What Happened In Georgia Was An Oligarchic Coup

My latest for US-Russia.org Expert Discussion Panel on whether to view the recent Georgian elections, in which Saakashvili’s United National Movement lost a lot of power, as a Kremlin coup or a triumph of democracy. My view that it isn’t really either:

Two dominant themes prevailed in media coverage of the 2012 Georgian elections

(1) The people were hoodwinked, as Georgian Dream are a corrupt band of Russian stooges – as argued by neocon Jennifer Rubin and Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina (see juicy quote from her translated below):

It is possible that Georgia will get one more chance. In that one short moment, when a confused people will look on with astonishment as the band of thieves returning to power brings back its lawlessness – but at a point of time when the army and police are not yet wholly purged of respectable people, who care for the fate of their country – in that moment, Georgia will get another window of opportunity. Like the one, for instance, that Pinochet got on September 11, 1973. But maybe, this chance will never come.

(2) The elections were a genuine victory for Georgian democracy, with Saakashvili’s very defeat vindicating his historical status as a democrat and reformer. Two headlines from democratic journalist Konstantin von Eggert summarize this viewpoint: “Georgians are no longer a mass, but a people“; “Saakashvili accomplished the authoritarian modernization that Russian liberals only dreamed of.”

The Kremlin is in confusion: A state, which they practically denounced as a fascist dictatorship just three years ago, has become a democracy… And the oft-ridiculed and cursed Georgian President, known for his chewing of ties, became practically the most successful reformer in the post-Soviet space, barring the Baltics.

I think both viewpoints are substantially wrong, but to see why we have to consider this history in more detail.

In his first elections in 2004, Saakashvili won 96% of the votes. It was fairer than it looks, but only because of a complete absence of credible candidates at the time. In his second election, in 2008, not only did turnout correlate positively with the Saakashvili vote, but its graph had what is called a “long tail”, becoming suspicious after the 80% mark and registering quite a few stations with 100% turnout. This is remarkably similar to the pattern of falsifications in Russian elections under Putin (though needless to say, Georgia doesn’t attract a fraction of the same attention).

In these elections, multiple factors came together to produce radically different outcomes. The opposition came together, held together by Ivanishvili’s money – who also claims to have spent $1.7 billion, or more than 10% of Georgia’s GDP, over the past several years on stuff like paying officials’ salaries and buying new police cars. That’s like Prokhorov spending $150 billion in Russia, or Romney $1.5 trillion on the US election – while money is far from everything in politics, sums as huge as these certainly help.

Then there were the conveniently timed prison torture videos, broadcast by two suddenly opposition TV channels. These were Maestro, which in 2012 had been investigated for giving out free antennas, allegedly as part of vote-buying by Ivanishvili; and TV-9, a recent creation of Ivanishvili himself. Until recently, these channels appear to have been fairly minor; the big two were Rustavi 2, which is firmly pro-government, and Imedi. Though it was once the traditional opposition channel, Imedi – ever since its owner Badri Patarkatsishvili fell out with Saakashvili – had been tamed by police raids in 2007, to the extent that it orchestrated coverage of a hoax Russian invasion of Georgia to bolster support for Saakashvili.

All these factors – the background of Ivanishvili’s populist spending and opposition consolidation, plus his purchase of a TV presence and the very good timing of the videos – contributed to a drastic, sudden, and unforeseeable reversal in the United National Movement’s until recently far superior poll ratings (see below).

Furthermore, this election was far cleaner than previous ones (which of course favored the opposition): This time there were only a couple of stations with close-to-100% turnout, and in any case, greater turnout now coincided with more votes for Georgian Dream, not Saakashvili or his party (as was the case in 2007 and 2008). I suspect this is because, cognizant of the shift against Saakashvili, the “administrative resource” that had previously served him and the UNM became demoralized and fearful of prosecution in a future administration headed by Ivanishvili; as such, it now refused to give him his customary +3%-5% addon.

