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Georgia: Tragedy ushers in the New Year

As citizens of Georgia waited in anticipation of the New Year, two high profile scandals were instead set to dampen the holiday spirit. As part of plans to decentralize government, a Soviet-era statue to hundreds of thousands of Georgians who died during World War II was set to be demolished in Georgia's second largest city of Kutaisi to make room for the construction of a new parliament building in the hope of spurring regional economic development.

Originally planned to be demolished on 21 December, the president's birthday, its destruction was brought forward by two days after the city's former mayor started a campaign to collect signatures protesting the destruction of the monument by a noted Georgian sculptor, and while the opposition threatened to encircle the site. What happened next was catastrophic with a mother and her 8-year-old daughter left dead.

The governor of the Imereti region, Mikheil Chogovadze, was dismissed as a result, and several other arrests, including the technical director of the company responsible for demolishing the monument, were also made. However, some bloggers and analysts consider that the real responsibility for the tragedy lies instead with the Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili, and his continuing personal conflict with Russia.

Crappy Town is just one of them.

As Mikheil Saakashvili`s rule in Georgia is becoming more dictatorial, the empowerment of his persona`s lunacy is reaching absurd levels. […]

Recently, in his the most bizzare act jet, he decreed the parliament be moved away from Tbilisi to Georgia`s second largest city Kutaisi. Choosing for it from all the sites in and around the city – one already taken by a 46 metres tall monument to the memory of thousands of Georgians who fell in the ranks of Red Army in the Second World War.

[…]

In the end Saakashvili desecrated the memory of Georgian WWII fallen to send a message, what message and to whom only he knows, and caused deaths of a woman and a child in the process, jet it has been barely reported on in the West and then only in carefully chosen terms. Too embarrassing for them that their vassal is becoming more and more like Saparmurat Niyazov “Turkmenbashi” or perhaps Idi Amin. An erratic, authoritarian lunatic.

In the mean time official Russia has declared willingness to recreate the monument in Moscow, so the Georgian Red Army fallen may be honoured there if under Saakashvili they can no longer be honoured in Kutaisi.

An Armenian blog, Blogian, calls for Saakashvili's resignation.

First he started a devastating war with Russia allegedly because of personal distaste for fellow autocrat Vladimir Putin and for bullying the latter as “Liliputin.”

Now Georgian president Saakahsvili has finished the demolition of a WWII memorial honoring his countrymen (and countrywomen) who gave their lives in fighting the Nazis. Add two more people to that list of 300,000 people: a woman and her 8-year-old daughter were killed in the blast that brought down the war memorial […] in Kutaisi, Georgia, supposedly to clear up space for a new parliament building.

[…]

Georgia’s president Saakashvili has (perhaps completely) lost his mind. It’s time for his dangerous adventure, initially seen as a democratic one, to end. It’s in Georgia’s national interest for her bipolar president – a democrat in rhetoric yet a dictator at heart – to resign.

And while one Armenian satirical blog insensitively mocked the tragedy, failing to even mention or lament the casualties, Apolyton notes the irony in the decision to destroy the statue.

The Kutaisi Glory Memorial (a distinctly Georgian-faced, semi-naked horseman with a fiery sword in front of a large concrete arch) commemorates the Georgians who served in the Red Army during World War II and went to fight the Germans. A third of them died.

At the same time, Kutaisi has a memorial to Stalin which is guarded by Georgians and survived all waves of demontage of Stalin memorials.

I love that we're backing this guy.

Wu Wei is another who is less than impressed.

His disastrous order to blow up the war memorial in Kutaisi, ignoring local and national feeling, resulted in the death of a mother and daughter who were hit quite a long way away by large chunks of flying concrete.

He rushed home from the Copenhagen summit, but still hasn't gone near Kutaisi after 13 days.

[…]

See the video of the demolition […] or perhaps don't, as You Tube warns you it is too gory.

Evolutsia, however, a recently launched blog-based online magazine, takes a more restrained perspective, in an its analysis.

[…] whether authorities like it or not, the whole project is now cursed with serious tragedy: a woman and her 8 year old daughter died on December 19th after being hit by a speeding block of concrete in their backyard during the demolition of the ‘Memorial of Fame’ where the new parliament building is to be established [1]. Part of the opposition gathered to begin protests anew (but failed), and the Russian spin machine did not stay far behind.

[…]

The problem of whole situation in Kutaisi is that it occurred in a country with a transitional status. Georgia is struggling to combine independent policy-making, political freedom and political stability. However, so far only the first part of that mix is justifiably fulfilled; post-Rose Revolution authorities act without Moscow’s opinion and often even at cross purposes of its Western allies, and it’s likely to remain this way. However, the facts of the case, the restoration and relocation of Memorial of Fame, and the responsibility of finding justice [2] seems to be drowning in a sea of pettiness, of a kind of freedom obsessed with Saakashvili’s alleged authoritarianism and megalomania. We have seen the birth of that freedom on April 9, 2009, when the opposition took to the streets and undisturbed remained there for months. Now what Georgia needs the most is that freedom to be filled with substance and constructive dialogue.

