Cuttino's Georgian Life

A journal of my Peace Corps service in the Republic of Georgia, 2006-2008.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A sigh of relief?

Well, its been a roller coaster of a day. This time yesterday, it seemed that there would be no happy end to the crisis here. Peace Corps Volunteers were packing their emergency bags and updating their resumes. It may be too soon to say we're totally out of the woods, but there is a palpable sense of relief in Gori today.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I'm restricted from sharing my political opinions on the matter...doing so would compromise Peace Corps' status as a non-political organization. If you're looking for opinionated commentary, there are plenty of private blogs reporting on the events from a variety to different perspectives. That said, I'll try my best to report my personal experiences as the events unfold.

The situation changed rather quickly yesterday. As I was leaving from work, I received word that President Saakashvili would be making a major address to the nation at 7 p.m. He announced that snap presidential elections will be called for early January 2008. Additionally, the question of when to hold parliamentary elections will be decided by a referendum. As of this morning, it seems that all parties are happy--if reelected, Saakashvili would be able to claim a mandate, while the opposition has now been given the chance to challenge him.

Currently, the emergency rules restricting the media and some political activity are still in place. However, like I said yesterday, outside of the capital, everything seems normal. Contrary to what it may seem like in the Western media accounts, all of Georgia is not under martial law. I had heard some stories of demonstrations in Kutaisi and Batumi, but Gori's Stalin Square was empty, aside from two workmen installing a tacky new clock tower.

It was very interesting yesterday to see how quickly rumor and hearsay can spread, especially with the major media outlets shut down. Information was passed across the country through emails and text messages. I heard countless stories of what exactly happened on Rustaveli Avenue, some may be true and some may be urban legends. One of the neighbors came in panicking that the government was enforcing a 6 p.m. curfew (not true). Over the course of the day, there was wide speculation as to the fate of one of the opposition leaders. People kept coming into the office with various stories--"he's in Gori hospital;" "no, he's dead;" "he's been kidnapped;" "he's okay;" "no, he's still in the hospital..." For the record, the opposition leader in question made an appearance in Tbilisi later in the day.

Georgian news websites were off line, so we turned to English-language sources. A good portion of my day was spent constantly reloading the front page of Civil Georgia. I got calls from Peace Corps Volunteers in isolated villages asking for updates. On two occasions, I was requested to check another Volunteer's email to ensure that no one from home had sent anything hysterical. What was life like before the internet?

More information:
Here are some links to other media sources that have covered the events of the past two days.

BBC - Georgia to hold early elections
BBC - In Pictures: Emergency in Georgia
NY Times - Georgia Leader Calls Early Elections to Decide His Fate
NY Times - Georgian Leader Imposes a State of Emergency
The Economist - Georgia's Protests
Washington Post - Georgia's President Moves Up Election Date

For up-to-the-minute updates go to:

NOTE: I post these links for your information, dear reader. Any commentary contained in them do not reflect my opinions or those of Peace Corps.


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