Batumi and Tblisi: War of Words Intensifies

Russia, Saint-Petersburg
Date: 2004.04.04 17:36

Batumi and Tblisi: War of Words Intensifies

The situation in Adjaria is continuing to worsen. Parliamentary elections
were held in Georgia on March 28, the results of which have inspired some
justifiable uncertainty. The head of the Adjarian autonomous republic, Aslan
Abashidze, explained his view of the prevailing situation in Georgia, and
gave his prognosis for the future.


According to preliminary voting results, supporters of Mikhail Saakashvili
received an overwhelming majority of the seats in the new parliament, while
the party you head, the ‘Union of Democratic Rebirth,’ was unable to reach
the requisite 7% barrier.
If Mikhail Saakashvili tries to prevent Rebirth from being represented in
parliament, he will suffer a backlash. One cannot simply leave Adjaria by
the wayside in this way. International observers did not register any voting
irregularities by our side. The national democrats are celebrating a victory
obtained by wholly fraudulent means. Polling stations in Adjaria were the
scene of a complete disregard for the rules.

We avoided a serious confrontation because they had already planned in
advance to announce falsified results of the voting in the republic. That is
why for all practical purposes Rebirth did not even wage an election
campaign, merely a few meetings with voters. Of the 15 members of the local
election commission, 12 were representatives of Saaashvili’s party. And how
much money they distributed to the people to vote for the national
democrats! Evidence is plentiful, and that is precisely why the Georgian
finance minister, Zurab Nogaideli, was detained in Adjaria.

And despite everything, we won. Now they are sitting on their own funeral
dirge and celebrating some sort of ‘victory.’ In comparison with the
presidential elections, Saakashvili lost 28% here. Indeed, how can anyone
vote for him when the president calls the people of Adjaria ‘baboons’ and
idiots, while from the national democratic camp one constantly hears
threats, promises to stamp out, kill, exile and chase Adjaris into the
hills, and so on? We purposely did not emphasize all of that. But maybe we
should have, so that people would wake up faster.

Does the leadership of the ‘Rebirth’ party plan to contest the election

Everything will go to the Constitutional Court in due course. The elections
were doomed to fail from the start, were doomed to be fraudulent. In order
to win, the national democrats invented an extraordinary mechanism – the
pre-registration of voters, whereas according to Article 28 of the
Constitution, it is clearly stated that voting rights can be restricted in
only two circumstances — if a citizen of Georgia is ruled to be incompetent
by a court, or if he is serving a prison term.

This anti-constitutional decision also violates the law on elections. Thus,
for the 273,431 voters of Adjaria, only 80,000 pre-registration forms were
issued. Their validity expired on March 23, and only on that day were an
additional 50,000 forms sent. Only 130,000 voters participated in the
polling, which means that we were not provided with 51,900 ballots. Under
pressure from the Council of Europe, they were finally delivered at 4:00
P.M. on voting day, but we were already unable to distribute them to the
polling stations. All of these machinations made our elections undemocratic.

We also have documentary evidence of mass fraud during the presidential
elections (Aslan Abashidze here presented the summary protocol of the
Georgian Central Election Commission on regional voting results – Y.A.).
They were so blatant, that on average Mikhail Saakashvili received 116.9% of
the votes. In Rustav, 139.2% voted for him! Similar results were seen in all
the other regions and large towns, with the exception of Alhapalaki, where
he got 92.5% — smart people, those Armenians — and in Marneuli, which is
predominantly Azerbaijani, where he got 96.2%.

What is this, fraudulent elections or a fraudulent president? Saakashvili
knows all of this perfectly well. When I asked him directly, I got a
remarkable answer. The people, mind you, have assessed their new president,
and they are not about to change their minds. I would not have shown these
documents if he had stopped.

You mentioned the possibility of holding a vote of no confidence on the
results of the elections. With what aim are you preparing to organize it?

Someone has to speak with authority in defense of democracy, peace and
stability. The current rulers of Georgia are striving to trample underfoot
everyone and everything. This is unambiguously clear, and those who consider
that possibility skeptically will share that view soon enough. What Mikhail
Saakashvili is doing now is what Eduard Shevernadze did, only more
secretively and cunningly. Experience has shown him where such actions can
go unpunished, and where it will end badly, but in the end even he has lost
his intuition.

The current government has from the very beginning gone off half-cocked. In
four months, nothing has been said about raising pensions and salaries, as
promised during the election campaign. For now, many welcome the ‘war on
corruption,’ the arrest of famous politicians and businessmen. Tomorrow,
when they start knocking on every door, people will come to their senses.
People are already beginning to sober up.

Is it possible to reach an agreement with Tbilisi?

We are fulfilling what we have promised, but the center is not. We have not
seen any movement towards reconciliation from their side. Tbilisi withdrew
the license of the Morskoi bank, as the result of which the payment of
salaries and pensions in the republic have been delayed. Criminal
investigations have been launched against those whom the national democrats
do not like, for example, the Adjari minister of internal affairs, Dzhemal
Gogitidze, and several others. But they did not act against the president,
but against the steps he has taken. Saakashvili should have launched a crimi
nal investigation against himself, as the leader of the so-called ‘rose
revolution,’ inasmuch as he forced the legally elected president to remove
himself from office. But you see, for him this is permitted.

The policy of ‘squeezing’ Adjaria out of Georgia has been going on for a
long time, but neither Shevernadze nor any other power will be able to do
it. Today’s Georgian leadership has no base, which is why it emphasizes
confrontation with Adjaria. We count only on our own strength, and we will
do all that is necessary in order to preserve the peace and prevent any
collisions. We have learned to be prepared for any eventuality already since
1991, and we try not to forget the lessons of history.

I have always respected people who avoided war. In 1991, 1995 and 1998, we
were unable to do so. We will try to do so now, to refrain from
confrontation and the forceful resolution of the conflict. Mikhail
Saakashvili repeats every day that he will not leave Adjaria alone. Our
responsibility is to protect the population. We remember how they entered
into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and we don’t want that to happen again.

Saakashvili is demanding the disarmament of ‘illegal armed groups,’ and that
his representatives be allowed to work in the port of Batumi and at the
customs point in Sarpi, as well as to lift the state of emergency in

I also want many things. The state of emergency has now been lifted. If the
situation warrants, it will be reinstated.

The opposition movement ‘Our Adjaria,’ which supports the ‘National
Movement – Democrats,’ have as their goal your removal from power, and they
promise to accomplish this by the summer.

Elections for the head of the autonomous republic will go ahead precisely in
that month and on that day prescribed for in the constitution of Adjaria.

In other words, you are determined not to allow a repetition of the ‘rose
revolution’ which the opposition is calling for?

We will castrate the ‘revolution,’ and that will be the end of that.

Interview by Yana Amelina, Rosbalt, Batumi-Moscow
Translated by Alex Anderson

©2001-2002 Rosbalt News Agency