Georgia: Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Sees ‘Great Victories’ Ahead

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
March 24 2004

Georgia: Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, Son of Late President, Sees ‘Great
Victories’ Ahead
By Jean-Christophe Peuch

Gamsakhuria approves of Pres. Saakashvili’s (above) efforts to gain
control over Adjaria

Georgia is gearing up for a partial rerun of the disputed 2 November
parliamentary elections that heralded the demise of President Eduard
Shevardnadze’s government. A total of 19 parties and coalitions will
compete for seats in the legislature. RFE/RL correspondent
Jean-Christophe Peuch takes a closer look at one of these groups, led
by the son of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-Soviet

Prague, 24 March 2004 (RFE/RL) — Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, the
eldest son of late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, made his first
public appearance in Tbilisi last week (17 March) after more than a
decade of exile in Switzerland.

“Those 12 years I have just left behind seem to me just a one-second
interval after which I set foot again on Georgian soil,’ he began. `A
big marathon is awaiting us. I came back in a defeated country. Yet,
I hope we will achieve great victories. Long live Georgia!”

Critics accuse Saakashvili of dangerously stirring nationalist
feelings among his fellow citizens, while supporters say his policies
stem from a purported 18th-century, American or French, tradition of
“romantic patriotism.”A few hours earlier, as most of the Georgian
capital was still asleep, several hundred cheering supporters had
welcomed “Koko” — as he is affectionately called — at the Tbilisi

Obviously moved by the reception, Gamsakhurdia improvised an
impassioned speech just outside the airport.

“I’m glad that after 12 years of exile, I am offered the opportunity
to set foot again on Georgian soil. Like all Georgian patriots who
have once lived far away from their native land — as the great
[19th-century poet] Ilia [Chavchavadze] — I am tormented by the
following questions — What shall I tell my country? What shall my
country tell me?”

The 42-year-old Konstantine Gamsakhurdia — named after his
grandfather, Georgia’s famous 20th-century novelist — is the leader
of the right-wing nationalist Tavisupleba (Liberty) party, one of the
19 political groups vying for seats in 28 March legislative polls.

He has conducted a belated and low-profile campaign, meeting with
voters mainly in Tbilisi and in his late father’s traditional
stronghold of western Georgia.

Although the movement was set up as a party only after the 4 January
presidential elections that saw Mikheil Saakashvili succeed ousted
President Eduard Shevardnadze, its support has been increasing. Two
recent surveys ranked Tavisupleba among the three parties that enjoy
the strongest popular support after the ruling National
Movement-United Democrats coalition.

True, the polls indicate that only the latter looks set to win enough
votes to enter the legislature. But Mikheil Machavariani, the
secretary-general of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania’s ruling United
Democrats, recently told RFE/RL he believes Tavisupleba and two other
nongovernmental groups will overcome the 7-percent vote barrier
required to win parliamentary seats.

Georgia’s Kavkaz-Press news agency said (22 March) the rating of
Gamsakhurdia’s party had increased from 1 percent to 6 percent over
the past four weeks. It is believed that Tavisupleba is appealing
especially to Georgians who feel nostalgic for the early years of
post-Soviet independence when Abkhazia and South Ossetia had not
completed their secession.

Those voters include, naturally, supporters of Zviad Gamsakhurdia.
The Zviadists — as they are known in Georgia — have set up a number
of small parties that are engaged in a bitter rivalry over
Gamsakhurdia’s political heritage. Among them is the former
president’s widow, Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, who returned from
exile in 1997 and has been running an impotent “shadow cabinet” for
the past four years.

Many prominent sympathizers of the late leader have joined the ranks
of mainstream right-wing parties, such as Saakashvili’s
National-Movement or Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze’s Agordzineba
(Democratic Revival Union).

Political experts believe Konstantine Gamsakhurdia could, more than
anyone else, appeal to the rank-and-file Zviadists.

Merab Pachulia is director of a respected polling agency known as the
Georgian Opinion Research Business International, or GORBI. He tells
our correspondent that this potential stems more from Gamsakhurdia’s
charisma and pedigree than from his political views.

