09TBILISI876, GEORGIA: IRI FOCUS GROUPS PROVIDE INSIGHT ON

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI876 2009-05-07 14:40 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO8795
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0876/01 1271440
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 071440Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1530
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000876 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/07/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: IRI FOCUS GROUPS PROVIDE INSIGHT ON 
PUBLIC OPINION RE PROTESTS 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  The International Republican Institute 
(IRI) ran a series of focus groups May 4-5 in Tbilisi to 
gauge political opinion on the ongoing opposition-led 
protests and domestic political environment.  The groups 
consisted of eight people each with one group being 
pro-government ("pro") (or anti-resignation), two groups 
neutral, and one group anti-government ("anti") (or 
pro-opposition).  No focus group member had any affiliation 
with a particular party and all were self-described.  All of 
the participants were Tbilisi residents.  In some cases there 
was across-the-board agreement among the groups such as 
labeling the protests as a power struggle and not a 
demonstration to support democratic values; a general 
frustration at the current situation although aimed at 
different actors; a rejection of the non-parliamentary 
opposition leaders across the board except perhaps for Irakli 
Alasania; overall agreement that the non-parliamentary 
opposition has no plan; and a deep dislike of Nino 
Burjanadze.  Lastly, apart from the anti group, the pro and 
neutral groups could be labeled as "evaluators" who tended to 
weigh the relative merits of both sides, pro and con.  While 
expressing dissatisfaction with Saakashvili ranging from 
minimal to strong, the "evaluators" did not view 
Saakashvili's resignation as a viable option, but instead 
repeatedly voiced their preference for dialogue. End Summary. 
 
2.  (C)  Comment:  The results of the focus groups largely 
coincided with what we have been hearing from average 
Georgians and what we have been told of the results of other 
focus groups, such as those conducted by Rosner and 
Associates for the ruling United National Movement (UNM) 
party.  The groups do not represent a valid statistical 
sample and leave out party members, both UNM and opposition. 
As such, we see focus group observations as a means to 
identify trends and commonalties rather than as a vehicle for 
drawing sweeping conclusions.   End Comment. 
 
This Is About Power - No Mention of Democracy or Democratic 
Values 
 
3.  (C)  All of the groups agreed that the sole purpose of 
the protests was to achieve power.  Notably, over four groups 
and eight hours, not one participant mentioned democratic 
values or democracy as reasons behind the protests.  The pro 
group was the most critical of the non-parliamentary 
opposition and largely believed their goal was to regain old 
posts in order to "steal" for personal benefit.  The neutral 
group largely viewed the events as a struggle for power 
between the government and opposition, but was equally 
convinced the non-parliamentary opposition only wanted power. 
 The neutrals did not expres support for Saakashvili's 
resignation and replacement in large part because they see no 
preferable alternative.  The anti group simply wanted to 
replace Saakashvili; a number even supported armed violence 
to bring about his resignation. 
 
Non-Parliamentary Opposition Has no Plan - Not United - No 
Acceptable Leaders 
 
4.  (C)  All groups agreed that the non-parliamentary 
opposition had no plan other than to gain power by demanding 
Saakashvili's resignation.  The pros and neutrals cited the 
lack of a non-parliamentary opposition plan as a reason why 
they don't support Saakashvili's resignation.  While 
occasionally an "acceptable" non-parliamentary leader was 
named (Gamkrelidze, Gachechiladze, Usupashvili were among 
those who got one vote of support) among the pros and 
neutrals, any positive statement was quickly countered by the 
Qneutrals, any positive statement was quickly countered by the 
rest of the group that found that particular leader wholly 
unacceptable.  Apart from Irakli Alasania (see below), no 
group formed consensus on any non-parliamentary leader who 
would be acceptable.  The overwhelming majority found all 
opposition leaders to be unacceptable.  Even among the anti 
group, three of the eight said all of the non-parliamentary 
leaders were unacceptable, two supported Shalva Natelashvili 
(Labor), two said they were not sure, and one supported 
Gachechiladze.  In short, even among the anti group, a few 
non-parliamentary opposition leaders had middling support, 
but much higher negatives. 
 
