Shevardnadze's Sad Land


A review of Sicilian history reveals that the Mafia started flourishing when feudalism collapsed. Someone had to fill the power vacuum, someone had to settle property disputes. Criminal gangs began to play a pivotal role until they became the shadow government.

This pattern is now being repeated in the former Soviet Union, where the home-grown mafiya has become so powerful it seems to be the country's true ruling class. The results are predictable: killings, bombings and corruption. Mob rule even threatens the viability of whole republics. Just look at former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze's sad little land, Georgia.

With its breathtakingly beautiful Black Sea coast, mountains, ancient culture, rich agricultural land and energetic people, Georgia seems to have it all. Alas, it has seen nothing but a series of crises ever since it seceded from the Soviet Union in April 1991. Its first president became so erratic he was deposed. Parts of the republic have been fighting for independence.

Of all the former Soviet republics, Georgia's has the worst economy.

Can things get any worse? Just ask President Shevardnadze, who recently escaped an assassination attempt with cuts and bruises after a car bomb exploded near his motorcade in the yard of the parliament building.

Who did it? Suspects range from lawmaker and warlord Dzhaba Ioseliani (who denies involvement) to a number of secessionists. Mr. Shevardnadze himself chooses to believe that organized crime -- probably in cahoots with his rivals -- was behind the assassination attempt.

Georgians may not have quite the ferocity of Chechnyans, but they have been famous as wheeler-dealers on the edge of the law for decades. For mafiya, taking over control of Georgia would be extremely profitable because its long sea coast and land border with Turkey makes smuggling easy.

A society able to enforce law and order poses a threat to mafiya. It deters all kinds of criminal activity, from drug dealing to tax evasion. Organized crime knows this.

Georgia under Mr. Shevardnadze is far away from achieving the stability of normal conditions. But the crime bosses apparently did not want to take any chances. That's why they wanted to bump off a man who once ruled his native land with the iron hand of a communist leader, who had the rank of a general in the interior ministry police, who went on to be a respected diplomatist.

What a sad land.

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