Voices from Russia

Monday, 1 October 2012

Georgia Opposition Celebrate Election “Victory”


Thousands of opposition supporters flooded the centre of Georgia‘s capital of Tbilisi to celebrate as exit polls put their Georgian Dream coalition ahead in Monday’s crucial parliamentary elections. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire who leads Georgian Dream, said in a speech broadcast on an opposition TV channel, “We’ve won! The Georgian people have won!” However, with the official results yet to be announced, the opposition’s celebrations could prove premature. President Mikhail Saakashvili, who leads the ruling United National Movement (UNM), admitted on state television that Georgian Dream was ahead in the vote in Tbilisi, but said his coalition was winning convincingly in the provinces, saying, “But this doesn’t mean we’ll split the country between Tbilisi and the regions. We’re all citizens of Georgia and we must stand side-by-side”.

The atmosphere among the growing crowd on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square is euphoric, with chants of “Georgia.” Policing is virtually non-existent, although a drone is hovering above the crowd. However, the run up to today’s voting has been fraught with tension and fears of violence. Early on Tuesday, opposition media claimed Special Forces officers forcibly removed ballots from a number of polling stations in central Georgia’s Khashuri District. Maestro TV said officers “used tear gas and fired rubber bullets” at one polling station as they removed a ballot box in order to “rewrite” the results. The channel showed a crowd of opposition supporters heading toward polling stations in the district. Transparency International Georgia, an NGO that monitors political corruption, later confirmed the reports.

Levan Chochua, a middle-aged Georgian Dream supporter on Freedom Square warned, “There’ll be trouble if Saakashvili tries to steal the vote. Saakashvili says we’re for Russia, but we’re just for a normal life. He’s built a façade of European democracy in the centre of Tbilisi, but most people never see all this”, as he gestured at the impressive buildings that ring the square.

These elections saw Saakashvili face his most serious political threat since coming to power in 2003 as the result of a revolt against a régime led by former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. The polls took on particular importance in the light of a law passed in 2010 that transfers the majority of the president’s executive powers to the prime minister. The law comes into force from 2013 when Saakashvili’s second term ends. Whoever wins Monday’s polls will be able to appoint the prime minister. Saakashvili’s UNM enjoyed a healthy lead in opinion polls until last month, when opposition channels aired explicit footage of male inmates at a Tbilisi jail being sexually assaulted with broom handles. The videos triggered large protests across Georgia and widespread anger at Saakashvili and the UNM and saw a reported groundswell of support for the opposition.

Dark Days

American-educated lawyer Saakashvili, 44, attempted to portray Monday’s elections as a choice between continued “modernisation” and a return to what he dubbed the “dark days” of the 1990s, when the former Soviet republic lay within Moscow‘s sphere of influence. Ivanishvili, 56, and his supporters accused Saakashvili of running a dictatorship and say his policies have brought Georgia… a country of 4.5 million that’s an important transit route for oil and gas to the West… to the brink of disaster, not least by leading it into a ruinous 2008 war with its vast neighbour, Russia. Whilst staunch American-ally Georgia earned plaudits from the World Bank for its far-reaching business reforms, the opposition says it’s done nothing to alleviate poverty, and that the true number of unemployed is far above the official figure, which hovers around 15 percent.

However, critics say Georgian Dream is little more than a rag-tag alliance of parties with very little in common and that Ivanishvili will be hard-pressed to suppress the more nationalist and xenophobic elements of his coalition should it come to power. Saakashvili painted his ultra-wealthy rival, who made much of his money in Russia in the 1990s, as a Kremlin stooge seeking to “return Georgia to Russia’s imperial space”. Ivanishvili has dismissed these allegations as “laughable”. Like the UNM, Georgian Dream also states NATO and EU membership among its priority policies, although the coalition also pledged to improve relations with Russia.

