07TBILISI2050, NINO BURJANADZE, THE CONSTANT GARDENER

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07TBILISI2050 2007-08-14 12:50 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO9769
RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #2050/01 2261250
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 141250Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7313
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 002050 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
FOR EUR/CARC AND INR/B 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/13/2017 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR GG
SUBJECT: NINO BURJANADZE, THE CONSTANT GARDENER 
 
REF: A. A. TBILISI 1101 
     B. B. TBILISI 1933 
     C. C. TBILISI 1675 
     D. D. TBILISI 1370 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Mark X. Perry for reasons 1.4 (b) and 
(d) 
 
1. (C) Summary:  One of the few constants in the Georgian 
political landscape over the past decade has been Nino 
Burjanadze.  Since her election to Parliament in 1995, 
Burjanadze has emerged as one of the most moderate voices in 
Georgia, a reformer with credibility at home and abroad. 
Both her ascent and her political longevity have not been 
without obstacles, as Burjanadze has long taken fire in the 
Georgian press for the wealth and personal connections of her 
family.  Pundits believe the Speaker of Parliament, whose 
leadership was instrumental during the Rose Revolution, is 
now fighting to maintain her relevance among the strong 
personalities surrounding President Mikheil Saakashvili and 
within the National Movement.  In spite of the current 
political environment which limits her maneuverability, 
Burjanadze has not only survived, but prospered in the face 
of adversity.  By defending her independence and cautiously 
distancing herself from other majority leaders, the Speaker 
of Parliament has adopted a strategic, long-term perspective 
on her political future.  Remaining moderate domestically and 
carefully cultivating her international image -- often 
through her tough but calm stance against Russia -- has 
enabled Burjanadze not only to remain popular, but to 
position herself for the post-Saakashvili era when the 
political headwinds she faces may not be as strong. End 
Summary. 
 
--------------- 
Digging up Dirt 
--------------- 
 
2. (C) Nino Burjanadze's rise through the ranks to the 
forefront of the Georgian political scene represents a 
considerable achievement in the male-dominated culture of 
Georgia.  Burjanadze received her doctorate from Moscow State 
University and became a professor of international law at 
Tbilisi State University prior to entering politics.  Her 
qualifications notwithstanding, Burjanadze has been dogged by 
criticism throughout her career.  The Speaker of Parliament 
has never escaped scrutiny for the wealth and personal 
connections of her family.  She is the only child of Anzor 
Burjanadze, a longtime friend of former President 
Shevardnadze's and "bread czar" of Georgia.  Other family 
members and friends have been able to trade on her name to 
receive lucrative posts, fueling public charges of nepotism. 
Burjanadze has steadfastly defended her husband Badri 
Bitadze, former Prosecutor General and current Chief of the 
Border Guard Service, from widely believed allegations of 
corruption.  Her public displays of expensive jewelry and 
couture have not gone unnoticed by both the public and the 
diplomatic community (Note: Morning meetings with Burjanadze 
are exceedingly rare, as they reportedly conflict with her 
daily hairstyling appointment at an exclusive Tbilisi salon. 
End Note). 
 
-------------------- 
Cultivating an Image 
-------------------- 
 
3.  (C) Despite projecting an image of sophisticated luxury 
which draws some critics (Note. Old political hands say that 
former mentor Zurab Zhvania repeatedly told Burjanadze to cut 
out the gold and jewels in public presentations. End Note.), 
Burjanadze remains popular in the eyes of the public.  Recent 
IRI polling data reveals that 73% of respondents view 
Burjanadze favorably, up from 64% in 2006 and only four 
points behind the President's own rating.  Sources believe 
Burjanadze's high esteem stems from her able stewardship of 
the Rose Revolution as interim President following the sudden 
resignation of Shevardnadze. This watershed moment solidified 
Burjanadze's reputation as one of the most moderate voices in 
Georgia, and boosted the Speaker's self-confident image. 
Burjanadze has parlayed this triumph by transforming herself 
into a public ambassador advocating Georgia's Euro-Atlantic 
aspirations before the international community.  While few 
legislators have sought to make her gender an issue 
domestically, politicians have trumpeted the success of such 
a high-ranking woman as proof of Georgia's European 
orientation. 
 
4. (C) Burjanadze has established herself as a public face of 
Georgia in the eyes of the international community.  In 
recent years, the number of high-level international visits 
made by the Speaker have been conspicuously on the rise. 
 
