Post-mortem attacks on Eduard Shevardnadze

Post-mortem attacks on Eduard Shevardnadze


Oleg Kusov. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza

The former president of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze died on July 7th. He was 86. His diplomatic career started with Perestroika in the USSR. When Shevardnadze was Foreign Minister of the USSR, the Cold War ended, relations between Moscow and Washington normalized, the Kremlin agreed on uniting the Germanies, the Warsaw Pact Organization collapsed. In March 1992 Shevardnadze returned to Georgia and headed the State Council, which was founded after the dismissal of President Gamsakhurdia; and later he was elected president. The last three years of Shevardnadze’s presidency were very difficult for him and his country.

Vestnik Kavkaza publishes a series of articles on the outstanding politician.

A lot was said and written about Shevardnadze after his death. Those who knew him, political experts and ordinary people discuss him. I belong to the third group. But I want to speak about the late politician as well.

I myself saw Shevardnadze twice. On August 27th, 1996, he arrived in Vladikavkaz to meet the president of South Ossetia, Lyudvig Chibirov. Today this event is considered to have been a breakthrough – it opposes activities by Mikheil Saakashvili on the Ossetian issue. Of course, Shevardnadze was a deeper politician than his successor Saakashvili: the Caucasus is not America. But at the time we didn’t understand many things. We wanted politicians to settle the issue as soon as possible. We hoped for crucial decisions at each meeting. Probably that is why the emotional Saakashvili looked more convincing than the calm Shevardnadze.

Shevardnadze came to the Vladikavkaz House of Arts, sat in the center of the room and listed to a wise speech by the president of North Ossetia Akhsarbek Galazov. Then it was time for Shevardnadze to speak. He spoke with his quite friendly voice. All the journalists rushed to the President of Georgia and fastened upon him with microphones. Some of them leaned on his shoulder. I almost hugged his head, trying to reach my microphone to his mouth. In only ten minutes some member of the Georgian delegation carefully pushed us away from Shevardnadze: “Guys, this is not right! He is the President!” Such an unconventional behavior of journalists could be explained by the impression which we had from Shevardnadze. He was a democratic and intelligent person who let people communicate with him at a close distance. But everybody respected him.

The second time I saw Shevardnadze was on November 22, 2003, in Georgia, when he was almost expelled from the Governmental Hall by revolutionaries headed by Saakashvili, Zhvania, and Burdzhanadze. He was very calm. And it was broadcast live by several TV-companies. At the time the whole of Georgian life was being broadcast. Several military Hummers with a huge machine gun came to take Shevardnadze. I even hid behind a tree, even though I understood that the machine gun would destroy any tree. When the armored vehicles took away Shevardnadze without shooting, everybody on the square felt a release. Shevardnadze didn’t order his opponents to be suppressed by force, even though he could have done so. What would other politicians have done, standing in his shoes? Remember Boris Yeltsin in 1993?

At the time, President of Russia Vladimir Putin said: “Shevardnadze has never been a dictator.” And this was a precise evaluation of the Georgian president.

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Eduard Shevardnadze was attacked by opponents many times during his life. And after his death many of them cannot help doing so either. Most of the criticism seems strange, even for such a person like me. I mean the Berlin Wall or 34 thousand square miles in the Bering Sea – the Foreign Minister didn’t make these decisions on his own. Shevardnadze is blamed for things which he didn’t do.

An expert from Tbilisi on the Russian version of an American website states that Shevardnadze should be blamed for “the Georgian people becoming lazy, fat, and losing any contact with reality.” Probably this person doesn’t like Shevardnadze, but why does he insult his nation? What is a nation, if a man is able to spoil it in a very short historic period of time? If the people of the CC of the Communist Party of the USSR encouraged corruption all over the country, including the Caucasus, then all the participants in the process should be blamed for this. Whether we want it or not, corruption was a part of the Soviet state mechanism, starting from the 1960s. If we want to find the roots of the Soviet corruption which destroyed the state, we should not do it in Georgia. But the expert from Tbilisi blames Shevardnadze for everything.

Another myth from the website is that Shevardnadze let Moscow build the Trans-Caucasian Highway, which led to an upsurge of Ossetian separatism in the years of the Union’s collapse. As if there were no tunnel, the Ossetians would stay calm under Gamsakhurdia, listening to speeches like “Georgia for Georgians!”, “We will make Georgians of Ossetians, or they are free to move to Russia if they like it.”  The topic was cynical and led to the bloodshed of Ossetians and Georgians. But Shevardnadze wasn’t connected with it directly. Let’s recall that it was Shevardnadze who stopped the war in South Ossetia, which was started by Gamsakhurdia. Shevardnadze arrived in Tskhinvali, left his car in the center of the city and talked to people – however, that day he was attacked by fire from his own artillery. Gamsakhurdia and Saakashvili considered a settlement of the South Ossetian issue only by military means. And they lost the region. Under Shevardnadze the inter-ethnic wound began to heal; the two nations came closer. As for construction of the Trans-KAM, Shevardnadze headed the republic in 1972; the decision to build the highway was made in the mid-1960s by the leader of the Soviet Union. The authorities of North Ossetia had been trying to achieve its construction since the 1930s. The main goal of the Trans-KAM was the economic development of the South Ossetian Region, which was underdeveloped in comparison with Tbilisi and other regions.

I cannot play the role of Shevardnadze’s lawyer. There are more professional defenders. But I prefer to look to Pushkin when there is a problem in my life. He wrote about a politician’s fate: “Common people hate living authorities. Nothing can comfort us in life, except a good conscience.”

 

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