On his New Year’s Eve address to the nation, President Mikheil Saakashvili, said that 2010 was “a serious turning point” for Georgian politics as it “moved from the streets to the parliamentary chamber and TV studios.” He added that politics “became more civilized” and was “based on dialogue.”
In a sense, he was right. Some of the more sensible opposition leaders, like Irakli Alasania, have begun to act like politicians by defining their platforms and meeting with their constituents, while others continue to behave like imbeciles and have devolved into opposition against each other. Yet while politics may have become more “civilized,” the police have not, and that’s the stuff that gets noticed even when you think no one is looking.
Three days after Misha’s address, police aggressively broke up a hunger strike at the memorial for fallen Georgian soldiers, where about a dozen veterans of the 1992-1993 Abkhazia conflict had been camping since December 27th. The veterans were protesting the 2011 budget abolition of social benefits and the closure of a special hospital where they were given free treatment. Veterans have been entitled to free public transportation passes and 22 GEL (less than USD 12.5) a month.
U.S. Ambassador John Bass stated his displeasure in the reported police violence, chiding, “that type of violence does not have a place in democratic societies,” while Georgian Ombudsman Giorgi Tugushi and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) condemned the break up, calling it illegal. The Interior Ministry said the protesters insulted police and refused to remove make-shift shelters, which was enough grounds to haul everybody in where they were subsequently fined 400 GEL ($225.00) for petty hooliganism and disobeying police orders.
If politics has moved from the streets to the TV studios, then that might explain why the TV stations have avoided the streets. Last November, the largest opposition rally of the year was all but ignored by the three main television broadcasters, Rustavi 2, Imedi and Georgian Public Broadcasting First Channel (GPB). None of these station thought the January 3rd crackdown was worth covering, although GPB director Gia Chanturia said his station would have covered it if there had been any footage.
One witness to the violent dispersal managed to tape a cop punch a female opposition protester in the face. The footage made the rounds of the Internet and the cop lost his job. What we don’t know is whether the Abkhaz war veterans, who are so venerated at the Heroes Square monument to the dead, will get anything while they’re alive.