Some ex-presidents write their memoirs after leaving office. Others hit the speaking circuit or take up painting.
Leave it to Georgia’s 47-year-old ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, never one to do things by the book, to become, it appears, the first former head of state to give up his own country’s citizenship so that he can act as a regional governor in another country.
But Saakashvili, showing up for work in jeans on Sunday, May 31 as the new head of the Ukrainian region of Odessa, takes it in stride. Those who consider “silly” his decision to run Odessa and adopt Ukrainian citizenship should stop and think, he told Georgia’s Rustavi2 TV station.
“Under the rules established by [ex-Prime Minister Bidzina] Ivanishvili, you know what Georgian citizenship is for me today? This is six square meters [in Tbilisi’s prison #9] . . .That’s what Georgian citizenship is for me. “
Saakashvili is wanted in Georgia on a range of criminal charges, and several of his closest allies already are doing time in jail – a situation that has raised international concerns about alleged political harassment by the ruling, Ivanishvili-founded Georgian Dream coalition.
Saakashvili, the sympathetic Rustavi2 noted, appears inclined just to wait it out. Georgia has fresh parliamentary elections in 2016 and presidential elections in 2018.
“When the time comes, we’ll return to Georgia and fulfill those . . . aims that I want,” he said.
A desire to stop power-hungry Russian President Vladimir Putin from absorbing Odessa into his "Novorossiya" project motivated his decision to make the switch to governor of the region, he claimed.
In the meantime, he will not petition current Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili to grant him dual citizenship.
It doesn’t look likely that Margvelashvili would consider such a request anyway. An unnamed source in Georgia’s presidential administration commented to the daily Rezonansi on June 1 that the response most likely would be negative.
Margvelashvili himself has described his predecessor’s switch to Ukrainian citizenship as an “insult,” and “incomprehensible. “
“Values,” such as Georgian citizenship, Margvelashvili underlined, news outlets reported, “should be more important than a career.”
Locals maintain that the change in citizenship means that Saakashvili, a leader of the 2003 Rose Revolution, will have to drop out of Georgian politics, but as yet, no sign exists that Saakashvili’s opposition United National Movement, already under political stress, is considering finding a replacement for their departed chief.
Saakashvili told Rustavi2 that he does not intend on abandoning his chairmanship of the party. After all, he noted, if Ivanishvili and ex-President Eduard Shevardnadze could take part in Georgian politics without first having Georgian citizenship, why can't he?
“My responsibility is in Georgia . . . ” he said, running through a checklist of perceived policy-problems. “No matter how many things I have going on here, a large part of my thoughts will be with those areas where I have responsibility.”