“Stop, Misha, you are standing on the edge of the abyss, stop!” was the fincier Bidzina Ivanishvili’s message to Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili Wednesday.
As the financier, who is one of the world’s richest, released his second statement on a mission to unseat the Georgian leader, he clarified his position towards the different oppositional groups in the country, as well as how he envisages to involve one independent TV station in his cause.
The lengthy letter touches on a number of encounters he appearantly has had with top officials in the Georgian government, as well as his own characterizations of key players among the people immediately surrounding the president, which he calls the leading “group”.
Especially subject to Mr Ivanishvili’s scrutiny is the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vano Merabishvili.
Directly addressing Vano Merabishvili, the businessman says he has exposed Giga Chrdileli, the director of Kartu Group as being on of the his ministry’s agents.
“I know that you and all the government are really surprised of later hearing about my decision of coming into politics,” Ivanishvili writes, directly addressing Merabishvili.
“I’ve used the free ‘services’ of your enslaved agent in my organization. I periodically made him believe that I’m not interested in and would never enter into politics, that I would soon leave the country. Your agent believed my words, letting you assume that I would not enter into politics. So you stayed calm, and that’s why my statement was really shocking to you.”
Ivanishvili goes on to write that Giga Chrdileli does not know about his disclosure yet. He warns the minister that all the efforts at creating a spy network will fail, just like the last attempt did.
Although scolding the minister, the businessmen also drops a few kind remarks for Mr Merabishvili, saying that he has made a huge effort in creating an effective police force and getting rid of all ‘punitive and executive’ functions of the police and other law enforcement units. The Georgian police as it is today could have been useful to the public, is his assessment.
Ivanishvili then widens his assault to another of president Saakashvili’s inner circle, Giga Bokeria, who has had a key role in the country’s military strategy and now serves as secretary of the National Security Council.
Still addressing his letter to Vano Merabishvili, the financier reminds the minister of an incident involving them, president Saakashvili and Bokeria, then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, one year prior to the 2008 Georgian-Russian war, at a time of rising tension on the borders with the breakaway republics and a number of cross border shootings:
“Do you remember how Saakashvili begged me to persuade Bokeria away from making a very risky and fatal decision for the country?” he asks.
“Bokeria was urging the deployment of Georgian troops in South Ossetia, and hoped that Russian military stationed there as peacekeepers would let Georgians into Tskhinvali without resistance. You attended the meeting with Saakashvili when I managed to dissuade Bokeria in 40 minutes. He stepped back and refused to set a plan, when suddenly Saakashvili said: What if the Russians themselves suggest doing it, what should we do then? And I warned him, unless the Russian Foreign Ministry doesn’t make an official statement, don’t do anything, even if they grant you this territory.”
“I managed to stop the fatal decision then. But later in 2008 you acted with the same scenario, and hence, you saw the result in August 2008.”
“[President Mikheil Saakashvili] is tired, exhausted and he is taking himself as well as the country into the abyss” –Bidzina Ivanishvili, businessman
“Now I want to give some piece of advice to you,’ the billionaire goes on in his statement published in several Georgian dailies, still addressing Interior Minister Merabishvili. “Give Saakashvili the advice that it’s time to retire. He is tired, exhausted and he is taking himself as well as the country into the abyss. You and your teacher [justice minister and confidance of Saakashvili Zura] Adeishvili are making him a disservice by keeping him in power.”
“If he does not follow your advice, then step down yourself. This would be the best way, and you will remain a respectable and dignified man.”
The declaration, which is the top story in most Georgian news outlets Wednesday evening and is putting the whole nation on edge, then turns to addressing the president directly. “Stop, Misha, you are standing on the edge of the abyss, stop!” Ivanishvili implores.
After the businessman’s surprise first statement which started this story October 7, while French president Nicolas Sarkozy was visiting Tbilisi, the capital has been abuzz with talk about why someone who has kept such a low profile for so long suddenly sprang onto the public arena, and in such a dramatic way. Georgians know Ivanishvili mainly as a publicity-shy do-gooder who has paid for water supply in his native Sachkhere village, as well as handed out grants to families living there. But at this point, he explains, charity just isn’t good enough under the current political circumstances.