These developments were unexpected. It was Saakashvili’s very confidence in a United National Movement victory that presumably motivated him to shift formal powers from the Presidency to the Prime Minister, with a view to taking the latter position (or inserting an ally there) once his two terms were up. Until recently numerous commentators were speaking of Saakashvili “pulling a Putin” (rarely adding that Putin didn’t change the Constitution to empower the PM). Ironically, it was this very drive for greater political consolidation that ended up hoisting Saakashvili by his own petard. From 2013, it is Ivanishvili and allies who will get all the real power, regardless of who wins the Presidency.

In this context the dominant theories can be dismissed or modified. The theory that these elections were a “Russian coup” or somesuch is laughable on its face; only Saakashvili and his supporters seriously believe it, or pretend to. But the theory it’s a democratic triumph is also problematic given the critical role played by Ivanishvili’s money, not to mention Saakashvili’s own indifference to the concept (in practice, nor rhetoric). I submit that what we saw is an “oligarchic coup”, of the type not uncommon in poor countries with weak institutions and big personalities (and perhaps, of the type that Khodorkovsky may have accomplished in 2003 in a parallel world).

As such, given the contingent and artificial events that spawned this new revolution, Georgia can hardly be said to have become a model of democracy.

It is too early to tell what relations with Russia will be like after 2013. Doubtless better than under Saakashvili, but that’s not really saying anything considering how horrid they are now. I would caution that just because the Kremlin obviously prefers Ivanishvili certainly doesn’t mean he will be its puppet once in power (one factoid airbrushed out of history by everyone is that Russia also supported Saakashvili over Shevardnadze in the Rose Revolution). He is strongly committed to NATO membership, which – if pursued with the same old vigor – will continue to cause irreconcilable problems. With 62% of Georgians favoring NATO accession, and only 10% against, it’s not like Ivanishvili will be in much of a position to halt this process even if he were so inclined.

One can only hope that under Georgian Dream these disagreements, which are unlikely to go away any time soon, will be discussed in rather more civilized ways than was the case on August 8, 2008.

PS. Also feel free to read Sergey Roy‘s rejoinder to my piece.

I must congratulate Mr. Karlin on his excellent analysis of the politics involved in the recent parliamentary election in Georgia, its causes and consequences. A few comments are due, though.

Politics and politicking, as described in Anatoly’s essay, are surely important, but it is also advisable to take the Marxian – or merely commonsensical view of changes in a society’s superstructure as mostly reflections of processes in its economic basis. Ignoring the latter is only excusable in someone like Ms. Latynina (quoted in Karlin’s piece): she writes novels, you know, and clearly has trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality. She may believe, for instance, that under Saakashvili Georgia was going through a period of unprecedented efflorescence, but that’s sheer fiction. Mere propaganda, actually. The facts on the ground are different, very much so.

In a nutshell, Georgia is a basket case, in economic terms. According to an oppositionist source, its national debt is four times the size of its annual GDP (not that the latter is anything to write home about). According to the same source, unemployment there runs at an unheard-of 70 percent which was only brought down to the official figure of 20 percent by including everyone who has a few vines growing on the plot of land their house stands on in the “gainfully self-employed” category. That’s the sort of cheating that simply does not fool anyone.

There is also the foreign trade factor. Russia used to absorb all the alcohol Georgia produced rather scandalously, I must say: before Saakashvili, Russia imported three times more wine than Georgian vineyards could physically yield. A friend of mine spent a couple of days in and out of the bathroom after drinking a bottle of unbelievably cheap Khvanchkara. Luckily I had savvy enough to spit out the first mouthful. No wonder a member of Saakashvili’s government notoriously said that those Russian swine can drink anything. Now they drink nothing nothing of Georgian origin, that is and Georgian wine and brandy producers know exactly who they can thank for it. No wonder they wish him out of the way of normal economic intercourse.

