2 Californians Help Polish Image of Republic Leader
Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the president of the mountainous Soviet republic of Georgia, has an image problem. California lawyer Alan Gould and his former wife, Laurel, are trying to help him solve it.
In one of the stranger twists in a nation where the politically impossible has become commonplace, the Goulds have been poking around Georgia at Gamsakhurdia’s invitation for more than a week, exploring allegations of human rights violations in the southwestern Soviet republic.
So far, said Gould, a business lawyer with his practice in Emeryville, they have found little sign of the abuses that Gamsakhurdia has been accused of by journalists, visiting U.S. congressmen and the Russian Parliament.
Instead, said the Goulds, they have seen unhindered protests every night in the center of town, chatted with Georgians freely on the streets and interviewed officials who had no complaints about the level of democracy.
“They’ve got these freedoms,” Alan Gould said. “They’ve got freedom of speech, due process of law and freedom of assembly, so as far as repression goes, I don’t know where it is.”
The Goulds landed in Georgia thanks to Isai Goldstein, a Georgian Jew who struggled to emigrate to Israel in the 1970s and came into contact with Gamsakhurdia when the man who is now president of the republic was an outside dissident looking in.
Goldstein said he had urged Gamsakhurdia to invite his friends, the Goulds, to help him improve relations with America. “I feel that Gamsakhurdia needs to be represented properly in the United States--in the legal sense, and in the sense of publicity--to sell him properly,” Goldstein said.
The Goulds will have to counteract the impression received by a U.S. congressional delegation that visited Georgia earlier this month and went back with the belief that rights were indeed being violated.
The Goulds may not have as much clout as the U.S. Congress. But they will tell anyone willing to listen that the nonstop political demonstrations on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s main street, go beyond what most Americans would tolerate in the name of democracy.
Loudspeakers outside an opposition party headquarters on Rustaveli blare at all hours, and people “pile junk on the streets and put posters up wherever they want,” Alan Gould said.
Gamsakhurdia has also been accused of holding political prisoners and of waging a war against the press--barring journalists whose reporting he dislikes from press conferences and shutting down opposition newspapers--as well as suppressing Georgia’s minorities.
Alan Gould met with the lawyer of the most prominent prisoner considered a political case, the leader of an armed group known as the Mkhedrioni, and said that although he could not judge the man’s guilt before trial, he did not seem to be suffering ill treatment.
“I don’t know whether these are trumped-up charges,” he said. “I don’t know whether he committed the actions or not, and whether he will get a free trial, but the indications are that he’s receiving the due process of law.”
The Georgian president, himself a former dissident, has taken to vilifying the opposition as “Kremlin agents” and accusing Moscow of plotting against him in an attempt to keep Georgia from realizing the independence it declared April 9.