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Capitalism brought misery, not freedom

Mass protests shake former Soviet republic

Published Nov 15, 2007 9:01 PM

In Georgia, a former republic of the Soviet Union, President Mikheil Saakashvili sent riot police to shut down the main television stations in the capital city of Tbilisi on Nov. 7. On the following day, he imposed a state of emergency.

This came after days of protests against the regime. Tens of thousands gathered throughout the capital to protest the abysmal social and economic conditions that are destroying their country. Acting as a dictator, Saakashvili issued an emergency decree abolishing all civil liberties. His ruling restricted dissemination of information, demonstrations and strikes.

With clubs, water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas, riot police bloodied and jailed hundreds for violating the emergency decree. “These people are fascists,” one protester said. (London Times, Nov. 7)

However, the Bush administration considers Georgia a great democracy. When Saakashvili clamped down there, Washington merely raised its eyebrows. Saakashvili assured his friends that the restrictions would last only a fortnight, but then changed his mind and decided to extend the repression as long as “the Georgian government deemed it necessary.” Saakashvili blamed the protests on Russians, extending the emergency decree indefinitely.

Georgia is Washington’s closest ally in the Caucasus, a mountainous region south of Russia that has enormous economic resources. Four years ago, the United States helped create what was called the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia. Intelligence assets, including the National Endowment for Democracy, funded a takeover of the nation that mirrored the pro-U.S., pro-NATO governments these same forces had helped establish in Yugoslavia in 2002 and the Ukraine in 2003. When Saakashvili took power, his great revolutionary act was to enable the complete privatization of the Georgian economy and bring it more rapidly into the U.S. and Western sphere.

Georgia’s geographical situation made it a perfect conduit for the pipelines that Western corporations require to transport the oil and natural gas of the Caspian basin through Georgia to Western Europe.

British Petroleum, Chevron and Atlantic Richfield are developing oil fields near Baku in the Caspian Sea. They helped build the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline from the Caspian through Georgia to Turkey. It has been moving thousands of gallons of oil per day since it opened in 2006. The World Bank helped build an oil terminus on the Black Sea in Georgia. The Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline is under construction, at the cost of the beautiful environment and national parks near the Black Sea, which have been ruined.

Since the end of the Soviet Republic of Georgia, conditions for ordinary people have deteriorated. In the last decade, over one-fifth of the 4 million Georgians have emigrated, mostly to Russia, and are sending home remittances to poor relatives remaining in their homeland. Even the CIA World Factbook says that 54 percent of the people lived below the poverty line in 2001. Life expectancy has fallen precipitously, partly because health care has been privatized. (Mzia Shelia, Tbilisi State University)

Georgia’s industrial output has significantly declined. In 2001, 48 percent of the GDP came from industrial production; today it is only 12 percent. Unemployment immobilizes 50 percent to 65 percent of the able-bodied population. The authorities have dismissed masses of employees in the system of education, closing free schools and kindergartens and firing more than 800 Tbilisi University professors and lecturers. (Aleksander B. Krylov, Strategic Culture Foundation, Nov. 11)

George W. Bush calls Georgia a democracy, but its parliament rubber stamps whatever Saakashvili proposes, while the courts act to quash opposition and dissidents.

When socialism was abolished in Georgia, factories that had formerly employed hundreds of thousands were closed. What the “rose revolutionaries” called “liberal reforms” boiled down to predictable sell-offs of state property. Some became millionaires and corruption and graft flourished while the social and economic conditions of the majority of the population declined.

On the day before Saakashvili announced the state of emergency, the Georgian parliament voted to allocate two-thirds of its budget for military spending (Civil Georgia, Nov. 6), something the people could ill afford. Saakashvili’s government is a willing market for U.S. weapons manufacturers.

This is why the population is so angry.

Georgia, not yet in NATO, is sending hundreds of soldiers into the NATO armies in Afghanistan and into the Iraq War. In the past 10 years Washington has paid for the training and equipping of Georgian frontier guards and the setting up of “anti-terror” units, some of which have been dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan. (Krylov)

There is widespread opposition to these wars among Georgians. Georgia once fed, housed, clothed, educated and cared for its citizens. Now homeless children beg in the streets of Tbilisi and thousands of impoverished women are lured into the international sex trade. (BBC News, March 29, 2002)

Saakashvili has stopped all agricultural commerce with Russia, causing farm failures and widespread migration. While Georgia was once called the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, its farmers now suffer the worst poverty in the country.

Now that the Soviet Union is out of the way, U.S. corporations have their sights set on the fabulous natural resources of Eurasia. This does not sit well with Iran, Russia or China. NATO militarism is encircling the region and Washington needs Saakashvili. NATO and the U.S. won’t desert him unless they have some other puppet ready to follow their program.