Also on the economy side, there are between 800,000 and one million Georgians (no one seems to know how many exactly) feeding their own faces in Russia and the mouths of their relations back home. Russo-Georgian relations being what they are, those wretched people have to travel to and from Georgia via Ukraine or Armenia. Again, they and their relations — know exactly at whose feet they can lay this inconvenience.

Still staying with the economy, only creative writers like Latynina can believe their own fiction that Saakashvili’s regime is squeaky clean, that under his rule corruption, endemic in Georgia just as in other lands one might point a finger at, was stamped out completely. Sure, US money contributed a lot toward computerization, and you can register a company in half an hour or so in Georgia. What will happen to your company afterwards is quite a different matter. All of Georgia’s economic life, what there is of it, is in the hands of regime-related clans, and outsiders are unwelcome to such a degree that they see their future as hopeless. Naturally they want a piece of the action which is impossible unless the present regime is changed. Well, so it has been, or is being not without a great deal of interclan fighting, one can safely predict.

I am sure I have not covered all the economic factors that explain the Georgians’ desire to get rid of Saakashvili and much of what his regime stands for. Still, I am just as convinced that even these few factors carried more weight with voters than TV pictures of torture in Georgia’s prisons, Ivanishvili’s propaganda, and other political and circumpolitical events described in detail in Anatoly Karlin’s piece. Above all, the mood of general dissatisfaction with and anger at the populace’s economic condition had to be there. It was, and it was the prime factor in the events we have just witnessed and are going to witness.

As for politics, Georgians are no different from many other peoples: they want to eat their mamalyga and have it. They want to have Sukhum and Tskhinval back they lorded it over there for too long to reconcile themselves to the loss. So they want Russia to go away from these regions and yet have normal trade and other relations with it. What can Russia’s course be, in this situation? Withdrawing from Abkhazia and S.Ossetia is out of the question, for that would mean NATO bases practically on Russia’s southern flank. Therefore a bit of cognitive and emotional dissonance is inevitable for any future Georgian regime: it, and most Georgians, can dream of NATO and EU membership, heartily dislike Russia and at the same time keep selling it wine, their principal commodity under strict quality control, that is. No more slops with Khvanchkara labels, please.

Comments

  1. Porkypine says:

    Very good analysis, only someone following closely and from within Georgia both political and economical landscape could come with such true picture.
    Thank you

  2. Porkypine says:

    …..my only take is regarding the alleged 1.7 billions spent by Ivanishvili for elections; one should emphasize that those sums were spent in Georgia over a period of ten years on philanthropy and not within few months preceding the elections as insinuated in the text.

  3. Dear Anatoly,

    I echo Porkypine’s comment. I too think this is an accurate and correct analysis. For me the release on Georgian television of the prison abuse videos settles it. Saakashvili has made a determined effort to control Georgian television and the fact that such videos were broadcast and rival channels to his television channels were created shortly before the parliamentary elections was surely no accident. Quite apart from anything else it also points to a defection to Ivanishvili of a section of the Georgian elite.

    I would add that I don’t actually see any contradiction between your analysis and that of the equally astute and thoughtful analysis made by Sergey Roy. What made Saakashvili in the end so vulnerable to an oligarchical coup was precisely the run down state of the Georgian economy. It is in poor countries not rich countries where such coups happen. If Georgia had been a rich country Ivanishvili would not have been in a position to buy it up in the way that he did.

    I would add that I also agree with Sergey Roy that there is a delusional quality to the mindset of the Georgian political class including to that of Ivanishvili himself. Just as Roy says they have gradually come to understand that the only way Georgia can achieve a sustained recovery is through full economic rapprochement with Russia because it is Russia which for reasons of geography provides Georgia with its major market and its source of investment. However they want this rapprochement but at the same time they still want Abkhazia and South Ossetia back and they still want to join the EU and NATO. Like Yushchenko previously and to a lesser extent Yanukovich now they want to pursue an anti Russian policy which they want Russia to pay for. The Russian government understands this perfectly well, which is why it has been notably unenthusiastic about Ivanishvili’s victory.

