Georgia's former Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze, a leader of the 2003 Rose Revolution, announced July 7 she was putting her political past behind her with the official opening of her new think-tank, the Foundation for Democracy and Development.
One of the three leaders of the Rose Revolution in 2003, Burjanadze played a crucial role as the head of parliament during President Mikheil Saakashvili's first term in office. She served as an acting president twice over the past four years, most recently in late 2007. In April she unexpectedly left the governing party over disagreements concerning the National Movement's election lists for the May 21 parliamentary election.
News began circulating in June about her plans to create a think tank. During a June 17 interview with Georgian Public Broadcasting, Burjanadze described her foundation as an answer to "important questions" about Georgia's democratic development.
"It is important to continue these reforms in a more humane manner," she said in the interview.
Some pro-opposition analysts have seized on such remarks as a sign that the 43-year-old politician might join forces with Georgia's opposition against the Saakashvili administration. According to Burjanadze, however, her organization called The Foundation for Democracy and Development is not a reflection of any "disillusion or disappointment" with the Rose Revolution.
"I had no disillusion or disagreement with the Rose Revolution. We need to change right now the steps because the revolution has already ended and now we need evolution," she told EurasiaNet during the foundation's inaugural reception, as a string quartet played in the background. "We need to achieve the goals [initiated by the Rose Revolution]."
In public comments, Burjanadze also tried to distance herself from rumors that she might use the foundation as a vehicle to reenter politics. "I want to underline this is not a political party," she said about the new think tank. "[The] target of the foundation is to strengthen democratic institutions."
The foundation's 11 announced goals cover some of Georgia's most frequently cited problem areas, ranging from development of rule of law and the strengthening of state institutions to promotion of independent media and of a "pluralistic political environment."
Few concrete details about the foundation's programs or financing sources were available during the presentation. A personal assistant to Burjanadze noted that the July 7 event was just a soft launch; the foundation will start actual work only in September, she said.
Nonetheless, Dr. Archil Gegeshidze, a fellow with the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, believes that the Foundation for Democracy and Development will "occupy a niche" in the landscape of Georgian think tanks. "There is no single organization [in Georgia] which would systematically take a look at these problems and try to analyze the broader picture," he said. "This is a de-politicized organization. It is not a political organization. It was very clearly stated today. This is a non-profit, independent, non-biased organization."
It would also appear to be a foundation that will be largely indistinguishable from the figure of Burjanadze herself. Handouts to presentation guests included a compact disc that featured video clips, photos, press mentions and a biography of the ex-parliamentary speaker.
As an apparent tribute to her long years of public service, the ambassadors from Germany, the United States and Finland (current chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's office in Tbilisi) all delivered send-off speeches for Burjanadze, while the Russian and French ambassadors listened in the audience.
However, Giorgi Khutsishvili, founder of Tbilisi's International Center on Conflict and Negotiations, noted that a critical tone could be detected in Burjanadze's speech.
The former parliament speaker claimed that while serving as parliament speaker she had been unable to "fully implement" her objective of strengthening the legislative branch; her speech was peppered with references to unspecified "mistakes" and untapped "potential."
Politics in Georgia, she said, has been "undermined by certain political forces" who have created "nihilism." She did not elaborate.
According to Khutsishvili, while Burjanadze appears to be holding back any real criticism for now, the expectation persists that she will become more outspoken once her foundation becomes more active. For Burjanadze, though, any such activism does not mean politics as usual. "[T]he aims and tasks of the foundation point to my being active in politics," she told TV viewers on June 17, but "in a certain form."