Georgia: The Misha Show, Live and Unedited
All three national Georgian news channels on January 25 took a break from their regularly scheduled programs to bring viewers the show of the year: Georgia’s larger-than-life, sound-bite-spewing President Mikheil Saakashvili in a two-and-a-half-hour-long, live Q-and-A with viewers.
Most of the questions, posed from various locations in Georgia and abroad, were about the economy. And most of the answers were familiar. Aside from reining in inflation, providing more jobs, and increasing pensions, Saakashvili repeated pledges to bring in up to 10,000 native English teachers in the next five years, promote modern technologies, and, yes, open new ski resorts to help turn Georgia into an English-speaking, tech-savvy, skiing nation.
He advised Georgia's fragmented opposition to grow up and get over the street politics and Mafioso-style social structures of the past.
On Russia, he leaned heavy on sarcasm. “Some Russian leaders come out and claim that they want good relations with Georgia,” Saakashvili said. “Putin loves doing that little KGB thing. … he would listen to ‘Tbiliso’ [a popular Soviet-era song about Tbilisi], lean back and close his eyes. And this is taken as sure proof of how much he loves the Georgians," he said with a grin. "Well, once in awhile he may bomb several thousand people, kill several hundred children, but, all in all, he loves Georgia.”
He advised that the only surefire way to test Putin and Co’s true feelings about Georgia is to hear their take on breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russian forces are still stationed. “Ask a simple question: Is Abkhazia Georgia?” Saakashvili told the audience. “If he says 'Yes,' then go ahead and hug and kiss him. But he will say 'No'.” As happens with such powwows, much of it had the mark of the choreographed and the sugarcoated. Some citizens used their TV time to give a big shout-out to the leader for infrastructure upgrades and simplified bureaucratic procedures, while a big screen in the television studio carried images that told the Misha legend. But the president also took some tough questions.He defended the controversial ejection of hundreds of IDPs from their temporary livings in publicly and privately owned buildings, and the police action against a small group of hunger-striking war veterans. He pointed out that democracy does not mean that anyone can "urinate on" a major national symbol -- a Tbilisi memorial to fallen soldiers where the protest took place -- and hang out their underwear around it.
Yet he dodged the big question. No word on whether or not Misha plans to become prime minister after his presidential term ends in 2013.