Georgia’s day of prayer: who can save country now?

August 28, 2008

Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks during his televised address in Tbilisi, August, 26, 2008. Saakashvili rejected as “completely illegal” a Russian decision on Tuesday to recognise Georgia’s two rebel regions as independent states.At the security checkpoint on the way in to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s chancellery building, two small posters are displayed.    

“Stop Russia,” says the first. The second is a quotation from British World War Two leader Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”

Together, they sum up a national mood of grim defiance in Georgia after a short, disastrous war with Russia, followed by the loss of two provinces that have been outside Tbilisi’s control since the early 1990s but have now cemented their split by getting Moscow to recognise them as independent states under its protection.

Sitting in front of a row of Georgian and European Union  flags,  Saakashvili projects remarkable energy for a man under intense strain, three weeks into a national crisis. “The first couple of days he didn’t sleep, we were all worried about him,” says a staffer in the presidential building. 

For several nights this week he held late-night sessions with Western reporters, sometimes finishing as late as 3 a.m., as he sought to gain the upper hand in the media war that has run parallel to the conflict on the ground with Russia.

“Russia clearly intended this as a blatant challenge to world order. It’s now up to all of us to roll Russian aggression back,” he told Reuters in an interview that started at 20 minutes after midnight.

Saakashvili has lost weight, says a Western observer who knows him well, but his face shows barely a trace of the sleepless nights.  

He seems energised by a loud chorus of Western support for Georgia after Russia’s recognition of breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia — a contrast with the start of the conflict, when some Western officials privately suggested his own hot-headedness was at least partly to blame for triggering Russia’s invasion.

Is Saakashvili’s leadership secure? For now, at least, the mood of national solidarity should make him immune to any domestic political challenge, analysts say. 

A man carries an image of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus during a procession near the village of Ksovrisi, nearly 40 km (25 miles) northwest of Georgia’s capital Tbilisi on August 27, 2008. Georgians celebrate Mariamoba (Day of the Virgin Mary) on August 28.Longer-term, the prospects are less certain. Saakashvili is pinning his hopes on Georgian entry to NATO, which would commit the alliance to come to its defence if it were attacked. But many analysts believe NATO, after this crisis, is not ready to make that promise and risk being drawn into its own war with Russia.

The opposition has in effect called a moratorium on criticising the leadership. “But the time will come when the Georgian society will start to ask them questions about what has happened to our country,” said an opposition leader, Tina Khidasheli.

Privately some Georgians blame Saakashvili for leading them into their current debacle, and the public mood is subdued and tired. “Everyone is depressed, no one feels like working,” says a young man, Alex. A dancer at Tbilisi’s Nabadi folk theatre, Tako Svanidze, says no one is turning up to performances: “No one has time for singing and dancing…People aren’t in the mood.” 

A woman crosses herself in commemoration of Mariamoba (Day of the Virgin Mary) outside the Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi August 28, 2008.On Thursday Georgians
flocked to their Orthodox churches to pray for the country on a major religious festival, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.      

 “We believe the mother of Christ will save the whole of Georgia,” said Nino Dzigua, a young woman in an orange headscarf. 

Did she think that Western support could rescue the country? 

“Only God,” she replied. 


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In the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” the question was: Who will be the first to speak out the obvious fact that the emperor is naked?

Everybody (frankly: NOT everybody) in Europe’s political arena today speaks big and loud words about “Georgia’s integrity”.

It is similiar to the question in the fairy tale: Who (in the political arena) will tell the Georgians the obvious fact that these republics will never return because their people do not want to live under georgian rule.

Georgia has new borders. Borders that, for the first time, coincide with the people who want to live in Georgia. If it accepts this fact, Georgia can live peacefully and join EU and NATO.

Changing borders is something normal. Germans got used to it. Serbs, Checks and Slovaks, Israelis, even Russians.

Who will be the first to tell? Merkel? No. Sarkozy? Maybe, but not likely. Erdogan?

Posted by Maximilian | Report as abusive

I think the invasion of Georgia by Russia was invited by mistaken position of some western European countries like Germany and France who blocked Georgia’s and Ukraine’s bid for MAP. Thus crisis we have in this region is result of this shameful position of those governments who still believed that Russia was reliable partner for Europe…but I guess they understand that it was illusion..Russia was never part of Europe and it will never our leaders should realize that this is not conflict between Russia and Georgia but fight between freedom and totalitarianism ..and we should not be on wrong side..

