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GEORGIAN FACADE

It looks like the end of yet another communist epilogue. Mr Eduard Shevardnadze’s exit from Georgia’s presidentship was a mix of déjà vu, dignity and disgrace. The latest elections were shamelessly rigged, the culmination of years of patronage and clan loyalties that had accreted around this veteran communist potentate. But the coup was quite remarkably civilized, with Mr Shevardnadze pulling off a resignation that salvages a degree of self-respect –— given his near-iconic status in Old Europe, particularly Germany. (Nobody could deny his contribution to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War). In eastern Europe and among the Transcaucasian republics, the transitions from communist, through democrat, to despot have been disconcertingly fluid. Mr Shevardnadze’s fall encapsulates that familiar trajectory.

But the latest outbreak of democracy in Georgia will be closely monitored by both Washington and Moscow. In fact, a sort of Cold War is still being fought over this republic. At the heart of this double vigil is the combination of oil and terror. The Russians and the Americans are both terribly interested in the Caspian Sea oil pipeline, and the latter have been backing Georgia’s governments and armed forces with men and money. The Russians also want to go on using Georgia as a base to fight the Chechens, and Russian “peacekeepers” are believed to provide active support to the separatists in Adzharia, whose opposition to the new regime could even mean civil war in Georgia. Russia seems never to have fully accepted Georgia’s independence, whereas the Americans may be looking towards a regime change on the Serbian model. The latter back the opposition leader, Mr Mikhail Saakashvili, and the pro-Western parliamentarian, Ms Nino Burdzhanadze. Steering between Russia and America, Georgia’s newest leaders are determined to keep Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as cherished goals. Yet this republic remains one of the ten most corrupt countries in the world, quite desperately poor, and crippled by chronic power and water shortages. These are urgent enough reasons for Georgians to retain their faith in democracy.

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