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The Georgian Protest Cheat Sheet

Julia Ioffe is a writer living in New York.

Today in Tbilisi, around 60,000 protesters came out to demand President Mikheil Saakashvili's ouster and to commemorate the 19 Georgians who died on this day in 1989, when Soviet forces crushed an independence rally there. The Georgian president stands accused of undermining the liberal goals of the 2003 Rose Revolution that he led--and that President Bush celebrated as a massive democratic success. Saakashvili's also in trouble for abandoning economic and political reform just as the Georgian economy weakens with the rest of the world's. And the fact that he overplayed his hand in leading Georgia to a humiliating defeat last summer hasn't helped his standing, either. The protestors say they won't let up until Saakashvili leaves office.

Though mass political protests are not anomalous in Georgia, this one seems especially well-coordinated. The organizers orchestrated a massive media blitz, and the event is supported by every single opposition party in Georgia--all 17 of them. (The only opposition leader not in attendance is Arkaly Okruashvili, who is in exile in France.) Will the protest fizzle out, or will Saakashvili really be felled? It's hard to say now. But as we await more information from Tbilisi, it's worth reading these pieces for some background on the situation:

  • A quite long and quite good New Yorker profile of Saakashvili (subscription required, alas).

  • A recent interview with Nino Burjanadze, a Thatcherite many think will eventually replace Saakashvili.

  • A piece on Levan Gachechiladze, a wine entrepreneur who came in second to Saakashvili in Georgia's January 2008 election. He was also one of the opposition leaders to go on hunger strike in 2007.

  • Video of 2008 protests over controversial spring elections.

  • A novel interpretation of the August war with Russia by Daria Vaisman, who worked for the Georgian prime minister.

  • A Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored discussion between Saakashvili and New Yorker editor David Remnick from 2004.

  • Early calls that that the Rose Revolution had "wilted."

  • Some background on the 1989 violence.

--Julia Ioffe