Georgia experienced two small earthquakes this week. One was geological and down near the southern border. It didn’t do much damage. The other was political and up in the north yesterday and its effects may be more profound. A new civil movement established itself on a beach at Anaklia, four miles from Russian-occupied Abkhazia, and called for a new, progressive western-oriented politics to move the country forward.
The movement, inspired and led by Mamuka Khazaradze, founder of Georgia’s leading bank, wants an end to what it calls one-man rule of the government and economy.
That one man Is Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, and who is widely suspected of orchestrating the legal manoeuvres that have forced Khazaradze and his business partner Badri Japaridze out of the London-listed TBC bank they created in 1991.
Both men are also prime movers in efforts to mobilise international capital to develop Anaklia as a deep-water port that would turn Georgia into a major transportation hub between Asia and Europe. Russia is evidently less than keen that Western capital should drive Anaklia’s development and Georgian Dream, the ruling government party, has been slow-rolling Anaklia’s US and European prospective investors. Then, in July, the government prosecutor charged Khazaradze and Japaridze with money laundering – charges both men vigorously deny – and ordered the freezing of their assets.
Khazaradze has said he had no intention of going into politics but that these recent developments have brought home to him the extent to which government had been obstructing business and the proper development of the economy, and violating the rule of law in order to prevent a political challenge at next year’s elections. He sees too how this is holding back progress for Georgians who do not have the privilege of wealth and education. “Now I realise that there is no alternative but to mobilise Georgia’s citizens to fight for a better future. If we don’t, we will fall back into soviet-style rule and revert a command economy that works only for the powerful and the corrupt.”
Yesterday, addressing more than one hundred Georgian professionals from all walks of life, who were seated on wooden boxes on the beach at Anaklia, Khazaradze – who spoke against the backdrop of the Black Sea, with only a large empty yellow board to dress his impromptu stage – appealed to his audience and television viewers to unite and begin developing their ideas for improved governance and delivery across the economy, education, social welfare, and for reform of justice and state institutions.
He made clear that his fight was no longer about his own interests as a businessman. ‘I was successful in business because I knew how to build a team. Now my business is the wider welfare and progress of Georgia. And I – we – will use our skills and experience to build the Georgia our fellow citizens aspire to and deserve.”
Media reaction to the movement’s formation was largely and instantly favourable for the most part, an indication that Georgians are desperate for a new initiative that can break the mould of Georgia’s increasingly ossified, Russia-dominated politics.
The new movement, to be called Lelo – meaning ‘the team effort that delivers success’ – will now begin organising its core members to support policy and programme development. Khazaradze himself is expected to go on the road in Georgia to conduct an extended listening exercise among those Georgians who live beyond the capital, Tbilisi, and its relative privilege. “A new government is not enough. We need to change the way in which we are governed. And for that our our citizens need to be actively engaged and consulted.”
It seems a new breeze has begun blowing in Georgia politics. Given what happened in neighbouring Ukraine a few months ago, western observers are playing close attention to Khazaradze’s Lelo.