The Call of Duty: Ogden on Political Image


Last night, I came across a picture of former President Mikheil Saakashvili in which he is clad in military combat fatigues, his name stitched on one breast, his country on the other; a patch depicting the Georgian flag has been stitched to his left sleeve, as is normal for soldiers of today (which, if you ask me, makes the ‘Georgia’ written on his chest rather redundant. As far as I know, no other country bothers to stitch its name on its soldiers’ chests, or at least they weren’t being so silly during my brief service years ago). The aviator sunglasses add the finishing touch, making him look like an extra who wandered off the set of Black Hawk Down but decided to keep the uniform.

I’ve heard a number of opinions of Misha over the years, mostly obvious ones along the lines of ‘tyrant’, ‘dictator’ and ‘murderer’, but there were two that sprung to mind when I saw the ex-President looking ready to help Arnold Schwarzenegger tackle the Predator in a Colombian jungle. The first was the view of a taxi driver who told me: “Saakashvili only cares about fame. He just wants to be a celebrity.” At the time, his words conjured an image in my mind of Misha sitting on the plush sofa of an American talk show as he addressed Jimmy Kimmel as ‘bro’, but the aviator sunglasses worn a la mode by Saakashvili are highly reminiscent of styles exhibited by Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Donita Sparks. Looking back, I can see the driver’s point.

The other one was told to me by a sober young woman who said: “He’s a warrior, he’s a fighter.” With Saakashvili’s penchant for military fashions, it’s easy to see why she might think so, and no doubt she liked to picture him on the front lines, Georgian flag in one hand and smoking pistol in t’other, roaring encouragement to the lads (and, full credit to the man, he did go off to the front lines briefly during the 2008 war, before a Russian helicopter began buzzing about and his bodyguards decided that the President’s death might be detrimental to the Georgian war effort).

The threat of another war with Russia is never far from the minds of many Georgians, no matter that President Putin is otherwise engaged in Syria and Donbas, or that Saakashvili is well on his way to becoming King of Ukraine. The causes of that war are still debated; I’ve heard Saakashvili himself blamed for it, while others have said it was a Russian way of striking at America (if the latter is true, it seems to me to be about as sensible as smashing a window in Las Vegas then looking in the direction of Washington and shouting ‘There, you insolent bastard, that’ll teach you!’).

Whatever the cause, the fear that it might happen again hardly seems unfounded to many Georgians when they look at what has happened in Ukraine over the last two years. While unlikely to happen anytime soon, the possibility cannot be ruled out (especially as Russia has been able to act with impunity as the West shows itself to be increasingly impotent, despite its repeated rhetoric of ‘bilateral ties’ and ‘deepening cooperation’), but what I think is rather worrying is that the Georgian Dream coalition are still an unknown quantity with regards to Russia.

Bidzina, some allege, is secretly on good terms with President Putin and controls the government from behind the scenes, a suspicion which was hardly quelled by the shock resignation of Georgia’s Mr. Bean-esque former Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, who bowed out with about as much grace as Rowan Atkinson’s iconic character. Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze (whose career has mostly consisted of kicking a leather ball across grass) pours oil on these troubled flames as he mumbles about new deals being made with the Russian government’s energy conglomerate, Gazprom.

Whatever one’s opinion of Saakashvili, it is easy to predict how he might handle confrontation with Moscow. Should the war in Donbas worsen once again and the Ukrainian people’s dogged resistance fail at the last, it isn’t hard to imagine Saakashvili in the ruins of Kiev, making a Call of Duty-inspired last stand, cigar clamped in his teeth and an AK47 blazing in each hand. The current state leadership are full of people whose motives and true beliefs remain unknown; why, I doubt that many Georgians would recognize Prime Minister Kvirikashvili if they passed him in the street. This year’s elections will be most revealing.

I will not deceive my public, however, and confess to a little bias with regards to President Margvelashvili. I met him once, and he was the most charming and educated gentleman. He also strongly resembles my third boxing trainer, and as a result looks as though he would rather brawl with the police than eat his dinner.

Tim Ogden

04 February 2016 21:16