Georgia’s new political era may have begun, according to some, with political arrests, but it's now switching to political releases.
Some 190 prisoners marched out of Georgia’s notoriously overcrowded prisons on January 13 after the parliament signed an amnesty bill into law over objections from President Mikheil Saakashvili and his legislative minority. Among those amnestied under the bill were prisoners convicted of spying for Russia, participating in illegal anti-government demonstrations and army mutinies.
With reporters and relatives massed at prison gates yesterday, some prisoners started celebrating their freedom right away, setting up food and drinks on car hoods.
The joyous mood was not shared by the president, whose amnesty veto was overturned by parliament, dominated by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s supporters. “Today the new government freed Russian spies,” the president charged. “This is a problem for the state, for the security.” He claimed that the mass release of convicts may bring to naught his administration’s attempts to build a safe, crime-free state.
But the constant Russian spy conspiracies of the past, sometimes dramatized on Saakashvili-friendly TV channels, complete with secret messages encoded in a song or sent via flashlights, have come to be taken with a large grain of salt by Georgian society.
As he walked out of prison, defense analyst Vakhtang Maisaia, who was convicted of allegedly supplying troop movement details to Russian intelligence during the 2008 Georgian-Russian war, claimed that he was actually accused of being a NATO spy, not a Russian spy, as the official charges state. Details of the case against him remain classified.
But the president insisted that the Russian spy conspiracies were for real. “Could not they at least swap them for people arrested in Russia on charges of cooperating with Georgian intelligence?” he asked of Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream.
Another kind of swap could prove more likely . With pardons of more prison inmates expected in the months to come, some conjecture wryly that quite a few of Saakashvili’s ex-officials and supporters may well end up taking their places.