09TBILISI1303, GEORGIA: GOVERNMENT LESSONS LEARNED FROM THREE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1303 2009-07-14 14:02 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

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DE RUEHSI #1303/01 1951402
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 141402Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1910
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TBILISI 001303 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/10/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: GOVERNMENT LESSONS LEARNED FROM THREE 
MONTHS OF PROTEST 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (SBU)  Embassy Prologue:  "Now this is not the end.  It 
is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, 
the end of the beginning."  Sir Winston Churchill, Speech in 
November 1942 who just might well have been describing 
Georgian internal politics in July 2009.  End Prologue. 
 
2.  (C)  Summary:  This is the first of three cables 
analyzing the more than three months of protests by 
non-parliamentary opposition against President Saakashvili. 
Now that the protests have largely dissipated we attempt to 
draw a number of general observations and in this case focus 
on the tactics and strategy of the GoG.  The GoG appears to 
have learned many lessons from the November 7, 2007 rallies. 
In using a strategy of patience and non-intervention, the 
government appears to have significantly strengthened its 
political leverage vis-a-vis the non-parliamentary opposition 
which has seen its stature diminished (septel). 
Significantly, the GoG allowed the protests to largely fizzle 
out on their own, which served the purpose of discrediting 
most of the non-parliamentary opposition; discrediting street 
politics in general as a way to force regime change; and 
saved the GoG from political blowback both internationally 
and domestically from using force to disband the rallies. 
Having analyzed its mistakes of the past, the GoG was 
determined not to repeat them and in doing so has largely 
neutralized the non-parliamentary opposition.  End Summary. 
 
3.  (C) Comment: While in many ways this phase of street 
protests has come to its conclusion, the larger questions 
that led to the non-parliamentary opposition gathering in the 
street remain.  Trust between the government and the 
non-parliamentary opposition is nearly nonexistent, making 
meaningful dialogue difficult to accomplish.  The public has 
shown they no longer support street protests, especially ones 
that block city streets and disrupt everyday life.  However 
large portions of the population hunger to see the democratic 
reforms promised by Saakashvili and his government.  If the 
government wants to further neutralize the non-parliamentary 
opposition's street tactics, they must build the democratic 
infrastructure that will create a forum for real democratic 
debates -- a debate which would reveal street politics for 
what they are -- a struggle for personal power.  In order to 
diffuse the next round of street protests, be it in August, 
November or April, the governmet needs to find a way to 
bring the moderate and influential voices of the 
non-parliamentary opposition into the process.  If the 
non-parliamentary opposition wants to gain influence, 
opposition leaders will have to show that they are taking the 
government's approaches seriously, something they have not 
done to date.  They will also have to come to the table, or 
risk losing a voice in electoral and constitutional changes. 
End comment. 
 
We Have a Plan - A Coordinated Message 
 
4.  (C)  Before the protests, GoG officials from Speaker 
Bakradze to parliamentary backbenchers were well aware of 
both the GoG's plan and corresponding message:  no matter how 
many people are involved in protests, neither President 
Saakashvili nor other senior officials would resign.  The 
same group consistently stressed that they were open to 
dialogue on a number of issues.  The GoG followed through 
both publicly and privately on dialogue promises, holding 
Qboth publicly and privately on dialogue promises, holding 
numerous meetings with non-parliamentary opposition leaders. 
The GoG never budged from its original message and was able 
to present a consistent, coherent case throughout the 
protests.  Whether the GoG's message drove public opinion, 
mirrored it, or both, recent IRI polling showed that the 
public overwhelmingly did not support Saakashvili's 
resignation or early elections, presidential or 
parliamentary.  The non-parliamentary opposition's calls for 
Saakashvili's resignation, and their refusal to discuss any 
substantive issues beyond this, made it easy for the 
government to win the public relations battle.  The GoG had 
framed the debate in such a way that even non-parliamentary 
opposition supporters were questioning the wisdom of constant 
calls for Saakashvili's resignation when it was obvious to 
all it would not take place. 
 
We Still Need and Want You to Play Ball - GoG's Strategy 
 
5.  (C)  Various GoG figures from Speaker Bakradze on down 
detailed the GoG's assessment of the political situation 
before the protests began.  The general feeling was that the 
non-parliamentary opposition had substantial support 
(particularly in central Tbilisi) but nowhere near the 
support they believed they had or needed to have to pose a 
real threat to Saakashvili.  The GoG felt it had substantial 
 
TBILISI 00001303  002 OF 003 
 
 
political leverage and the clear upper hand in negotiating 
position; h
owever, it was well aware of the corrosive effect 
of carrying out politics in the street as the political norm 
rather than the exception.  Thus, the GoG seemed committed to 
bringing non-parliamentary opposition leaders to the table by 
offering meaningful concessions on concrete issues beyond 
what a simple zero sum bargaining calculus would dictate. 
Even before the protests, the GoG tried to engage the 
non-parliamentary opposition but was resigned to the fact 
that only after protests started would serious discussions 
take place. 
 
