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Friday, February 20, 2009

Georgia's Eurovison Entry: A Real Winner

"A disco approach to conflict resolution." That's what Misha Saakashvili told Matthew Collin of the BBC while shaking his booty to the the playback of "Sunny" performed by an incarnation of Boney M in the South Ossetian village of Tamarasheni in the autumn of 2007.

Tamarasheni no longer exists since South Ossetian marauders burnt it to the ground during August's war, but Georgia hasn't given up on sending disco messages to their northern neighbors. Stephanie and 3G were chosen by a Georgian jury and audience to perform a campy send up of Vladimir Putin in the Eurovision contest in Moscow in May.

Good Luck

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Georgia's Iron Lady Nino Burjanadze: Nie Ryba, Nie Miaso

(image lifted from

Former Speaker of Parliament of Georgia, Nino Burjanadze is calling on opposition parties to consolidate to pressure her former boss and ally President Misha Saakashvili to resign. She wants to see people take to the streets as they did in 2002, when she, Saakashvili and the late Zurab Zhvania wrestled power from their former boss, president Eduard Shevardnadze. Nino calls this method of transfer of power “direct democracy.” She believes that ousting the leader by popular protest when the world's economy is in shreds, foreign investment has dried up and the Russian military is entrenching itself on Georgian territory is the best thing for the nation.

In western countries, direct democracy ordinarily works like this: The people elect a leader. That person is either re-elected or not at the end of a term. Once in a while a leader may do something stupid and get impeached (Nixon), while other times a leader might do something stupid and get re-elected (Bush). Both examples, however, are rather anomalous to what is essentially a stable system.

Georgia, on the other hand, has had three presidents since independence in 1991, none of whom ever completed their elected terms. Zviad Gamsakhurdia was ousted in a coup d'etat in 1991; Eduard Shevardnadze ousted in the Rose Revolution in 2003; and Misha Saakashvili stepped down in 2007 and called for early elections after global condemnation for his decision to use brutal force against protesters compelled him to. He was controversially re-elected in January 2008 with 52% of the vote.

The problem with Nino is that her concept of democracy is as wishy-washy as her politics. Like Saakashvili and Zhvania, she entered politics through Shevardnadze's party, the Union of Citizens of Georgia (CUD), which her rich father had financed for years. She jumped ship in 2002, a year after Misha and Zurab had quit CUD. Since the Rose Revolution, Nino has been acting president of Georgia twice and had supported Misha's somewhat erratic governing manner, including questionable privatization methods and the November 2007 crackdown on protesters and Imedi TV.

“The government was not wrong to use force to crack down on opposition protests on November 7,” she told RFE/RL in an interview weeks after the head bashing party. Nino justified the government's ferocious seizure and destruction of Imedi TV, towing the ruling party line that it was necessary to protect the state from violent overthrow.

Four months later, Nino quit Misha over a disagreement of MP party lists in the upcoming parliamentary elections. In June 2008, she set up a think tank which she said would be “a new form of being in politics,” whatever that means. On public TV she made an about face and stated the November 7th response had been “a tragedy.” Then in October 2008 she inaugurated her new party, Democratic Movement–United Georgia. Her message was basically “I would have done what Saakashvili did, only better.” Yet, she too shared the delusion that Georgia's territorial integrity could have been restored by pursuing the prewar policy of forcing the separatists to see reason by talking tough while hoping somebody else will come along and solve things.

Known as Georgia's Iron Lady, in reference to her open admiration for Margaret Thatcher, Nino Burjanadze offers her countrymen nothing new. She may be iron in name but she's aluminum in politics. She has joined the bandwagon of opposition politicians who demand Saakashvili's resignation and early elections, and like her colleagues she has neither policy, platform or vision.

Street protests will not stabilize the country. Eliminating Saakashvili by force and replacing him with a big question mark will not attract international investors. If Georgia is committed to pursuing a democratic direction, the least its politicians can do is let officials finish their democratically elected terms and let democracy develop in Georgia. Don't just mess up the chess board everytime you don't like the way the game is going. You'll never win and nobody will want to play with you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Congratulations to Justyna Mielnikiewicz!

Justyna Mielnikiewicz for The New York Times

Justyna just won 2nd prize in "People in the News Stories" category of the World Press Photo competition for her excellent work during the August war with Russia. Some of these images can be viewed HERE in her NY Times audio slide show.

While many network war hacks in August were sipping breakfast cappuccinos at the Marriott, before donning flak jackets to wait at the Gori checkpoint for something to happen, Justyna was in Gori and everywhere else in between doing what she does best.

Her award is recognition for the honest, diligent and sensitive photographic work she is committed to. I for one, am proud to know her.