Georgian Opposition Leader Freed After E.U. Posts Bail

Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia has been freed from pre-trial detention after the E.U. posted his bail. Melia, who was arrested on allegations of instigating violence during anti-government demonstrations in June 2019, is the chairman of Georgia’s United National Movement (E.N.M.) opposition party. Police stormed E.N.M. headquarters this past February after Melia refused to pay a bail fee, which he regarded as a politically-motivated persecution tactic. Melia’s placement in pre-trial detention prompted Western concern about Georgia’s deepening political turmoil, challenging yet again democracy’s future trajectory in the former Soviet Republic Caucasus region. The European Union has since brokered a deal in April incorporating Melia’s release, in anticipation of alleviating Georgia’s civic unrest.

Located in the Caucasus region, Georgia is a small nation with roughly 3.7 million inhabitants and neighboring countries which have also been affected by recent internal tensions and civil unrest. Georgia’s political crisis has been deepening since the October election deadlock, when the Georgian Dream Party (founded in 2012 by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili) claimed victory yet again in the 2020 parliamentary elections. Despite a priorly-arranged deal meant to incorporate a fairer electoral system (with increased proportional distribution of seats), the election itself failed to foment change or increase E.N.M. power in government. This incensed the E.N.M., which challenged the votes’ legitimacy and boycotted the election results. The opposition took to the streets in outcry. Georgia’s political polarization deepened.

Melia’s arrest only added to the strife. The opposition leader used his position to unite opposition parties together against the Georgian Dream Party prior to the October elections. His arrest signaled a shift away from the country’s potential intentions to instill democratic norms and strengthen Western alliances. Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, a member of the Georgian Dream Party, even resigned to protest Melia’s detention.

“Polarization and confrontation pose the greatest risks to our country’s future,” Gakharia said.

The E.U. has since intervened by taking on the role of a mediator, brokering a deal which helped release people with charges related to the 2019 protests, including Melia himself. According to Reuters, European Union diplomats also advocated for electoral and judicial reforms, which will include more power-sharing in parliament. Thus far, the Georgian Dream and some opposition leaders have signed the deal, but the E.N.M. has not yet signed the agreement. This decision not to re-enter Parliament has also left 40 out of 150 seats vacant.

Video footage obtained by U.S. News & World Report captures Melia speaking outside the courthouse about the next steps for the country following his release. “It will take some time, a few days to make a decision,” Melia said.

Nika Melia is likely to continue his campaign for the opposition in the near future. It is reasonable to believe that he will remain an influential figure and a voice for the opposition. But for Georgia’s unity, it is imperative that both parties negotiate and finalize the E.U.-mediated deal. Although the E.N.M. may view certain aspects of the agreement as unfavorable, it is still a starting point for the party to reenter Parliament and obtain seats. Peace cannot be achieved unless both parties are open to bargaining with one another.

Jillian Mulloy