Some questions about the Georgian protests

Obviously, I’m following today’s [protests in Georgia]( with interest. Not being there, it’s hard to get a feeling for what’s going on. I have no answers, but here are some of the questions forming in my head:

Is the country behind the protesters?

Most of the reporting I’ve seen concentrates on the political elites: the opposition leaders themselves, their key supporters, and the wonkish community of diplomats, NGO workers and the like. It’s hard to tell how much resonance their demands have with the rest of the country. naturally, they can demonstrate this by bringing a lot of people onto the streets.

Do they want the country?

Look at the demands. More power for the judiciary, respect for private property, a moderate line on Russia. Will Georgians support this? Sure, many will. But where is the talk about jobs, pensions, the cost of living – the kind of things you would raise to build a mass movement? Rather, the demands seem perfectly tuned to appeal to the world outside Georgia – the governments, the NGOs, the military concerned after last year’s war.

What about the world?

So, if the opposition care about outside support, will they be getting it? Here, they’re doing a decen job. [Salome Zourabichvili’s op-ed]( in the New York Times last week lays out the stall for the American policy community. Nino Burjanadze was last year already doing the rounds of Washington wonks. Now the US is being [very supportive]( of the demonstrators.

Politics, or Geopolitics?

The question of whether the demonstrators are counting on internal or external support can be rephrased: does politics matter? I usually believe it does. The balance of power in Tbilisi right now, for instance, depends very much on the peopel involved. But there’s an altenative, geopolitical take on this in which Georgia is just a pawn on the grand chessboard of power politics. So the US and Europe want Saakashvili out because he is likely to weaken Georgia – and hence American influence – by giving Russia an excuse to invade. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (briefly shut down by Russia during last year’s war) would doubtless also come into play. Personally, I don’t buy it. Foreign acceptance of the possibility of a putsch is crucial – had the US hinted it would step in and defend the elected Georgian government, Saakashvili would be sleeping easier. But foreign pressure to overthrow the government? I don’t think any major power, Russia aside, cares enough about Georgia to dabble like that.

What about Moldova?

[Nathan]( writes that “the interesting question will be how and whether events in Chisinau shape those in Tbilisi“. Which is a very interesting question. Superficially, they’re both quite inward-looking protests. For instance, I don’t think either of them have much connection to the financial crisis. It’s tempting to fit them into a narrative of ex-Soviet modernisers unhappy with losing elections. Surely some of the demonstrators and parts of the media will put things in those terms. I don’t think it would be true — but truth isn’t what matters, at times like these.
More of this to follow later in the day, if time allows

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