09TBILISI787, GEORGIA: DEFINING THE ROOTS OF OPPOSITION

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI787 2009-04-23 13:45 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO7385
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0787/01 1131345
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 231345Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1427
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000787 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/22/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: DEFINING THE ROOTS OF OPPOSITION 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS 1.4 (b) AND (d). 
 
 1.  (C)  Introduction and Comment:  Beyond the constantly 
changing parties which define Georgia's opposition inside and 
outside of parliament, there are four core groups that have 
fundamentally opposed President Saakashvili since the early 
days of his tenure in 2004.  In large part, these are the 
people and institutions which lost positions, prestige and 
power with President Shevardnadze's resignation.  Four groups 
emerged: the police and security services, the first families 
of Tbilisi, those who had supported the Rose Revolution but 
were quickly disillusioned by President Saakashvili's 
consolidation of executive power in 2004, and a small group 
that has left the United National Movement within the last 
year.  Deputy Foreign Minister and Saakashvili insider Giga 
Bokeria told us in the summer of 2008 that Saakashvili has 
always raced the clock -- he believed that he did not have 
the luxury of developing consensus in order to bring 
irreversible democratic change to Georgia.  That mentality 
has kept these opponents firmly entrenched in the cafes and 
universities of Tbilisi's elite neighborhoods in Vake and 
Saburtalo.  One constant criticism of President Saakashvili 
is that he "threw out the good with the bad" of 
Shevardnadze's team.   These four groups now form the core of 
opposition which seeks to bring about Saakashvili's 
resignation. 
 
2.  (C)  The key to understanding Saakashvili, is 
understanding his history as a politician.  When he, Zurab 
Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze led the Rose Revolution, they 
made big promises about Georgia's future: promises of 
economic prosperity, increased democracy, and membership in 
Western organizations including NATO and the EU.  Saakashvili 
has made notable progress in some of these areas and less in 
others.  Part of understanding who opposes Saakashvili 
requires understanding the high expectations which were 
raised and the unrealized promises of the President.  These 
groups are scattered throughout a variety of parties and 
support different leaders.  The four groups do not capture 
all of those who oppose Saakashvili, but they represent the 
crux of the supporters for current radical protests calling 
for the President's resignation.  Understanding the long-term 
perspective of those in the opposition helps explain why some 
are singularly intent on Saakashvili's resignation.  End 
Introduction and Comment. 
 
Police, Security and the Over-50 Crowd 
 
3.  (C)  Following the 2003 Rose Revolution and Saakashvili's 
election as president in early 2004, Saakashvili's government 
decided to quickly end corruption in the police by simply 
firing all of them.  They integrated special forces scattered 
around the government in an effort to hold them accountable 
to the President rather than ministers.  The move was 
designed to end petty corruption on the street, which the 
government largely succeeded in doing.  As President 
Saakashvili routinely notes, he terminated the bulk of the 
traffic police, whose primary role was to collect 
insignificant bribes for real or imagined traffic violations 
while standing on Georgia's street corners.  The firing of 
those traffic police created an immediate, tangible benefit 
for Georgia's drivers -- but it also alienated an older 
generation of police who felt entitled to these revenue 
streams.  It is not entirely clear how many police lost their 
jobs following the Rose Revolution, but government officials 
Qjobs following the Rose Revolution, but government officials 
routinely cite about 200,000 throughout the country. 
 
4.  (C)  In addition to the street cops, Saakashvili decided 
to skip a generation of Georgia's elite throughout the 
government when he successfully attracted young 20-something, 
western-educated but politically inexperienced Georgians to 
the government.   Many diplomats at the MFA tell us that 
those who came out of MGIMO or Soviet diplomacy have seen 
their careers come to a standstill, although, of course, the 
current Foreign Minister is the exception.  He was trained in 
Moscow and began his diplomatic career in the Soviet Foreign 
Ministry.  In a recent meeting, President Saakashvili told a 
visiting senior U.S. official that he had to skip over a 
generation -- he needed people who did not remember the 
Soviet period to help him enact his ambitious reform agenda. 
Saakashvili admitted, however, that within the defense arena, 
he needed the expertise of military officials and could not 
reject out of hand those with Soviet experience.  In an April 
conversation with the Ambassador, Deputy PM Gia Baramidze 
said that, following the Rose Revolution, Saakashvili and his 
team had no choice but to move fast.  Georgia was at risk of 
becoming a failed state and immediate action was needed. 
 