Post-Poll Fears

On Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the elections are a “litmus test” of Georgia’s democratic credentials. American and European officials called for transparent and peaceful elections, and over 400 poll observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are in the country. Nevertheless, monitors warned last week that the build-up to the crucial polls were “confrontational and rough”. Thomas De Waal, a Caucasus expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, told RIA Novosti, “These elections are the first serious test of Georgia’s capacity to hold a democratic election process which can lead to a peaceful transition of power at the ballot box. If the country can manage to absorb a two-party system without open confrontation it will be a big step forward”. The head of Georgia’s influential Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilya Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili, also urged honest elections, and carried out a pre-election blessing of Tbilisi last week.

From Penguins to Politics

Ivanishvili backed Saakashvili in the aftermath of Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution, even funding, he said, the new president’s inauguration. For years, the businessman showed little interest in being directly involved in politics, preferring instead to finance charity projects and breed penguins at his mansion in western Georgia. However, the enigmatic tycoon dropped a bombshell into Georgian politics last October when he announced that he would use some of his vast fortune of 6.4 billion USD (200 billion Roubles. 5 billion Euros. 4 billion UK Pounds)… equivalent to around half the country’s GDP… to create an alternative to the UNM, which has been in power for the past eight years.

The authorities responded by stripping him of his Georgian passport in 2011 after revelations that he’s also a French citizen. Ivanishvili said that he’ll take advantage of a law allowing EU nationals who have lived in Georgia for more than five years to hold public office to become prime minister if his opposition coalition triumphs at Monday’s polls. He said that he’ll leave office after “one or two years” if his bid for power is successful. Ivanishvili refused to vote at Monday’s polls in protest at what he said was the authorities “distortion” of the constitution, and said that the law on EU nationals was approved especially for him to rescue Georgia’s international image.

Ties With Russia

Georgia has had no diplomatic relations with Russia since 2008, when it fought and lost a five-day war with its powerful neighbour over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Russia subsequently recognised the sovereignty of South Ossetia and another breakaway republic, Abkhazia. However, a mere handful of countries have so far followed suit. Whilst Russia hasn’t backed either side at the polls, there’s great personal antipathy between Saakashvili and President Putin, who said in the aftermath of the South Ossetia conflict that he would like to “hang him [Saakashvili] by the balls”. Last week, EU military monitors said that Russian troops were building up at the administrative border with South Ossetia and that a Russian helicopter had briefly landed on Georgian-controlled territory. Moscow said the helicopter had touched down in Georgia “by mistake”. A major military exercise carried out last month by Russia in the North Caucasus also unsettled Tbilisi, although Moscow says the drills were planned well before the announcement of the 1 October elections.

2 October 2012 (MSK)




1 October 2012. Sergei Yolkin’s World. Mikhail Saakashvili’s Last Battle

Mikhail Saakashvili’s Last Battle

Sergei Yolkin



Note the pseudo-Napoleonic pose (with traces of a sardonic take on Moses looking out over the Promised Land, but unable to enter), and the title in Russian brings to mind a well-known Russian song Последний бой (The Last Battle) (click here for Dmitri Khvorostovsky singing it)… Yolkin does it again… a complex many-layered visual and intellectual play on images, words, and culture. Gotta love him for that…


There are different versions circulating about the events surrounding the parliamentary elections in Georgia on 1 October, which fell this year on Monday. In fact, there are quite a few, but none of them is official. To go further, click here for analysis by Vadim Dubnov.

1 October 2012

Sergei Yolkin



USAID Ends Operations in Russia


The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which funded Russian NGOs, ended its operations in Russia from Monday. In September, Russia said that USAID, which provided financing for pro-democracy and human rights groups that irked the Kremlin, would have to close its offices in the country by 1 October. President Putin said the mission was meddling in Russian internal affairs. Senior Russian officials portrayed some of USAID programs… such as those funding election monitoring and human rights groups critical of the Kremlin… as attempts by a foreign nation to undermine Russian sovereignty. Human rights activists cried foul over the closure of USAID’s Russian offices, saying small regional NGOs would suffer most.

USAID, which operates in more than 100 countries, was active in Russia over the past two decades. Its array of social programs have targeted issues such as at-risk youth and pressing public health issues like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. However, the agency also funded civic organisations that rankled Russian officials, including the election watchdog Golos, whose monitors catalogued violations in local and federal elections in recent years. The USA repeatedly denied that it intended these programmes to interfere in Russian domestic affairs. The ending of USAID operations in Russia doesn’t mean an end to the much-heralded reset between Washington and MoscowUS State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last month.

