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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Back in The Normal

“So what’s the situation like in Georgia now?” I was asked in Amsterdam last week.

“Well, some opposition leaders have organized street protests to demand the resignation of the president, a bunch of people are blocking major roads, traffic is now a major drag, Russia has amassed troops along the new borders and I don’t know, things are pretty normal,” I replied.


“Yeah. Street protests and rallies are an inherent part of Tbilisi reality. Last September, after the war, President Saakashvili held a national unity rally that looked like a victory celebration. There were tens of thousands of happy people all over the city holding hands and waving flags – you would never have known that the country lost 20 percent of its territory and 40,000 people had just been displaced. The year before there were anti-government hunger strikes and demonstrations that culminated into a head bashing party when the president called in the riot cops to break things up. Before that there was the Rose Revolution; a defrocked monk protesting against “non-traditional” faiths; and there’s always been the Zviadists – supporters of the first president of Georgia, but that’s a long story. When Georgians are impassioned, they take to the streets.”

“But aren’t you afraid of the Russians?” my interlocutor inquired.

“Some people are, particularly those who live near the border with South Ossetia and the refugees. They have a reason to be afraid; they hear gunfire from across the border nightly. But in Tbilisi, Russia has been a threat for so long nobody would know what to do if Russia disappeared. You gotta have an enemy, and let’s face it, few enemies are better than Russia. You ever see a Russian soldier up close? About as bright as lump of mud.”

I had been in Amsterdam for nearly a week. With the exception of the 2 liters of chacha I brought, Georgia was not on my mind. I needed a break from the normality we call Tbilisi life. I wanted Georgia to be un-normal when I returned; that the political crisis would be history; that western countries like Holland would be able to see Georgia as a stable country instead of the schizophrenic nation we try to pretend it isn’t. It’s so haywire that the Dutch are even beginning to doubt the Dutchness of Georgia’s First Lady, Sandra Roelofs.

“She’s not Dutch,” insisted a blond-haired, blue-eyed Dutch photographer. “She used to be, but not anymore.”

I got back to the hotel later and checked my email. There were two notes from Boston.

“What is happening in Georgia?”

So much for my private buffer zone. Mutiny. You can’t leave the country for 5 days without some sort of catastrophe occurring. The May 5th mutiny and alleged coup d’état sounded like big news and made the front pages of several papers around the world, but few people recall that the mutiny was the third that has occurred at the Mukhrovani base since 2001. Even mutiny in Georgia is normal.


“A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back, but the lips of the wise protect them.” Proverbs 13:3

We got back to Tbilisi and took the long way home from the airport as the opposition was still blocking the roads with those fake prison cell things. Dinner was interrupted by the news of blood. An angry mob rushed a police station in an effort to free 3 activists who had been arrested for beating a journalist trying to get to work. My neighbor had warned us about this but we were too hungry to care. We didn’t think someone would actually be stupid enough to jump a fence and confront psyched up riot cops, but then we didn’t know the musician, TV personality and Saakashvili hater, Grechikha’s brother Giorgi – better known as Utsnobi (the unkown) – was leading the rabble.

(utsnobi - justyna mielnikiewicz/NYTimes)

Giorgi has his own reality TV show where he has locked himself up in his own prison cell he has decorated with sophomoric collages of people he hates and he interviews people he believes are worthy of his conversation. Giorgi says he won’t leave his cell until Saakashvili resigns, but decided to parole himself to get arrested for real.

There are a couple ways of looking at what happened. The opposition says police cracked down on peaceful protesters with excessive force and shot into the crowd with rubber or plastic bullets, aimed at the face. The government says they were protecting the police compound from being raided and that about a dozen people were lightly injured. They deny shooting into the crowd with rubber bullets, however, two people have reportedly been treated for having their eyes shot out.

One thing for certain is that the mob that rushed the cop shop were not exactly peaceful protesters and were armed with sticks. The police did not retaliate until Utsnobi jumped the fence and the mob became more threatening.

Did the cops use excessive force? If the rubber bullets accusation is true, then yes. The police have warned they will use force if necessary and when confronted by an angry stick wielding mob, police all over the world are likely to respond violently, except maybe in Holland. You can’t expect the Georgian police to react any differently – I’d expect them to respond more aggressively considering how green they are. I’m not justifying the violence, but cops are cops and if you want to keep your skull intact, don’t give them a reason to bust it.

If Utsnobi didn’t lead a riotous mob to the police station with the intention to free three people detained inside for assault, and then jump the fence, nobody would have been hospitalized and I could have ended this entry six paragraphs ago.
(upper photo.PJR)


Sherry's blog said...

I like your writing style. We need more information like yours in the US.

paul rimple said...

Thank you Sherry!