Time To Start Watching Georgia, Where The Country's Richest Man Is Taking On The President

Bidzina IvanishviliBidzina Ivanishvili

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Georgia sits on a powder keg. Just above Iran, below Russia’s troubled southern regions, and next to its former breakaway republic of South Ossetia, which has its own serious problems.Internally too, the country is seeing division. In an interview today with Der Spiegel, opposition leader and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili describes himself as “the last free man in the country” — even though his citizenship has officially been revoked.

In the interview Ivanishvili accuses Mikheil Saakashvili, the leader of 2003’s Rose Revolution, of leading Georgia towards a “totalitarian state”:

Saakashvili has bought up one party after the next. These are pseudo-opposition parties. But even the few honest opposition politicians have lost the confidence of citizens.

Worse still, Ivanishivili claims, he does so with the support of the US.

America has chosen Georgia as a junior partner. The United States believes that Saakashvili is creating a democratic Georgia, but these are merely facades. I want to show the Americans his true face. Saakashvili is pulling the wool over their eyes.

To his critics, of course, Ivanishvili enjoys Kremlin-backing and is secretly pushing a pro-Russian agenda (he strongly denies this).

But his position appears to be gaining some backers. Amnesty International recently criticised the arrest of 100 of Ivanishivili supporters by government officers, citing reports of “intimidation”.

And Joshua Kucera at Eurasianet.org points out that new US legislation has been put forward by Jim McDermott, a Democratic Congressman from Washington State, which calls for a total cut on US aid to Georgia if parliamentary elections in October are not held in free and fair conditions — apparently the result of an intense lobbying drive by Ivanishvili, Kucera observes.

The most recent polling data (as reported by Bloomberg) suggests that Saakashvili’s party would win 47 per cent of the votes if that election was held today.

How this changes before his second (and, in theory, last) term ends next year is anyone’s guess, but now is a good time to watch a small, yet important, country — and the moves made by its richest man.

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