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How to make a revolution?

Members of the Kmara! youth movement protesting 2003. Photo: Peter Nasmyth
Members of the Kmara! youth movement protesting 2003. Photo: © Peter Nasmyth

In 2003 Nasmyth visited the newly renovated Marriott Tbilisi Hotel. It had been destroyed during the civil war and stood as a burnt out shell for 8 years. Parliamentary elections were just ahead and eleven years of free-market economy and the economic growth of the last years had not translated into development for all:

During these years the country had polarised to create a few very rich and many more poor than before. Villas sprouted from the ground in Tskneti – Tbilisi's Beverly Hills – like gaudy mushrooms, while beggars and street children appeared on Rustaveli Avenue. Corruption blossomed again like a huge fungus within institutions… How much longer would the emotion-charged Georgian personality tolerate it? Because with every loudly proclaimed step of public progress – like the new Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline; an adjustment in the legislature; a restored building – came an invisible backwards step behind the scenes. Still the power-cuts regularly blackened sections of the city in winter; still Georgian custom and tax department extorted money from businesses; still pensions and state saleries weren't paid. People's patience was running low.

[p. 297-299]

Eduard Shevardnadze, elected president since 1995 was loosing his grip on the country's territory and economy. A strong opposition was being formed and was receiving help from the NGO-community and the USA based donors. A friend of Nasmyth explains:

[T]he Liberty Institute (a democracy-promoting NGO), the Open Society (George Soros's foundation in Georgia) and the NDI (an American NGO with connections to the Democratic Party) had between them sent a good number of Georgia's key strategists, including Zurab Zvhania and Mikhail Saakashvili, to Belgrade and Bratislava.

[p. 300]

The new Georgian opposition was trying to learn from the well-organised revolution in Serbia, which had removed Slobodan Milosovic from power. A Georgian youth organisation called Kmara (Eng.: Enough), largely based on the model of the Serbian youth movement Otpor (Eng: Resistance), was already in action: leafleting, spray painting and recruiting.

And one person, Mikhail Saakashvili, the leader of the opposition party National Movement, was able to seize the moment:

By making loud and charismatic speeches, dramatic gestures against the backdrop of stagnation and corruption, Saakashvili captured the headlines and wooed the cameras and voters.

[p. 301]

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