Tbilisi's First Families 
 
5.  (C)  Many observers of Tbilisi's elite recognize that, 
 
TBILISI 00000787  002 OF 003 
 
 
like many capitals around the world, an unofficial and 
socially-accepted group of "first families"
has played an 
important role in the society.  Through the Soviet period and 
Shevardnadze's presidecy, these families wielded significant 
influence.  They could easily pick up a phone to have a 
family member admitted to a prestigious university or help a 
friend find a job with a Western salary.  They were socially 
influential individuals with known family pedigrees.  They 
primarily live in Tbilisi's toniest neighborhood, Vake. 
 
6.  (C)  These families had, and have, expectations of an 
elevated role in Georgian society.  They believe, according 
to our interlocutors, they are entitled to a privileged role 
in society.  With the reform of Georgia's education system -- 
led by current Georgian Ambassador to the UN Kakha Lomaia who 
previously served as Minister of Education -- corruption in 
the universities largely ended.  Poloff has been anecdotally 
told of some doctors, who could barely pass basic science 
classes, graduating with honors from medical school because 
of graft.  Since 2004, university applicants are required to 
pass standardized tests.  The days when parentage or wealth 
guaranteed admittance to a prestigious university and career 
are over.  Parents were humiliated when their under-achieving 
children were denied admittance to Tbilisi State University 
or Chavchavadze University.  These families derisively 
dismiss the president as being "provincial" because he did 
not emanate from this group and because he does not protect 
their entitlements. 
 
The Disillusioned and Disappointed 
 
7.  (C)  A third significant segment of the opposition is a 
small but politically-committed group that stood with 
Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze during the 
Rose Revolution.  They opposed the corruption of the 
Shevardnadze era.   Most notable among this group are Dato 
Usupashvili (now with the Alliance for Georgia) and his wife 
political activist Tina Khidasheli.  They supported 
Saakashvili initially in 2003, but immediately moved into an 
opposition camp following changes to Georgia's constitution 
in 2004 which led to enhanced executive powers.  Koba 
Davitashvili (Party of the People) is another example of a 
political figure who supported Saakashvili in 2003, but broke 
with him following the constitutional changes in 2004 and the 
changes to the status of Ajara's autonomy (also spring 2004). 
Usupashvili and Davitashvili stand proudly on principle but 
are generally considered to have little popular support. 
 
Seeking Opportunity Beyond the UNM 
 
8.  (C)  Those who have left the United National Movement 
since the November 2007 protests form the final group.  Oddly 
enough, Saakashvili lost few senior party members immediately 
following the severe actions taken against protesters in 
2007.   Nino Burjanadze, former Speaker of Parliament and 
acting President, did not leave the UNM fold when the police 
moved on protesters, nor did she leave as a response to 
allegations of inappropriate activities during the January 
2008 presidential elections.  She left in May 2008 when, 
according to one of her long-time supporters, she had a 
disagreement with President Saakashvili over the placement of 
her supporters on the UNM party list.  Upon her resignation, 
Burjanadze announced she intended to devote her energies to a 
new think tank which would provide oversight of the 
administration and the parliament.  But after the August war, 
she quickly entered party politics by launching her own 
Qshe quickly entered party politics by launching her own 
party, Democratic-Movement, United Georgia.  During the April 
protests, she has been criticized by people in the street for 
her perceived role in the events of November 2007. 
 
9.  (C)  Former PM Zurab Noghaideli left office in January 
2008 with extremely low favorability ratings, according to 
IRI and NDI polling.  He was basically moved out so that the 
President could show he was being responsive, although 
officially health reasons were cited, but he re-emerged as a 
politician after the August war and has focused his platform 
largely on economic failures by the president.  The most 
recent and highest profile defector from the UNM is former 
Ambassador to the UN Irakli Alasania and his team of 
supporters, the Alliance for Georgia.  They have publicly 
stated and privately told us that they felt compelled to 
leave the President's team and launch their political efforts 
because of the President's incompetence in handling the 
events of August 2008.  Their platform is based on improving 
the functioning of Georgia's national security structure. 
Alasania leads a team comprised primarily of former diplomats 
and government officials -- well-known figures whose names 
engender respect throughout Georgia.  The Alliance for 
Georgia includes several former Ambassadors and has sharply 
criticized President Saakashvili for leading hasty and 
poorly-informed decision-making processes, and Alasania 
 
TBILISI 00000787  003 OF 003 
 
 
promises a more responsive and inclusive approach to 
governance.  Since Alasania has only been a political actor 
since February, it remains to be seen how much traction he 
will gain for his movement. 
TEFFT

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