09TBILISI1526, GEORGIA: NATIONAL FORUM – QUIETLY BECOMING A PLAYER

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1526 2009-08-11 11:46 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO0268
PP RUEHC
DE RUEHSI #1526/01 2231146
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 111146Z AUG 09 ZDK CITE EACTC SVC
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2018
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001526 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/10/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: NATIONAL FORUM - QUIETLY BECOMING A PLAYER 
 
TBILISI 00001526  001.2 OF 002 
 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i.Kent Logsdon for reasons 1.4 (b) a 
nd (d). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary/Comment:  In the wake of three months of 
protests, the National Forum seems to have found a message 
that resonates with the Georgian public.  More importantly, 
National Forum leaders have shown a willingness to do the 
hard work necessary to build a grass-roots party despite 
limited resources.  Although the National Forum has been 
registered as a political party since December 2006, it 
received little attention until the recent protests.  The 
National Forum, like most Georgian political parties, lacks a 
true ideology but can largely be described as following 
traditional western-style conservative populism.  With a 
focus on accountability, devolution of power, nativist 
economic policy and a healthy skepticism on quickly pursuing 
Euro-Atlantic integration; the National Forum represents a 
policy alternative to Saakashvili's United National Movement 
(UNM).  The National Forum has shown substantial political 
acumen and an ability, rare in Georgian politics, to 
critically assess tactics and policy positions.  The National 
Forum is still light on concrete policy prescriptions, but 
unlike most of their non-parliamentary opposition colleagues, 
appear to be on an upward swing.  End Summary/Comment. 
 
Who Are These Guys? 
 
2.  (C)  Many Georgians were scratching their heads asking 
this question before the April 9 protests began.  The head of 
the party is Kakha Shartava, a former Georgian diplomat who 
served in Moscow from 1996-2000.  Shartava is the son of 
Zhiuli Shartava, a chairman of the Abkhaz Council of 
Ministers, who was executed after Sokhumi fell in 1993. 
Shartava is a relative newcomer to politics, only recently 
garnering national name recognition.  Chairman of the Tbilisi 
National Forum organization, Gubaz Sanikidze was originally a 
member of the Traditionalist party then subsequently founded 
the People's Forum with a former chairman of Parliament, 
Akaki Asatiani (Embassy Note:  Asatiani was chairman in the 
early 90s under Gamskhurdia  End Note.)  Sanikidze is a 
trained historian and is the son of another well-known 
historian.  Apparently the use of "forum" references ancient 
Rome which was Sanikidze's academic specialization. 
Sanikidze broke with Asatiani and together with Shartava and 
Irakli Melashvili founded National Forum.  According to 
Shartava, Sanikidze also believes in an independent, strong, 
democratic Georgia and has shown little notable interest in 
the West, preferring to focus his political energies and 
thoughts inward.  Political Secretary, Melashvili was a MP in 
the early 90s.  He then headed the NGO, Association for 
Atlantic Cooperation before working as a lobbyist for 
AES-Telasi, the U.S. company that won the privatization of 
the Tbilisi electric grid in 1998. 
 
What Have They Been Doing? 
 
3.  (C)  Shartava and Melashvili told Poloff a key to their 
success and increase in stature was the work they had put 
into building a grass-roots party organization which was 
largely unnoticed by political observers.  (Embassy Note:  In 
a June 2009 IRI poll, National Forum is the second most 
preferred party when asked what party voters would support in 
hypothetical parliamentary elections among Tbilisi voters. 
Among Tbilisi voters, UNM received 16 percent support, 
National Forum 13 percent.  Nationwide, National Forum is the 
fifth most popular party behind UNM, Christian Democratic 
Movement, Labor, and Alasania's party despite being 
relatively unknown in the regions. End Note.)  Shartava and 
Qrelatively unknown in the regions. End Note.)  Shartava and 
Melashvili believed their surge in popularity after the 
protests was not a surge at all but a natural outcome of a 
year and a half of political organizing.  Minister for 
Corrections and Legal Assistance (and also the GoG's 
democracy coordinator), Dmitry Shashkin told Poloff that the 
National Forum had done an excellent job of organizing in the 
regions as well as Tbilisi especially among Georgians who are 
only moderately politically active.  Shartava and Melashvili 
said the National Forum has a developed party structure and 
has attracted enough foot soldiers to promote the party's 
political agenda.  This is an important advantage since most 
other opposition parties are dominated by one person with 
little structural or grass-roots political support. 
 
