A Fear of a Maidan

Dimitri Avaliani

The first Georgian high official to talk about the possibility of the EuroMaidan protests being repeated in Tbilisi in the context of a threat endangering the country's stability, was Minister of Internal Affairs Aleksandre Chikaidze. The minister accused the United National Movement (UNM) of being prepared to cause unrest.

"They brought EuroMaidan activists from Ukraine and are conducting training and preparatory work. This information is being extensively reported by the media too. There are several non-governmental organizations behind them, actively working on ways of taking people to the streets, causing unrest and then firing on their own people and blaming the government for that," Chikaidze declared in an interview to PrimeTime newspaper, published on 7 April. "There is information that they have started purchasing tyres too," he stressed and expressed his belief that the political opposition will be unable to realize a Maidan-style plan.

The minister did not specify the information he relied upon when making such a statement. Before that, however, on 23 March, the founder of the Obiektivi media union, Irma Inashvili, made an appeal with similar content to the government, urging it to prevent the unrest. Inashvili said that she had specific information about the preparations for a Maidan in Tbilisi and promised to publish detailed materials shortly, including naming the training base where future activists for Tbilisi's Maidan were undertaking preparations.

Chikaidze's statement about "preparations for a Maidan" was also confirmed by Irakli Sesiashvili, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Defense and Security. He said that the UNM "entertains such an idea" and that there are concrete facts that prove that.

When commenting on Chikaidze's statement, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili issued a warning to those who seek destabilization, declaring that such attempts "will cost them very dear."
The UNM flatly denied allegations about preparing for a Maidan. For their part, neither the representatives of the interior ministry nor other government officials provided any concrete facts proving the allegations. The interior minister, citing a busy schedule, did not turn up for a meeting with the opposition in parliament on 17 April, at which the UNM's MPs intended to inquire about the information and grounds for his statement about a plan for a Maidan in Tbilisi.

After the interior minister's interview on 7 April, Irma Inashvili presented the first and thus far the only "evidence" of preparations for Tbilisi's Maidan – a photo of several masked young men standing against the backdrop of the red and black flag of the Ukrainian nationalists and holding the Georgian flag. This "evidence" was designed to convince society that the UNM was indeed planning unrest in the country. Moreover, Inashvili mentioned the Ukrainian "fascist" organization UNA-UNSO (the Ukrainian National Assembly - Ukrainian People's Self-Defense), alleging that UNM activists are in close contact with them.

However, the presentation of that "evidence" was followed by a statement of Evgeni Mikeladze – the leader of the National Front of Georgia, a Georgian nationalistic organization, which stated that the young men in the photo were members of his organization. The National Front distinguished itself by participating in the aggressive rally of 17 May 2013, in which a small group of LGBT rights defenders intending to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia were severely assaulted. This organization also held rallies against Turkish bars in Tbilisi in autumn of the same year. Even though the National Front sympathized with the Maidan in Kiev, more specifically, with the Ukrainian right-wing sector's participation, it denies any links with the UNM as well as any plans to cause unrest.

The topic of the Maidan kicked off by the government led to no further developments. However, this story created the impression that the interior ministry relies on information from suspicious sources without verification and fails to provide convincing evidence to support its claims.

It seems that by raising this topic the government pursued the aim of discrediting the UNM. The result of this move, however, was that references to Kiev's EuroMaidan protest began to enter Georgian internal political discourse in a negative context, in association with a threat. The above quoted statement of Chikaidze also portrayed the Ukrainian activists as potential importers of destabilization. And all this happened at a time when, all in all, the attitude of Georgian society towards the protests going on in Kiev was positive. Moreover, the entire developed world has viewed the events in Kiev's Maidan as a popular revolution directed against an offending government that had lost its legitimacy. The only country that refers to the EuroMaidan in a negative context is Russia.

Irma Inashvili's use of the photo and branding UNA-UNSO members as "fascists" is also a repetition of a Russian propagandist cliché about Ukrainian "fascists and Banderovcis" (i.e. followers of Stepan Bandera). The attitude towards the UNA-UNSO and the right-wing sector in general is not uniform in Ukraine either, but it is only the Russian government and their propaganda that refer to them as fascists.

