Georgia's Day After

When he took over the reins of Georgia more than a decade ago, Eduard Shevardnadze could never have imagined the ignominy that would surround his exit from office. Or what now remains of his office in Tbilisi, which has been tainted beyond recognition by charges of corruption and misrule against him and his ministers. It’s unfortunate that an elder statesman like him—known more for being the Soviet foreign minister who wrote the epitaph to the Cold War—should be labeled a failed leader. But then he has only himself to blame for letting Georgia drift, as he gave his ear to all the wrong advice from people who convinced him that democracy could take its time coming to the country.

Most Georgians apparently had enough of the rampant poverty and unemployment that gave the lie to Shevardnadze’s long list of promises, the latest of which was to hold free and fair parliamentary polls. With outrageous poll irregularities, it would have been surprising if such an upheaval did not take place. But at least the army did not intervene. Not that this is anything more than cold comfort for the Georgians for whom Shevardnadze’s departure may be only a small first step in their march toward democracy. Many representatives of the opposition are former members of the Shevardnadze government who are responsible for poll violations. So it’s doubtful if they can guarantee fresh and fair parliamentary and presidential elections.

It will be an uphill task for the new leadership to restore Georgia to even a shadow of its former avatar: the most prosperous Soviet region. It’s not just unemployment and poverty that threaten Georgia; the whole country could break up if ethnic conflicts in its northwestern and southwestern regions flare up. For all his faults, Shevardnadze held together the patchwork quilt of various clans and fiefdoms that make up Georgia. His exit leaves more disturbing questions than reassuring answers.