IMPLICATIONS: The National Guard has played an important role in the recent political life of Georgia. In 1991-92 the leaders of the National Guard overthrew Zviad Gamsakhurdia’s government, and subsequently turned over power to Eduard Shevardnadze. However, unsuccessful military operations in secessionist South Ossetia and Abkhazia significantly damaged the reputation of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief among the officers and soldiers of the National Guard. In addition, many military veterans were imprisoned or killed since the end of the civil war, and after the liquidation of the supporters of the ousted President Gamsakhurdia. One thing is certain: the Georgian armed forces are in a state of paralysis. The military brigades, battalions and special divisions exist only on paper. They do not represent a serious military force. The army is, literally, hungry and disrobed. There is a shortage of food supplies, sleeping bags, pillows, clothes, and shoes in military barracks – conditions which do not comply with any imaginable norms. As a result, desertion has become a normal phenomenon, and instead of the planned 7,000 conscripts, only 800 were recruited by the army last year. In spite of these well known indicators, the Georgian government did not take any measures to address the situation. Quite to the contrary, between 1997 and 2000 the Ministry of Defense annual budget was reduced from $53.4 million to $21.3 million. Endemic corruption and constant negligence began to take its toll on the military, resulting in expressions of discontent, most markedly the recent mutiny. Only then did the Georgian government get worried. The President had to negotiate with the mutineers, since there was no other realistic course of action. He made a sensational statement after the meeting: ‘I am surprised why the soldiers did not express their dissatisfaction earlier’. On May 30, the president of Georgia met with representatives of the military forces, including the mutineers. The president turned down the letters of resignation tendered by the Commander of the National Guard Jemal Chumburidze, and the Minister of Defense David Tevzadze. Earlier that day, the mutineers received their one month salary. As it also turned out, there were enough uniforms for soldiers in the warehouse. The group also discussed issues related to military reform. However, the demand of the mutineers to have the National Guard placed under the president’s direct subordination was not granted. Experts think such a move would hardly improve conditions, but could further weaken the armed forces, which are already operating in a state of anarchy and structural chaos.
CONCLUSIONS: Together with the loss of territories, one of Georgia’s most painful problems is in the social sphere. If there is a possibility of unrest and riot it will be of a social nature. A country cannot boast of stability, when 2-3% of government officials are extremely rich, while the rest of the population is impoverished. A disappearing amount of the population still believes in the promises and campaigns of the government. Moreover, chances are that the impunity syndrome following from this incident will trigger other units of the armed forces to disobey and rebel. The government sees only one way out from the existing situation and that is further reduction of armed forces to 15,000 soldiers. By comparison, Azerbaijan has an army of 90,000, and Armenia has a well-trained army of 80,000. Armenia is spending 3,6 % of its budget on the military, as does the United States. In Russia and in most NATO countries the figure is 2,8%, compared to Georgia’s 0,5%. This figure, by itself, illustrates the reasons that prepared a ground for the mutiny. The Georgian Armed Forces are experiencing a severe financial, as well as a psychological and moral crisis. The ruling party needs to address this catastrophic situation and try to improve it, instead of engaging in endless debates for the search of guilty ones.AUTHOR BIO: Mikha Gegeshidze is a writer and historian, and the author of Lost Country Warriors, a recently published book on the Abkhaz war. Later in 2001 he will join the VOA Georgian service in Washington, DC.
Copyright 2001 The Analyst All rights reserved