Friday, April 15, 2011
On Saturday, 9 April, crowds gathered outside the Parliament building in Tbilisi to mark the anniversary of the 1989 massacre by Soviet troops of 20 hunger strikers (above). Times have changed, but despite the Rose Revolution of 2003, which ended the corrupt regime of Eduard Shevardnadze, opposition party members and supporters still face threats and intimidation. In October three opposition party leaders were arrested and charged with fraud and possession of weapons, charges they strongly deny. This was followed by the shooting of the son and daughter-in-law of Georgian Party activist Amiran Iobashvili. Iobashvili himself was beaten up outside his home by unknown assailants shortly after the May 2008 parliamentary elections.
At the rally, a group of MPs was greeted with jeers and whistles. In stark contrast, the venerable Ilia II, Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia, was mobbed as he attempted to reach the ‘martyrs’ memorial’ (below). More pictures here.
We should count ourselves lucky that Andrew Lansley, our floundering Health Secretary, has not taken a study tour to Georgia. In the former Soviet Republic, public hospitals are being closed down or sold off at short notice, often in transactions with private buyers that are less than transparent. Resistance from trade unions is hampered by a draconian labour code, brought in by President Mikhail Saakashvili in 2006. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the code has undermined fundamental workers rights, and many trade unionists complain of intimidation by both government and employers.
In Tbilisi the leading hospital for reconstructive surgery in the Caucasus (above) has been sold to a private company and suffered a major reduction in beds and staffing levels. At the same time costs of treatment have risen while, as the ITUC also reports, government policies have led to rising levels of poverty - clearly visible in central Tbilisi (below). All an indication of what might happen in the UK, were Lansley’s star to rise again. More pictures here.