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Georgian unrolls the 'velvet' revolution

Nini Gogiberidze is part of a corps of democracy activists teaching peaceful ways to effect basic changes.

September 03, 2008|Borzou Daragahi | Times Staff Writer

Above all, be creative. One group of Iranians began plastering its hometown with outlandish quotes from hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Authorities didn't know whether to revere or rip down the posters.

Leader was poster child

Saakashvili was the poster child of the velvet revolutionaries, and when he came to power in 2004, he brought with him many of the leaders of Georgia's "civil society" movement. Soros even helped finance the broke government after he took over.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, September 07, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Velvet revolutionaries: A Sept. 3 article in Section A about pro-democracy activists in Georgia said the International Republican Institute was a source of funding for the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies. The institute does not fund the group.

Last November, Saakashvili cracked down violently on anti-government protesters and opposition media. Many, including Gogiberidze, were disillusioned. Even Soros reportedly soured on his onetime protege.

Other observers were disturbed by the way Saakashvili seemed to push controversial agendas, including seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; buying up millions of dollars in U.S. military equipment; and establishing Georgia as a base for fomenting color revolutions, regardless of the sensitivities of the country's neighbors.

A revolution meant to open up society and bring fresh thinking to politics was pursuing policies that reinforced Moscow's worst fears. "The irony is you have a bunch of political do-gooders pushing a military agenda," Goltz says.

Citizens devised protests

During the recent conflict, as Russian troops who had advanced into Georgia in armored vehicles dug trenches and set up checkpoints, its citizens employed velvet revolution-style tactics to protest.

They led food and clothing drives for displaced people. They organized rallies where they held up flags and approached the Russian checkpoints, phalanxes of local and international media in tow. They mass-produced bumper stickers that said, "Russia Out!"

Gogiberidze stayed up until 6:30 some mornings editing video that chronicled Russia's alleged abuses. Joining relief missions, she went on forays into the occupied city of Gori, talking her way past Russian checkpoints.

She feels frustrated by Russia's continued occupation of parts of her country, which she is certain is meant to wreck Georgia's liberal democratic experiment, and still dreams that hers can be an open society oriented toward the West, rather than the stodgy autocracy it has been for hundreds of years.

"I believe in human rights. I believe everyone is free to choose their own government," she says. "Why couldn't Georgia be a democracy like the U.S.? Just because we live near Russia? We should be able to choose how we want to live."

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daragahi@latimes.com

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