‘Cabbage Revolution’ Wilts

Rustaveli protest day 7.JPG
Under stony skies, a dirge-like ballad droned from the speakers outside the Georgian parliament: an appropriate soundtrack for the seventh day of opposition protests in Tbilisi. A series of opposition leaders was greeted by polite applause as they raged against Mikheil Saakashvili, the president who has refused to offer them his head on a pike. It started to drizzle; those who had umbrellas raised them. “All Georgia is here!” declared one optimist from the stage. It was not. These few thousand, or a good proportion of them, were the opposition’s hardcore perennials; the people we’ve become accustomed to seeing time and again at protests here down the years – the unemployed, the pensioners, the dispossessed and the desperate, chewing on sunflower seeds, spitting the husks, and smoking.

Despite what the Moscow propaganda channel Russia Today is saying today (“Sleepless nights for Mikheil Saakashvili"), the president has weathered the initial threat of political destabilisation, although – this being Georgia, where politics is often like theatre, played out on the street – there will undoubtedly be more to come in the future. In a small country with big problems, the next crisis is always around the corner

Why has the opposition so far failed to rock the Saakashvili regime to its foundations, to send him running like the ‘scared rabbit’ they accused him of being as they lobbed carrots and cabbages over the gates of his presidential palace? Many analysts are marking this failure down to superior state strategy and cunning – the decision to let the demonstrators rally wherever they wanted, and not send in the riot police to crack heads, as Saakashvili did in November 2007, shattering his Western media image as democracy’s US-educated honour student.

The low-key policing massively reduced the chance of violent confrontation; a brief late-night altercation at the weekend showed how quickly tempers could flare. The president and his advisers seemed to be hoping that people would simply get bored and go home if there were no ‘provocations’ to stoke their ire and passion, and so far, that is exactly what seems to have happened.

Read the rest of this post at Matthew’s blog.