Monday, March 30, 2009

"We cannot allow a civil war; therefore, we must be very careful"

Гражданской войны допустить нельзя, поэтому мы должны быть очень осторожны


The Georgian opposition has begun preparations for large-scale protests set to begin on April 9. Leader of the party "For a United Georgia", ex-Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze, told special correspondent Olga Allenova of the prospects for a new "velvet revolution" in Georgia.

-- Your supporters were arrested for buying arms. And now there are rumors going about that your party is preparing for a coup. What do you have to say to this?

-- The way the arrests happened is very strange. They happened at five in the morning. The chairman of our party in Adjara called us and said that 25 special-ops officers had burst into a home. Neither the neighbors nor lawyers [i.e. prosecutor's office] had ordered the special-ops. Naturally, the neighbors refused to sign the report that nearly an entire arsenal of "Mukha" grenades was found in the bathroom. I don't think that people who know that they're being investigated would store such weapons in their bathroom. After this there were a series of other arrests, and we saw some very strange footage.

-- You mean the footage released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in which a couple of your supporters can be seen discussing the purchase of arms for the April 9th demonstrations?

-- We simply don't know who most of these people shown in these clips are. We have no connection to them whatsoever. In these clips you can see that there were attempts to pressure these persons into buying heavy arms, such as suggesting that they buy 10-16 automatic weapons instead of one pistol. We haven't seen footage in which the actual transactions take place, and moreover, footage which would make it clear whether or not this was an organized group.

-- You want to say that these persons could have been buying pistols for themselves?

-- It's hard for me to prove that. If someone broke the law, be he a member of my party or someone close to me, he should answer for that. But there is footage which I know for sure was recorded a year ago. In one of the clips, there is a man who, along with his wife, joined our party two months ago. But he's just a rank-and-file member of whom there are more than 15,000. This man has no relationship of any kind with those people who make decisions in the party. And how this man turned up in our office at 6 am is a mystery to me. And, of course, why is he looking directly at the camera, and saying lines that no one usually says? As a lawyer and the spouse of a former general prosecutor, I can say that I've never heard of a criminal case in which a person comes to buy heavy arms and tells the seller what they're needed for. Moreover, that he's preparing for a coup.

-- Are you suggesting that this incident was directed against you and your party? Why?

-- The President has always been rather afraid of me, and he never did trust me, even though I never gave him the slightest occasion to doubt my sincerity. But he knows my character. While I stood by his side, I supported him, even in very uncomfortable situations that hurt my image, but, having left for the opposition, I'm in it until the end. And he understands this. For him, this is dangerous. Because he knows that Nino Burjanadze is a person who's recognized not only within the country, but also abroad. A person who has a name, authority, and opinions that are considered. And that's why it's important for the president to make my party out to be radical.

-- You say that you're ready to go to the end. What does that mean? Will you enter into negotiations?

-- Negotiations could only be about the resignation of the president. His actions have made it impossible to talk about anything else. Negotiations could be held to discuss how to minimize the harm his resignation would have on the country.

-- You're speaking of early presidential elections?

-- Yes.

-- But it's clear that the authorities won't agree to this.

-- If they will not see the firm resolve of the opposition, then they won't agree [to early elections].

-- Has it occurred to you that, as a result of this scandal surrounding the heavy arms, you might have lost your authority?

-- I'm sure that the majority of people don't believe this story. The people understand that the government is the party actively talking about a coup, and that it's simply trying to prove that which it has thought up. And this has put the people on their guard. But I'm sure that a lot of people will come out on April 9. The people are disgusted by what's happening in their country, especially after August. Much depends on how the opposition will conduct itself. If we can make the most of these 10 days, I'm sure that we can have a serious demonstration.

-- And what if during the demonstration someone fires a shot in the crowd and you can't control the fallout?

There is that risk. But if you're afraid of wolves, don't enter the forest. It's necessary to take all precautions to prevent any shots from being fired, or any violence from breaking out. But we can't rule out anything--especially when dealing with this government. And from what I can tell, they plan to use force. And they're looking for an excuse to do so.

-- Can you rule out the possibility that April 9 might mark the beginning of a civil war?

-- I hope that this won't be the case, and I will do everything to see that this doesn't happen. As of now, there are no indications that there should be a civil war. An overwhelming majority of the populations has a negative opinion of Saakashvili. We cannot allow a civil war. And generally speaking, the country will not endorse a plan of action that would involve war. Therefore, we must be very careful.

-- And why are you not willing to wait until the end of the president's term? Or does the transfer of power in Georgia always happen on the streets?

-- To wait and allow the democratic institutions to strengthen is the ideal option.  But this government has done some much harm to my country and committed such crimes that it is pretty much impossible to talk about any constiutional term. Snap elections are also a normal European solution. After what happened last August, any normal government would have resigned. And as long as Saakashvili is in power, we have no guarantees that Georgia won't lose even more regions by 2013. This is a tragedy for our people--what happened in August. And all our president says is "So what, so we lost a few regions." We need a leader who is willing to fight for every last piece of land, and not necessarily by means of war, willing to fight for a democratic country.

-- But the authorities are saying that it was impossible to avoid the war.

-- This war could have and should have been avoided. The fact that today I'm criticizing Saakashvili does not mean that I approve of Russia's actions. Russia has acted entirely inappropriately, respecting neither the territorial integrity nor sovereignty of Georgia, nor the interests of the Georgian people. To say that Russia respects Georgia and the Georgian people, but doesn't like Saakashvili is not a very serious argument. The Georgian people were bombed, not Saakashvili. Georgian villages and cities. And territory was seized, when South Ossetia and Abkhazia were recognized, not from Saakashvili, but from the Georgian people. It became clear last August that we were being provoked. It was necessary to think two moves ahead before going to war with Russia.

-- You see this war as a Russian provocation?

-- It was a provocation. Saakashvili fell for it and dragged the country into war, a war which from the very outset was clear would be lost.

-- You recently had a meeting with the US Ambassador to Georgia and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bryza. What did you discuss, if it's not a secret?

-- There are no secrets. I believe it's important that representatives from friendly nations shoud know the real situation. They see one side of the story from the government, which is broadcast on TV, and we show them the other side.

-- Do they see April 9 as a real threat?

-- Certainly, everyone is watching the situation very closely because any sane person can see how serious the situation has become. And, of course, these people want everything to end peacefully, by constitutional means. And we desire the same.

Eduard Shevardnadze: "If I were Saakashvili, I would step down"

"На месте Саакашвили я бы ушел": Эдуард Шеварднадзе

Ex-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze stated that "if I were Saakashvili, I would step down." At a meeting with journalists, the 81 year-old Shevardnadze expressed his opinion that "if a hundred thousand or more people gather at the April 9 demonstrations, and they demand Saakashvili's resignation, then, I think, the president should not oppose the people, but should respect the will of the people and resign."

In response to the question, "Have you had contact with Saakashvili?", Shevardnadze answered: "It's already been several years since I last met with him or spoke with him over the phone." Shevardnadze also denied media reports that he intended to make a return to politics. "I'm a pensioner, and I am not meeting with officials nor Georgian politicians. Talk of my returning to politics or power is nothing more than a fairy tale."

Saakashvili has not once stated that he intends to resign before the end of his term in 2013. Authorities emphasize that the fate of Georgia--a country with a population of 4.5 million people--"cannot and should not be decided by 100 or 150 thousand demonstrators."