The task is to secure stability until political reshuffling for the 2013 presidential elections. Miheil Saakashvili has to pay more attention to internal public relations and reduce the incidence of ‘falling bricks,’ and even so, when the next brick fall off, it has to come down without such a rumble.

Yet, what happened in Kutaisi was not the only scandal to hit Georgia before the New Year. Just days earlier, the office of the Inclusive Foundation, a Georgian LGBT organization, was raided and its head arrested. Following local and international outcry, Paata Sabelashvili has since been released.

42 comments

  • James

    All this crap for what? Georgians just wanted to demolish an OLD broken memorial that was placed in the most inappropriate place to build a new parliament building…

    Too bad Russians and Armenians could not let this happen in peace… Russia did so much of it’s crazy propaganda that some Georgian official decided to demolish that monument faster so the Kremlin hysterics could end… Well and surely there was a shortfall on a side of engineer who did this shit.

    Russian propaganda and Armenian bloggers look just ugly. As for Georgian, I’m glad that at least those morons that caused this casualties got to jail.

    I wish peace to all my friends in a beautiful and hospitable Georgia!

  • Dear Onnik,
    Armenian satirical blog mocked Saakashvili’s ridiculous, kissass, psychopath, tasteless and disrespectful political decision and in no way mentioned or mocked the tragedy. But you always have the right to misunderstand or misrepresent…

  • Armcomedy, when tragedy strikes, even comedians hold back. I am sure you would not have the same opinion if Azeris or Georgians made jokes about the Armavia Armenian airline crash, 1 March, or any other tragic events which affect people and families.

    By all means, criticize the decision to demolish the statue, but for the sake of those families who suffer the loss of loved ones, no self-respecting comedian would do what Armcomedy did. It’s made doubly worse because one supposes you wouldn’t do the same in Armenia.

    And if someone did, or if Azeris or Georgians did the same about a tragic event in Armenia, you’d be furious. This is how people in democratic countries are first of all. People are usually angry at such events happening, but their thoughts are with those who lost lives.

    Writing a post making it just seem like some fun otherwise meaningless explosion and a way to attack the Georgian president WITHOUT pausing even for a moment to lament let alone mention the loss of lives is not only insensitive it’s also below the belt, in my opinion.

    Be angry at tragedy, be sad, but to make it into a laughing matter, showing no respect for the dead? Sorry, it’s unacceptable in my books. People can choose to agree or disagree, however.

  • Should I emphasize this again? Article mocked the political decision and did not even mention the victims. Armavia tragedy was in no way a result of an irresponsible political decision. So please check the definitions of “accident” and “careless political clown who doesn’t think of consequences while while promoting himself” in your book.
    Yes there were victims, that is exactly why politicians like him should be condemned. Anytime a dumb politician pulls out something like that he should be condemned and that is the point of “satire” in my book. Self respecting comedians do talk about these things…look up George Carlin on 9/11 in Youtube or watch South Park episodes “Cartoon Wars” and be enlightened.
    But again I see how “Armenians mock Georgian tragedy” angle brings groove to your article. Unfortunately lacks substance and that thing called truth.
    Good luck

  • James, the timing of the demolition and the casualties was something to be quite concerned about. Moreover, I think it would have been better for all — especially in light of Georgian-Russian problems — to let the monument stand, especially as some (many?) Georgians were against its destruction too.

    I do, however, agree that it is unfortunate that some bloggers in Russian and Armenian circles would seek to capitalize this tragedy for political reasons, especially in the case of the latter which is less democratic and more corrupt than Georgia.

    However, it is worth pointing out that most Armenian blogs did not deal with this issue even with the known competition and in some cases (non-military) conflict between Armenia and Georgia as well as Yerevan’s close ties with Moscow.

    All that said, however, this incident should NOT have happened and it is deeply embarrassing that it did. As Remy on Evolutsia says, “the whole project is now cursed with serious tragedy.”

  • Armcomedy, Not true. There was much shock, controversy and rumor about the Armavia accident, especially as the owner is government-linked, which thankfully most people didn’t laugh at.

    Meanwhile, I can only go by what is considered to be appropriate in the West.

    Moreover, I very much doubt that George Carlin ridiculed and mocked 9/11 without thought for the victims just a few days after it happened. When and how did he do that? If, like Bill Hicks, he would have been a little more reasoned, I hope.

