The World Today for November 23, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

When Heroes Fall

GEORGIA

The European Court of Human Rights recently demanded that the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia safeguard former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who had been staging a hunger strike in prison, before ending it over the weekend.

Georgian authorities arrested and imprisoned Saakashvili, who was in office from 2004 to 2013, on an abuse-of-power conviction in early October when he returned to the country after eight years of exile in Ukraine. His arrests caused his supporters to stage mass protests on his behalf. Claiming the charges are politically motivated, he had not eaten for more than seven weeks.

As Reuters explained, Saakashvili has complained that his prison lacks medical care, that he has been threatened by other inmates and beaten by police. His complaints prompted the European court’s intervention. “The ruling is a so-called interim measure ordered by the Strasbourg-based court in urgent cases where the ECHR deems there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm to an applicant,” wrote Al Jazeera.

Saakashvili returned to Georgia to campaign for opposition candidates in local elections. The ruling Georgian Dream party won the vote, Radio Free Europe reported, though runoffs in major cities were still pending. Saakashvili’s imprisonment overshadowed the election results, however, noted the Atlantic Council, preventing Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili from basking for long in the glow of his party’s victory.

Saakashvili is a major figure in Georgia’s modern history. Educated at Columbia University and George Washington University, elected nearly unanimously after the peaceful “Rose Revolution” in 2003 that ended the country’s Soviet-era regime, he has long been an advocate of democracy and free markets, Foreign Policy magazine wrote. He was the darling of the West for his anti-corruption and modernization efforts.

In 2008, he ran the response to Russia’s invasion of the country, which ended in two regions (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) becoming breakaway republics under the protection of leaders in Moscow. Most recently, he had been serving in numerous positions in the Ukrainian government that has been waging a war against Russian forces in the east. While he became a Ukrainian citizen, he stoked controversy and made enemies among powerful figures in that country, too, even as he was stripped of his Georgian citizenship.

He also brooked little criticism or resistance, wrote the Washington Post columnist Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden. The abuse-of-power charges stemmed from allegations that he attempted to cover up evidence linked to an assault against an opposition legislator.

Garibashvili, meanwhile, has expressed bitterness toward his rival, saying he “has the right to commit suicide,” Agence France-Presse reported.

One thing is for sure: Neither Georgia nor the world has heard the last of Saakashvili.

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