In a flamboyant and trenchant speech, President Saakashvili apparently compared Russian leaders to the Persian shah who conquered the Georgian region of Kakheti more than three centuries ago and business and media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili to a notorious historical Georgian traitor.
Mikheil Saakashvili traveled on October 15 to the eastern province of Kakheti, home to over 60% of Georgian vineyards, amid mounting pressure from the opposition. After visiting local vineyards, he arrived in the province’s main town of Telavi and told the crowd there that despite Russia’s economic embargo Georgia, and in particular Kakheti, “hadn't knelt down.”
“I want to invite Georgia’s great ‘protector’, President Putin, here; let him come and taste our wine. I want Russia’s entire sanitary inspection [the state agency which formally banned the import of Georgian wines last March] and Russian generals to come here too… to show them that Georgia is not kneeling down and that it is impossible to defeat Georgia; Kakheti has confirmed this,” Saakashvili said.
The grape harvest has become part of a political standoff between the authorities and the opposition, with the latter accusing the government of failing to provide adequate measures to help winegrowers suffering from the Russian embargo.
A few weeks ago Tbilisi-based Imedi TV (co-owned by Badri Patarkatsishvili) showed footage of a winegrower in Kakheti, angry over a failure to sell his harvest at a reasonable price, cutting down his vines. Officials responded by claiming that the scene had been staged by the TV station, which, some alleged, had paid the farmer GEL 1,500. Officials from the ruling party immediately announced that the “staged show” was part of Patarkatsishvili’s “propaganda” to plant hopelessness among the people.
In his speech in Telavi, Saakashvili referred to this particular episode, saying: “Some people – and they represent only 0.0001% of our population - take money for cutting down their vines and then showing it on TV. But others are working round the clock to sell their harvest in order to strengthen both their own families and the entire country.”
The president then moved on to history, drawing parallels between Erekle II, king of Kakheti and Kartli in the mid and late 18th century, and the current situation in Georgia.
“When Agha Mohammad Khan [Shah of Persia in the late 18th century] and his army approached our gates, Erekle II was urging people to fight and save Georgia; meanwhile Markozashvili [historically he is notorious for betraying the King] and people like him were telling people: Erekle [II] is a bad king; we do not need a king,” Saakashvili said.
He then continued with an apparent reference to business and media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili: “Today people like Markozashvili have TV stations, today people like Markozashvili have money and various means, but they do not have the Georgian people’s support.”
Saakashvili also spoke about, as he put it, “the Shah Abbas of modern times” – Abbas I, the Shah of Persia notorious in Georgia for his invasion of Kakheti in the early 17th century, wherein tens of thousands of Georgians died.
“Shah Abbas of modern times – you know very well whom I mean – this modern Shah Abbas struck a major blow against you [the people of Kakheti]. The wine embargo was directed against you because this modern Shah Abbas knows very well that the only way to defeat Georgia is to defeat Kakheti,” he said, in an obvious reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He did not, however, mention him by name.
Saakashvili also said that Georgia had never been as strong as it was today.
“Never before has Georgia had hundreds of thousands of reserve troops, a professional army, a strong police, efficient state structures and a growing economy.”