April 9 Demonstrations

Riot police at the April 9th demonstrations

Riot police at the April 9th demonstrations

A few pictures from the opposition demonstrations on April 9th.  As I walked down the side of the parliament on my way to the main area in front of the building, an elderly lady approached me and asked me in Georgian whether I were a foreigner–my big camera and big red The North Face coat giving me away–and then jabbered at me energetically (I could only pick out the words “Saakashvili” and “dzalian mshvenieri”, or ‘very wonderful’) while pointing to the nearby gate that led inside.  Parked in front of the gate was a police car plastered in opposition posters, particularly the one with “ratom?” emblazoned on it, with a few young people standing around it and looking through the gate at the masked riot police.  They did look pretty sinister, but it was probably mainly the masks–at the back of the parliament there were a number of presumably back-up riot police visible through the windows in a couple rooms on the ground floor, masked but without body-armor.  They were lounging near the windows, watching the people who would wander by with their opposition party flags or gather just outside the windows, some taunting, others simply chatting.  Two young women–they must’ve been around 17-18, playfully challenged them to take off their masks, with a mixed sort of coquetry and reproachfulness–as if to say, “Why are you hiding your faces in front of your own people? You’re also one of us! And besides, I’m a cute girl, don’t you want to flirt with me?”  Many of the guards who had been standing idly by the windows watching them promptly removed their masks, and immediately switched from being manacing, anonymous agents of government oppression to smilingly

"Mmmm, kharcho...."

Your local tamada?

benign regular guys, the usual Giorgis and Levans and Lashas who would later remove their police gear and go home and play with their kids, make endless sentimental toasts to love and beauty and women, or stand on the sidewalk with some neighbours chewing sunflower seeds and talk about cars.  They were obviously pleased to have something through which to alleviate their boredom, grinning happily and carrying on a mimed conversation with the girls until the girls’ friends called them on to something more interesting. Made me think that the other guards out front were probably not unlike their buddies on stand-by, and that behind the implacably martial, disconcertingly impersonal impression made by their masks, helmets, armour, truncheons and shields, they were probably wondering whether Nino or Tamuna or Shorena would make kharcho for dinner; or, to paraphrase from Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, cursing their armour for making them sweat and then preventing them from scratching.

Parliament square

Parliament square

Estimates on the number of people present vary wildly, depending on who one asks, but from my vantage point above the sidewalk opposite the parliament there were dense masses of people as far as one could see on Rustaveli in both directions.  The area in directly in front of the parliament was naturally the most densely packed, with narrow arteries of people placidly pushing their way through the crowds.  Occasionally one saw the odd defeated-looking pilgrim–a guy with a cycling helmet and backpack trying to push

The main stage.

The main stage.

his bike through; a weary-looking man trying to push through a cart, a modified ancient baby-stroller with a large cardboard box taped to the frame now doing service as a drinks cart; or a black-robed, black-beared, black-hatted priest moving through the people with a large icon.  In the middle of the square stood the stage, also packed with people, from which opposition leader after opposition leader would shout his or her slogans and soundbites, repeat ultimatums for Saakashvili to

Not sure who's speaking here...

Not sure who's speaking here...

resign, wave their hands frantically in the air.  One elderly speaker even sang a song.  I didn’t understand much of what they were saying, but I learned later that a good deal of what they were spouting was the usual unbelievably inane drivel the opposition reliably relieves itself of, idiotic even by international politicians’ standards.  To give a sense of the tone, here are a few samples from recent interviews/translations of speeches: this is Levan Gachechiladze, perhaps the most popular opposition leader, on Kavkasia TV, 13 April:

Gachechiladze.  I didn't see him this time, so this is a picture I took at the demonstrations in November.

Gachechiladze. I didn't see him this time, so this is a picture I took at the demonstrations in November.

“The lion’s share of responsibility for the world economic crisis belongs to Mikheil Saakashvili. It was after the August events that the big economic crisis began; this was because signs of cold war started appearing in the world and these signs of cold war meant that the shares of various companies and corporations fell many times. After Obama and Medvedev’s meeting, the importance and value of our protests have grown significantly. This means that, yes, it is in a sense up to Mikheil Saakashvili to resolve the world economic crisis by resigning and doing away with this hotbed of warlike politicians and tense politicians.”

Salome Zourabichvili, addressing protesters outside parliament: “Dialogue is the language of the devil.” And here’s a link to a short video of the later stages of the protest, when the crowds had thinned and a sort of post-protest hang-over had set in.  Here’s a rough paraphrase of what’s going on:

They let a student on stage, saying they’re happy to see young participants; the student says he saw on TV how Maisashvili got the crowd to say things about Saakashvili’s mother, and says that we (the protesters) need to be better. The crowd boos him off the stage; the same announcer comes out and says he has a son that student’s age and young people don’t need to teach us – and then Zurabishvili comes out and calls it a “provocation.”

Saakashvili has a good deal to answer for, but the opposition certainly don’t appear to provide a credible alternative.  They seem, by all accounts, to be what my politician neighbour would call “ყლეობა.”

Anyway, I walked around, took some pictures, met Ben and Ian and Aideen by the church on the other side of Rustaveli and then went for coffee with them, and later met Khatuna for dinner.  Now the protests have subsided, despite opposition leaders’ avowal that they’d camp en masse in front of the parliament until Saakashvili resigned.


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