    First, the media and population has a right to be angry, but to mock such a tragedy? It was the same when one British show did the same about the 1999 assassinations in the Armenian parliament.

    Thankfully the public protested, and the show was penalized and called to task for its insensitive approach. Still, we can all judge your post by ourselves. However, I doubt many people concerned about the loss of lives would do the same.

    They’d be angry, but not attempt to turn it into such a trivial mocking affair. Blogian’s post, for example, was a much better response, concerned with the loss of life and being angry rather than taking it as a joke.

    As a fan of comedians such as Bill Hicks, a more contemporary George Carlin, there is a difference in angry political satire and what many might consider to be quite simplistic and inappropriate.

    At least you could have spared a thought for the victims. George Carlin and Bill Hicks would have done that, but I suspect that was not your intention. Still, we can agree to differ and let readers decide.

    Should comedians, funny or not (which is subjective anyway), and even bloggers, ridicule tragedies without giving those suffering time to grieve or fail to first of all be concerned with the loss of life?

    In the meantime, I am thankful I have not come across any other Armenian, Azeri or Georgian blog which has taken the same approach be it after the Armavia crash or any of the other tragedies which have become more common than not in the region.

  • But again I see how “Armenians mock Georgian tragedy” angle brings groove to your article.

    Oh, and incidentally, nope (again). I’m glad most Armenian bloggers didn’t seek to exploit the incident and those that did post something on Facebook, did so only out of shock that two people, including a child, lost their lives.

    I’m glad to say that was the same situation when some Azeris and Georgians commented or posted condolences on the recent Tehran-Yerevan flight and when some Armenians offered their respects for the dead after the 30 April massacre at a Baku university.

    Anyway, as I said, we can all agree to differ. To be angry and/or sad, or to treat it in less than the way it should be so soon after the tragedy when the losses are so fresh in the minds of those close to it.

    I am not sure any Armenians would welcome any jokes about the 10 left dead on 1 March, for example, and especially if they came from Azerbaijan and Georgia. Anyway, sorry, just my opinion. I didn’t think the post was appropriate now.

    Of course, others can click through and choose to differ. That, after all, is the beauty of the Internet. What do others think?

  • Levon Ter Petrosyan

    People, do not be offended by what Onnik Krikorian says. We all know he is a jewish-loving anti-Armenian ‘journalist’.

    How could you ever say Georgia, a country run by bandits and all different kind of ethnic (within Georgians themselves too) groups, is more democratic than Armenia? Recently, I have spoken to a group of German/Dutch/English bankers, who were on a business trip in de Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan).

    They said the Central Bank of Armenia had a very good reputation in the West, and was the most advanced, smart an polite in the Caucasus.

    They said the Georgian exactly come to work at ‘8 o clock, eat dinner for 2-3 hours, and leave before 5. What they (Europeans) said about Armenians was that whenever they needed them, even if it was ‘6 o clock in Europe (8 o clock in Armenia), they were there, ready to listen, support and share ideas.

    Not only about the banking sector, but also about Yerevan. Tbilisi is beautiful, green, but Yerevan is much more active lively and safe than Tbilisi.

    Onnik Krikorian is there to destruct the Armenian nation, every nation has his goods/wrongs, but he just seeks all the negatives (alongside with ArmeniaNow spy). It is unfortunate that they write, instead of descent true Armenians.

    But no worries, you’re time will come :)

  • Oh my, what a wonderful comment. :)

    Nationalist, anti-semitic, totally misinformed and complete with a threat on yours truly. Not sure I need to say anything more, really. The comment says it all.

    Just to point out to readers, though. The name of “Levon Ter-Petrossian” is a red herring. The commenter is not likely a supporter of the opposition led by the former president’s name he hides behind.

    The words used indicate a more nationalist leaning, pro-hard line stance. As for democratization and anti-corruption activities in Georgia, the country for sure has a long way to go.

    However, just check Freedom House and Transparency International to see how it compares with Armenia and Azerbaijan.

  • Onnik, I think I know the feeling you may be experiencing right now:

    http://remyg.tumblr.com/post/222683484/may-god-defend-me-from-my-compatriots-i-can-defend

    But don’t worry. Judging by your publications, you are the real Armenian patriot, I have no doubts :)

    About that Kutaisi tragedy… In my article I failed to mention one thing because of it’s highly speculative and hmm… unfair(?) nature. When Tbilisi-based talking heads from opposition whistled “hey Kutaisi join us in protests”, Kutais society said “no”. And why is that? During 90′ all bronze elements of monument were nicked and sold somewhere in Turkey. Memory of the fallen has been disgraced years ago. The city is covered with shame and collective consciousness did the rest. In a certain psychological sense, Saakashvili’s decission to demolish that naked block brought them freedom. However that’s what I think off the record…

    And btw, thanks for featuring :)

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