09TBILISI1304, GEORGIA: NON-PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION – STUCK IN

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1304 2009-07-14 14:12 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO6916
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1304/01 1951412
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 141412Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1913
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 001304 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/10/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: NON-PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION - STUCK IN 
NEUTRAL 
 
REF: TBILISI 1303 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT.  REASONS:  1.4 (B) AND (D). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary/Comment:  This is the second cable in a 
series analyzing opposition protests this spring against the 
Saakashvili government.  This cable focuses on the 
non-parliamentary opposition which appears to have achieved 
little if anything positive from four months of street 
protests.  Polling shows that their ratings have dropped 
precipitously as has their overall political leverage. 
Having consistently overestimated their support, the 
non-parliamentary opposition was ill-prepared to cut their 
political losses, preferring to double down on a poor 
political hand which ultimately left them with nothing to 
show despite discontent among the population.  From the 
outset, the non-parliamentary opposition suffered from 
structural problems.  Made up of a loose coalition whose sole 
unifying principle was a desire to remove President 
Saakashvili from office, the non-parliamentary opposition had 
extreme difficulty managing day-to-day tactical decisions and 
found it impossible to take on strategic challenges.  The 
non-parliamentary opposition had an opportunity to wrest 
meaningful concession from the GoG and take credit, now it 
finds itself sidelined with its political capital largely 
spent.  End Summary/Comment. 
 
Protest Lead Up - Everything is Great in the Bubble 
 
2.  (C)  From the outset, the non-parliamentary opposition 
consistently overestimated its own strength and severely 
underestimated its weaknesses.  Boastful statements from 
leaders such as David Gamkrelidze predicted that Saakashvili 
would run like Ceaucescu.  Other's predicted that Saakashvili 
might last three days before leaving the country or perhaps 
try to set up an alternative capital in Batumi.  When 
challenged in private meetings on their lack of support, the 
consistent refrain was that polls did not reflect the true 
feelings of the Georgian people.  The non-parliamentary 
opposition seemed to reinforce this theme amongst themselves 
without any apparent skepticism or self-reflection that the 
elite circles in which they operate were not a reliable 
source for overall public opinion.  A number of 
non-parliamentary opposition leaders predicted hundreds of 
thousands taking to the streets.  Obvious contradictions and 
personality clashes between non-parliamentary leaders were 
brushed aside as was the lack of a coherent message or plan. 
In short, the non-parliamentary opposition tried to emulate 
the tactics of the 2003 Rose Revolution but had little clue 
as to what actual political opinion was across Georgia before 
engaging in the protests.  Many in the non-parliamentary 
opposition misjudged dissatisfaction with Saakashvili and the 
GoG, as support for them; where in fact, many dissatisfied 
Georgians liked the non-parliamentary opposition even less. 
The inability to critically self-assess plagued the 
non-parliamentary opposition in the lead up and throughout 
the protests. 
 
OK, We're All in the Bus - Who's Driving? 
 
3.  (C)  The lack of a leader or a coherent mechanism for 
decision-making plagued the non-parliamentary opposition from 
the outset.  Little or no thought was given before initiating 
the protests as to who would manage the process or how to 
proceed in the event that Saakashvili did not immeiately 
resign.  Broad, yet transparently artificial, calls of unity 
of vision and purpose could not be maintained.  Apart from 
protesting to force Saakashvili's resignation, the 
Qprotesting to force Saakashvili's resignation, the 
non-parliamentary opposition had no "plan B."  When it became 
apparent that Saakashvili would not resign, the lack of a 
functioning decision-making mechanism meant that the 
non-parliamentary opposition could not agree on any fallback 
position.  All-night meetings turned into long arguments 
about daily tactics rather than discussions about negotiating 
strategy.  The result of this dysfunctional process was 
paralysis, meaning the non-parliamentary opposition was 
unable to agree on anything other than small changes to the 
status quo of daily protests.  The other result was that 
other actors such as Giorgi Gachechiladze (Utsnobi) could and 
did operate outside the control of the larger group of 
non-parliamentary leaders.  The most striking example was 
when Utsnobi decided to take a group of protesters and 
forcibly enter a police station on May 6 -- an action which 
resulted in violence.  The non-parliamentary opposition 
realized the lack of a leader was a hindrance to their 
effectiveness, but their own internal squabbles and 
competitiveness prevented them from ever picking one.  The 
ultimate result was that despite their claimed unity, the 
non-parliamentary opposition was often giving confused or 
contradictory (lowest common denominator) messages to the 
 
TBILISI 00001304  002 OF 003 
 
 
public with leaders often working at cross purposes. 
 
The Tactics 
 
4.  (C)  The non-parliamentary op
position expected (and 
indeed many hoped for) a violent crackdown which they 
believed would produce an outcry and prompt Saakashvili's 
resignation.  The GoG handled the protests like they 
indicated they would - taking a hands off approach (reftel). 
This approach clearly frustrated and confused the 
non-parliamentary opposition who had no contingency plan.  As 
the crowds quickly dwindled, the non-parliamentary opposition 
increased its use of confrontational tactics like corridors 
of shame, blocking streets, then installing "cells" in front 
of Parliament and other government buildings.  The public 
reaction to these tactics was strongly negative.  Moreover, 
the decision-making mechanism or lack thereof meant that the 
non-parliamentary opposition could not quickly decide on 
ending certain unpopular tactics.  Some cells were removed 
then replaced, corridors of shame were disbanded then 
restarted, and blocking roads was used intermittently which 
led the casual observer to note that the non-parliamentary 
opposition had little more than pestering the public as an 
alternative plan, even after many leaders had openly 
acknowledged its ineffectiveness. 
 
