09TBILISI968, GEORGIA: OPPOSITION PROMISED SURPRISES – PATRIARCH

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI968 2009-05-27 12:36 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO3830
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #0968/01 1471236
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 271236Z MAY 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1620
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 000968 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/27/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: OPPOSITION PROMISED SURPRISES - PATRIARCH 
DELIVERS 
 
REF: TBILISI 957 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  On Georgian Independence Day, May 26, the 
non-parliamentary opposition drew its largest crowd since 
beginning protests on April 9.  Between 45,000-50,000 rallied 
at Dynamo Stadium, where various non-parliamentary opposition 
leaders spoke to a largely subdued audience.  Only singer 
Utsnobi (Giorgi Gachechiladze) and Labor Party Leader Shalva 
Natelashvili received loud cheers.  Utsnobi, who appears to 
have become the defacto leader of the protests, urged the 
crowd to march to Trinity Cathedral and remain there until 
Georgian Patriarch Ilia II told them what to do next.  The 
non-parliamentary opposition followed suit and attempted to 
co-opt the highly respected Patriarch to their cause by 
laying down an ultimatum to publicly support them.  With 
15,000 gathered at the Cathedral, the Patriarch indicated 
that he did not support the non-parliamentary opposition's 
agenda or tactics, and pointedly rejected the notion that 
Saakashvili should step down.  Later in front of Parliament, 
numerous opposition leaders responded by dismissing the 
Patriarch's comments as unimportant, and criticizing 
Georgia's most revered figure for being a captive of the 
government.  The parliamentary rally devolved into chaos 
highlighted by a number of verbal and even physical scuffles 
breaking out on stage between different opposition camps. 
After some deliberation, non-parliamentary leaders led 
approximately 1000 protesters to blocked train tracks at the 
main Tbilisi station for about 3 hours delaying one train. 
Disagreement seems to be growing among non-parliamentary 
opposition leaders, and plans remain unclear.  Radical 
leaders, including Nino Burjanadze, Eka Beselia, and Salome 
Zourobashvili, have vowed to block major highways, rail 
junctions, and the airport.  Others have remained largely 
silent, and some continue to engage in dialogue.  The 
Ambassador continues to facilitate these discussions and has 
committed his good offices to those participating in 
dialogue.  End Summary. 
 
2.  (C)  Comment:  In attacking the Patriarch, the 
non-parliamentary opposition has attacked a respected and 
influential Georgian institution, revered by all levels of 
society.  This is a move that will likely further denigrate 
the opposition in the eyes of the population, and appears to 
be a major political miscalculation.  The numerous, heated 
arguments between different opposition leaders and their 
camps at Parliament and the train station show that 
differences on tactics and future plans is beginning to grow. 
 In one fell swoop, the Patriarch seems to have removed the 
only issue that united the disparate non-parliamentary 
opposition - Saakashvili's resignation.  The recriminations 
have already begun, leaving an apparent and increasingly 
public rift between those who want to continue escalation led 
by Nino Burjanadze (Democratic Movement - United Georgia), 
Eka Beselia (United Georgia), and Salome Zourabichvili 
(Georgia's Way), and those, including Irakli Alasania and 
possibly the Gachechiladze brothers, who now seem to see 
dialogue as the only way out.  End Comment. 
 