6.  (C)  Once the initial protests faded, the GoG put out 
feelers through Speaker Bakradze, Minister of Corrections and 
Legal Assistance Dima Shashkin (former IRI Chief of Party), 
MP Givi Targamadze and others to initiate quiet talks about 
compromise.  (Embassy Note:  The Ambassador facilitated a 
number of these meetings and held them discretely at his 
residence.  End Note.)  The GoG indicated early on that it 
would pursue dialogue but would not wait forever and would 
not negotiate Saakashvili's resignation.  Even after the 
non-parliamentary opposition mocked and belittled Speaker 
Bakradze during their first open meeting, Bakradze and others 
continued to pursue dialogue as they believed it was in the 
GoG's interest.  Privately, a number of GoG officials 
expressed their frustration at various non-parliamentary 
opposition leaders lack of action, lack of political sense, 
and lack of perspective concerning their relative bargaining 
position and corresponding demands.  The GoG was well aware 
that the voice of the people was not calling for 
Saakashvili's resignation; but rather, further democratic 
reforms.  While the GoG saw engagement in its best interests 
and preferable to engage the non-parliamentary opposition and 
include them in the process, they stated from the beginning 
that they would move ahead on their own at some point. 
 
We'll Take Our Facts - You Take Your Instincts 
 
7.  (C)  The GoG used pollsters and focus groups throughout 
the protests to gauge public opinion.  Time and time again, 
the GoG message corresponded to broader public sentiments. 
The GoG was aware that the public almost universally did not 
view the political conflict as a struggle for democratic 
values, but as a power struggle.  The GoG's political message 
was focused on what the Georgian public was saying it wanted 
rather than subjective opinion to craft its message.  The 
government's message honed in on what they thought were real 
issues that matter to the public including, the economy, its 
economic plans for future development, its economic record 
and other practical issues.  The GoG defended its democratic 
track record and also repeatedly stressed the lack of an 
alternative plan among the non-parliamentary opposition. 
 
8.  (C)  Most observers and Georgians quickly assessed that 
non-parliamentary opposition leaders were imperfect vehicles 
for democratic criticism of the GoG, and that the democratic 
message only had limited appeal, mainly in certain areas of 
Tbilisi among political and cultural elites.  The 
non-parliamentary opposition refused to believe their message 
was the problem and seemed to have given little thought as to 
why Saakashvili maintained a relatively strong popularity 
(50-65 percentfavorability ratings in most polls) in spite 
of the August war with Russia and economic downturn.  Over 
the course of his presidency, Saakashvili delivered on 
Qthe course of his presidency, Saakashvili delivered on 
tangible issues and continued to do so in the regions and 
among pensioners shoring up his support base.  Also widely 
underestimated was the GoG's reform of the police and virtual 
elimination of petty corruption which to the average Georgian 
held much more sway than arguments about the relative balance 
of executive power or the election code. 
 
I'll Just Sit Back and Watch You Implode 
 
9.  (C)  The GoG benefited from the fact that 
non-parliamentary opposition leaders remained fractured and 
dysfunctional which ultimately caused the protests to fizzle. 
 Having learned from November 2007, the GoG was determined 
not to provide a spark or pretext for wider unrest.  The GoG 
showed restraint even after the May 6 incident at a police 
station and largely let the protesters do what they wanted. 
This strategy was reluctantly praised by a number of 
non-parliamentary opposition leaders who clearly had not 
expected such a response.  The tactic left the 
non-parliamentary opposition confused and forced them to take 
unpopular measures like blocking streets and creating 
"corridors of shame" which only further diminished their 
appeal.  By the time the GoG made a mistake in a police 
crackdown on demonstrators on June 15, the public barely 
raised an eyebrow.  The non-parliamentary opposition's 
inability to form a coherent strategy, find a leader, speak 
 
TBILISI 00001303  003 OF 003 
 
 
with one voice, as well as its disorganization showed the 
public what a non-parliamentary opposition presidency would 
look like if they came to power.  The GoG's wait and see 
approach served to marginalize the non-parliamentary 
opposition politically.  This strategy also helped 
de-legitimize street protests as an effective way to achieve 
regime change. 
 
Conclusions 
 
10.  (C)  The GoG developed a significant strategy to respond 
to the protests.  There was only one obvious breakdown which 
resulted in disproportional use of force by police and 
seizing of journalists' cameras on June 15.  The GoG appears 
to have accomplished its aims of discrediting both certain 
members of the non-parliamentary opposition and the use of 
protests as an effective means to carry out political 
dialogue.  Nonetheless, the GoG will face further protests - 
likely in the fall after the anniversary of last year's 
August war (August 7) and the two-year anniversary of 
November 7 loom in the calendar.  Despite its short-term 
political victory, it will need to show progress on 
democratic reforms to a skeptical public to insulate itself 
from further street actions.  The GoG still appears willing 
and open to incorporating non-parliamentary opposition into 
political processes and must remain magnanimous about its 
political victory, otherwise it runs the risk of simply 
perpetuating the cycle. 
TEFFT

Wikileaks

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