Accidental Death of Georgian Prime Minister

Posted in Russia | 11-Feb-05 | Author: Dmitry Udalov

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania played a tremendously important role during Georgia's so-called “revolution of roses”. To be more specific: President Saakashvili’s victory over Shevardnadze would have been impossible without his support. However, the relationship between Saakashvili and Zhvania was far from ideal. Obviously they had to unite to resist Shevardnadze, but on many issues their positions were almost opposite.

The people of Georgia were shocked when it was reported that Prime Minister Zurab Vissarionovich Zhvania died in the flat of his friend. He was poisoned by carbon monoxide that was produced by a broken heating system. His death was immediately considered an accident. The preliminary results of biochemical analysis of Prime Minister Zhvania’s blood indicate that his death was due to carbon monoxide poisoning, forensic specialists said. According to early data, the content of this compound in Zhvania’s blood was as high as 40%, while the critical rate is only 16-20%. Carbon monoxide is a very treacherous substance. It is odorless and colorless and poisoning occurs inconspicuously.

Many political leaders expressed their condolences, highly praising Zhvania’s attempts to settle problems in Georgia and the Caucuses region. For example, in a telegram expressing his condolences Vladimir Putin said: “I express my sincerest condolences over the untimely and tragic death of the prominent state and political figure, Georgian Prime Minister Z.V. Zhvania. Zurab Vissarionovich was well known in Russia as a supporter of building friendly relations between the Russian and Georgian peoples.” The United States, Russia and many other countries recognized Zhvania’s death as an accident.

Despite sending their condolences, independent politicians and political analysts question whether this death was an accident as it has been officially reported. Their suspicions are not groundless: Zhvania had many political and economic enemies to be merely poisoned by a defective heater in the apartment of his friend.

One of the clearest reasons for Zhvania’s probable assassination was his campaign to counter corruption. The first step of this campaign was Zhvania's proposal to place a special tax on luxury items. Then he planned to start a massive anti-corruption operation. Although there were no significant results from this operation, those whom he wanted to strike against might have taken preventive measures.

Zhvania’s temperate position regarding the Abkhazian conflict may also have been a reason for his elimination, as some powerful and political forces in Georgia strongly opposed Zhvania’s readiness to make concessions to Abkhazian leaders. At the same time, Abkhazian authorities are very troubled because with the death Zhvania they have lost a person with whom they could hold a constructive dialog. This is why a peaceful solution to the Abkhazian conflict is highly uncertain and the confrontation could escalate soon.

The third version of Zhvania's sudden death accuses President Saakashvili and/or his support forces. In order to understand this, one needs to know that the Georgian political system is traditionally based on family clans. Many experts noticed the escalation of clashes between Saakashvili-backed forces and Zhvania-backed family clans over the last two months. Zhvania’s death might have been the result of this rivalry, depriving Saakashvili of any serious opposition in Georgia.

When speaking about the situation in Georgia as a whole, experts say that the real Georgian political course is difficult to be defined because of the “declarative fog” that hovers over President Saakashvili's speeches. In reality, the situation with regard to human rights issues, corruption and bureaucracy has gone no further than just talking about them. The democratic transition has stalled. This has been noticed by many politicians and analysts. For example in his recent State of the Union Address, President Bush spoke of success in the new democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Ukraine but did not mention Georgia. It must have been a clear message to Georgian authorities to accelerate democratic reforms.