Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Anti-Soros Movement in Georgia

Zaal Anjaparidze writes about the emergence of an anti-Soros movement in Georgia:
On October 17, the Conservative and Republican parties announced the establishment of a new parliamentary faction composed of former members of the ruling National Movement and former allies of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. After the 2003 Rose Revolution both the Conservatives and the Republicans quit the National Movement. Now they seek to protect the gains made by the Rose Revolution through a different mechanism.

On October 3, the nationalist politicians not represented in parliament announced an "Anti-Soros" public movement to repel the spreading ideas of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, which, they claim, "threaten the nation."

The anti-Soros movement confirms the increasing polarization of the already extreme Georgian political spectrum and reveals the ongoing clash of basic values that has become particularly visible since the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili's team has dared to shake the seemingly entrenched, archaic belief systems largely inherited from the Soviet past but identified by segments of Georgian society as "national values."

"I regret that I used a Soros grant," lamented Maia Nikolaishvili, a well-known forensic expert and co-founder of the movement. "Is it possible that Georgian society still has not become aware that Soros is the enemy of Georgia and each of us?" she asked.

The anti-Soros movement unites a diverse group of politicians and civic leaders, including followers of former president Eduard Shevardnadze and the former leader of Ajaria, Aslan Abashidze. The anti-Soros movement members seek to protect "national" values against creeping Western values.

Several leaders of the movement, including Nikolaishvili, believe Tbilisi must rebuild its relations with Russia to protest the excessive "Westernization" of Georgia. "Uprooting Soros-ism" in Georgia is viewed one of the tools to accomplish this task. The "Anti-Soros Movement" also plans to oust Saakashvili's government but in a constitutional manner. The anti-Soros group claims that Saakashvili's government places instructions from Soros above the Georgian Constitution.

But when Soros visited Tbilisi on May 29-31, he reportedly faced a rather cool reception from the Georgian government, allegedly because of disagreements between him and Saakashvili. In January 2005 Soros, together with the United Nations Development Programme, established a "Capacity Building Fund" that provided high salaries for Georgian officials. This program likely is the basis of rumors about Soros co-opting the government of Georgia.

Now some politicians believe that a rift has developed between the two men and that Soros has begun to finance the anti-Saakashvili opposition. Soros reportedly has turned to the Republican Party as a counterweight to Saakashvili's National Movement. "Like the government, some of the so-called "opposition parties" are financed by Soros," says Mamuka Giorgadze of the Popular Party.

Whether or not the anti-Soros movement is a symptom of Georgian society's frustration, the consequences remain to be seen. Leaders of the anti-Soros movement claim that Georgian citizens are becoming increasingly anti-American. A political campaign that plays upon the sensitive topic of Georgian national identity, which Soros and his Georgian henchmen have allegedly violated, may be attractive to the public, especially to citizens unhappy with Saakashvili's governance.

Some local analysts, who frequently refer to Saakashvili as a Soros puppet, believe the anti-Soros movement is a precursor to an anti-globalization movement that would condemn the Saakashvili government for its pro-globalization values. They argue that, although the pro-Soros resources outweigh the anti-Soros forces, the emergence of this movement sends a clear message that the West-supported reforms frequently equated with Soros ideology are not popular in Georgia.
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