Times and governments may change in Georgia, but angst over supposedly imminent coups lingers on. Once again, Georgian officials, shading their eyes with their hands, have looked into the distance, and reported back to voters about a vague menace that only they can see.
This time, 29-year-old Georgian Interior Minister Aleksandre Chikaidze claims he has it on good authority that ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and his legislative minority, the United National Movement (UNM), are plotting to destabilize the country, provoke the police, manipulate sensitive topics such as the bad economy or the Russian threat, and then seize power as Georgia descends into “chaos and anarchy.”
In a September 10 interview with a local tabloid, Chikaidze asserted that Saakashvili has recruited 500 agent-provacatuers — and some non-profit groups, as well — to bring the plan to life.
Chikaidze claimed that, as less than an on-camera natural, he, of course, will be targeted first. Apparently, that explains the recent criticism of his alleged failure to deal with a spate of murders and burglaries.
But this isn’t just the one-off of a minister known for his verbal gaffes. Now, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has gotten into the act, too, claiming that the threat is for real and the government won’t stand for it. The police have even launched an investigation.
If this all sounds familiar, it should.
Talk of a coup, especially during times of stress, is something straight out of Saakashvili’s own playbook. Under Saakashvili and the UNM, government-loyal TV constantly trotted out reports about Moscow-orchestrated coup-plots and the unmasking of alleged spy rings by security services. The emergence of the now-ruling Georgian Dream coalition itself was also described as part of a Russian plot.
At the time, the Georgian Dream scoffed at such allegations as a fantasy the government was creating to stamp out the opposition.
The coalition's ministers appear to see no irony in the fact that they're making their own coup-claims now. Back in April, Chikaidze alleged that Saakashvili was planning a Euromaidan-style uprising, complete with scores of Ukrainian recruits who would set car-tires afire when the time was right.
But many Georgians, including some members of the ruling Georgian Dream, are rolling their eyes at these claims.
Criticizing the government, even if unfairly, is a form of political competition; not a coup- attempt, wrote senior Republican Party member Davit Zurabishvili on Facebook. “I find it awkward to even explain such basic things,” Zurabishvili said.
Part of the reason for why the explanation is needed might lie in the past.
Georgia’s first post-Soviet president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, famously saw foreign agents everywhere, be it his critics or literary characters. He was, indeed, toppled in an uprising. And Eduard Shevardnadze after him.
When power passed peacefully to the opposition in 2012, the thinking was that Georgian democracy had come of age, and shed the paranoia about political rivals. Nonetheless, the coup-phobia has lived on.
As in a Samuel-Becket play, something ambiguous is still constantly expected in Georgian politics, yet never comes to pass. It might be something political analysts and social psychologists should explore.