Saturday, January 31, 2009

More Protests

Citizens in Georgia and Russia have recently taken to the streets to challenge sitting governments. In Georgia, the opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili has renewed its efforts to oust him from the presidency and hold new elections for the executive and legislative branches. The participation of Nino Burjanadze, a respected politician and erstwhile ally of Saakashvili during the Rose Revolution, increases the clout of anti-government actors. Strong opposition leadership, along with the repercussions of the financial crisis and the brief war with Russia in August 2008, could facilitate mobilization efforts. If critical government institutions, such as the security services, are reticent to support Saakashvili, the opposition could make progress on its demands. However, people are notoriously difficult to mobilize.

In Russia, demonstrations and counter-demonstrations about the government's response to the economic crisis were held on Saturday in several cities. Anti-government protesters called for the ouster of Prime Minister Putin; pro-government protesters expressed support for the government's efforts to combat the economic crisis. Unlike the opposition in Georgia, Russia's opposition does not appear to have a unified, charismatic leadership. Moreover, the main government institutions and media continue to support the president and prime minister. Mobilization is undermined by government repression and limited access to the national media. However, economic crisis could be used as a pretense to hold early elections, providing an opportunity for the prime minister to return to the presidency (with extended term limits). For various interpretations of the events in Russia, see: BBC, Lenta.ru, RIA Novosti, RFE/RL, and the New York Times.

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