“If I give my word to the Georgian people that I’ll enter politics, it means I will.”
“The motive of my decision is that I understand that I won’t be able to change the general situation in the country only through charity, financial assistance, sponsorship and investing in particular fields, if all of these are not supported by the political authorities,” the businessman explains.
Quite simply, he isn’t entering politics to defeat anyone, not for revenge but to let every citizen win. He does not want to cooperate with Georgian “pseudo-oppositional” parties which have a hidden relationship with the government and act under its instructions and orders. They are more of a nuisance for the development of democracy in the country.
Since the story broke last Friday, discussion in Tbilisi has centered around the question of who will join the financier’s nascent movement. In today’s statement, the Georgians were offered a more detailed analysis of how he views the multitude of opposition groups and which ones he wants to ally with.
“I won’t refrain from saying their names: I will not work with the Christian Democrats, with the Labor Party, the New Rights, Natonal Democratic party Georgian Party, with Tortladze’s and Davitaia parties,” he declares slamming them as traitors of public trust.
Done handing out negative characteristics Ivanishvili lists a number of politicians with whom he is eager to cooperate: the Republican Party and the Free Democrats, led by former United Nations envoy Irakli Alasania, both parties the center of increased attention from Georgian media as this story is building.
Now having extended a hand to those parties, the billionaire tries to make amends with two independent cable TV channels he sees as key to the movement’s success — Maestro and Kavkazia.
In his October 7 statement, the financier called the channels quasi-oppositional and claimed they are taking orders from the president as a means of letting out steam in the general population, giving them a false impression that there is diversity and plurality in the media sector, while in reality it is being totally controlled of the government.
Journalists with both stations reacted with apprehension and unease to the offer to buy them for three times their market value, while promising to respect editorial independence and thereby free them from government control. In his second statement he elaborates what he meant. Writing about Maestro TV, he writes:
“When the television is being held by a pseudo-oppositional company owned by Erosi Kitsmarishvili [former Moscow ambassador and one of the leaders of the oppositional Georgian Party] — a person, as he himself admitted, undermined people’s real choice with the government in 2008 — is it then possible for someone to have an illusion that such person could become the guarantee of freedom of speech?” he writes about Maestro TV.
Then he specifically addresses Shalva Ramishvili, one of Maestro’s prominent journalists, remembering ‘Dardubala’, an animated satire show which played a role in the pro-democracy movement leading up to the Rose Revolution in 2003.
“For me, my family and for the entire country you were an idol who demonstrated remarkable talent in the country’s swampy environment and directly told people that living in this swamp is an insult to our human dignity,” Ivanishvili writes, adding that he is ready to fund a new project like Dardubala.
But less kind words are extended to another media personality, Davit Akubardia, one of the owners of and an anchor on Maestro’s sister station Kavkazia. Ivanishvili blames him of timidity and conformism.
“David, I don’t want to buy your Kavkazia, don’t sell it to me nor give it to me. But be objective, truthful and objective, and not every other day or sometimes, but 24 hours a day,” Ivanishvili writes.
After his first statement, in which the investor offered to buy Maestro and Kavkazia for three times their market value, he was accused of trying to buy journalists, and hence, to limit their independence. Clarifying what he meant, he lists a number of terms for taking over the channels, terms guaranteeing that the journalists will have complete freedom under his patronage.
“I don’t want to buy journalists. I want to create an atmosphere free of the offensive and limited environment in which they have to work today,” Ivanishvili states.
Both TVs initially rejected the proposal. But surprisingly on Wednesday, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, the co-owner of Maestro, announced his decision, unbeknownst to the channel’s chief director, that he along with other owners would sell their shares in the station to Ivanishvili for a symbolic price of 1 Georgian lari.