“[Unlike other Zviadists], he is the direct heir to former President
Gamsakhurdia,” Pachulia said. “That is where his main attraction
lies. But there is more to it. He very much looks like his late
father, not only physically, but also in the way he speaks and moves
around. This, of course, is of great help to him because — as of
today, in any case — he has refrained from making any clear-cut
[political] statement or proposing any pragmatic step to extirpate
Georgia from its present situation. If he succeeds in overcoming the
7-percent vote barrier, he will owe it mainly to the fact that he is
his father’s son. Nobody has heard of him or read anything from him
for the past 12 years when he had been in Switzerland, be it an
article or an interview in which he would have criticized the ruling
regime. His only political background is provided by his father and
his father’s former comrades-in-arms that are still alive and live in

Gamsakhurdia and his supporters have been particularly sparing of
words when it comes to detailing their electoral platform. When
reporters last week asked him about his long-term political goals, he
remained evasive while also attempting to distance himself from his
late father’s xenophobic policies.

“[Our goal is] to enter the Georgian Parliament,” he said. “We will
be more specific when we become a member of parliament. Our priority
is to prepare Georgia’s entry into the European Union, and one of the
conditions for that is to protect the rights of our ethnic

Asked about his views on Saakashvili’s policies, Gamsakhurdia simply
indicated he approved of the government’s efforts to restore control
over Georgia’s autonomous province of Adjaria.

Critics accuse Saakashvili of dangerously stirring nationalist
feelings among his fellow citizens, while supporters say his policies
stem from a purported 18th-century American, or French, tradition of
“romantic patriotism.”

Even before being elected in January, Saakashvili had set up a
government commission to investigate the circumstances of
Gamsakhurdia’s death in 1993.

Georgia’s first post-Soviet leader was deposed after a few months in
power by a military coup that paved the way for Shevardnadze’s return
to his homeland. Zviad Gamsakhurdia fled first to Armenia, then to
Grozny to join Chechen separatist leader Djokhar Dudayev. He died in
western Georgia while attempting to retake power at the head of his
armed supporters. Officially, he committed suicide, but his
supporters claim he was assassinated.

He was reburied in Chechnya a few months after his death.

Following his decision to pardon 30 prisoners sentenced in 1992 for
supporting Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Saakashvili on 9 March said he wants
the late president’s remains to be repatriated to Georgia.
Saakashvili said his decision is motivated not only by his “respect”
for the former leader, but also by his desire to make the best use of
the Zviadists’ “patriotism.’

“We should offer the best patriots Georgia has — I mean here the
majority of Zviadists, or rather, all 100 percent of them — the
opportunity to put their patriotism to good use and contribute to the
reconstruction of the country.”

Although formally in the opposition, Tavisupleba officials have
indicated they may support Saakashvili’s government after the
legislative elections.

Last month (18 Feb), Georgia’s Prime news agency quoted Sandro
Bregadze, a leading Tavisupleba member, as saying he does not see any
particular reason why the party should remain in opposition since the
government’s policies are — in his words — “acceptable.”

GORBI director Pachulia also believes an alliance between Tavisupleba
and the ruling coalition is possible, although he says he cannot
elaborate on the government’s views on this particular issue.

“All I can say is that when [Konstantine] Gamsakhurdia [a few days
ago] met passers-by on [Tbilisi’s main] Rustaveli Avenue, he was
accompanied by those same jeeps that usually travel with government
officials. I am not the only one who has witnessed that. Already from
this you can start making your own judgment. Barred from any personal
hatred, I believe [cooperation between Tavisupleba and the ruling
coalition] is possible and that they will work together. I do not
mean that the two parties will merge, but I would not be surprised if
they worked together. That would seem normal, and this is probably
what is going to happen.”

The Central Election Commission initially indicated that the
Tavisupleba leader could be barred from running as a candidate
because — under Georgian law — only citizens who have been
residents of the country for at least the past two years are

But a commission spokesman told RFE/RL the election body eventually
gave Gamsakhurdia the green light after finding out that he had been
granted the status of political refugee by Swiss authorities and had
been registered as such by the Georgian Embassy in Geneva.