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Georgia: Tbilisi and the One-Enemy State

Photographers stand up for colleagues arrested and charged with espionage. (Photo: Temo Bardzimashvili)

The espionage charges brought recently against three photographers in Georgia are stirring a debate in Tbilisi: how spooky is the Russian bogeyman?

Some observers believe Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration is suffering from a severe case of spy mania. Others, however, maintain the cases are all too real.

Based on publicly available accounts, the Georgian government has arrested 39 people on espionage charges since Saakashvili’s rise to the presidency in early 2004. A brief case in 2007 against opposition Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili was later dropped.

That averages out at a rate of nearly six cases per year for the past seven years; a high frequency compared with elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. “I find it very hard to understand why anyone needs that many spies,” said political scientist Koba Turmanidze.

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Molly Corso is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.

Georgia: Tbilisi and the One-Enemy State

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