Georgian leader's messy exit


November 25, 2003

Perhaps Boris N. Yeltsin's departure as president of Russia was more graceful. He resigned with great drama on New Year's Eve 1999, installed Vladimir V. Putin as his successor and swept away from public view.

Georgia's President Eduard A. Shevardnadze left office in messier fashion. For days, protesters weary of corruption and poverty demanded that he go, chanting, "Enough." Saturday, his angry countrymen broke into parliament, and Shevardnadze fled out the back door, in great indignity, still insisting that he would not leave office.

Sunday, he did just that.

Yeltsin and Shevardnadze share their tragedy. Both rose majestically to meet the demands of history, but in the end neither was able to grow beyond some of the confines of their past. For them, decisions were still ordered and not discussed.

Shevardnadze, as Mikhail S. Gorbachev's foreign minister, helped prepare the way for the peaceful disintegration of the Soviet Union and, in 1992, returned to his Georgian homeland, offering a prosperous and democratic future. That promise went unkept.

Yeltsin defied the coup of August 1991 and promised Russia greatness, wealth and all the freedoms of democracy. Russians, beset by corruption and poverty, were disappointed.

Following are comments on Shevardnadze's fall, from his opponents and some of his neighbors, provided by wire reports and compiled by Kathy Lally:

Interim Georgian President Nino Burdzhanadze:

The past 20 days will go down in the history of Georgia as magnificent days of peaceful struggle for freedom and civil rights. Every citizen of Georgia who, with integrity and in peace, stood up to defend his or her own rights has deserved reverence, a respectful bow and gratitude. ...

We have overcome the gravest crisis in the modern history of our country without spilling a single drop of blood. ... We have achieved a victory of crucial significance for the future of our country, for the development of democratic structures in our country, for the restoration of the sense of dignity of our nation. ...

It is crucially important for our country to restore the rule of law everywhere and in all spheres. The impunity syndrome was a major problem in our country, and it should be eradicated. The major problem was that the law was ineffective in the country. As of tomorrow, we must do our best to ensure that the law prevails in all the spheres of the country. ...

As of tomorrow, we are facing a historic chance to put our country onto the road that is called the road to the European family. We have a historic chance to build together a new, strong and independent state, to serve our country together and to win victory together.

Mikhail Saakashvili, anti-Shevardnadze leader:

I deem that the president has made a very brave step. He has avoided bloodshed in the country. He has taken a step which is in the interests of the country as well as in the interests of every Georgian family. And I think history will appreciate this.

Russian State Duma [parliament] Speaker Gennady Seleznyov:

This was the wisest move on his part. Shevardnadze himself founded and encouraged those parties and organizations that have come to power now, and he failed to foresee that they would stand up against him. He should have resigned long ago and should not have run in the last presidential elections. Shevardnadze has outwitted himself.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin:

There was nothing that we hadn't expected in these events. The change of power there is the logical outcome of a series of systemic mistakes in the foreign, domestic and economic policies of Georgia's previous leadership.

Foreign policy was pursued without any regard for the ancient cultural and historical traditions of the Georgian people or for the geopolitical reality. In its internal policy, no action was taken to strengthen the institutions of democracy and the foundations of Georgian nationhood.

What was in evidence instead was the way in which it helplessly maneuvered between the country's different political forces. As for economic policy, it was reduced to the humiliation of efforts to secure handouts from abroad.

Russian newspaper Kommersant:

The history of the conflict between the government and opposition in Georgia did not start with the attack on parliament. ... The catalyst for the crisis was the visit to Georgia of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in July and the Americans' efforts to unify the forces opposed to the president.

Stepan Havrich, Ukrainian parliament:

This is a lesson to Ukraine. Ukraine also has a very strong and organized opposition group in parliament that could seek power by force.

Yuri Lutsenko, Ukrainian parliament:

The events in Georgia are clear proof to our authorities that a regime that maintains itself in power through illegal means ends up being overturned one day by illegal means.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov:

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