Protests have erupted all throughout Georgia over a Russian politician speaking at the Georgian parliament:
A Russian lawmaker taking the podium in Georgia’s parliament on June 20 caused thousands of angry Georgians to take the streets, accusing the ruling party of collaborating with archenemy Russia.
Tensions flared when Sergey Gavrilov, a member of Russia’s Duma, sat in the parliamentary speaker’s chair to address an international gathering of lawmakers from Orthodox Christian countries – the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) – who are meeting this week in Tbilisi. During a break, members of Georgia’s main opposition parties marched in and occupied the speakers’ podium.
“Where is Gavrilov? Where is the occupier? Show him to me,” shouted Elene Khoshtaria, member of the European Georgia Party, as she bounded into the parliamentary hall draped in the Georgian national flag. She walked up to the podium and tore Gavrilov’s speech to pieces.
“Today, we, the members of parliament, will defend the parliamentary hall from the Russian occupiers,” said Salome Samadashvili, member of the United National Movement, as she stood next to Khoshtaria. “This meeting will not continue until the Russian delegation leaves this chamber,” added Irma Nadirashvili, also of the of the United National Movement.
Since the 2008 war with Russia and Moscow’s recognition of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Tbilisi views Russia as an occupier. Gavrilov voted for Russia to recognize the territories as independent.
Earlier in the day, Ukraine’s ambassador to Georgia, Ihor Dolhov, walked out of another IAO meeting when Gavrilov, the IAO president, began his address. “I don’t want to listen to the Russian Federation, which occupied Georgian and Ukrainian territories,” Dolhov said.
Georgian opposition groups are accusing the ruling Georgian Dream party of selling out to Moscow by inviting the IAO to hold its annual meeting in Tbilisi. “The Georgian Dream brought in the occupiers and put them in the parliamentary speaker’s seat,” Khoshtaria said. “By doing this, the Georgian Dream slapped all of Georgia’s history in the face.”
Some Georgian Dream members tried to calm tensions by saying that they were also disturbed to see a Russian deputy preside over a meeting inside Georgia’s parliament. “Russia is a country that occupies 20 percent of our territory and it was disturbing to see a representative of that country’s parliament in the chair of the Georgian parliamentary speaker,” said Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze.
Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian Dream chairman, also said that it was unacceptable to have a Russian government representative preside over “any forum in the Georgian parliament.” Zakaria Kutsnashvili, the Georgian Dream member who organized the meeting, apologized. But still the protests ballooned.
Thousands blocked the main avenue outside parliament by 7 p.m., while protestors also reportedly gathered in other cities. Many called Ivanishvili and his entourage traitors and demanded they step down. “Do you really believe that they committed treason by accident?” said Manana Nachkebia of the New Rights Party. “Step by step, using soft power, they [the Georgian Dream] want us to accept that diplomatic relations with Russia can be restored, that it is possible to have friendship with Russia, it is possible that Russia and Georgia are back in together […] but their calculations were wrong.”
Because of Georgia’s location, she is historically caught in the geopolitical crossfire between the Ottomans and the Persians. She is similar to Poland in that she is in a difficult location and there is little she can do to help herself, because when conflicts arise, she is going to be pulled and divided by the larger entities.
Georgia has been a Christian nation throughout history, and during the Russo-Persian war of the 19th century she sided with the Russians and was brought under her sphere of influence. This continued through the transition of the Russian Empire to the USSR following the Communist Revolution. However, her history with Russia was never easy.
In the past, the Georgians had to contend with Islamic armies and at times, their Armenian neighbors. While Russia gave them protection from the Muslims, the Russian government imposed the Russian Orthodox Church and hierarchy upon and to the direct detriment and decline of the Georgian Orthodox. This should not be considered a surprise, as while the Catholic Church has endured many struggles with government from states attempting to force her to do her will, there is a seamless union between government and Church in Orthodoxy, often times with an added component of race. This makes submission to the Orthodox Church, whatever particular nationality it is, an act of both political and spiritual will of which the two are not able to be divorced.
The Georgians were unhappy with the Russian Orthodox influence in their church, and resisted this through the Communist rebellion, at which time the tiny nation attempted to break away and also to assert the independence of the Georgian Orthodox Church. This was viciously crushed by fellow Georgian Ioseb Jugashvili, known as Jozef Stalin, who had many churches closed and clergy murdered. The Church was not recognized until 1943 by the Soviets, but soon after was again persecuted by the government.
The Georgian Orthodox Church resisted the Communists and did so by allying themselves with their nationalist cause. This sentiment was picked up immediately by the United States, who worked with Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a Georgian Nationalist who promoted the “Christian” nature of the struggle while at the same time was involved in the American support of Islamic terrorists in Chechnya and other parts of the Caucasus as part of the US’ geopolitical program. He was eventually killed by fellow nationalists and replaced with they now former Georgian President Edouard Shevardnazde from 1995 to 2003.
Georgia’s support of the US seems to be from a historical point of view less about a love of the US and more about a disdain for what was about two centuries of direct influence from Russia that they believe attacked their identity and culture. The Georgians are afraid, similar to the Poles and other of Russia’s neighbors, that Russia will attempt to do what she historically has done, which is if not to invade directly than to use blunt force to take down their governments.
The conquest of Georgia is geostrategic, being that she and especially her “breakaway republic” on the Black Sea of Abkhazia is filled with oil and in route to the Caspian Sea, which I have written about is important because this provides access to the oil fields of Baku and the Volga Basin. Germany lost World War II over the struggle for this region, and she is attempting to secure it again because it will likely also again mean victory or defeat in another major war.
Georgia is not as interested in the struggle between Germany and Russia as she is in her own nation, for she like many other neighbors have bad memories of persecution from Soviet times. While she many not per se view Germany as “good” or “bad”, she does not want to potentially be under Russian rule again and will do anything to keep it out.
Right now there are protests going on in Georgia over this particular incident, of which Georgia is blaming Russia for the violence. Regardless of who started it or not, these protests will push Georgia, most likely, closer towards the West. It is part of the strategy by which Russia is being boxed as the plans for war continue to unfold.