TBILISI 00002050  002 OF 003 
 
 
Burjanadze has used this elevated standing as a platform to 
criticize Russia over its deteriorating bilateral 
relationship with Georgia.  Throughout the years, she has 
been outspoken over Russian involvement in Georgia's 
separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but she has 
done so with a light and effective touch.  Many watched with 
pride as Burjanadze, emulating the tough yet dignified 
approach of her political hero Margaret Thatcher, calmly 
sparred with radical Russian Duma members last year durin
g a 
CIS Parliamentary conference in Kyiv.  Burjanadze appeared to 
be bitter, however, over what she judged to be a Russian 
campaign to torpedo her bid to become President of the OSCE 
Parliamentary Assembly in the summer of 2006.  Somewhat 
insulated in her role as Speaker of Parliament, she has since 
become increasingly combative in her rhetoric.  Observers 
believe these moves to be tactical in nature; a close watcher 
of political polling, Burjanadze harbors lofty ambitions and 
is crafting her political strategy accordingly. 
 
------------------ 
Pruning New Growth 
------------------ 
 
5. (C) Many pundits believe Burjanadze's calculated, 
deliberate stance toward Moscow is an attempt to bolster her 
domestic credibility following her waning political influence 
at home.  Immediately following the Rose Revolution, 
Burjanadze's team -- critical to the formation of the United 
National Movement -- was politically outmaneuvered by former 
Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania during the 2004 parliamentary 
election.  Awarded far fewer places on the party list than 
she originally bargained for, Burjanadze was effectively 
sidestepped by the kingmakers and relegated to a junior 
partner in the ruling triumvirate with Saakashvili and 
Zhvania.  Since that time, Burjanadze has struggled to 
maintain her relevance amidst the coterie with immediate 
access to the President.  Although Saakashvili regards the 
Speaker as a loyal -- though independent -- ally, his 
decision-making is influenced by party stalwarts within the 
ruling coalition including key parliamentarians such as Giga 
Bokeria.  Sometimes the Speaker defers questions to these 
individuals, in spite of her leadership position.  Until 
recently, one of her principal supporters in Parliament was 
the outspoken Davit Bakradze, but he has now been named as 
State Minister of Georgia for Conflict Resolution.  Still, it 
is clear that the Speaker has influence over the President, 
although her voice is one of many. 
 
6. (C) Although she enjoys solid approval ratings both 
domestically and internationally, Burjanadze is currently not 
in a position to fully capitalize on her reputation.  While 
Burjanadze is one of the most highly regarded politicians in 
Georgia, few would actually vote for her for President.  In a 
2007 IRI ballot test, only 7% indicated they would vote for 
Burjanadze, down from 11% the previous year.  Poloff met with 
IRI Country Director Mark Lenzi to discuss these results, 
which suggest that Burjanadze has shifted toward a long-term 
perspective in a political culture otherwise dominated by the 
"win now" mentality.  Lenzi noted that the winner-take-all 
election system for majoritarian MPs, wherein voters select 
one party rather than individuals, limits Burjanadze's 
maneuverability.  The Speaker is propelled by the prevailing 
political winds of UNM, a current she can do little at 
present to influence. 
 
------------------------- 
Planting Tomorrow's Seeds 
------------------------- 
 
7. (C) Burjanadze's political skill and shrewd diplomacy have 
enabled her to not only survive these challenging times, but 
to position herself for the future.  Recently, she has made 
cautious moves to distance herself from more vocal elements 
of the National Movement by subtly breaking with the party 
line in her public comments on recent developments. 
Burjanadze has called for increasing the oversight function 
of Parliament over state institutions to strengthen 
democratic checks on power, calling on the National Movement 
consider the international dimension of its dominance and to 
not misuse its popular mandate (reftel A).  While other key 
figures of the UNM toed the line on the high-profile 
Girgvliani murder (reftel B), Burjanadze stood out alone in 
calling for further investigation into the politically 
charged case.  She recently criticized the outspoken Minister 
of Education and Science Alexander Lomaia for his polarizing 
defense in Parliament against charges of corruption, an 
incident which led the President to publicly intervene in 
Lomaia's defense (reftel C).  Such moves have allowed 
Burjanadze to solidify her credentials in the political 
middle ground.  This independence may insulate her from the 
unfavorable headwinds she may face as the 2008 parliamentary 
 
TBILISI 00002050  003 OF 003 
 
 
elections approach. 
 
8. (C) Comment. While her current role within the National 
Movement is somewhat circumscribed, it would be a mistake to 
dismiss Burjanadze.  She appears to be looking ahead to the 
era after Saakashvili, who has no obvious successor.  Her 
style contrasts sharply with that of other more divisive 
alternatives to Saakashvili, such as former minister of 
Defense Irakli Okruashvili, as well as that of relatively 
unpopular Saakashvili insiders like MP Giga Bokeria and 
Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Merabishvili.  By courting 
the middle both domestically and internationally, Burjanadze 
could emerge as a consensus builder and unifying figure in 
the eyes of the Georgian public, or a possible successor 
after Saakashvili's second term, especially if the only other 
alternative is the combative Okruashvili. End Comment. 
 
PERRY 
PERRY

Wikileaks

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