    • Thanks for this solid comment Alex.

      For all my respect for Sergey Roy, I have to slightly part ways with him here. As of June 2012, 36% of Georgians intended to vote for the UNM, compared to only 18% for Georgian Dream. Georgian unemployment problems didn’t appear yesterday. Georgians simply got used to it as a post-Soviet reality, I think, and don’t particularly blame Saakashvili for failing to resolve them,

      In my view the most plausible explanation for why that gap, a very big one, closed so sharply and seemingly unexpectedly is as obvious as it is banal – the conveniently timed torture video (which was prominently broadcast by a previously pretty pliant TV media – which, as you correctly say, represented the defection of a large part of the Georgian elite away from Saakashvili).

  4. On the subject of Latynina, an article of hers on the subject of Georgia also appeared in English in Moscow Times.

    http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/georgian-dream-will-be-shattered/469516.html

    The article seems to be very similar to the one in Novaya Gazeta and for all I know may have been adapted from it. However there is no reference to Pinochet in the Moscow Times article. Nor does the Moscow Times article contain Latynina’s words inciting a military coup. Presumably someone decided that such fascistic comments would not be looked on favourably by Moscow Times’s English speaking readers.

    • Excellent point! I commented there on that theme (though, a bit too late…)

      • Олег Игоревич Алейник says:

        http://reason.com/blog/2004/03/22/park-pinochet-putin

        KGB’s elite First Directorate, charged with foreign intelligence, was composed of the cream of Soviet society: young, highly-educated, sophisticated, westernized, multi-lingual officers. The men of the First knew better than anyone, including the sclerotic Communist leadership, that the Soviet Union and Communist Party were totally rotten and nearing collapse.

        In 1989—1990, I was advised that KGB had decided to abandon the party that it had been created to defend, save itself in the impending national ship wreck, and seize key sectors of government and the economy. One KGB general told me, “we need a tough dictator like South Korea’s Park Chung-hi or Chile’s Pinochet to make our lazy people work — at gunpoint if necessary.” Intriguingly, the KGB’s Young Turks repeatedly told me their role models for the “new” Russia were two right-wing military strongmen, South Korea’s Gen. Park Chung-hee, and Chile’s Gen. Augusto Pinochet. “We will make Russians work at bayonet point,” were the words of an exasperated KGB colonel.

        • Would that be the same Eric Margolis that wrote favourably of Shamil Basayev and Ibn Khattabs invasion of Dagestan in 99 who declared that connections to Osama Bin Ladin and international terrorism was/is Kremlin propaganda which were subsequently proven wrong by the fact pre-9/11 warnings were linked to Bin Ladin and Khattab and that all the hijackers and their connections were linked to being recruited to fight in Chechnya.

          “The skilful disinformers at KGB’s Moscow Center are again spinning lies. They are planting stories in the western media that the Dagestani and Chechen rebels are ‘Islamic terrorists,’ backed by the nefarious Osama Bin Ladeen and other sinister Mideast terror groups. Or ‘Wahabis,’ an ultra- conservative Saudi sect. A shadowy ‘Arab fanatic’ named ‘Khattab’ – certain evidence of an Islamic conspiracy – is said to be at Basayev’s side.”

          Main stream press articles confirm pre-9/11 Chechen connection to 9/11. There are also other connections but I won’t post them here.

