Political Purges: The Day that Turned Georgia Upside Down
06 November, 2014
Political Purges: The Day that Turned Georgia Upside Down
Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Gharibashvili dismissed the Defense Minister Irakli Alasania along with his five deputies: Irakli Gegechkori, Aleksi Batiahshvili, Vako Avaliani, Mikheil Darchiashvili and Tamar Karosanidze.

“Instead of the Prime Minister, I saw a prosecutor” – declared Irakli
Alasania, Georgia’s former Minister of Defense following the speech by Irakli Gharibashvili.
“My suspicions about this entire ordeal being staged to tarnish the Ministry’s image have deepened even further. They have chosen a very advantageous time to strike – when I was in France and then in Germany,– precisely these critical moments were selected to cast doubt on the Ministry of Defense’s legitimacy and the power that I personally hold. Therefore of course, I see neither the need nor explanation for arrest and detention of these people. I will fight to the last to vindicate and liberate them,” Irakli Alasania said.
Following the Defense Minister being released from his post, Aleksi Petriashvili, Georgia’s Minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration resigned saying: “Dictatorship is approaching, democracy is in danger, and this is why I am leaving”.
His resignation was followed by the Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze along with her deputies.
Maia Panjikidze: “We have decided to leave our posts. I am also leaving the ranks of political coalition “Georgian Dream”. Without any fake humbleness, I will say that in these 2 years our group has achieved the upper limit of its possibilities on the political stage. We stood firmly on the principle of defending European and Euro-Atlantic values. European Union Association Agreement was signed and took effect. NATO has made a decision to develop a special cooperation package for Georgia. We have achieved progress in the non-recognition policy and reduced the number of states that recognize breakaway territories by two. The country’s European and Euro-Atlantic course and the country’s European is what Georgian people supported at the elections in 2012. My group – the people who could and were obliged to directly advance that choice, cannot betray this choice and fail to show the people what danger is looming over the country now.”
Prime Minister said he was sorry that Maia Panjikidze “expressed solidarity to her family member and not to the state.”
Irakli Gharibashvili presented the new Defense Minister at the State Chancellery.
Mindia Janelidze used to be his assistant for security issues. “I am sure Mindia Janelidze will be much better minister than his predecessor,” – the PM commented about him.
However, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who was also expected by many to leave her post as Alasania’s supporter and a former member of his Free Democrats party, remained on her post.
With Democrats leaving the coalition, the ruling party will not have a majority in the parliament. The Georgian Dream will maintain the majority only if independent MPs unite with them.
At least 76 MPs are necessary to create a majority in the parliament. There are 10 members in the Georgian Dream - Free Democrats faction, and if they leave the majority, the majority will collapse, since 72 Mps are not enough to create a majority in the parliament with 150 members.

Georgian Journal's Lali Papaskiri personally talked to the former Ministers Irakli Alasania and Aleksi Petriashvili.

IRAKLI ALASANIA, former Minister of Defense:

“We are currently at the stage where borders of our highest value – positioning of society and political forces – have been drawn. Today we need to make a right choice – either we see the future of our country in continuation of reforms, joining NATO and European Union or we follow the political power which will turn us away from Euro-Atlantic values and bind our fate to Russia’s – if such a power exists.
That there was a premeditated attack on the ministry and on me as a leader is a fact. You have recent history at your disposal; recall what relations between Ivanishvili and I were like after we won the elections. Back then the highest goal was maintaining unity, and for the sake of this I tolerated the baseless accusations from the former prime minister. However, the unity, the ideals and goals that were put forward by our coalition were achieved only partially.”

ALEKSI PETRIASHVILI, former Minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration:

“The Prosecutor’s Office has both tarnished the country’s image and damaged its external political course. I am very concerned that PM Gharibashvili ended up taking sides and getting persuaded by the prosecution’s arguments, but their veracity will be determined in court. Deliberately or unwittingly, the prosecution has dealt a heavy blow to the country’s defensive capability and its political orientation, and there is no way the Prosecutor’s Office’s higher-ups are going to weasel out of this. There is an ongoing attempt from several individuals in that office to attack the main link in the chain, which is membership in NATO and the European Union.
“...I intend to keep repeating that no one should entertain foolish delusions and dreams (symbolic, I know) of our cooperation with the National Movement.”

