GP Insights # 87, 25 June 2019
Protests broke out in the capital city of Tbilisi on 20 June after a Russian lawmaker Sergei Gavrilov announced the speaker’s chair of the Georgian Parliament.
The police used tear gas and rubber bullets to retain control. The protests have since grown, drawing international attention and questioning its relationship with Russia.
What is the background?
Georgia was formerly a part of the USSR. Ever since its disintegration, Georgia has built closer ties with the US. In 2008, it lost the war with its neighbour Russia. The war left more than 12,000 casualties and displaced around 250,000. The war cost Georgia two of its regions- South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia recognised these two and Russian troops are garrisoned there today much to the anger of the Georgians.
The protests were triggered for letting the Russian delegate speak at the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) which is a body constituted by the Greek Parliament to foster better relationships between orthodox Christian lawmakers. To add fuel to the fire, he spoke from the parliament speaker’s seat which angered the citizens even more.
The ruling Georgian Dream party faces criticism from the protesters in not being able to stand up to Moscow’s influence. Georgia - is the third largest troop contributor in the Iraq War, has always been closer to Washington and was slated to join NATO during 2004-2008 which did not materialise due to Russian opposition.
What does it mean?
As the protests have grown over the days, the leader of the political party has promised reforms in the upcoming elections to ensure more representation taking away a rule that limited party representation in the Parliament. However, it may not be enough.
Russia has been trying to exert its influence in the region and Georgia being a small state seems to be turning to the larger state in the neighbourhood for its gains. The domestic argument is that the ruling party is incapable of fending off the Russian influence. This has been explained by the government to be a ploy of the opposition. The session was cancelled and rescheduled. While the IAO session was attended by several countries, including the US, the Georgians are not yet ready to reconcile with the Russian occupation of its northern regions.
Russia criticised Georgia’s inability to be a host that respects international decorum of providing safety for the delegates. Though the meeting does not explicitly show a growing cooperation with Moscow, it shows that the government of Georgia does not want to continue showing spite to the gigantic neighbour and rule out any possibility for better cooperation in the future, all the while the American glory seems to be weakening in the face of rising Asian giants. It may be the government’s stand, but the people don’t seem happy with Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be water under the bridge so soon.