          “More truth dribbled out last year when a memo entitled Bin Laden/Ibn Khattab Threat Reporting, written in April 2001 to FBI Director Louis Freeh by an assistant director and copied to eight other high-level FBI leaders, was unearthed from the Moussaoui trove of court exhibits by Newsweek reporter Philip Shenon, author of the book, The Commission. It shows the FBI itself circulated a warning about Khattab and Bin Laden five months beforehand, although after 9/11, key recipients denied having read the memo: The U.S. Government has received information indicating that serious operational planning has been underway since late 2000, with an intended culmination in late Spring 2001. These plans are being undertaken by Sunni extremists with links to Ibn al Khattab, an extremist leader in Chechnya, and to Usama Bin Laden. There are several planning channels, some with connections to Afghanistan, all within a large shared mujahideen recruitment network. All the players are heavily intertwined.”

          http://www.network54.com/Forum/84302/thread/1349649318/last-1349659627/Articles+confirming+pre-9-11+warnings+link+to+Chechnya-Ibn+Khattab

          I would also post the US own 1998 intelligence report that confirms a Ibn Khattab Afghanistan-Turkey-Chechnya network posted on Judicial Watch but it has been taken down. I saved a copy of the original webpage and PDF document of the report. If anybody knows how to upload material to archive.org I will post it there.

          ”The anti-Islamic British conservative press (Lol!) has amplified this canard. In a remarkably obtuse and bigoted editorial, a new British-Canadian newspaper actually made the preposterous claim that an independent, Islamic Dagestan (2 million people) would ‘spark unrest’ throughout the Caucasus, somehow including Christian Georgia and Armenia, as well as Turkey, other Russian republics, even the entire Middle East. It concluded: ‘Moscow has good reason to act preventively in Dagestan.’

          In fact, the so-called ‘shadowy Arab fanatic,’ Khattab, is actually a descendant of Dagestanis who fled to Jordan to escape Russian genocide. The Chechen and Dagestanis are not Saudi ‘Wahabis,’ but traditional Caucasian Sufi Muslims, known as Naqshbandi. No outside powers are helping the Caucasian mujahidin in their valiant, David v. Goliath struggle to throw off 300 years of savage Russian colonial rule.”(I don’t know why anybody takes this guy seriously)

          http://www.twf.org/News/Y1999/0831-Footsteps.html

          He also supported Bosnia jihadists and the genocide of Serbs in Kosovo.

          As for the KGB secretly hoodwinking the west and retaining power in Russia stories about that have been circulating since the time of Perestroika and after the collapse of the USSR that that does not explain the fact that western backed Oligarchs totally colonised and de-industrialised the whole of the post Russian economy and that of Russian aligned neighbouring countries in the near abroad especially in control of state energy reserves trained by shock therapists under Gorbachev in the late 80s in London and Soros based institutions.

          The Soviet era intelligence and military apparatus that still operates in the former Soviet Union is aligned with western interests and working against Russia like aiding Chechen militants in Chechnya against Russian forces.

          “On 11 January 2002, Janes Intelligence Digest reported that Victor Sheyman, the former head of the Belarusian Security Council, coordinated the arms shipments through former members of the Belarussian Almaz antiterrorist squad who had become merceneries in Chechnya. They served as intermediaries for the delivery of these weapons.”

        • Croatia and Russia says:

          One KGB general told me, “we need a tough dictator like South Korea’s Park Chung-hi or Chile’s Pinochet to make our lazy people work — at gunpoint if necessary.”

          One can see easy that you have an university degree.
          One KGB………….this is good, we could put this down in the Wikipedia

  5. Croatia and Russia says:

    ……This is remarkably similar to the pattern of falsifications in Russian elections under Putin (though needless to say, Georgia doesn’t attract a fraction of the same attention)…..
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
    With friends like you, who needs enemies?

    • Someone who is a true friend of a country criticises its faults (its real ones – not its imagined or invented ones) and is not blind to its faults and does not seek to suppress discussion of them. Saakashvili’s friends have colluded for years in his fabrication of a bogus picture of Georgia. It is the Georgian people who as a result have suffered. Is that the action of a friend?

      • Croatia and Russia says:

        There were not falsifications in Russian elections under Putin
        O’ Alexander ,Et tu, Brute fili!

