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I’ve got Georgia on my mind. Not “the peach state,” but the Republic of Georgia.
This nation gained its 15-minutes of international fame in August when it briefly got into a territorial war with Russia, its powerful northern neighbor. Georgia quickly got routed, but not before U.S. politicians – especially the Bush White House and John McCain – leapt into the fray with a fusillade of red hot rhetoric. They worked themselves into a froth condemning Russia, while also praising Georgia as plucky, Western-style democracy that deserves America’s full support. Indeed, Bush and McCain immediately pledged a billion of our tax dollars to Georgia and hailed its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, as a combination of George Washington and “Rocky Balboa.”
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Back home, however, people snickered at the idea of Saakashvili being a democratic model. Running a semi-authoritarian state, he routinely unleashes his thuggish police forces to suppress his opposition, attack protesters, and repress the media.
Georgia’s independent, human-rights watchdog, for example, says that “a free press is the main myth created by [Saakashvili] that the West believes in.” He bluntly reports that “the government is so afraid of criticism that it has felt compelled to raid media offices and to intimidate journalists and bash their equipment.”
What Saakashvili can’t achieve by bashing he gets by cronyism and censorship. Staff members and even owners of media outlets have been forced out, replaced by government allies. And the news director of Georgia’s most popular TV station says she was under so much government pressure to alter stories that she finally resigned on the air.
Beware of the Bush-McCain line that Georgia is a flower of democracy. Once again, our leaders are trying to commit America financially and militarily on false pretenses.
“ Georgians Say A Strong Hand Curbs the Press,” The New York Times, October 7, 2008.