Thorns not roses? Georgia's revolution four years on

Georgia is marking the fourth anniversary of the Rose Revolution that swept Mikhail Saakashvili to power in 2003. In November of that year demonstrators stormed parliament following a rigged election, forcing the resignation of President Shevardnadze.

But the celebrations are muted this year, soured by recent political turmoil. An early presidential election is due in January following mass protests in the capital Tbilisi.

November 2003

Four years ago today, Georgia's opposition, lead by Mikhail Saakashvili, stormed parliament. They demanded the resignation of then president Eduard Shevardnadze after the results of parliamentary elections were judged to have been falsified. This became known as the Rose Revolution.

Four years on, and Georgia has seen impressive economic growth, eliminated petty corruption, and renovated much of its ageing infrastructure. But the unemployment rate is high, poverty is rife, and the country remains unstable. Many now see the revolution as a mistake.

Roses have thorns

Newspaper publisher Zaza Gachechiladze says revolutions fail to bring positive results, whether they are rose, velvet or any other colour.

“Politicians come and go, but the country should remain and should become stable and people should live happily at least for some time in their lives. Unfortunately, we don't see that and I am very much upset, very much distressed,” Gachechiladze said.

Othes disagree. Journalist Ana Datiashvili says the Rose Revolution brought positive change to Georgia.

“As a mother, as a journalist as a citizen of this country it is really important for me to have peace in the county, to have economic stability,” she said.

Datiashvili's colleague Christina Taskevich echoes this view.

“I think it was quite an important step in the history of Georgia, even if there are some negative results of the revolution.”

Georgia's opposition demanded the resignation 
            of then president Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003
Georgia's opposition demanded the resignation of then president Eduard Shevardnadze in 2003

Earlier this month, the so-called 'rose administration' faced its biggest crisis so far, when tens of thousands came out onto the same square that had been the centre of Saakashvili's leap to power.  They demanded the government's resignation.

At the time, Saakashvili was dismissive of the protests.

“The Rose Revolution was not only a very significant event of recent years; it really was one of the most important events in Georgia's history,” he said.

On November 7 the protests ended in violence, when they were dispersed by riot police. Many saw this as forever tarnishing Saakashvili's reputation, and discrediting his government.

Will the roses fade?

But experts warn it is too early to write off the Rose Revolution. Jonathan Kulick, Director of Studies from the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, says “the economic achievements were not destroyed.”

“I believe that saying that all the hope has gone after the revolution would be premature. The economic achievements were not destroyed,” Kulick said.

In response to the November 7 events Saakashvili called a snap presidential election. Though confident of victory, his reputation rests on how fair and transparent the polls are.

Aslan Abashidze is professor of international law at the Peoples' Friendship University in Moscow. He says it's “ludicrous” to celebrate given “the results of his four years in office.”

“After the protests were broken up by force, the majority of the nation simply hates this regime. I do not see who and how anyone will be celebrating the occasion. The majority of the population perceive it as a dark page of our history,” Mr Abashidze said.

Preparations are underway to celebrate the anniversary. But whether Saakashvili will be celebrating this day four years from now depends on the results of the January 5 vote.