        • what’s the deal with someone always trolling non-Politically Correct blogs once they get popular with Stormfront links/videos? I mean seriously, a blog about Russia and you post a Panzerlied? How about the Defenders of Stalingrad March instead?

          • Croatia and Russia says:

            You asked it – you get it

          • Croatia and Russia says:

            Sir, can you read English?
            Panzerkampf” (tank battle) tells the story of the Battle of Kursk, also known as Operation Citadel (German: Unternehmen Zitadelle) in summer 1943. The operation is regarded as the last German major offensive in the Great Patriotic War (Eastern Front).
            On July 12th the German Wehrmacht’s Fourth Panzer Army clashed with the Soviet Red Army’s 5th Guards Tank Army near the town of Prokhorovka, what resulted as one of the largest tank battles in military history.

            On Stalingrad
            Stalingrad tells of the Battle of Stalingrad for the control of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in southwestern Russia between July 1942 and 2 February 1943 where at the minimum 700,000 people suffered death.

  6. Here for once is an article by Luke Harding (about the destruction of old Tbilisi) that I suspect is true.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/14/georgia-embracing-democracy-destroying-past

    • I have to say that talking about the “chilly Soviet vision” of Georgia’s previous oppressors does seem a bit unfair both by Luke Harding and in the linked article when it was they who preserved Tbilisi’s old town for Saakashvili to destroy.

    • Croatia and Russia says:

      The article is just Anglo-Saxon propaganda
      ….. Tbilisi also has a mushroom-shaped justice building, a modernist interior ministry and a “peace bridge”. Critics complain the president has adopted the same chilly visual language as Georgia’s former Soviet oppressors….
      …………………….
      As once said the Iron President Vladimir Putin
      “Who oppressed who in Soviet Union would be a good question for the discussion”.
      If you look at Stalin,Shevarnadze,Ordzonikidze,Lavrentije Berija etc…the answer is clear.

      By the way
      Why don’t we Rusophile start calling Vladimir Putin
      The Iron President?

      If he was British, they would call him that name.

      .

      • Well he did say “former Soviet,” not “former Russian.” The Georgian leaders you mention were all Soviets.

        “If he was British, they would call him that name”

        Britain doesn’t have a president, so no, they wouldn’t.

        • Croatia and Russia says:

          They had that bitch
          and they called her Iron Lady…what don’t you understand.

      • Peace bridge? Right under the Presidential Palace in Tbilisi, there is a “piss bridge”. Never take that bridge, you have been warned! That new bridge in Tbilisi I think is called “Freedom Bridge”, or “Freedom from piss bridge” as I named it. Take that bridge, it’s good. ;-)

  7. Croatia and Russia says:

    Luke Harding is a snake in grass, he was once kicked out of Russia and he cultivates grudge and hatred against Russia…besides all of the went to the same school.
    They all learned from the same books and got interest in promoting British or Anglo-Saxon interest in order to maintain high salaries and high standard of living.
    He knows on what side to butter the bread.

  8. Chechen/Caucasus Emirate take on the Georgian elections.

    Should power struggle in Georgia be reason for Caucasus Emirate to concern?

    “The first scandalous “discrediting evidence” occurred when a certain Umar Idigov, whom Ivanishvili-controlled media (followed by the Russian media) presented as a relative of Dzhokhar Dudayev, clearly stressed the significance of these ties.

    Russian media, adding to the title of Idigov the words “a relative of Dudayev” and calling him “an influential member of the Chechen community”, openly relished the situation and presented his statement as a “grandiose scandal”.

    It concerns the bloodshed in the Lopota Gorge in late August 2012. It is to be recalled that a fighting took place in this gorge between a group of Caucasian Mujahideen recruits on their way to Dagestan and special forces of Georgia’s defense ministry, in which both sides suffered casualties.

    So, according to Umar Idigov, it was a pre-planned provocation by Georgian authorities.