5.  (C)  Nino Burjanadze was roundly criticized by all 
groups.  Most often noted was that she was untrustworthy, a 
criminal, and only joined the non-parliamentary opposition 
after Saakashvili fired her and her husband.  She only wanted 
revenge on Saakashvili and a chance to steal again. 
Interestingly, Irakli Alasania got good marks from the pros 
and neutrals who liked his biography; were supportive of his 
handshake with Saakashvili; his apparent willingness to start 
dialogue; and his education.  His negatives among the pros 
and neutrals was that he was inexperienced, not a politician, 
 
TBILISI 00000876  002 OF 003 
 
 
and needed more policy ideas.  The general consensus among 
the pros and neutrals was that he may be a good choice for 
pr
esident sometime in the future, but was nowhere near ready 
now.  Among the anti group, Alasania could only garner a "he 
seems nice" from one which was quickly denounced by the 
others.  One man explained that Alasania was a duplicitous 
U.S. agent.  Others were disappointed that he had signaled a 
willingness for dialogue and would soon become a traitor like 
Giorgi Targamadze and others.  (Embassy Comment:  The focus 
groups tended to confirm Post's assessment that Alasania has 
much to gain by pursuing a dialogue and little to gain by 
remaining in the non-parliamentary opposition.  End Comment.) 
 
Saakashvili - Good Enough - Acceptable - Devil We Know - The 
Devil 
 
6.  (C)  Feelings toward Saakashvili, and to a much lesser 
extent his government, ran the gamut, although even the pros 
noted his failures.  The neutrals and pros formed a sort of 
continuum and could probably be labeled as "evaluators" who 
looked at Saakashvili's record, potential alternatives, and 
the long term outlook for Georgia if he were to resign.  All 
participants came to the same conclusion that Saakashvili's 
resignation, at least under the current circumstances, was 
not a preferable outcome.  However, clearly a number of those 
in the neutral group would not lose any sleep over 
Saakashvili being replaced if there were a legitimate 
alternative, but they ultimately preferred the "devil they 
knew".  The pros generally gave Saakashvili more credit than 
the neutrals for his positive impact on Georgia.  The pros 
thought he should be given more time; in the words of one 
participant "the problems in Georgia are huge and cannot be 
solved in one year".  Among the neutrals, some were more 
charitably disposed to Saakashvili, others much less so, but 
all seemed to take a gray, rather than a black and white 
approach to Saakashvili and his record.  The antis were 
diverse in their reason to despise Saakashvili, but their 
anger was palpable.  One claimed he was destroying churches 
like the Soviets; another said he was spending too much money 
on education; another complained that he opened a factory. 
Others had more coherent criticisms like being too pro-west; 
losing Abkhazia and South Ossetia; or pointing to his general 
incompetence.  Notably, not one member of the anti group said 
the reason for their opposition to Saakashvili was that he 
was anti-democratic. 
 
Protest Views - Break It Up - Doesn't Affect Me Much, Yet - 
More Violence and Confrontation Needed 
 
7.  (C)  On the protest, one point of consensus emerged: the 
participants all did not like the language many in the 
non-parliamentary opposition were using to describe 
Saakashvili.  One anti said: "after all, he is the 
President".  Gia Maisashvili's (Party of the Future) comments 
about Saakashvili's mother were roundly condemned.  The pros 
were extremely tired of the protests and wanted the GoG to 
break them up, a number saying that no western country would 
allow this.  The neutrals were generally against the 
protests, but largely ambivalent because the protests were 
not affecting them directly.  The neutrals were against more 
street blockages, more cages, and any escalation; however, 
they did not support the GoG breaking up the protests.  The 
pros and neutrals were appalled at the treatment of 
journalists outside of the Georgian Public Broadcaster 
building.  The antis were frustrated that "Saakashvili was 
not listening" and supported more confrontation. 
QInterestingly, none of the antis expressed any problem with 
protesters beating a journalist with three expressing strong 
support for it.  The anti group wanted more confrontation 
with some advocating for violent confrontation to force 
Saakashvili out.  They blamed the GoG for the low turnout at 
the protests  citing oppression, intimidation and other 
techniques to limit the numbers.  When asked directly, all 
admitted that nobody had stopped them or their family, 
friends or acquaintances from attending the protest. 
 
What They Want 
 
8.  (C)  The pros and neutrals strongly supported dialogue 
and change, although what change meant to each individual 
varied widely.  A common frustration with politics in the 
streets, and a desire for politicians to act like adults and 
engage in discussions, ran through the commentary regardless 
of what specific changes each desired.  Frustration among the 
pros and neutrals was evident, with the pros squarely blaming 
the non-parliamentary opposition for the lack of dialogue and 
the neutrals blaming both the GoG and non-parliamentary 
opposition.  The parliamentary opposition (namely the 
Christian Democrats) got good marks both from the pros and 
neutrals for having a plan, supporting dialogue, and acting 
in a dignified manner although a number added the caveat that 
they do not necessarily agree with the CDM's plan.  The antis 
 
TBILISI 00000876  003 OF 003 
 
 
wanted no dialogue, only Saakashvili's resignation.  After 
that, the antis were unsure of what they wanted; one said new 
elections, three said that after Saakashvili resigns all 
Georgia's problems would immediately be solved.  The others 
were unsure what would happen, but expressed confidence that 
a solution would present itself. 
TEFFT

Wikileaks

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