Protest Large - For Some A Diversion 
 
3.  (C)  Embassy observers estimated the crowd of 
predominately male over the age of 45 at between 
45,000-50,000 at its peak.  Labor leader Shalva 
Natelashvili's victory lap around the stadium received wide 
applause, while other non-parliamentary leaders entered to a 
smattering of applause and proceeded directly to a holding 
Qsmattering of applause and proceeded directly to a holding 
room after giving interviews.  (Embassy note:  Natelashvili 
has not participated in the daily protests since April 9 and 
probably deserves much of the credit for bringing in 
additional supporters to the stadium rally.  End note.) 
Utsnobi arrived an hour late with roughly 100-200 protesters 
from his week long trip through Western Georgia to a raucous 
welcome.  Utsnobi was carried into the stadium on the 
shoulders of supporters, often wiping his eyes in a "show" of 
emotion.  Utsnobi's "emotions" ran over when he hopped the 
barrier to run onto a Georgian flag in the infield first 
kissing it, then sprawling all over it to the crowd's 
delight.  (Embassy Comment:  This over the top political 
theater led a group of Alasania supporters to walk out of the 
stadium in disgust, according to one participant.  End 
Comment.)  Various non-parliamentary leaders gave speeches to 
modest response when Utsnobi returned to the stage to tell 
the crowd to march to Trinity Cathedral where they would stay 
until the Patriarch "told them which road to follow". 
(Embassy Comment:  Utsnobi met with the Patriarch on May 25 
but Post has no information as to what was discussed.  The 
non-parliamentary opposition sent a delegation to the 
Patriarchate on May 26, but our sources indicated that they 
received nothing more than a perfunctory response.  End 
Comment). 
 
TBILISI 00000968  002 OF 003 
 
 
 
March to Trinity Cathedral - Patriarch's Statement 
 
4.  (C)  The uphill march to Trinity Cathedral reduced the 
crowd to roughly 15,000 protesters.  From the leadership, 
only Levan Gachechiladze was seen marching with the 
protesters while all others took their cars.  A number of 
non-parliamentary leaders attended the already-scheduled mass 
celebration as did Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugalava, who was 
greeted by the crowd with jeers.  The Patriarch, somewhat 
unexpectedly, said that "(p)art of our population is 
demanding the President's resignation.  I want to say that 
this issue is so complicated and generally, it has to some 
extent become a rule in our country, where the first and 
second president were forced to resign.  You know what these 
resignations have brought to us.  Maybe, it would be more 
correct - it is simply my personal opinion - if we listen to 
each other, we should be capable to listen to everyone."  He 
then underlined that every person has a right to their own 
opinion and condemned "categorical thinking" in which a 
"persn can not listen to others and think that the truth 
lies only in him and his ideas should be implemented."  The 
Patriarch said that Georgians regard those with a different 
opinion as strangers but should not forget "we are all 
brothers."  Despite it's clear relevance for the population, 
neither Maestro TV or Kavkasia, both well-known opposition 
channels, initially reported on the Patriarch's statements, 
although later both aired his comments in full. 
 
5.  (C)  Outside the cathedral word spread of the Patriarch's 
address and it's significance.  A few protesters on 
loudspeakers claimed the reports were untrue and a result of 
GoG provocateurs.  Others came out to address the crowd 
saying the Patriarch's comments were true, but that he was 
arranging a dialogue between Ugalava and non-parliamentary 
opposition leaders as to somehow mitigate the effects of the 
Patriarch's comments.  Confusion was the dominant reaction, 
as heated arguments broke out between protesters around the 
cathedral until word was passed to proceed immediately to 
Parliament where opposition leaders would speak about the 
Patriarch's comments and announce further plans. 
 