    Umar Idigov said, according to Georgian media, that he was approached by several fellow countrymen living abroad who asked him to check information that Georgian authorities are offering them free travel to North Caucasus “with an aim of preparing terrorist attacks ” in Russia.

    Idigov said that Georgian special forces were supposedly guarding the gorge up until the elections time and that all volunteers who arrived from Europe to Tbilisi airport were welcomed by high ranking officers of the Georgian defense ministry in “black jeeps”. Some of the recruits/volunteers were placed in safe houses in Tbilisi, the others were immediately taken to the Pankisi Gorge. During the whole summer, Pankisi was allegedly “literally overrun by young strong guys”.

    “Their transfer to Chechnya was delayed under various excuses, and those who arrived were gradually returned back to Europe. At the time of the raid, there were only about 20 men on the border.

    The Georgian side promised these guys security and reward. They were given uniforms, weapons, documents, and the authorities mined the road, surrounded the group and just executed it”, Idigov disclosed in his “sensation”.

    http://kavkazcenter.com/eng/content/2012/10/28/16904.shtml

  9. Dear Anatoly,

    I believe referring to the recent Georgian as an oligarchic coup is not only incorrect, but also quite insulting to Bidzina Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili didn’t enter Georgian politics for his own self aggrandisement, so your comparison with Mikhail Khodorkhovsky is false. Neither is Ivanishvili a typical “robber baron” like Khodorkhovsky and his ilk. I don’t know if you bothered to read Ivanishvili’s bio before writing this article, but if you did, this should have been pretty clear to you. There is also a broad coalition of opposition parties backing Ivanishvili, so this is by no means only (or even) about his personal political ambitions.

    You are right that it is essentially Ivanishvili’s money that has made this change of power in Georgia possible, and I agree with you that this is potentially problematic. However, where else in “poor” Georgia will you find the necessary means to mount an electoral campain of this scale? The middle class in Georgia, including owners of small and medium size businesses, is too afraid to back the opposition due to intimidation from regime supporters, leaving the “oligarch” with the only personal and financial security left to match the “administrative resources” of the government.

    I also have to take issue with your “conspiracy” take on the release of the prison abuse footage. While it is true that TV-9 was recently established by Ivanishvili, MaestroTV is a long established opposition channel in Georgia, and while it cannot match the pro-government channels when it comes to nationwide coverage, it is by no means marginal. Also, the footage from the prison abuse was broadcast even by “state” channels like Rustavi-2, and they made no effort to supress it. While it is clear that the release of the footage ultimately helped the opposition, evidence that it was released specifically to back the election campaign led by Bidzina Ivanishvili is lacking.

    Dissatisfaction with the regime of Mikhail Saakashvili has in fact been steadily rising in Georgia for many years, and the videos of the prison abuse were merely the last drop. When I was active in the Georgian NGO sector back in 2010, the precarious situation in the prisons (and the justice system as a whole) were routinely noted as one of the foremost social and human rights concerns in the country. Government abuses, poor living standards, unemployment, uneven distribution of economic growth, massive corruption in the higher echelons of power, and the disasterous war in 2008 have all contributed to Ivanishvili’s win and Saakashvili’s defeat.

    Lastly, I want to say to Sergey Roy that the dubious quality and authenticity of Georgian wine belongs to the past, and that nowadays the quality and taste of Georgian wine is on par with the best that Europe, South America and other major viticulture regions can offer. I am sure Leoš Tomíček, after his recent trip to Georgia, can corroborate this last point!

    Yours,
    Richard

  10. I must also say that the Khvanchkara bottled by by Teliani Valley is particularly nice. But by all means, the more people base their opinion of “Georgian” wine on what was available in the Russian market in the 1990s, the easier it will be to get hold of such gems for us geniune connosieurs! ;)

    http://www.geovino.de/2007-Khvanchkara-Teliani-Valley