Neutralizing opposition Georgian-style

One of Georgia's richest men is facing some serious obstacles as he tries to enter the country's political fray. First, the authorities stripped Bidzine Ivanishvili of his Georgian citizenship, and now, a court has refused to annul the decision.

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili is known for his harsh criticism of President Saakashvili, and his plans to run for high office have not been welcomed by the Georgian government.

The entry into Georgia’s political battleground of the man who could challenge Saakashvili has frightened the president of eight years.That’s according to Ivanishvili’s lawyer, Eka Beselia.

“When he said he’s going to create a political party, he’s going into politics and he’s starting to get ready for elections, the government panicked,” said Beselia.

They panicked so much they took away Ivanishvili’s Georgian citizenship on the grounds that he also held a French passport.Officials pointed out that double citizenship is against Georgian law, and said he might be deported.

Ivanishvili claims the move was politically motivated, and is appealing the decision. The Georgian government has also raided a bank Ivanishvili owns amid accusations of money laundering. It has also disarmed and removed some of his security guards and arrested people close to Ivanishvili.

“Our government has a way of accusing people of treason. The authorities violate their power and then use their position as an excuse for their actions,” says political scientist Gia Huhashvili.

Ivanishvili is famous as one of Georgia’s richest businessmen. He has funded the building of churches and theaters and now he is funding a return of a well-known Georgian satirical TV show. The show’s director says he has confidence in Ivanishvili, even though he is still new to politics.

“He’s learning how to be politician. He used to be a very significant businessman. But now the methods he used in his business have to be changed because he’s a public politician. But he is adapting very quickly,” said Shalva Ramishvili, director of the satirical show, “Dardubala.”

Ivanishvili has no choice but to adapt, because while he himself is confident he will win the next election, many around him are not even sure if he will be allowed to run for president.

Welcoming his efforts to form a new political force would be clear evidence of the democratic spirit that is so often talked about in Georgia but not so often shown.

It is hard to tell whether Bidzina Ivanishvili will be part of Georgia’s political future or not. However, it is easy to see his case as a metaphor for the overall state of politics in Georgia.