Chaos Ensues at Parliament 
 
6.  (C)  An extremely somber, Levan Gachechiladze told the 
7,000-8,000 gathered at Parliament that protests would 
continue, but that consultations on further actions were 
necessary.  Gachechiladze told the crowd to some jeering that 
he was not the person who would lead them to storm 
Parliament.  At some point, an unidentified speaker took the 
microphone which was immediately cut off and a heated 
argument ensued between Gachechiladze and Salome 
Zourabichvili.  The argument resulted in a minor scuffle 
between their respective supporters.  Burjanadze told the 
crowd she would not step backwards, and dismissed the 
Patriarch's comments as "(p)robably nobody expected that the 
Georgian Patriarch would have told us to go and overthrow 
Saakashvili."  Burjanadze called for harsh measures to bring 
about Saakashvili's resignation.  Beselia stated that the 
Patriarch "would not have made or would not have been allowed 
to make the statement we (non-parliamentary opposition) 
wanted."  Beselia focused on what the Patriarch did not say, 
noting that the Patriarch "did not tell us that we should not 
struggle" to force Saakashvili's resignation.  Utsnobi said 
that "(w)hile blood runs through my veins I will not allow 
Saakashvili to reign in our country."  Utsnobi explained to 
the crowd that "(t)oday the Georgian Patriarch was taken 
Qthe crowd that "(t)oday the Georgian Patriarch was taken 
hostage because he was not allowed to say what he was going 
to say in is speech.  They (the authorities) frightened him 
and did not let him say what he was going to say.  But 
anyway, we will struggle to the end." 
 
7.  (C)  Various statements, often contradictory in nature, 
followed with Burjanadze finally telling the crowd that the 
leaders would announce a new plan in ten minutes.  The 
non-parliamentary leaders then huddled and argued before 
finally announcing that half of the crowd should remain in 
front of Parliament while half should go the to train station 
to block trains.  A group of about 1000 protesters led by 
David Gamkrelidze (Alliance - New Rights), Burjanadze, 
Zourabichvili, Kakha Kukava (Conservatives), and Beselia 
arrived at the train station at about 11pm.  The group 
according to MoIA sources decided to block the train station 
because they feared the crowd was turning on them and wanted 
to let them "blow off some steam."  Arguments between leaders 
continued at the train station with some leaders telling 
protesters to leave the track to let the passenger train 
through, and some protesters refusing to leave the track. 
After 10 minutes of argument, a small number of protesters 
were physically removed from the tracks by other protesters. 
The train then lurched forward only to be stopped by a number 
of protesters who jumped back on the track.  The train shut 
 
TBILISI 00000968  003 OF 003 
 
 
down and did not attempt to proceed until the protesters left 
some three hours later.  The police allowed the protesters to 
move freely to the train station and to block the tracks; 
embassy observers saw very few police at the station. 
 
Immediate Fallout 
 
8.  (C)  Echoing the Patriarch's comments, President 
Saakashvili struck a conciliatory tone and called for 
dialogue.  Saakashvili apologized that at least 50,000 
citizens were dismissed from state employment as a result of 
his reforms, but stressed that the reforms were necessary. 
He acknowledged that poverty and employment were ongoing 
problems, and said those in poverty have a right not to be 
satisfied.  He added that even though he disagreed with many 
political leaders and their behavior, he stressed that while 
they may not agree with each other on political views, they 
all love Georgia. 
 
9.  (C)  Following the divergence of several opposition camps 
on May 26, it appears two camps are starting to emerge, those 
whose political future depends on a more radical course and 
further provocations, and those who are engaging in or 
considering dialogue.  The radical group of Beselia, 
Burjanadze, and Zourabichvili met at Burjanadze's office 
early May 27.  Zourabichvili said the three would announce 
its further plans at 6pm the same day.  Gamkrelidze, who 
appears to be moving toward the more radical group said that 
the "railway blockage was a warning to the authorities" and 
that more blockages depended on "the authorities' reaction to 
our demand that negotiations on Saakashvili's resignation be 
started."  Alasania, a nominal Gamkrelidze ally, said he 
continues to support protests but that he would not take part 
in blocking highways or railways.  Other non-parliamentary 
leaders largely did not comment on the day's events. 
 
10.  (SBU)  Apparently seeking to make amends, opposition 
leaders Beselia, Burjanadze and the brothers Gachechiladzes 
met with the Patria
rch May 27, but did not make any comments 
to the press following the meeting.  Salome Zourabichvili 
reportedly did not know about the meeting.  By mid-afternoon 
May 27, opposition leaders were meeting at the New Rights 
office, apparently still unable to come up with a plan. 
TEFFT

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