Transparency & Georgia’s Tatunashvili Blunder


Since my politics are somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan, I’ve not much use for the word ‘transparency’. It’s trumpeted all over Georgia by foreign organizations whose own countries have almost become parodies of democracies, and while Georgian nationalism is – in my view – not much better than Islamic extremism, one can almost understand their ‘who-are-you-to-tell-us-what-to-do’ responses to the American and European governments. But for once, I am firmly in the corner of our do-gooder foreign representatives; for a lack of transparency, Georgia has really taken the cake over the last twelve months.

Last year, as you may remember, Father Giorgi Mamaladze was arrested for allegedly trying to poison Patriarch Ilia II. Doubt was cast on this, since Mamaladze had recently attempted to conduct an audit of the Orthodox Church’s finances, and it isn’t hard to imagine the Church (with its unneeded and undeserved millions in the bank) reacting badly to that. Since then, virtually nothing has been released about his ongoing trial, which is surely a cause for concern.

Then there was the elimination of would-be terrorists in Isani a few months ago that cost the life of a Georgian serviceman; the Georgian people still somehow managed to be more outraged about LGBT-related matters than the possibility that some lunatics had wanted to gun down people on Rustaveli Avenue in the name of Allah, but the government has remained fairly cagey about the operation, as well as an apparent follow-up raid in Pankisi Gorge.

Lastly, and perhaps most concerning of all since this has the potential to escalate tensions with Russia, is the death of Archil Tatunashvili – a serving Georgian soldier – while in custody in the occupied region of South Ossetia.

Now, as something of a disclaimer, I am on Georgia’s side and always will be. I want this country to be successful and free of all the invasions, occupations and pressure from powerful neighbors that it has suffered in the past. But with this incident, my adopted homeland has gotten itself in something of a mess. Georgia finds it difficult enough to grab the attention of the West as it is, and ten years ago its European and American friends were more than happy to wash their hands of Georgia during the Russian war by saying that it was ambiguous as to who had fired first. Georgia cannot afford to put itself in any position in which it can be blamed for kicking the Russian hornets’ nest, although this is exactly what it seems to have done.

Exactly what four Georgian soldiers were doing across the border has yet to be established or confirmed by the government; one theory exists that they were special operations troops, which seems consistent with the numbers deployed and the age and experience of the men, but nobody seems to have any idea what they were doing there. I have wracked my brains to think of a good reason as to why on earth they had been dispatched to South Ossetia, and I’ve drawn a complete blank. Even if the exact figures of Russian troops and vehicles are not known, they can probably be guessed at, so reconnaissance can be safely crossed off. But even if this was nothing more than a scout, it seems so needlessly risky – even if more aggressive actions like sabotage or assassination are ruled out, any operation across the border surely puts Georgia in a position in which it has much more to lose than to gain.

A rally was held on Freedom Square in response to Archil Tatunashvili’s death, with the motto ‘Peace is More Than War’. People also held signs saying ‘The war is not over!’. That may well be true now that Georgian soldiers have been caught in the disputed territory; I feel a familiar toe-curling frustration when I think that as angry as these people might be that Tatunashvili suffered a horrific death, they are still ignoring the key point – for once, the Russians appear to be blameless, at least in so far as the fact that they did not instigate this incident. Whether it was Russian or Ossetian security forces who tortured Tatunashvili remain to be seen, but whatever the outcome, the Georgian people should save a little anger for whoever ordered Tatunashvili and his team over the border in the first place. Perhaps the government should employ a little Westminster-style backstabbing and hang out the man responsible to dry – it would be transparent and understandable if not entirely moral, but this is politics, and Georgia has blundered badly; it has given the West every reason to wash its hands of Georgia once again, and put itself in a position in which it can be blamed for escalating tensions. 

Op-Ed By Tim Ogden

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10 March 2018 14:08