Georgian opposition promises tough questions

TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia’s leaders will face hard questions about the “tragic” situation facing the country once it rids itself of Russian tanks, a prominent Georgian opposition figure said on Monday.

Nino Burjanadze, a former Georgian parliament speaker, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tbilisi July 7, 2008. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Nino Burjanadze, a former parliament speaker, told Reuters that unity in time of war was paramount, but once Russia pulls out there should be a thorough analysis “of what happened, and why it happened”.

“Georgian mothers are very brave, and they are ready to send their children, their sons, to fight to defend their country,” said Burjanadze, who with President Mikheil Saakashvili led Georgia’s 2003 “Rose Revolution”.

“But Georgian mothers, as all mothers in the world, have a right to know why they are doing this,” she said.

“I’m afraid it will not be very easy for the government to answer all the questions.”

Burjanadze’s remarks echoed those of two other opposition leaders on Monday, and were indicative of the challenges facing

Georgian troops were forced to quit those two breakaway regions last week in the face of a massive counter-offensive by Russian forces aid of South Ossetian separatists.

Hundreds were killed, and thousands fled their homes. Saakashvili had launched an operation to retake the separatist capital, Tskhinvali, but has come under fire for not foreseeing the strength of the Russian counter-attack with troops, tanks and fighter jets.

The offensive has disrupted the Georgian economy and transport system and potentially dealt a blow to its hopes of joining NATO. Russian troops continued to occupy parts of Georgia proper on Monday, despite a promise to withdraw.


Unhappy with Saakashvili’s record on democracy, Burjanadze split with him in early 2008, five years after the pair teamed up with late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in street protests to topple then-president Eduard Shevardnadze.

For now, the political opposition in Georgia is reluctant to criticize Saakashvili for fear of being branded traitors when the country is crying out for solidarity.

But the time would come for sober assessment of what went wrong, Burjanadze said.

“It was impossible to imagine that Russian tanks would be 20-25 minutes drive from Tbilisi, that we would have so many refugees and displaced persons and so many casualties among civilians.”

“To show unity of the people is important, to show that people are united and have hope and feeling that they will get through all difficulties,” said Burjanadze.

“But this is one thing, and celebration is another. We have nothing to celebrate,” she said, in clear reference to a series of patriotic rallies by flag-waving supporters of Saakashvili.

At a news conference on Monday, two other opposition leaders spoke out: “Once the war is over, we will raise political questions and assess the military actions and mistakes, so as not to repeat them,” said New Rights leader David Gamkrelidze.

Since splitting with Saakashvili, Burjanadze has taken time out from politics. But she said that once peace was restored she would form her own political party.

Some say Burjanadze could emerge as a powerful rival to the president. “I am more than sure that right now I have to play a very active political role in the country,” she said.

Additional reporting by Niko Mchedishvili; writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Giles Elgood