urged compromise talks.
Protests began soon after parliamentary elections on Nov. 2, when the opposition cried foul over vote rigging and blatant attempts to steal the result. European vote monitors said the election showed "spectacular irregularities."
Street marches grew as opposition leaders - themselves a mixed group, who couldn't form a united front before the election - vowed not to recognize the new parliament, and demanded that Shevardnadze resign.
When Mr. Saakashvili led the charge into parliament, the crowd breaking down the tall wooden doors and sending deputies racing for safety, he pointed at the white-haired Shevardnadze on the podium and shouted: "Resign! Resign!"
Ms. Burjanadze assumed presidential powers on Saturday. She vowed that new elections would be held in 45 days.
Along with the special forces troops at the parliament Sunday, police officers, too, were inside the courtyard after dark, stating that Shevardnadze's power would be "finished" within a few hours.
While the chance of violence may have eased Sunday, the weight of the opposition's challenge began to be felt.
As events unfolded before the resignation, Mr. Lieven said: "Always on these occasions, one gets into optimistic mode. But we mustn't make the same mistake with the Georgian opposition that we made about Georgia itself, [dividing it into] goodies and baddies, and cowboys and Indians.
"All these people come from a particular Georgian political culture, which so far has thrown up one catastrophe after another," Lieven says, noting that "family, clan, blood relations and patronage" are part of the system, and any government is "bound to reward its followers, its family.
"If they win, I hope this lot will be different," he concludes. "There are degrees; you don't have to do it as kleptocratically as Shevardnadze. But that is the cultural expectation."