I was standing under the eave of the Rustaveli cinema with other journalists hoping, like them, that there was safety in numbers and the riot cops, who were on their way, would choose not to beat us. The rain was merciless.
It started like a bolt of lightning. From the opposite side of parliament water cannons and tear gas exploded, sending the 2 or 3 hundred protesters into the batons of riot cops who had come from our side. The tear gas chased many of us down a side street where blood hungry cops glared at us through gas masks. I held my press card out like a crucifix against an army of vampires.
For a week, Nino Burjanadze had been promising the world she would overthrow the Georgian government with a handful of supporters. Then she decided to prevent the independence day military parade from happening by blocking the street. Even the lamest of opposition leaders saw the hopelessness of this entire adventure and sat it out, hoping she would get her butt kicked and Saakashvili would look bad doing it.
The rabble Burjanadze gathered were not on the streets to support her. They were there to voice their disgust with the government. They are the strata of society the Rose Revolution rolled over in its attempts to reform the country. They are old, unemployed and cannot compete in the new system. Their pensions cannot contend with the rising costs of bread, yet they see on TV how the President travels around the world and builds million dollar footbridges and fountains. Burjanadze and other marginal opposition leaders exploit this strata by promising to overthrow Saakashvili and hold “free elections,” and these poor people believe such a ridiculous plan will improve their lives. These were the people I saw bleeding on the streets as Nino Burjanadze and her friends drove off, leaving a dead policeman in their wake.
As the gas cleared, I made my way back up to Rustaveli. Some escaping protesters had got through the cops and received little more than a kick in the ass. Others were not so lucky. Three men were handcuffed, facedown in the doorway of the National Museum. While their heads leaked blood, one cop took random whacks at the back of a guy with his stick and boot. The cop next to him kindly asked us to walk on and take no pictures. A parade of cops marched by wondering if we might be something to beat but my sacred press card and California smile deflected them. Then a protester ran by, chased by a stick wielding cop, who managed to get a few licks in while other cops shouted for him to stop.
By this time ambulances were arriving to scrape up the wounded. I walked into a group of over a dozen handcuffed men face down in puddles of water, the rain washing each man’s blood down the street. They were not moving. A skinny cop, masked, was stepping over these guys beating their backs with a stick.
This brutal show of force was not in the least bit necessary. Tear gas and water cannon was all it took to clear the street so that the military parade could happen the next day, which was the stated goal. But even that didn’t have to happen. As Mark Mullen notes in his fine editorial, the authorities could have held the parade on another street, or pursued any number of alternative options, but instead they took the bait and the whole world saw how predictably inconsistent this regime is.
My Deutsche Welle piece HERE