A Georgian pleads for help

Mikhail Saakashvili, the new president of Georgia, calls it the "Rose Revolution." Saakashvili and his democratic allies led thousands of Georgians in days of protests in November, demonstrating against corruption and vote-rigging, weary of their nation's poverty. Eventually, they forced Eduard A. Shevardnadze out of the presidency.

When presidential elections were held Sunday, Saakashvili won in a landslide.


The revolution began after elections for parliament were held Nov. 2. Exit polls gave the lead to the National Movement party, led by Saakashvili, but election officials declared that the winner was a party that supported Shevardnadze, and the protests began.

The youthful, Western-oriented Saakashvili - he is 36 and graduated from Columbia University Law School in New York - was elected to parliament in 1995 and elected head of the Tbilisi city council in 2002.


Official results from the presidential election are expected to be released today, but a preliminary count of ballots from 54 of the country's 75 electoral districts showed Saakashvili with nearly 98 percent of the vote.

He takes office Jan. 25.

In an interview with the Associated Press, he promised not to repeat Shevardnadze's mistakes and to continue an anti-corruption campaign, including an examination of Shevardnadze family assets.

"It would be really incredible to do the same bad things, or worse," Saakashvili said. "I never promised Shevardnadze we would not take assets he misappropriated. I promised him his physical security."

Many of Georgia's 5.5 million people live in desperate poverty, and even those with decent incomes are beset by power failures and water cutoffs.

Georgia, a former republic of the Soviet Union, is of intense interest to other countries. The United States has been promoting a project to build an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, through Georgia.

Russia considers Georgia part of its natural area of influence, and relations between the two countries have been troubled. Shevardnadze accused shadowy forces from Russia of being involved in attempts to kill him. And Moscow has cultivated the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two Georgian regions that have assumed de-facto independence since separatist wars in the 1990s.

Many Georgians remain deeply suspicious of Russia, and wonder how their small country will navigate the difficult terrain of the Caucasus under a new generation of leaders.


The following are excerpts from an open letter to the United States and Russia from Temuri Avaliani, a member of the organizing committee of the peace organization Caucasus Without War. It was published in the Georgian Times, an English-language daily:

Those who are interested in the destiny of Georgia, this small and ancient country with a turbulent, not always fortunate past, and with deep-seated cultural traditions, have not been left unaffected by the latest developments within its borders. Currently, the peaceful and stable development of not only Georgia, but of the entire southern Caucasus is under threat.

The unhappiness expressed by the citizens of Georgia, with the results of Mr. Shevardnadze's 11-year rule, is both understandable and justified. A prominent, and often successful politician in the past, Eduard Shevardnadze, after becoming the president of Georgia, flung the country into a severe crisis. A destroyed economy, massive unemployment, poverty within the population, corruption, terror, coercion and the kidnapping of people. ... Unenviable results indeed!

Georgia is considered today one of the ten most corrupted countries in the world, and is at the same time one of its poorest states. With the unchecked growth of a shadow economy, the state's budget is in constant deficit. For years, miserly salaries and pensions have not been paid. ...

The situation had become so grave that Mr. Shevardnadze, along with his government, should have resigned long ago, as is done in civilized democratic countries. The patience of the people was pushed past the limit by the last parliamentary election. Despite insistent requests by the United States of America and other countries of the world community, transparency of the elections was not provided, and the results were falsified.

The people said NO to the incessant infringement upon democracy, and Mr. Shevardnadze was forced to resign. There were no violations of the Constitution, no victims, and not a shot was heard. The president was forced to look the truth in the face. ...


The era of Shevardnadze is passing. However, its aftermath is grave. Georgia faces new [parliamentary] elections. It is likely that a new generation will come into power, a generation of young, qualified, and democratically thinking people. They will be unlike the communist leaders, inherited from a fleeting communist dictatorship.

It would, however, be unjust to fault all the troubles of today's Georgia on Shevardnadze and his government. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Georgia became that sole nation at which all the negative energy of Russian political diplomacy was directed, as well as its accustomed imperial thought. The fact that conflicts in Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia were instigated by Russian imperial circles cannot be denied. ...

The impression is created that from the very beginning Russia never desired the stabilization of Georgia.

How will the young leaders of Georgia act? Will they be able to balance their politics in relation to Russia? Will Russia hear the voice of reason and begin to help in the restoration of Georgian sovereignty?

Not only Georgia is volatile, but the entire Caucasus is as well. Awaiting its decision is the Armenian-Azerbaijan confrontation, in which Russia clearly supports Armenia, arms it, and creates military bases on its territory. No end is visible in the Chechen war, which negatively affects both Russia and Georgia. Today, many say that the national interests of your two great states have crossed precisely here, in the southern Caucasus, in Georgia. ...

Without doubt, the United States recognizes the gravity of the situation in this region. ...


Georgia has existed as a state for 25 centuries. There were both glorious and tragic periods in its history. But whatever happened to this country, it preserved its statehood, integrity and the unity of its people up to the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Today, history places us under a new and difficult trial. The people of Georgia turn themselves to you and ask for your help: Save us, help us to preserve our statehood.

Compiled by Kathy Lally, with information from the Associated Press and the Georgian Times.