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7 Aug, 2009 13:31

Wages of war

On the anniversary of the war in South Ossetia, victims of the conflict are being mourned on both sides of the border. But in Georgia the feeling of sadness is accompanied by anger at the country’s leadership.

A minute of silence was held throughout Georgia. Church bells rang across the country for those lost in the August offensive. President Mikhail Saakashvili visited the cemetery just outside Tbilisi where some of the Georgian soldiers killed in the war were buried.

While the atmosphere in all churches and cemeteries is grim, people are also expressing a lot of anger over the decision made by the country’s authorities last year. Many are saying they think the war is not over, but merely frozen. There are fears that it could take just a spark to ignite a new conflict and that the potential exists for a repetition of the events of August 2008.

Many Georgians are expressing their anger at Saakashvili for starting the war. While many believed already a year ago that it is the country’s president who should be blamed for the military conflict, now more and more people are openly stating their dissatisfaction. However, the sense of fear is still in the air. Some are still afraid to voice their anger at Saakashvili on camera because of possible repercussions.

According to Amnesty International, there are 30,000 people who were displaced on both sides by the conflict. Many of the Georgian refugees are housed just outside of the capital Tbilisi. They feel they have been forgotten about. The refuges are also expressing their discontent with the country’s authorities, as they say they are stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no places of work, schools or hospitals nearby.

In the Georgian town of Gori, which was affected by the war, people are also commemorating those who died at the same time as blaming Saakashvili for leading them to disaster.

Gori market vendor Irma Cereteli even wrote a letter to the Georgian leader, detailing her anguish and anger over the past year.

“I'm asking the president to help me in this situation,” Irma said. “In this letter I say if he can’t help me with money, then please can he help find at least one job for one member of my family so we can eat. The Georgian government is not helping us. Ever since the war it hasn’t paid enough attention to the people who suffered the most. We have to pay for everything and we don’t have money.”

Saakashvilli was successful in putting Gori in the spotlight last year.

“I have seen firsthand today with my own eyes how two Russian jet planes came very low on a very busy market place in a small town in the middle of Georgia,” claimed Saakashvili. “They have nothing to do with the conflict, it is far from the conflict area, and deliberately dropped 500-kilogram bombs on the civilian population. I happened to be not far from there and saw it with my own eyes.”

Immediately afterwards, RT went to Gori, where the crew filmed nothing but some overturned tables, shattered shop windows and damaged cars.

The president and founder of the Georgian Times newspaper, Malkhaz Gulashvili, gave an account on the incident:

“Bombs did not fall on the market in Gori, but when there is war everybody is trying to use information to their advantage,” he said. “There are different ways in public relations of how to use this kind of information against your opponent and the Georgian regime did it. They're selling aggression and fear to Georgians, and it will bring us back to war.”

Contradictory reports and political games have left people confused and scared.

“All the time we hear how Russia is going to swallow us,” said Gori resident Cicino Tvshashvilli. “The government warns us against Russia and then the opposition warns us against Saakashvili. Is it any wonder we are all frightened?”