What Do They Stand For? 
 
4.  (C)  National Forum's core message is national 
self-reliance and a belief that the inherent economic and 
political strength of Georgia and its people has not been 
properly utilized.  Shartava said that Georgians had a 
historical problem of placing their hopes on outside 
organizations or states to solve their problems.  Shartava 
viewed joiing the EU or NATO as positive but not an end in 
itself.  Shartava explained that focusing on joining this or 
that organization obscured the necessary economic and 
 
TBILISI 00001526  002 OF 002 
 
 
democratic development Georgia needed to undertake.  In 
National Forum's view, true economic a
nd political 
development was only achievable from within.  Shartava and 
Melashvili said the goal should be to improve Georgia and 
raise it to EU or NATO standards but not view joining these 
organizations as some sort of magic bullet to solve Georgia's 
problems.  Shartava said discussing the benefits of EU or 
NATO membership now was a false debate since Georgia was in 
no way ready to join either organization.  Shartava and 
Melashvili said they supported joining the EU and/or NATO 
some time in the future but when Georgia would be prepared to 
be a full-fledged contributor and ally. 
 
5.  (C)  Domestically, National Forum supports a general 
devolution of power to regions and villages as the only way 
to foster true civil society and democratic development. 
Shartava and Melashvili said the defense budget should be cut 
and directed towards more social spending.  National Forum 
seeks to direct government resources on small business 
development and developing Georgia's internal market rather 
than solely attracting foreign investment.  Shartava and 
Melashvili stressed to Poloff the importance of improving the 
educational system (with more resources) as key to Georgia's 
development.  As for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Shartava and 
Melashvili were clear that Russia initiated the problems in 
both regions but also criticized Saakashvili for making 
unrealistic demands rather than negotiating with the 
separatists regimes.  According to both, Saakashvili's 
rhetoric and unwillingness to compromise shut off any chance 
for progress. 
 
Local Guys Want Self Rule 
 
6.  (C)  Poloff visited with National Forum local leaders in 
both Kutaisi and Adjara.  The theme that was repeated 
consistently was that local GoG authorities in both areas 
were unresponsive to the larger needs of the local 
populations.  In Kutaisi, employment was the main concern. 
Local leaders said that constant changes of mayors in Kutaisi 
created a poor environment for investment.  The Kutaisi 
leaders stressed that local officials should be elected and 
have budgetary authority which would make them accountable 
and responsive to their local electorate. Directly elected 
officials would also serve to promote a better investment 
environment due to increased political legitimacy.  Adjaran 
leaders also stressed above all other issues the need for 
local officials to control local budgets.  They questioned 
how Adjara could be considered an autonomous republic within 
Georgia without the direct election of its governor or mayor. 
 The local Adjaran leaders stressed that a truly autonomous 
Adjara could serve as a positive example for potential 
reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into a more 
federal model of governance. 
 
Rumors, Partners and Plan 
 
7.  (C)  In the early days of the protests, rumors were 
rampant that the National Forum initially accepted money from 
pro-Kremlin sources; however, no concrete evidence has 
emerged to validate the rumors.  National Forum was the first 
to quit the protests, leaving the streets before the May 25 
rally.  The Forum has been concentrating on continuing to 
develop its grass-roots political network ever since. 
Shartava guessed that the National Forum did not experience 
the same backlash as other non-parliamentary opposition 
leaders and parties because it never fostered false hopes 
that Saakashvili would immediately resign.  In contrast, 
Shartava said that people want change but not instability. 
As a result, the National Forum is pursuing a longer term 
QAs a result, the National Forum is pursuing a longer term 
strategy based on what the Georgian public appears to want. 
Shartava indicated that they were speaking with Irakli 
Alasania's party, and to a lesser degree the Conservative 
party, to find mutually beneficial ways in which to 
cooperate, but said they had no desire to join any other 
party.  Melashvili added that creating a viable political 
force was not a short-term process and that much more work 
was needed before the National Forum would be a major 
political player able to shape GoG policy decisions. 
LOGSDON

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