On August 10, opposition channel Maestro TV unveiled an exclusive videotape recorded by its regional correspondent Nana Fajava in the Samegrelo region of Zugdidi. The video recording shows that approximately one-hundred unidentified individuals armed with truncheons and shields going through tactical exercises. Some commentators have asserted that the purpose of these exercises is crowd control in the case of riots and the dispersal of rallies.
This news reignites previous claims made by Irakli Alasania, leader of Our Georgia-Free Democrats and one of the leaders among the Georgian Dream coalition, that paramilitary groups in the Samegrelo region are allegedly being organized by the Georgian government to be used in the event of their defeat in the forthcoming parliamentary elections on October 1.
Alasania had said in March that the government was setting up armed paramilitary groups in the western part of the country, specifically in Samegrelo, in preparation for post-election civil unrest. Alasania sent the video to the Georgian Security Council and warned foreign diplomats to carefully research the issue.
Later, the government called on Alasania and the Georgian Dream Coalition to stop spreading misinformation; at the same time, the Georgian Security Council noted that the documents sent by Alasania are useless and do not prove anything. Additionally, foreign diplomats did not provide a serious response to the release of the video.
On Maestro TV’s Direct Talk program anchored by Eka Beridze on April 11, the EU Ambassador to Georgia, Philip Dmitrov, exclaimed that the EU has a “respectable presence in Georgia”, therefore, “if anybody tried to prove to us that there are processes there that we cannot see, this would mean that we, the EU, are not very reliable and I cannot accept this.”
Such sharp difference in positions gave rise to confrontation between Alasania and Dmitrov. It even provoked people to ask the question: who is telling the truth– Irakli Alasania or Philip Dmitrov?
The advent of the videotape has placed the issue of paramilitary groups back on the opposition’s agenda. Zviad Chkhaidze, described by Maestro TV as a Reserve officer, analyzed the videotape and concluded that based upon the exercises, the individuals involved in the training activities were newly recruited. Additionally, Chkhaidze assumes that this is a militarized group; therefore, he was surprised to see unidentified individuals in civil uniforms. “They should have been wearing special uniforms” Chkhaidze emphasized. He went on to explain that such groups are usually paramilitary in nature and procedure obliges them to wear special uniforms.
Kakha Mikaia, one of the leaders of Georgian League of Voters, claims that policemen have been involved in the tactical exercises. According to Mikaia, the exercises were commandeered by the Counter-Intelligence Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. He asserted that the main purpose of such groups is to oppress opposition activists in the Samegrelo region and break up a political rally planned in the region in September.
Additionally, among the participants of the exercises, Mikaia recognized Giorgi Samushia, who was allegedly involved in the dispersal of opposition rallies in 2007. According to Maestro TV, on October 28, 2007, Samushia along with other unidentified persons in civil uniforms and armed with batons, attacked a peaceful political meeting held by opposition forces; several were injured in the clash.
Kakha Kukava, the leader of Conservative Party of Georgia notes that the absence of special uniforms is a sign that the groups is of special-purpose. According to Kukava, such groups have been used during the dispersal of the 7th November and 26th of May political meetings when the violent actions and cruelty of several unidentified persons without special uniforms and armed with truncheons and shields caused the severe injury and deaths of several opposition activists.
Maestro TV’s journalist tried to contact the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, but a representative of the ministry refused to make any comments except to note that the exercises have been planned and they do not differ from other systematic maneuvers. The members of the ruling party and the Georgian government have since refrained from making comments regarding the issue.
By and large, the pre-election period has already been marked by the confrontation between the governmental and opposition activists. The Georgian government has already been charged with an attempt to use administrative resources to oppress anti-governmental parties and particularly, the Georgian Dream Coalition. Consequently, the issue of special paramilitary groups raised by Irakli Alasania may become even more critical leading up to the parliamentary elections. The fact that the exercises took place in the Samegrelo region and the individuals recorded have been observed in civil uniforms training for the dispersal of rallies is in favor of Alasania’s earlier statement made at the special briefing in March.