The Message - A Study in Being Tone Deaf 
 
5.  (C)  The non-parliamentary opposition crafted its message 
around two ideas: the first being that their struggle was a 
fight for democracy and democratic values; the second was 
that they (and indeed all Georgians) were victims of 
Saakashvili who should be punished for his actions.  The 
second message resonated somewhat among the Georgian 
population, generally those disaffected by the Rose 
Revolution, older men, former officials, and Tbilisi elites. 
However, the non-parliamentary opposition was never able to 
articulate a positive message or positive agenda for Georgia. 
 This message did not resonate whatsoever with the 
overwhelming majority of Georgians who neither felt like a 
victim of a repressive regime, nor wanted to hear a rehash of 
recriminations of the past even if they were unsatisfied with 
the GoG.  Secondly, the non-parliamentary opposition could 
only be described charitably as being imperfect messengers 
for the democratic values and reform theme they espoused. 
Even their supporters did not view the protests as being 
about democratic values but about power.  Because of many of 
the leaders had only tenuous and opportunistic support for 
democratic principles (a fact not lost on the general public) 
the message failed even though it had some legitimacy on the 
merits.  The non-parliamentary opposition's core two messages 
as to why they were protesting and should be in power simply 
did not speak to the vast majority of Georgians.  This 
disconnect left them little chance to mobilize anybody beyond 
their hard core supporters who themselves tired of the 
protests and their non-parliamentary leaders. 
 
Who Is the Audience - Another Disconnect 
 
6.  (C)  The non-parliamentary opposition focused heavily on 
briefing diplomats and foreign officials about their views. 
They rarely spent any time before or during the protests 
engaging actual Georgians apart from delivering speeches on 
stage, which largely received broad coverage on national 
television.  The relative utility of the constant diplomatic 
briefings was questionable.  Most diplomats grew tired of the 
constant repetition of a catalogue of offenses the GoG had 
Qconstant repetition of a catalogue of offenses the GoG had 
committed without being able to articulate a positive agenda 
or answer basic questions about their plans.  Many European 
diplomats complained about the "taskings" from Salome 
Zourabichvili and Nino Burjanadze.  Non-parliamentary 
opposition leaders were often spotted sipping tea or coffee 
in the Marriott before going out to address the crowd from 
the stage then quickly departing without ever interacting 
with their "supporters".  Various promises to visit the 
regions remain unfulfilled and the non-parliamentary 
opposition spent most of its time addressing the same few 
people with the same message, unable or unwilling to engage 
the larger public except from their stage. 
 
7.  (C)  The obvious exception were the Gachechiladze 
brothers (Levan and Giorgi aka Utsnobi) who actually did have 
some "street credibility."  This street credibility further 
complicated relationships between the non-parliamentary 
opposition who feared getting on the wrong side of either 
Gachechiladze and tolerated their antics because of their 
perceived ability to entice crowds to protest.  Neither 
Gachechiladze has a reputation of being an astute political 
tactician and by ceding a leadership role to Giorgi 
Gachechiladze who was the mastermind of the "cells", the 
 
TBILISI 00001304  003 OF 003 
 
 
non-parliamentary opposition became a hostage to Utsnobi's 
personal agenda.  The Gachechiladze-inspired antics further 
damaged the non-parliamentary opposition's credibility among 
those Georgians who wanted serious, issue based change.  In 
short, the majority of non-parliamentary opposition leaders 
still do not believe in retail politics and the work it takes 
to build a political movement.  The group preferred to rely 
on old relationships with western diplomats and to 
subcontract out street level contacts to Levan Gachechiladze 
and his brother to create a political movement capable of 
bringing down the GoG - a tactic doomed to failure. 
 
Conclusions 
 
8.  (C)  It appears that many among the non-parliamentary 
opposition have learned little from these and previous 
protests.  Rather then being strategic about protests and 
waiting until the fall when economic indicators were likely 
to be worse as a more politically mature group would, the 
impatient non-parliamentary opposition started protests in 
April.  Now it appears their opportunity to take political 
advantage of economic discontent has been significantly 
diminished.  When autumn arrives, the non-parliamentary 
opposition are in danger of actually being blamed by a large 
portion of Georgians for their economic woes due to the 
protests; rightly or wrongly a case the GoG has been making 
since the first weeks of the protests.  The non-parliamentary 
opposition has proven again that while it uses the language 
of democracy and democratic reform in its speeches, polls 
have shown Georgians believe that their ultimate goal is 
simply to take the reins of power.  Protests will continue 
but unlike in the past, the larger Georgian public seems to 
have moved on from the zero sum game of power politics. 
TEFFT

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