Q&A with Irakli Sesiashvili
“All the officers and soldiers who ran away [from the military unit] must be punished; all of them should go to jail,” he added.
A.: This incident in Mukhrovani is not the first of this kind. The situation there was aggravated several months ago. Today it has reached its culmination. Just a few days before the recent incident about 40 soldiers went AWOL from this military unit, but the authorities were able to hide that fact and it was not revealed.
Afterwards, others also protested against bad social conditions and left the military unit. But, in my opinion, besides the social problems, the relations between officers and privates represent a problem as well.
Q.: Can you specify what do you mean by relations between officers and privates?
A.: I do not know exactly, because the soldiers do not speak, or cannot speak, or are afraid to speak about it. I witnessed one soldier crying he was so categorically against returning to the Mukhrovani military unit. I am sure that if the reasons behind this incident are not thoroughly analyzed, we will face much more serious problems.
I am sure that the commanders of that military unit are to blame for this incident. The persons responsible for this incident are high-level officials in the army. But I am afraid that [ordinary] soldiers have become the scapegoats.
Moreover, the authorities speak of a so called “third force” and a “provocation.” If we believe them, this means there is some kind of “third force” which triggers 18-year-old boys to protest. This is not true. Unfortunately, the authorities’ position is that everyone is guilty, except [the authorities].
I think at least the Commander of the Internal Troops Gogi Tatukhashvili should bear responsiblity. But he is a close associate of President Saakashvili.
Q.: Can you describe those social conditions which the servicemen were protesting against?
Q.: But the Mukhrovani military unit has been reconstructed recently. The President himself attended the opening ceremony of the reconstructed unit in September.
A.: The building has really been reconstructed. But whitened walls only are not enough. The soldiers do not even have cold water regularly. Heating equipment has been installed, but there is no fuel. I don't doubt that the money which was allocated for fuel has been misappropriated by someone. It is true that the food and fuel supply has really improved over the past year, but the problem is that food does not always reach its destination.
A.: Yes. As I know, a similar situation is observed in many other military units as well.
Recently, in my capacity as Military Ombudsman, I traveled to the South Ossetian conflict zone and visited the military units of the Georgian peacekeepers there. The situation is not any better there.
I thought that I would have found better conditions in the conflict zone, because it should be a priority for the government.
But, the soldiers deployed in the conflict zone lack warm clothes; they also face this problem of [not] taking baths. Moreover, the soldiers are in an information vacuum, owing to one simple reason – they have no electricity.
This water supply problem is not even solved at the Vaziani military base [near Tbilisi].
Q.: Why weren't these problems pushed forward previously?
A.: Following my visit to the South Ossetian conflict zone, I informed the previous Defense Minister, Giorgi Baramidze, about the situation there in a written form , but...
Q.: Why does it happen?
A.: The problem is that three Defense Ministers have been replaced in past year. Each of them brought their staff with them after their appointment. Gela Bezhuashvili came and established his system of managing the Ministry. He distributed power among the different departments. Then Baramidze came and changed everything and introduced a new system of management. Now, Irakli Okruashvili came and has already fired dozens from the ministry staff.
Moreover, sometimes it seems to me that all of these Ministers care more about repairing their offices and purchasing new jeeps. Do you remember what Mikheil Saakashvili once said when he was an MP? He slammed Davit Tevzadze [Defense Minister in ex-President Shevardnadze’s government] for having two jeeps. The situation has not changed much in this regard since then.
A.: First of all, the authorities should inspect the situation in each and every military unit. I call on the military officials to summon the parents of the soldiers and show them the current conditions in the military units. I understand that this is not a kindergarten, but when you face a problem and this problem troubles the society, you should do something.
The second thing is that the society should always be watchful. I have returned to my organization [the non-governmental organization Law and Freedom], from where I will more actively work over these problems.
We still need to eradicate corruption in the army. We should also establish proper military management and properly distribute power and responsibility among the General Staff and the Ministry.
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