Thursday, February 03, 2005

In passing

I'm sorry to interrupt the fun with a serious note, but I was terribly saddened this morning when I woke up to the news that Georgia's Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania was found dead from a gas leak in a friend's MoscowTbilisi apartment. Or, that's an "apparent gas leak" according to the New York Times, God love their skeptical souls. I don't know. Fatal gas leaks do happen all the time. It very well could be an unfortunate coincidence that the Prime Minister of this country that's been a bit of a thorn in Russia's heel died so unexpectedly. I'm inclined to believe that we need a little more motivational evidence before indicting the FSB yet again. I don't really see what Russia gains by axing Zhvania as far as really improving their situation with Georgia, so until I see more, I'm not pointing at foul play here, however much it might fit the m.o. of the overreacting security organ. (Although I seem to recall Zhvania having a close call with fighting factions in South Ossetia last year... Is someone gunning for this guy and his role in the peace process? Not that narrowly escaping gunfire is an unusual afternoon pasttime for your average Georgian man...)

When I was in Tbilisi last spring, after the initial euphoria of the revolution had faded a little bit, I encountered a number of people who were skeptical of their fiery new President Saakashvili. They distrusted his Western-style populism, his slick veneer, his too-perfect words. But to a man, even those closely associated with opposition parties, they would raise their fingers and say, "Now Zhvania. There's a man you can trust."

Zhvania was the accomplished technocrat of the operation. He could never be a president - not bursting with charisma and rallying rhetoric, this one, but he was seen as an enormously successful and competent government player, free from the taint of corruption, and most importantly, vital to balancing the radical and moderate influences in the government. I saw him speak when he came to Washington, and he was hugely impressive. When panelists and audience members asked him questions, he answered them. Concisely, directly, and fully. He said more in 30 minutes than most politicians express in hours of vague generalizations and exalted rhetoric. It wasn't fancy, but it was impressive. He was a committed and excellent public servant who earned the trust and respect of his people across the political spectrum, and Georgia is wounded by this loss.

UPDATE: I was writing this off of memory of an NPR report coming from my radio alarm. In my half-awake state I thought they said he was in Moscow. He was not, after all, which makes much more sense.

UPDATE II: Irina chalks my mistake up to my debilitating anti-Russian bias and that of all my countrymen and the Washington Post, and secondary school chemistry teachers, documentary filmmakers, and the International Olympic Committee. In that order, roughly.


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