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Georgia: Concerns emerge over opposition protests

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    April 14, 2009… Imitated prison-cells #3 and #6 in front of president's residence © Marika Kochiashvili / GIPA, Licensed under Creative Commons

As the opposition blocks off main roads in Tbilisi, some bloggers and other online commentators are starting to question the tactics employed by protesters in the Georgian capital. Nevertheless, most are thankful that the protests have not resulted in major clashes.

The New Atlanticist blog, for example, is especially grateful, and not least because the start of the demonstrations calling for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's resignation marked the 20th anniversary of one of the darkest days in the country's recent history.

The choice of April 9 as the day to launch the protests is fraught with symbolism for Georgians and it imposes significant responsibility on them. […]

So far, ordinary people participating in the demonstrations have borne that responsibility well. […] Apart from […] a few scuffles in the crowd and sporadic claims of beatings, there has been no violence and no broken windows. This is all the more remarkable because, following a conscious government decision, the police have kept away from demonstration venues.

[…]

However, April is not yet over, and across every positive development blows a countervailing wind. […] People of goodwill can build upon that achievement with peaceful and constructive dialog. Some opposition leaders already speak in such terms.

Writing on the Daily Telegraph blog, however, Sarah Marcus says that the opposition over-estimated their support in society.

I think that the government might have been more confident than the rest of us all along that it would all peter out and any violence would be isolated and limited.

The demos have made very clear that the authorities gauged the mood of the majority of Georgia much better than the opposition did, in addition to which they did the groundwork well.

[…]

It's generally agreed that the main reason the rallies did not manage to chase Misha from power was that the opposition are trapped in a radical stance that is no longer widely popular in Georgia. People say they lack vision and that if they did oust Saakashvili their temporary unity would crumble and they'd be at each others throats, all vying for power, within days.

Now, no one understands the limitations of the opposition better than the government.

Even so, writing on Kasrika’s Blog, one GIPA journalism student says that the protests continue.

Day six of Georgia’s anti-government protests remained as stable as in previous days, with a few thousand protesters starting in front of Parliament in the afternoon and then splitting into different groups by 6:30 p.m.: one in front of the Georgia Public Broadcasting building, and one in front of the Avlabari Presidential residence/office compound, where protesters stayed all night in tents.

Protesters put up five mini prison cells in the road in front of the Public Broadcaster, where Alliance for Georgia party leaders plan to spend the night, and had blocked Kostava Avenue, the main road in front of the building, by 6:30 p.m.

However, say some tweeting on #tbilisi, their actions might now be proving counter-productive.

dv0rsky: Whole #tbilisi streets are paralized. Three different places of demonstrations, main roads closed, standing in traffic jam for 2 houra

[…]

mhikaric: My friend couldn't make it to work and is walking home. Once sympathetic to Opp, now pissed off & wishes they'd leave. Prob typical #tbilisi

The Tbilisi Blues is also unimpressed.

I'd really like to sympathize with the opposition, but these people must understand what a grave responsibility they bear when talking to thousands of tired and angry people. If you are a leader, people depend on you to guide them. If you don't know what you are leading them towards you have no reason to be sitting in the chair.

Salome Zourabichvili, and all the other opposition leaders, have run out of things to say. How many days can you say – he is corrupt, he is non democratic, he is a rabbit he is a…? You have to find another bad guy, create some more paranoia to further disorientate the rabble. The enemy is large and we must remain fighting together to win!

[…]

Salome seems to be turning into the same thing she hates.

And, despite being an outspoken critic of the government as well as a vocal advocate of civil disobedience, human rights lawyer and activist Anna Dolidze is concerned.

A young student addressed a manifestation today in front of the Parliament. […]The student was booed of the stage as some of the opposition leaders called his intervention a “provocation.” Another leader stated that “young people of that age should not teach us what to do'” […] This incident raises many serious and profound questions as very well expressed by my young people on Facebook.

Are opposition leaders more tolerant to different opinions that the government? Is Georgian society, maybe, not in general receptive to diversity of opinions or was this incident the result of a mob effect? Is Georgian opposition willing to listen to youth? These are some of the questions to be addressed and thought about.

In Mutatione Fortitudo has even more doubts.

Methinks, many people have one question in their mind these days – who wants Misha's resignation? Are these protests in Tbilisi a genuine grassroots democratic movement, or is it just a Russian-orchestrated operation to oust Mikheil Saakashvili and to replace him with a marionette?

Regardless of the politics of the protest, however, the use of online tools to disseminate information has been unprecedented. Frontline Club blogger Guy Degen interviews a media trainer and two GIPA journalism students covering the protests on their blogs.


GIPA student bloggers cover demonstrations in Georgia from Guy Degen on Vimeo.

More updates will be posted on Global Voices Online as of when, but in the meantime it's worth keeping an eye on the GIPA Journalism School Blog as well as Twitter at #tbilisi.

Coverage of the first, second, third and fifth day of protests is also available on Global Voices Online.

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