The fratricide going on in the Republic of Georgia, a fertile and historic land on the shores of the Black Sea, is a stark reminder of the potential for violence in the former Soviet Union. About the only good thing that may come out of this senseless bloodletting is the possibility that Georgia, the only holdout among former Soviet republics, may get a new, democratic leader and join the new Commonwealth of Independent States.
The confrontation in Georgia has been building for months as opposition to President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's autocratic rule mounted. Even before the weekend's fighting, Georgia had become a new Yugoslavia, a time bomb ticking away. Tensions have been high ever since September, when the president removed Tengiz Kitovani from the leadership of the Georgian National Guard. The commander took 15,000 guardsmen and organized them into a private, anti-Gamsakhurdia army.
Calling his opponents "criminals" who were directed from Moscow by Foreign Minister Edward Shevardnadze, an ethnic Georgian and former leader of the republic, Mr. Gamsakhurdia refused to seek a negotiated settlement. That hard-headedness has seriously eroded the popularity of the erratic president, who was elected in a landslide seven months ago.