Wednesday, May 05, 2004

You asked for it

Alright, Georgia.
It's really, really exciting right now. I hope I'm not calling this wrong, but I'm forecasting that the region of Adjara, a break-off autonomous region of Georgia that has been a trouble spot since independence, might soon be brought into the fold of Georgia proper, and its autocratic leader will resign.

Aslan Abashidze and his powerful family have ruled this small but vitally important chunk of Georgia as their personal fiefdom. The Adjaran population doesn't support him - when their election results are fair, they vote like the rest of Georgia - for the current president's party. But Abashidze's supporters are well-armed and not afraid to use their weapons against protesters and the opposition, as they have shown time and again.

Georgian President Saakashvili is determined to bring Adjara back into Georgia, and get rid of Abashidze once and for all. Now, these arguments between central authority and Adjara are old news, but this time, things are different.

-This week, Abashidze had his supporters blow up two main supply bridges connecting Georgia proper and Adjara. We've moved beyond words; this is serious action.

-46 soldiers of Adjara's elite (illegal) militia defected to Tbilisi within the past two weeks.

-The United States, in one of the few recent instances of foreign policy I am proud of, issued a statement saying that Abashidze must disarm his illegal militia. This was a powerful statement in support of the Georgian central government, and much more direct than the Council of Europe's mealy statement about failure to reach dialogue. The international pressure is now on Abashidze.

-Protests are gathering force in Adjara. This is also a big deal. Citizens often try to gather protests, but are promptly beaten back and scattered. Abashidze loyalists dispersed smaller protests, beating students, but more and more people have continued to take to the streets. This morning, they are reporting 15,000 people rallying outside the university, demanding Abashidze's resignation. This is too many for the thugs to handle, and so they stay.

-Key members of Abashidze's cabinet and inner circle are defecting to Tbilisi. It's looking a lot like the Rose Revolution of November - protests gaining force, demands for resignation, members of the government stepping down.

The wild card in this one will be the violence. Abashidze, unlike Shevardnadze, does not have a legacy to protect and does not answer to the international community. He is unlikely to be the type to go down without a fight, and he's been heavily arming his supporters. I would be very surprised if this went down without bloodshed, but I'll be delighted to be proven wrong. Maybe he will see the writing on the wall and save face. I e-mailed my Georgian posse about this, and they are worried as well about the prospect of violence, saying that Batumi, the capital of Adjara, is in a panic.

If Saakashvili can bring Adjara back into Georgia peacefully, it will be a major coup for his young administration. And I'll be totally pissed that I'm not there to celebrate...


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