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Opinion: Shevardnadze Did Right in the End

Georgian President Shevardnadze finally did the right thing by resigning on Sunday. But will the now jubilant opposition act constructively for the benefit of the country or be fragmented by power struggles?

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Demonstrators had been protesting alleged election fraud in Georgian parliamentary elections for weeks.


Outgoing Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's fate has been decided. He has -- albeit reluctantly -- resigned. In Georgia an era has come to an end. Shevardnadze misjudged the political situation for weeks. The people wanted a new political beginning without him and his clan, who had lined their pockets so uninhibitedly in past years.

The president underestimated his political opponents. They succeeded in mobilizing the masses and, with flags waving, the people stormed the parliament on Saturday and ousted the aging president together with his bodyguards. TV cameras broadcast the images throughout the world.

Seventy-five-year-old Shevardnadze could have spared himself the humiliation. Not just the Georgians, also many people in the West, would have wished him a dignified departure. After all, it was Shevardnadze who had saved his country from an even longer civil war in 1992. In the West many remember Shevardnadze's role in the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War.

Making history

Shevardnadze made political history at one time. It hurt to see how he clung to power, how he helplessly appealed to the security forces to end the "opposition's coup d'état," as he called it.

At the same time, the army and the police behaved very responsibly. They didn't take action against the demonstrators. A large number of the generals refused to serve Shevardnadze. For that reason too, he had no other choice in the end but to resign. The "velvet revolution" in Tbilisi proceeded practically free of violence.

Once before, 13 years ago, during the final phases of the USSR, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of the capital. They demanded democracy and Georgian independence. Soviet security forces brutally used spades and gas against the demonstrators. Many died. The memory of it continues to haunt Georgians like a trauma. That was one of the reasons why the soldiers practiced restraint in past weeks, and the protests went on peacefully.

What next?

What will come next in Georgia? The newly elected parliament hasn't yet been constituted. Nino Burdzhanadze, who was the speaker of the outgoing parliament, is now the acting head of state. Burdzhanadze is an experienced, responsible politician. She's no firebrand like the 35-year-old opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, who tries to win people over with populist slogans.

With his resignation Shevardnadze did his country a final service and made possible a reasonably orderly change of power. New elections will take place soon.

The opposition has been in agreement so far because they have pursued a common aim: Shevardnadze's resignation. Now there is fear that a power struggle could lead to discord. The danger of a civil war in Georgia has not yet been averted.

Strategic interests

Karte Georgien Abchasien

The governments in Moscow and Washington will continue to watch developments in the Caucasus closely. Both countries have strategic interests in the borderland between the Orient and the Occident. The focus is Caspian oil, or to be more precise, the pipelines that bring the "black gold" to the West. The Russians are keen on the routes crossing their territory. The Americans want to prevent exactly that and are thus building a pipeline that goes via Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey.

Shevardnadze had taken the Americans' side in this repeat of the "great game" (which was played by Russia and Britain a century ago to gain the dominating influence over the Middle East). Moscow didn't forgive him for it. It supported the separatists in Georgia, so that during Shevardnadze's presidency the country never saw peace.

That too led to the Georgian head of state's downfall.

Miodrag Soric is editor-in-chief of DW-RADIO foreign languages



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