On the front...
Well, not that front.
But still a very interesting front.
Sunday night in the center of Tbilisi, the sights and sounds of thousands gathering outside parliament saturated the atmosphere.
From the hardcore opposition supporter to the family going out to get away from the daily television programming, people came from all motivations. However, it seemed to be more than a congregation: it was a movement.
While there are some confirmed instances of voter fraud and intimidation, the influence was judged to me of minimal influence in its worst cases. However, there are hushed reports that there was more at play, and it seems many people knew it. Now, the deciding factor was whether or not it could be proven, and the changes made.
The people outside parliament this past weekend were questioning the validity of the elections’ outcome, something not unusual for any government this day in age. Despite this, Georgia has largely been on track to be one of the most progressively headed countries in the former Soviet Bloc, not to mention Europe as a whole.
As the people stood in the street in defiance, many of their leaders gave impassioned speeches. Calling for the rallying of the people and the emboldening of the citizens’ patriotism, even those with imperfect Georgian knew that change was being demanded.
The local police meanwhile maintained a peaceful atmosphere during this, allowing the protests to go on, and handling traffic in their professional manner.
However, things changed when the speaking opposition members pulled a card that not many expected to come out. At the climax of the speeches, a call was made to march to the hillside estate of Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Ivanishvili is a controversial figure, to say the least. Coming from a simple family in Imereti, he made his fortune following his early 1990s ventures in the emerging realm of Russian banking. With the era of great privatization in post-Soviet Russia, Bidzina acquired many of the formerly government run industries, developed them to the new proto-capitalist model, and sold them for a profit.
As the years became decades, he found himself with a healthy sum of money, as well as a growing interest in a political career. This led to the founding of the Georgian Dream political party, now the ruling party in the nation’s Parliament. The compilation of these events has recently elicited the ire of many, given the already salty relationship with Russia and its politicians.
Many of the opposition feel disenfranchised, and unrepresented in the electoral process. This has been fueled more recently by a mixture of rumors and truths that some of the electoral processes have been less than honestly carried out. This is what ultimately led to the march that carried on into Sunday night.
With several thousand followers, opposition leaders commanded a march from the steps of Parliament, through to Liberty (Freedom) Square, and then on to the road leading to Ivanishvili’s home.
Along the way, many of the members would chant, sing, and generally wave various national and political party flags. With the press intermingled in the crowd, they seemed to draw new supporters as they meandered through Tbilisi’s winding residential streets, albeit many simply joining for the excitement of it all.
All the while, numerous bystanders and local residents came to their balconies and to the street to voice their support for the march. Interestingly, much of the populace seemed to display sympathy with the movement. Despite the loud noises and marching, many came out at the late hour to video the people in the streets on their phone and cheer along with the shouted slogans.
At the gates of the residence, they were finally met with police barricades. After their pushing past the first barricade, the police managed to contain the advance. While many fervent statements were made towards the law enforcement officials, cooler heads prevailed as political leaders, police commanders, and the press managed to diffuse the situation.
Slowly, the masses began to pull away from the police line, and the rally began to slowly move back to their original position.
As they moved back towards Freedom Square, the leaders of the opposition, and ostensibly the march itself, locked arms and walked down the streets of Old Tbilisi. Surrounded by the press corps, they made their way back with a trail of supporters still waving their flags.
The movement morphed back into a gathering in the late hours of the evening, with groups of friends and families enjoying the night in front of the parliament building.
The effectiveness of the night’s rally is debatable, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it may set a precedent for future events.