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The Democratic Process in Action
When I first started thinking about writing this blog entry, I figured I would write about the deliciousness of Georgian food, the perils of Georgian driving, or the fact that every person I meet seems to have a very strong opinion on why I’m not married and on the best way to solve that problem. But then they started burning brooms in the streets. Mere hours after the videos of horrible prisoner abuse were released, the streets filled with protesters and the protests never stopped. It was exciting to see such a public outcry, the refusal to be silenced by empty rhetoric or to be appeased by meaningless gestures by the government. Georgians were surprised by my interest; surely in America people would be just as unwilling to swallow the government’s excuses? They were even more shocked when I answered that truthfully, I didn’t know if we would react with such persistent outrage. But eventually the protests became background noise, a continuous cycle of honking and chanting I could hear from my roof as I did my homework. It became a comforting din as every few hours I was reassured that apathy had not yet set in.
Despite all this, no one I met had much hope for the elections. There was no way the ruling party, The United National Movement (UNM), would allow the opposition coalition, Georgian Dream (GD or Otsnebe, which means “dream” in Georgian), to take the majority in parliament. Everyone expected violations of electoral law, corruption, and general fraud – the opposition had little to no chance of officially winning. Theories about what would happen afterwards were all over the map: some worried there would be violence, repression, revolution; others were sure that silence and order would be ensured through bribery and back-room dealing, and that the population would resign themselves to business as usual. Then the unthinkable happened. Otsnebe won. Tbilisi erupted. Power had been transferred through democratic process, no revolution necessary. For Georgia, this was a historic moment regardless of one’s political affiliation and the exhilaration was contagious. By 4a.m. the city-wide party was finally breaking up and the streets were strewn with bottles, cigarette butts, posters, and general merrymaking debris.
A visitor arriving in Tbilisi the next morning would never be able to guess what had happened mere hours before. The streets were clean, people were going about their business, the only reminder of the jubilation from the night before was the odd car driving past, honking and waving a blue flag out the window. For the last three weeks all anyone could talk about was the protests, the elections, the possible outcomes; and now, two days after one of the most important political events in modern Georgian history, politics has all but disappeared from conversations. Perhaps people are worried they will jinx it if they talk about change and progress too much, perhaps they don’t want to get their hopes up only to be disappointed again, or perhaps they just want to be able to take free and fair elections for granted.
Sitting on my roof now as I write this, I hear nothing but normal city sounds: cars driving past, a dog barking, children playing, construction several blocks away. It’s almost disconcerting; I keep straining to hear the honking and yelling of the protest march on Rustavelli that several days ago I found so encouraging. But there isn’t one, it’s no longer needed, and that is more encouraging still.
Ruth Grossman is studying Georgian in Tbilisi.