Georgia's partner in democracy: US: ""The US government has gone to great lengths to back a [democratic] process and institutions, and to be very careful - amid big pressure from both sides - not to back certain individuals," says Mark Mullen, head of the Georgia office of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), funded by the US government, which has engaged in democracy training here since the mid-1990s.
"We are so grateful to the US and European Union, our friends that have supported us," says Giorgi Baramidze, a chief strategist of interim President Nino Burjanadze. "We can now teach our children how to defend democracy, using Georgia's 'Rose Revolution' as the example."
Senior US officials pushed diplomatic buttons before and throughout the crisis - in concert with Russia and others - making clear to all sides the dangers of a forceful crackdown or street violence. But untidy as the opposition's seizure of power has been, analysts say that billions in Western aid - and steady prodemocracy brow-beating - proved a key to regime change, one achieved without a shot being fired. ..
Unlike pro-government parties, the opposition lapped up lessons in working together, using the media to spread its message, making a parallel vote tabulation - to provide credible "real" election results, to counter the falsified official returns - and in raising expectations of a free and fair vote. NDI and other Western-funded groups also taught lessons from case studies - from the US civil rights movement to the revolutions of East Europe that caused the Soviet Union to collapse to the example of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade in 2000. .. But a Western diplomat familiar with both cases says the Georgian example is one of "generic" democracy building, that did not aim to unseat Shevardnadze - a former Soviet foreign minister widely respected in the West for guiding the peaceful collapse of the Soviet Union. Still, protesters in Tbilisi drew some inspiration from the burning of parliament in Belgrade.
"There is clearly US influence in this," says George Khutsishvili, head of the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, one of many prodemocracy groups in Tbilisi that receives US, EU, and other Western funding. "The US has supported this government for so many years, with so little outcome. It was a disaster. Finally they realized [Shevardnadze] is not the man to count on" and that the "only thing is to remove [him]." What was unclear was whether the Belgrade example was "possible in Georgia, without blood," Mr. Khutsishvili says. "Without the US - which was crucial - there would have been a more unpredictable, violent, and painful way," ..
Perhaps more important was the environment created by the flood of prodemocracy cash in recent years, that convinced many Georgians that the vote was a farce - and that act they must. "Now that it has reached a seemingly successful result, one of the things you have to say is that all of this election hoopla, largely financed by the Western community ... [helped] raise public expectation that this would be an honest and decent election," says a Western diplomat, who asked not to be further identified. The result "exposed to the public ... what people were doing to cheat them of the full weight of their ballot," the diplomat says,.. Indeed, that message seems to have been heard widely, since protests included even the most poor, and some elderly - constituents that make little political difference elsewhere in the region. "We showed the government what we wanted," says Maria Mamasashvili, a now-unemployed laborer wearing an orange scarf, who came from the provinces to take up vigil outside the parliament building. "It was my election, they stole my vote, so I showed them my voice means something." 9:13:47 PM