Accessibility links

Georgians Contemplate Future Five Years After Rose Revolution


Its famous Rose Revolution in November 2003 was to usher in a new era for the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, an era of democracy and a path forward to eventual membership in the West's most prestigious political clubs, the European Union and NATO. Nearly five years later Georgia still faces a difficult course between East and West as the conflict with neighboring Russia in August proved. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from Tbilisi.

Life has returned to normal in most of Georgia, two months after the conflict with neighboring Russia. But the scars of that war are still fresh in people's minds.

One man says he remembers the oppression from the decades under Soviet rule. He says Russia is now doing the same thing - attacking its small neighbor. And a woman says she simply prays for peace.

A simple wish on the minds of many Georgians nowadays.

Simmering tensions in the breakaway province of South Ossetia erupted into open conflict in early August, after the government in Tbilisi tried to re-take control of the region from Russian-backed separatists. Russia sent troops into the area and deep into Georgia. Even now Russian troops remain in South Ossetia and in the other breakaway enclave of Abkhazia in the northwest.

Among Georgians views about the war are mixed.

The president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, Alexander Rondeli, says the conflict united Georgians and rallied support for President Mikhail Saakashvili. "You know, Russian behavior has made Saakashvili's position stronger. If the Russians did not commit so many crimes on Georgian soil and if they behaved in a different way, Saakashvili's position would be weaker."

But not everyone agrees. Sociologist Leila Gaprindashvili says she cannot see the benefits for the government's military action. "I think the conflict has led to a postponement of reconciliation with the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and with the process of return of these territories for a long time."

Georgia received strong verbal support from the West during and after the conflict, and is getting financial support to rebuild its army and its damaged infrastructure, and to help civilians who had to flee their homes.

But many question whether its actions have helped or hindered Georgia's chances of joining the European Union and NATO. Moscow opposes Georgian membership.

And, many see its incursion into Georgia as a signal that Russia is willing to use military force to make that point. Lawrence Sheets, the senior Caucasus analyst of the International Crisis Group, says the war could have longer-term negative effects. "What a conflict situation like this does is decrease the attractiveness of Georgia as a transit state, which in turn has the potential to affect its economy," he said

Georgia relies heavily on trade, especially in its role as conduit for oil and gas from east to west.

But in November, as Georgians commemorate the fifth anniversary of their Rose Revolution, some will be asking how far they have come and where they are going.

During the revolution, tens of thousands took to the streets to protest rigged elections and demand a change in government and direction. The revolution brought President Saakashvili to power with promises of democracy, transparency, economic opportunities and a decisive turn westward.

Sheets says while some promises of the Rose Revolution have been fulfilled, others have not. "What the government needs to do is to open up the media. The atmosphere involving television is one of increasing government control in recent months and in recent years and that has to be reversed. The second thing the Georgian government must do is reform the court system, because the court system is not independent in this country."

Some say, with the scars of the conflict with Russia still fresh, an economic downturn or delays in E.U. or NATO membership could have Georgians asking what happened to the promises of their Rose Revolution.

XS
SM
MD
LG