Monday, 15 March 2010

The President of Georgia or television prankster?

If Georgians were under any misapprehension about their President before the weekend's bizarre developments in Tbilisi, surely now they must concede that he's mad, bad and dangerous to know! Saakashvili's government controlled TV station, Imedi, broadcast the news that Russia had invaded, as part of its main 8pm news bulletin.

For the eagle eyed, a disclaimer had preceded the story, and a commercial break, describing it as a consequence which could unfold, should the Georgian opposition replace Saakashvili.

None of which prevented widespread panic in Georgia and journalists based in the region mobilising to cover a new war which had apparently flared in the Caucasus. The President had been killed, reports claimed, to be replaced by opposition leader, Nino Burdzhanadze.

The elaborate hoax was clearly aimed at Burdzhanadze, who has recently visited Moscow, for talks with the Kremlin, in an attempt to normalise relations between the two countries.

To put this episode into context, particularly in the light of US and British support for Saakashvili, and his reputation as a proponent of liberal democracy in the region, imagine our government requiring the BBC to announce on the 10 O'Clock News that the UK was under attack by, for instance, the Russians.

Using real footage of Vladimir Putin, Fiona Bruce would tell us, in apparent seriousness, that Gordon Brown had been murdered and David Cameron installed as Prime Minister. This would form part of Labour's election campaign!

Not lightly did thousands of people join opposition leaders on the streets of Tbilisi, in order to protest this latest moment of madness. You can imagine how terrifying news of imminent war is in a nation which still has Saakashvili's invasion of South Ossetia, and the Russian response, fresh in its memory.

Perhaps the only benefit of this extraordinary incident is that it might hasten the Georgian President's departure and reinforce in western minds just how unsuitable and unstable is this apparent 'force for democracy' in the southern Caucasus.

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