The other day, on a rainy night in Tbilisi, Georgian opposition leader Nino Burjanadze’s motorcade ran over a cop and sped away:
This particular video of Burjanadze’s motorcade running over a cop appears to have been an accident, though it’s fitting into an uncomfortable pattern of events in Georgia, filled with protests, deaths, and the occasional unexplained bombing—all of which are in keeping with how Moscow conducts business.
Burjanadze is deeply unpopular in Georgia, mostly because people rightly perceive her as a tool of Russian’s chief thug, Vladimir Putin. Georgian’s democratically elected president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has a high approval rating and just won democratic municipal elections last spring.
While the opposition is weak and divided, they are participating in the government, trying to build up their parties. The protesters, in contrast, are an element of the radical opposition, trying to win through violence what they couldn't win at the ballot box. And many of these protesters seem to have loyalties to Georgia’s primary enemy, Russia. Indeed, there is evidence that the instigators behind these protests is the Kremlin, which is primarily aiming at bringing down their democratic neighbors.
Indeed, it’s becoming pretty clear that Burjanadze isn’t simply working alone – she seems to have been colluding with the Russkies. Time magazine reports:
It became worse for Burjanadze when police released an audio recording on Thursday, apparently from a tapped phone conversation, to support the claims of her collusion with Moscow. In the undated tape, she and her son allegedly discuss plans for a revolution, agreeing that an "Egypt scenario" in Georgia would be worth the death of 100 or even 500 people. "The land of every nation that achieved something is watered with blood," her son Anzor Bitsadze apparently says in the recording, whose authenticity Burjanadze does not deny. "The society is divided. They are divided concerning Russia too," Burjanadze says later in the tape. "Fifty percent do not see [Russia] as an enemy at all ... Everyone supports a close relationship with Russia."
It’s hard to see the protesters as an unconnected element from the Russian hand. And it’s hard to make the argument that the Russians have been not successful. The results? Undermining Saakashvili through worldwide propaganda. Consider this slanted write-up from the Los Angeles Times:
Georgian police early Thursday violently dispersed an antigovernment rally in Tbilisi, crushing protesters' attempts to prevent a military parade marking the country's 20 years of independence since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
At least two people were killed and dozens injured or arrested in the capital's downtown as police broke up a rally also calling for President Mikheil Saakashvili's resignation. The two people, including a police officer, apparently were struck by cars trying to escape the chaos along Rustaveli Avenue in front of the parliament building.
The truth is, protesters have been going at it for days, the first of which they were able to do so unmolested by police. But that changed when the protesters tried to block the National Day parade on the main square: They were asked to move the protest, but refused. It was precisely the confrontation the protesters wanted.
There is bad video of cops beating handcuffed protesters. Police got a little carried away beating on some of the people—but nothing too bad considering it's a bunch of lunatics with clubs who refused police orders to disperse.
But this is not Russia. In Georgia, where the rule of law is respected, the cops are going to be investigated – then probably fired and could end up doing jail time themselves.
Some will surely try to place Georgian opposition and protesters in with the Arab Spring—probably under the assumption that all protests that draw blood look alike. Squishy Europeans and the Obama administration will probably use this as another excuse not to support the Georgians as fully as we should.
But Georgia isn’t a tyranny. In a democracy, unlike Putin’s Russia, that's how things work—warts and all.