Western democracy and violations of human rights in Georgia.




In October 1990 for the first time in history there were multiparty parliamentary elections in Georgia. A nationalist coalition, led by former dissident Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was elected. In May 1991 Zviad Gamsakhurdia was democratically elected president, who received 86.5% of the votes. In these elections five other candidates took part, but Gamsakhurdia's main rival, Valerian Advadze, only got 7.6% of the votes. In contrast to Soviet times, these were democratic elections in which the voters could choose more than only one party-proposed candidate. Due to strong opposition to Gamsakhurdia's government, which culminated in a bloody coup d'état in December 1991-January 1992, Gamsakhurdia was removed from power. A military council was formed that took all powers from Gamsakhurdia and appointed Tengiz Sigua prime-minister. On the invitation of the military council Eduard Shevardnadze, former partychief and KGB-official in Georgia, came back to Georgia on the 7th of March 1992. Three days later he became the chairman of the newly established State Council which took over the government of Georgia.
Until that time Shevardnadze was a jobless politician in Moscow. In 1985 he was invited to be minister of foreign affairs in the government of Mikhail Gorbachev. But he resigned from this job in December 1990 and predicted a state of dictatorship in the Soviet-Union. At that moment not many people realised however, that this state of dictatorship would be transplanted into the Republic of Georgia. As the Soviet minister of foreign affairs Shevardnadze travelled all over the world to establish contacts with western leaders and everywhere he came he was received with much respect. In that period the western world adopted the image of Shevardnadze as a democrat who really wanted to show the changed attitude of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev's leadership. In general there is not much knowledge of the Russian language in the West, but suddenly many people knew the words 'glasnost' and 'perestroika'. Shevardnadze contributed a lot to the new image of the Soviet-Union in the West. At that time nobody realised that Shevardnadze all his life had been a hard-line communist and a KGB-general, responsible for severe repressions in Stalinist tradition.
After Shevardnadze took over power in Georgia in March 1992, the western world was filled with relief. In the period before Shevardnadze's arrival there had been a massive disinformation campaign against Gamsakhurdia, who was, with the help of Moscow, pictured as an extremist, dictator and even a fascist. The result was that many states hesitated to recognise Gamsakhurdia's government and the independent democratic Republic of Georgia. After the coup d'état Gamsakhurdia was in Grozny-Chechnya, but was not invited for political asylum in any other country. The long arm of Moscow was still active and to maintain good relations with Moscow most countries refused political asylum to the Georgian president. This situation is comparable with what happened after Trotzky's exile from the Soviet-Union when many states refused to give him asylum. Also in that case Moscow's long arm had a lot of power and influenced the attitude towards outcast politicians.
During, and immediately after the bloody coup d'état in Georgia there were no protests from western countries. Very effectively had been the anti-Gamsakhurdia disinformation campaign. Again there were no protests when Shevardnadze came to power. When, however, we look at the circumstances under which Shevardnadze gained power in Georgia, we have to conclude that he got his power in the most undemocratic way. When we consider that most states underline the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Final Agreements of Helsinki (1975), then we must conclude that all basic human rights in Georgia were violated during and after the coup d'état, and there were many grounds for strong protests from the international community. However, all governments kept silence and only nongovernmental human rights organisations protested against what was happening in Georgia.
After Shevardnadze came to power, he immediately re-established his international network, which he had constructed in the time he was the minister of foreign affairs of the Soviet-Union. He was immediately recognised as the leader of the 'new Georgia' by the US government which considered itself being the 'protector of human rights all over the world'. But human rights in Georgia were not protected, in contrary Shevardnadze was welcomed as the leader of the country. Not a single western state put remarks in Shevardnadze's coming to power. So very soon, with the help of western 'democracies' Shevardnadze was the most powerful man in Georgia. From all this western support Shevardnadze adopted the attitude of self-deceit. On the 20th of February 1993 he even stated that "if democracy in Georgia finds itself under threat, a state of emergency will be introduced throughout the country". For obvious reasons he 'forgot' that Georgian democracy was already raped from December 1991. Already before Shevardnadze's statement there had been a demonstration of democracy according to Shevardnadze. When the US minister of foreign affairs, James Baker, visited Tbilisi, in the immediate surroundings demonstrators were severely beaten up by special police forces. Still the US president Bush supported Shevardnadze, a support which was continued by Clinton and other western states. In March 1994 Shevardnadze already had received $ 233 million in foreign aid, and nobody was asking any questions. Although through many reports of international human rights organisations it is wellknown how the human rights are violated in Shevardnadze's Georgia, no western government is pointing at Shevardnadze. This is in great contrast of what happens in other cases. Following the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, many western countries refused to take part in the 1980 Moscow Olympics as a protest. Grenada was invaded by the US Army, the president of Haiti was brought back with US assistance, already many years there is a severe blockade on Cuba, the same is happening with Iraq. All over the world the United States, with the help of its NATO-allies, play the role of 'police force of the world', anxiously looking if anywhere human rights are being violated as a legal excuse to interfere in other countries. However, not in the case of Shevardnadze's Georgia.
Many people died in Georgia as a result of human rights violations, there are many political prisoners whose only crime is that they are the supporters of the democratically elected Zviad Gamsakhurdia, human rights and civil rights are violated every day. No freedom of demonstration, no freedom of press, no fair trials or rights for defence, mistreatment and torture of political prisoners and peaceful demonstrators. There are many, many examples of human rights violations in Shevardnadze's Republic of Georgia, but all these violations seem to be sanctioned by western governments in giving more political and financial support to Shevardnadze's regime. Indeed, a very strange attitude of western 'democracy' which in the case of Georgia applies a double standard. Many Georgians had to leave their country under the circumstances of continuous violations of their human rights and conditions of repression. But also western countries apply a double standard when refugees from Georgia appeal to them for political asylum. The political problems of most refugees are not recognised as a legal base for political asylum. In the best case Georgians are allowed on humanitarian grounds. It seems that Shevardnadze's influence stretches to the ministries of justice and foreign affairs of those countries where Georgians appeal for political asylum.
In conclusion we can say that the so-called 'western democracy' is no guarantee at all for the respect of human rights in Georgia. Even when it is clear that all basic human rights are seriously violated in Shevardnadze's Georgia, western countries draw a veil over it. For western democracy this is a shameful attitude and all countries that signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the Final Agreements of Helsinki of 1975 apply double standards and make clear that 'all countries are equal, but some are more equal than others'.
Den Bosch, the Netherlands, April 1998
Bas van der Plas, secretary-general of the Netherlands Helsinki Union, international human rights organisation; co-ordinator of InSudok, information- and documentationcenter on the (former) Soviet-Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).