Posted by franco Baldini | Report as abusive

It is a shame that Germany and France allowed this confrontation to happen, because Russia is not entitled to its former colonies.

Have politicians taken the present state as unchangeable? Russia’s KGBs are talking “big”, but there are other than military means to deal with them. They can either accept living like humans or remain jail keepers.

Who is really doing ethnic cleansing? Are there no Georgians or other ethnic groups in the two contested provinces? Since Politkovskaya was murdered does anyone know what is going on in Chechnya?

Posted by Bohdan Slabyj | Report as abusive

This is more like the Chinese Boxer Rebellion than the next cold war. Prostrate China was picked apart by the West until it rebelled. Russia, insulted by western “democracy institutes” setting up shop in former Russian lands so the west could
pick apart what it thought was a prostrate and broke Soviet Union, coupled with broken promises made by Reagan that NATO would never expand to Russia’s new borders, for Putin & Co. it’s payback time. Imagine a broke USA and Russia comes and puts missiles in Texas to “protect us” against Hugo Chavez. The USA has civil wars when states try to leave, it’s hypocrisy to think the west’s position is more moral and just than Russia’s centuries old claim on it’s sphere.

Abkhazia never wanted to be a part of new Georgia. Bush talks of “self-determination”, but ignores smaller ethnic groups aspirations and force them to be absorbed into another large country they never wanted to be a part of. See British Iraq after World War I.

Saakashvili was probably promised by Cheney that the USA would support his misguided invasion much like the Kurds were by Bush I in Gulf War l. Talks were under way to try to settle this dispute . I’m sure Cheney, who doesn’t believe in talking to anybody, wanted to teach Russia a lesson and prodded Georgia to act.
As the West stumbles toward another stupid war that’s unnecessary and all due to greed and hubris, Saakashvili should heed Henry Kissinger who said it’s dangerous to be a foe of the USA, fatal to be a friend.

Posted by nick hronis | Report as abusive


what an absolutely absured, ignorant, misinformed comment!

What are your thoughts on the fact that those rightful georgian “republics” as you call them are historically Georgia’s and where Georgians were the majority until being driven out through violence and war orchestrated by KGB’s successor FSB?

You seem quite content justified and at peace with the concept that if you murder and slaughter and drive people out of their homeland and then claim it as yours, you’re rightfully entitled to it and something Georgians should “get used to”.

What does this ridiculous opinion and stance of yours say about you? One of two things: you are either a justifier of ethnic cleansing or a misinformed individual trying hard to sound like an expert about a topic you know nothing about.

Posted by Nokoloz | Report as abusive

Would you stop saying all this nonsense about “Russia’s colonies”?
1) Georgia was not concurred but joined Russian Empire voluntarily in 1801 seeking protection from Ottoman Empire.
2) Soviet Republics were not “Russian colonies”, but colonies of USSR (including Russia itself).
3) There is no “KGB” in Russia (there was one in USSR though).

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Georgievski Treaty signed up by King Erekle and Russian tzar in 1783 did not meant anullation of Georgia’s independance that took place actually. Under the Treaty, Russia just took responsibility to help Georgia in fightings against enemies – Ottomens and others. Instead, Ruassia did not fulfil its responsibility when Aga-Mahmad-khan invaded in Georgia. It was the first lie from Russians that followed a series of others, namely, annulation of Georgian kindgom, exciling the last king and his family to Russia, also, annulation of autocephaly of Georgian church, Catolicos-Patriarch of Georgia was also exciled to Russia, killing a lot of Georgians who rose againts aggression and forcely making Georgia its colony in 1801 and in 1921 too (after 3 year independance from Russia).No one has right to lead people into mistake.Everyone interested may just open a book of history and read the real story of Georgia of that period.Why making people confused and cheated?

Posted by Nino | Report as abusive

Words about “Russian colonies” are not nonsense. Russia is actaulally behaving like a colonialist towards Georgia, but also towards other former USSR republics. Just remember the “monuments hysteria” about Estonia last year.

Russia behaves just like a jelous ex, who wouldn’t accept that the former has a new love and a new life. :) A few tanks and several thousands of solgiers, and its broken heart is healed. Just one little problem – nobody seems to approve it.

Russia, it’s time to get used to loneliness… :)

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