Georgia's partner in democracy: US
Washington gave more than $1 billion over the past decade to build a multiparty system
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"There is clearly US influence in this," says George Khutsishvili, head of the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, one of many prodemocracy groups in Tbilisi that receives US, EU, and other Western funding. "The US has supported this government for so many years, with so little outcome. It was a disaster. Finally they realized [Shevardnadze] is not the man to count on" and that the "only thing is to remove [him]."Skip to next paragraph
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What was unclear was whether the Belgrade example was "possible in Georgia, without blood," Mr. Khutsishvili says. "Without the US - which was crucial - there would have been a more unpredictable, violent, and painful way," though Georgians still would have forced change on their own, he says.
Perhaps more important was the environment created by the flood of prodemocracy cash in recent years, that convinced many Georgians that the vote was a farce - and that act they must.
"Now that it has reached a seemingly successful result, one of the things you have to say is that all of this election hoopla, largely financed by the Western community ... [helped] raise public expectation that this would be an honest and decent election," says a Western diplomat, who asked not to be further identified.
The result "exposed to the public ... what people were doing to cheat them of the full weight of their ballot," the diplomat says, noting that the vote was transparent, if not honest.
"You could see the cheating going on right in front of your eyes," causing widespread indignation, the diplomat says. That anger was used by the opposition to mobilize street action that was "dangerous," because of the uncertain outcome, but ultimately "successful," the diplomat says. "It appears to be an exercise in almost pure democracy."
Indeed, that message seems to have been heard widely, since protests included even the most poor, and some elderly - constituents that make little political difference elsewhere in the region.
"We showed the government what we wanted," says Maria Mamasashvili, a now-unemployed laborer wearing an orange scarf, who came from the provinces to take up vigil outside the parliament building. "It was my election, they stole my vote, so I showed them my voice means something."
Already the cash lavished by Washington on this small Caucasus country of 5 million - renowned as much for its corruption as for its wines and fruit - has come under scrutiny.
US officials recently assessed their programs here, then canceled some, curtailed others, and imposed a series of new benchmarks to ensure future progress.
Georgia's new leaders hope that their democratic revolution will change that dynamic, and ensure new aid. Already, they have asked for $5 million to conduct fresh elections. Their experience in the US - where many opposition leaders have been at least partly educated - is high in their minds.
"It is absolutely essential, and was absolutely decisive," says Mr. Baramidze, who spent a year at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. He has a red US Marines baseball on his desk in parliament and uses an FBI gift pen.
"Now [donors] are happy, because they realize that this money is not gone," says Baramidze. "This money hasn't solved all problems of corruption or economy, but [it] definitely created one more democratic nation on this planet."