Political Casualties of a Lost War

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has reshuffled his cabinet as his government tries to deal with the fall-out from the disastrous war with Russia in August and prevent public discontent from escalating. News reports focused on the high-profile sackings of the defence minister and the foreign minister. But the defence minister’s departure was probably inevitable given the criticism of the army’s wartime strategy, and the foreign minister had only been in place for a few months – now Georgia has its fourth foreign minister this year.

More significant developments were the resignations of Saakashvili’s close ally, Alexander Lomaia, the head of the National Security Council, and Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania. Georgia is a country where people often embrace rumours and conspiracy theories as fact – and the big rumour now is that Alasania could go into opposition as a potential future presidential challenger.

Five years after the Rose Revolution which swept Saakashvili’s pro-Western administration to power here, several former ministers and leading government figures are now in opposition, including former Rose Revolution leader Nino Burjanadze, whose presidential ambitions are an open secret.

But some ordinary Georgians question why these politicians only started to speak their minds when they left office – Burjanadze, for instance, publicly backed Saakashvili’s controversial crackdown on protesters a year ago when she was speaker of parliament. As one Georgian newspaper noted sagely this week:

“What is known for sure is that many current opposition figures became such only after they lost their armchairs. It appears those armchairs were all fitted with magic and invisible blinds, which prevented the person from seeing correctly. They immediately recover their ability to see as soon as they lose contact with the magic armchair.”

Some analysts suggest that this is a product of an all-or-nothing political culture, where you’re either a friend who supports the administration absolutely, or an enemy who despises it absolutely. In other words, you’re either with us or against us. But what seems increasingly possible is that after the seasonal celebrations and the winter freeze, political drama will return to a country which has had more than its fair share of turmoil in recent years.