Lincoln Mitchell’s current assessment
By Vazha Tavberidze

“This is the most important political development in Georgia since October 2012 elections. There are a lot of different angles: one is personal, involving clashing and conflicting personalities of the politicians. The second is the ruling coalition, which apparently is beginning to fall apart, which I always maintained is a good thing for Georgia and Georgian democracy. There is also a foreign policy angle – Alasania was not just the most popular minister abroad, he was also very good at what he was doing, so all of these things come in to play. Now there is also a narrative that is aggressively pushed through by the previous government, the United National Movement: that Russia dictates political developments in Georgia... [But] I don’t think Russia is behind this. I think in the short term, this helps Russia because unless this fight or conflict is settled peacefully, the West is going to walk away from Georgia, if they haven’t already.
“Aleksi Petriashvili was also a very competent minister, doing his job well. So two of the most effective ministers in this field are gone. This is not good for Georgia’s chances of being invited into NATO or into European Union – that is clear…
“The National Movement is desperately trying to make this about them, grabbing onto Alasania and saying: Look, now he is with us. And while Alasania is very popular and any association with him would help the National Movement, it is going to be him whose reputation will suffer in the end. Rumors that the National Movement is disseminating in Washington regarding them being together already are precisely what Washington would like to believe, and are very damaging for Alasania.
“[Dismissing Alasania] is a huge defeat for Gharibashvili. He may not see it that way right away, but when your whole foreign policy team, which was doing some of the things you were doing best, suddenly resigns, how are you going to be certain you still have political support? How can you be confident in your ability to keep the coalition together?
“The hard thing is to replace the relationships that Alasania has established, especially in delicate environments such as NATO. I think Gharibashvili just did not realize how massively would such a step weaken him. Right now he probably thinks, “Well, my party is still strongest, we have popular and political support, so we are going to survive this” but up there in New York, where I sit now, and look at this from an international viewpoint, this is definitely not good for Georgia.
“I haven’t spoken with Gharibashvili personally yet… but I think it’s very hard to look at this and think there was no personal agenda behind it. I think a lot of this is personal, in a sense that Alasania might be turning into a threat but even if this was true, what could he have done? Alasania would never be a prime minister – he never had the political support necessary for that. I don’t know why the Georgian government didn’t realize that. But it seems to me that the much more appropriate explanation is “personal” rather than a “Russian plot”... My understanding is that, given [Ivanishvili] himself has said that he is involved in major decisions and this is a major decision, Gharibashvili could have discussed it with him.”

US Ambassador RICHARD NORLAND:

“The number and scope of prosecutions of former and current officials raises legitimate concern that the judicial system is being used in a politicized way or for political purposes. We urge the government to take steps to dispel these perceptions… At a time of regional turmoil and domestic economic challenge what Georgia needs the most is stability, unity, demonstrated commitment to due process and the rule of law, as well as public confidence in democratic institutions.”

MICHAEL CECIRE, regional analyst and a member of the Georgian Institute of Politics:

“Contradicting Alasania’s insinuations, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili was quick to declare that the country’s pro-West foreign policy was not at stake. But this is not necessarily good news. GD’s decision to punish Alasania for his outspokenness underlines a loyalty-first management style that borders on domineering. And if GD sources’ speculations are correct, it was an order rendered from the cliffside aerie of billionaire ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
“Alasania and Ivanishvili’s troubled relationship is well-known to Georgian political observers, and it boiled over in early 2013 when then-PM Ivanishvili publicly attacked and demoted Alasania from his vice-premiership role. But while Alasania and his allies took Ivanishvili’s chastening in stride in 2013, Alasania now appears to be more forcefully reassessing his options.”

MARK MULLEN:

“The surprise is that the Gharibashvili side initiated the split rather than those who split off. His reasons for this are anybody’s guess. It is surprising that the Georgian Dream coalition split up before the UNM.
“The question for those who have left GD is who from the UNM will be allowed to join them? Taking their cue from Misha, the UNM are a proud bunch, even when their numbers are low. They are sure the population will come around to them and don’t seem to mind waiting.”

NODAR SARJVELADZE:

“This was a big mistake by Gharibashvili… Tomorrow or the day after Georgian Dream will dissolve. This is unavoidable, no matter what Gharibashvili tries – after all, even Civil Union dissolved, despite the fact that Shevardnadze was a politician whose class and caliber Gharibashvili cannot even dream of holding a candle to. Anyway, the country will not fall apart if the coalition collapses.”

SOSO TSISKARISHVILI:

“Our European partners will be very surprised when people who established themselves as professional diplomats years ago - people who overcame problems with the sweat of their brow, suddenly become unemployed. Deputies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are pro-European diplomats with years of experience; I doubt anyone knows the internal workings of the European Union better than them. People like them were indispensible to the ministry. But now I won’t be surprised if they manage to prop an English teacher from some village forward and make her a Minister of Foreign Affairs because finding skilled workers for such posts is not an easy task. Especially when taking the Prime Minister’s narrow understanding of personnel-related issues into account. Unfortunately, this will not go unnoticed by our Western partners.”

A Test of Georgian Democracy
By Will Cathcart

In all of the uproar surrounding Alasania’s dismissal there is one issue that is not being brought up here in Georgia - the camouflaged elephant in the room. Alasania is immensely popular among Georgia’s armed forces. Were this happening in any other country, the first question one would ask is “to whom is the army loyal?” But in Georgia this topic isn’t even discussed.
This is a testament to Georgian democracy and progress. Twenty years ago this country was torn apart by a brutal civil war, and yet today when faced with a political crisis - even one of such gravity - the military does not loom in the background as a possible source of instability for Georgia. At such times of bitter division and uncertainty, a country’s democracy, its stability and the wisdom of its leaders are tested. Georgia now faces such a test. On a day like today, the very hardest of days following a long night of political purges, perhaps more than any other time, the Georgian people deserve a country of which they can be proud.

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