Since Vladimir Putin’s re-election as president, the lower house of parliament, the RF Gosduma, gave the green light to several laws that Russian civil society activists claim are intended to dampen dissent and provoke fear among citizens who’ve become increasingly active in recent months. These laws range from a substantial hike in protest-related fines to the law requiring domestic NGOs to register as “foreign agents” if they receive foreign funding and engage in political activity.

1 October 2012



Editor’s Note:

Here’s turnaround as fair play… let’s send Russian and Belarusian observers to Texas, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi to be official observers of the election and give them the right to make legal complaints against all the Good Ol’ Boys they catch stuffin’ ballot boxes. They’d catch more than one… “Landslide Lyndon” wasn’t an isolated phenom, y’ know.

Boss Hogg lives… and he’s accusing VVP of being corrupt. I’ll retire to Bedlam with Mr Scrooge


Will Britain Kill the Ailing EU?

The Euro Time Bomb

Carlos Latuff



As reported by the Guardian, British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that the British people would be given a say, possibly in a referendum, on any new EU settlement after the next general election. Speaking on the final day of his visit to the USA and Brazil, the prime minister also announced that Britain would opt out of a series of EU laws and order policies later this year. Mr Cameron also indicated the strengthening of a hard-line approach to pan-European problems by saying that Britain would exercise its rights to stand apart from a series of justice and home affairs measures later this year, saying, “The key thing, then, is, well, which of the array of things you’ve come out of do you actually think are good for Britain and you want to co-operate with European partners on? That’s a discussion we’re having at the moment”.

Definitely, recent dramatic developments in the EU, and in the Eurozone in particular, prompted the talk of the need for consent from the British people on any new agreement within the pan-European framework. Whilst none of the observers can be 100 percent sure how long the Eurozone will last in its entirety, Britain may feel itself happy that back in late 1990s and early 2000s it refrained from adopting the single European currency. However, apart from current difficulties in the EU, one should note that, from the earliest stages of the process of European integration, Britain always adopted an idiosyncratic stance on virtually all common European matters. It joined the EU (at that time, the European Economic Community, popularly known as “Common Market”) in 1973… 17 years after the six “founding parents” formed it. Before and after that, Britain constantly tried to establish a special niche for itself in the EU. Besides keeping outside the common currency, it’s outside the Schengen area, and it’s constantly shown a much more pro-American approach in major foreign policy endeavours than most other EU member states (excluding the Eastern European and former USSR newcomers).

Therefore, the big question is whether the statement made by the British Prime Minister is a forecast of an approaching collapse of the European unity, or is it just a hint that Britain is going to continue to keep only one foot within the community, leaving the option of stepping away open? In fact, the clue to the situation lies in the fact that whilst forging the alliance back in 1950s and 1960s was dictated by the economic needs of the founders, with the course of time, the process of European integration began to be dictated by political aims rather than by economic needs. The large-scale expansion in 2004 was the most vivid example. By including a number of economically-weak former socialist countries, the EU solved the problem of tying them up to the common European carriage, but the carriage itself got overloaded. Hence, it led to all the problems and uncertainties of today.

In the early 2000s, many observers noted that the EU been a stillborn baby from the very beginning. Probably it wasn’t in 1956, when integration reflected the core needs of its participants, but the early 2000s effectively killed the baby. We should always remember that the strength of any chain is determined by its weakest and not by its strongest link. Now, commentators are trying to figure out whether Mr Cameron’s statement signifies the beginning of the final and total disintegration of the poorly integrated Union. In this context, one may say that by preserving its special status in the EU, Britain avoided being ANY link in the chain… be it the strongest one or the weakest one. Therefore, even if it steps away from the EU with both feet, this will hardly add any momentum to the already accelerating process of the common European collapse.

1 October 2012

Boris Volkhonsky

Voice of Russia World Service


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