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Europe

German Press Review: The Decline of a Respected Statesman

After the weekend unrest in Georgia, where thousands of people stormed the parliament building protesting rigged elections, Germany’s editorialists offered their thoughts on the ousted leader Eduard Shevardnadze.

"In the eyes of the world, and in particular us Germans, the white haired man in Georgia is remembered fondly as the Soviet Union's foreign minister who helped end the Cold War and push for German reunification," wrote the Hamburger Abendblatt. The years since then have been less pleasant, the paper noted in reference to President Shevardnadze’s largely unsuccessful struggle against corruption and mismanagement. Geographically located between Turkey and Russia, Georgia serves as a transit country for Caspian oil and plays an important role for Russia and the United States. But, as the paper put it, "the old tactician has ended up in a dead end by trying to please both sides."

"Between the man who opened the door to change in Eastern Europe and the reform blocker is a world of difference," commented the Leipziger Volkszeitung, adding that Shevardnadze ignored the angry masses, who eventually toppled him from power. The paper noted that Schevardnadze's policies revolved around clinging onto power at all costs, and "this led him to filling the pockets of his political allies with international aid money, supporting political intrigues and kicking out opponents." The election fraud was only the tip of the iceberg commented the daily.

According to the Kölner Stadt Anzeiger, the end of Schevardnadze's reign was long foreseeable. From the very beginning of his regime in 1992, it was obvious that he was unable to guide the country that fought long and hard for its independence along a straight path. But because the United States is concerned about Georgia's security as a transit county for oil from the Caspian Sea, Washington and Moscow will help ensure the peaceful retreat of the 75-year-old leader, the paper wrote.

Bonn's General Anzeiger looked back on Georgia’s brief history since independence. As one of the wealthiest former Soviet republics, it quickly sank into the depths of regional conflicts, corruption, criminality, election fraud, internal power struggles and external interests. And as the misery in the country increased, President Schevardnadze became even more entangled in the corruption. However, the paper reflected, it is only now that the alarm bells are ringing in Washington and Moscow as the United States and Russia worry about the stormy decline in stability in a region that has gained in strategic value due to the campaign against terror and as a transport route for Caspian oil. The decision to hold early elections seems to be a way both powers can avert the destabilization of the region, the paper concluded.

Berlin's Tagesspiegel worried that after Schvardnazde’s resignation, the danger of a power vacuum ensuing in Georgia becomes very real. Although there is a clear alternative in the face of the new acting head of state, Nino Burjanadze, the paper warned that the opposition must prove to the world that they have the will and capability to secure their legitimate demand for a change in leadership with legal means. A power vacuum in Georgia can only be avoided if democracy is practiced legitimately and the country is stabilized.