Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is getting a lot of interesting press coverage this week – and like his public persona, there are those who hold him in awe, and those who blame him entirely for what’s happened (if you haven’t yet read what the Russians say about him, hold onto to your keyboards…). Here are some more interesting snippets of how his personality is being portrayed. “Why Americans swoon for the former Soviet Republic of Georgia,” by Ilan Greenberg, Slate.com
I got to know Georgia—and Saakashvili—when I profiled him for the New York Times Magazine. For almost two months I shadowed Misha. In Slovakia for a regional summit, walking next to Saakashvili along Bratislava’s cordoned streets, the Georgian head of state hooked his arm on my elbow and offered to trade gossip about his senior staff. In Tbilisi, Saakashvili gave me carte blanche access, not once ordering me out of his office. In a region where governments routinely conflate tribe with nation, Saakashvili pointedly switched languages to inclusively address ethnic minorities. One evening I answered my cell phone to hear the cackling voice of the then 37-year-old president, who called to tease that his evening was more interesting than mine. I had been crank-called by the president. Stockholm Syndrome was inevitable.
“He is an impatient man. He wants to move quickly,” says the ambassador. “The first signs of trouble came early on, when he was getting a lot of support and sympathy (from the west). They were saying to him: ‘Don’t rile the Russians. Take it calmly. Don’t use force’ and Saakashvili was having to grind his teeth, caught between his intense desire for rapid progress and the need for restraint.”Mr Saakashvili’s name shows his family originally came from South Ossetia. He grew up a strong nationalist with a vision to revive Georgia. One of his great heroes is King David the Builder, who ruled the country in the 11th century, and drove out the Seljuk Turks. Mr Saakashvili took his oath of office at King David’s tomb in 2004.But he does not sound like the fanatic that the Kremlin seeks to portray. He is certainly not a “lunatic”. On the other hand, he has always sounded somewhat ambiguous when talking about Georgia’s territorial integrity. He has made repeated proposals for political solutions – offering both Abkhazia and South Ossetia wide autonomy within a Georgian state – but has not seemed enthusiastic about meeting the separatists themselves, whom he regards as Russian stooges.
Mr. Saakashvili’s brashness and unpredictability made him the perfect leader for the protests. Even his closest associates don’t know what inspired him to carry a rose as he charged into parliament to demand Mr. Shevardnadze’s resignation over election fraud. The idea was Mr. Saakashvili’s alone, they say.The revolt inspired copycat people-power movements that overthrew the old order in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine the following year (the Orange Revolution) and Kyrgyzstan (the Pink, or Tulip, Revolution) in 2005. The Kremlin initially feared that the wave of “colour revolutions” would wash over Red Square too.