The statement of the interior minister that the UNM was planning to fire on their own activists is also a repetition of a Russian propaganda message. In other words, that statement may be understood as a hint that the Ukrainian opposition fired on its own activists in Kiev's Maidan – something that Russian government propaganda has been asserting – the suggestion being that this may be repeated in Tbilisi too.

On 9 April, this topic was further elaborated by self-appointed "general" Tristan Tsitelashvili, who was released from prison under the status of political prisoner by the current government. He told the Russian media that the "snipers of Saakashvili," led by UNM MPs Givi Targamadze and Giorgi Baramidze, were among those firing in the Maidan in Kiev. The Russian media extensively reported the statement of Tsitelashvili, whom they referred to as a general in the Georgian Armed Forces. However, Tsitelashvili has never held the rank of general and left the armed forces as a colonel in 2001. Tsitelashvili participated in several events in Tbilisi organized by the pro-Russian organization the Eurasian Union.

The attempts of the pro-Russian "general" to discredit the Maidan and connect it to the former government of Georgia fit well into the Russian propaganda campaign and, at the same time, coincided with the Georgian government's description of the Maidan as a dangerous event.

Such a fearful attitude towards the Maidan from the Georgian government is neither unexpected nor surprising. The Georgian government refrained from expressing open support to the Maidan after the protest rallies started in Ukraine. It was only representatives of the opposition who often visited Kiev to show their support. No official Georgian delegation or official arrived in Ukraine, either before or after the change of power there.

Tbilisi expressed its official support towards the Ukrainian people through two resolutions adopted by parliament, although the wordings of those resolutions were subjects of hot debate and disagreement between the ruling party and the opposition.

On 3 February, when commenting on developments in Ukraine, the former prime minister and founder of the non-governmental organization Citizen, Bidzina Ivanishvili, said that he does not want to get involved in processes going on in another state: "We face so many problems today that I do not want to point to those processes in another state which may not prove democratic for us." At a time when blood had already been spilt in Ukraine and the entire world was supporting the protesters and condemning the Yanukovych government, Tbilisi's officials and the informal leader of the government both opted to keep silent and neutral.

What were the reasons of that? One of the reasons, perhaps, was the negative attitude towards the UNM and anything associated with them. Mikheil Saakashvili as well other UNM leaders often addressed the Maidan and enjoyed a high degree of popularity among the protesters.

Another reason might be the desire not to irritate Russia and thereby risk jeopardizing those agreements achieved in the sphere of trade.

Perhaps the key reason is that the Georgian Dream saw a reflection of itself in Yanukovych's government. There is indeed a similarity between these two governments.

Firstly, both the Georgian Dream and Yanukovych's Party of Regions are actually revanchist political forces fighting against color revolutions.

Both forces came to power under the slogan of improving relations with Russia, and both of them experienced failure in that endeavor.

Both the Yanukovych government and the Georgian Dream government arrested representatives of their preceding governments. In the case of Ukraine, the entire developed world assessed those arrests as being a form of political persecution and selective justice. The Georgian government has also been frequently reprimanded for that.

The protest rallies in Kiev were largely triggered by the total fiasco that was the economic policy of the Yanukovych government. The initial period of the Georgian Dream's reign also saw a sharp decline in economic growth and the depreciation of the national currency.

The Yanukovych government, much like the current government of Georgia, supported the path towards European integration on the level of declarations and only took the decision to refuse to sign the Association Agreement at the last minute, just days before the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, where the agreement was due to be signed.

Taking into account the existence of openly anti-Western politicians inside the current ruling team in Georgia, it is difficult to determine how the government will act. It is unclear whether it will be able to maintain Georgia's European course, or whether, under Russian pressure, or owing to its own mistakes, it will find itself in a blind alley, like the Yanukovych government did.

Moreover, in recent times, the Georgian government has clearly applied tactics resembling those of Yanukovych's government – the use of organized aggressive groups of activists, the so-called Titushky, against opponents.

Taking into account these similarities between the Georgian Dream and the Ukrainian Party of Regions, it is not surprising that the government has developed a fear of the Maidan; it seems as if it identifies itself with the authoritarian government of Viktor Yanukovych.


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