Nicholas Kristof’s column in Thursday’s New York Times contained one major surprise for me: the reference to Nino Burjanadze as a critic of the country’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili.
“It was possible to avoid this war,” said Nino Burjanadze, a former close ally of Misha who last month formed an opposition party to challenge him. “Because of miscalculation, my country was involved in a war it was clear that it would lose.”
This comes as a not inconsiderable surprise because I interviewed Burjanadze in her office in Tbilisi 11 months ago, when she was acting president and apologist-in-chief for Saakashvili. (The parts with her are on Page 4 of the web archive of my article.)
Like others in the current government, Burjanadze has learned quickly to soft-pedal the allegations of Russian plotting and to admit fallibility. “Of course we are not a very strong democracy because we are a young democracy, a democracy in transition, and we have sometimes made mistakes,” she said. “But we are on the right track.”
She was busy telephoning speakers of European parliaments — Swedish, Belgian, Hungarian — urging them to send election observers. Does she think opposition parties share her concern for democracy? “Some of them. But part of them — I don’t know whose game they’re playing, but part of these people don’t want stability in Georgia.”
Burjanadze’s office is decorated with photos of herself and various dignitaries from the old democracies — Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush, Colin Powell. Was she surprised to have to sit through lessons in democracy from the State Department and Adam Michnik? “I was not surprised because, you know, even for some of our very good friends, sometimes it’s not easy to understand realities which are going on in new democracies.”
Apparently not. A little hunting produced the missing link: between Stephen Harper’s re-election and Barack Obama’s election, Burjanadze launched her own opposition party with an open letter to Saakashvili. Highlight:
I thought that November 7 would have been a bitter lesson for the authorities. Unfortunately, it became obvious that the authorities have failed to learn anything from November 7 and they only started to make superficial, façade changes. The will of Georgian people was still neglected. Continuation of a revolutionary style of governance was unacceptable for me. Principle disagreements between us about the style of governance and decision-making process made it impossible to remain together in the same political team and as a result I quit.
The 2008 August tragedy has put us in face of new, gravest reality. From now on, even one minor wrong step can turn fatal for the country.
Today our state is entering the phase of the most difficult political crisis:
Lost war, followed by senseless and cynical propagandistic response by the authorities;
Unprecedented control over the media and business, aimed at maintaining power;
In fact one-party parliament, fictional parliament;
Judiciary dependent on the instructions from the executive authorities;
All this makes the country more unprepared and vulnerable in the face of increased external threats and our joint enemy.
This turn of events will be… well, who am I kidding? It will be ignored as yet another trivial detail by folks who like to urge that Georgia be hustled into the world’s largest nuclear-tipped security alliance because nothing matters except Standing Up To The Bear. But Burjanadze’s credentials as a reformer and pro-democracy stalwart in Georgia are as strong as Saakashvili’s — in fact, they fought the big fights side by side. When she announced in the spring that she wouldn’t run for re-election, Saakashvili said this about her:
“I want to tell you that Nino is a very, very important person for me. She is a patriot of Georgia. We have been standing together for many years. She is the person who in the most difficult times for the country — for instance, last November, when there was very acute political crisis — stood firm. Twice, in extremely difficult times, she carried out the presidential duties, and managed to achieve stability and peaceful transition. This is a person who, to me, symbolizes stability, calm, political intellect, and dignity.”
So Saakashvili’s living symbol of calm, political intellect and dignity now says he’s nutty nutbar. Hey, you know what? I have an excellent idea. While they’re sorting all this out, let’s invite Georgia into NATO, so their foreign-policy mistakes can trigger wars that oblige Canadian participation.