Giorgi Gakharia Meets UNM, European Georgia Factions

Giorgi Gakharia, who has been nominated as Georgia’s next Prime Minister, met with the factions of the parliamentary opposition – United National Movement (UNM) and European Georgia (EG) – together with his prospective cabinet members on September 6. 

The meeting with the opposition was stormy and full of mutual animosity. Opposition MPs hammered the responsibility of Gakharia – as then Interior Minister – over the dispersal of the June 20-21 protest rally in Tbilisi. On his part, Gakharia accused opposition of nonconstructive approach and of “faking the reality.”

The debate with UNM and EG was held separately, and both were adjourned early  as none of the parties listened to the final speech of Gakharia, quitting the respective sessions in protest. 

Meanwhile, the demonstrators, who have been demanding Gakharia’s resignation since June 20, rallied outside the parliament building, and asked to be let in to attend the meetings, but citing “technical issues,” the Parliament’s staff refused them entry. 

Meeting with UNM

The UNM initially intended to boycott the meeting with Gakharia, however, chose to finally attend – quoting requests from supporters. In the opening, they showed a attack music video made by protesters “Gakharia is happy [when we bleed]”, which depicted the police dispersal of June 20-21 rally, placing the blame on Gakharia They asked Gakharia questions again mainly concerning the so-called “Gavrilov’s night”, detention of political leaders, Rustavi 2 case, probe against Nika Gvaramia, TBC Bank affair as well as Ia Kerzaia’s death.

UNM MP Salome Samadashvili noted in her remarks that parliament is no place for asking questions to “murderers” but she said she came to parliament on behalf of those people who were injured during the dispersal of the 20-21 June rally.

“Instead of apologizing to people and quitting [the position of the Interior Minister], you have come here and want us to listen to you as prime minister[ial candidate]… You will have to answer all the questions when the national government will be restored in this country, of course if you will not have escaped to your second homeland by that time,” Samadashvili addressed Gakharia. [She was pointing to his prior Russian citizenship, which Gakharia reportedly quit back in 2016. During 2012-2016 he held both, Georgian as well as Russian citizenship – editor’s note].

Samadashvili then wondered how Gakharia is going to be the country’s prime minister, when he has to enter the parliament building “covertly, through police cordons.”

MP Tina Bokuchava reiterated Samadashvili’s claims that “in a normal country” people like Gakharia “are being questioned not in parliament, but as defendants.”

Giorgi Gakharia started his remarks by criticizing UNM, saying it is the “usual face” of UNM to “substitute the truth for faked reality,” and that their position entirely lacks political responsibility.

“I want to tell you something: I don’t intend to go anywhere. I will finish you and the Georgian population and electorate will finish you. You are an ordinary street opposition and in 2020 [parliamentary elections] you will be left in the streets… I give you an advice to take your hands off your eyes and look the truth straight into the eye,” he addressed the UNM MPs, who were listening to Gakharia’s speech covering one eye – in a reference to a protest gesture of protesters, who show solidarity to people who lost their eyes to police rubber bullets during June 20-21 rally dispersal. 

MP Samadashvili interrupted Gakharia, saying she refuses to listen to the “criminal offender” while ordinary citizens, wishing to attend the session are denied entry to parliament. It became known at the time, that protesters and activists, whose names were duly inscribed on the lists of citizens who wished to attend this open session were denied entry due to unspecified “technical reasons”.

She offered the faction chair Roman Gotsiridze to suspend the meeting and addressed the PM-designate: “Mr. Gakharia, I am confident that you will have to spend you term as a prime minister under a very strict security and will never be able to freely speak to any citizen, as you are starting your activities in this way – behind the parliament’s doors shut to the people.”

Afterwards, the UNM MPs left the meeting in protest. Left alone at the podium, with his fellow cabinet designates, Gakharia said what has happened was a clear example of “the truth triumphing over lies.”

“We should not forget that these people [referring to UNM] who were sitting for hours [on June 20] and counting [injured people] – the more victims the better – [they] wanted to use this for their political intentions. We should not allow them [to achieve this goal], this will be our key goal,” he stated.

Meeting with the European Georgia

Later that day, Giorgi Gakharia met with the European Georgia faction as well. The meeting was led by MP Sergi Kapanadze, who announced that his team did not intend to talk about Gakharia’s program, saying that by elevating him as prime minister, Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili decided to challenge the society.

“We are not holding this meeting, because we respect Gakharia… We are here rather because we respect those people who are protesting the developments of June 20 and have specific questions, and we, as responsible opposition, are obliged to pose those questions to you,” he stated. 

Afterwards, the question-and-answer session was held. Most of the questions concerned the protest rallies. The lawmakers asked:

  • Whether Gakharia knew before June 20 that the International Assembly of Orthodoxy (IAO), which triggered June 20 protests, had been scheduled? 
  • Was it ever discussed, if it was reasonable to hold this event?
  • Whether Gakharia (as Interior Minister) was familiar with the list of participants and if he knew that some of them held hostile attitudes to Georgia?
  • If he knows the law on the Legal Status of Alien and Stateless Persons? 
  • Whether he believes the public protest on June 20 was fair?
  • Whether it was a right decision to place police cordon beyond parliament’s iron fences [in contact with protesters]?
  • Who gave the order to place police units outside the parliament?
  • Who made a decision to use [less] lethal bullets for rally dispersal?
  • How many bullets were used during rally dispersal?
  • Was it necessary to warn demonstrators before dispersal and whether were they informed about it?
  • Was there an order to use bullets against journalists?
  • Why was the rally dispersal needed when negotiation with political leaders was also being considered at that time?

Responding to opposition MPs’ questions, Giorgi Gakharia said he was informed of the IAO earlier, but the cabinet did not discuss whether it was reasonable to hold the event. He also added that in similar situations next time, the decision on letting certain persons will be made based on available “operative information” (intelligence).

Speaking of the accusations of excessive use of police force, the PM-designate said the police are legally allowed to use “special means” without warning if they need to repel a direct attack. 

“At the time when protesters took away some 300 police shields, when 30 policemen were pulled into the crowd because of your calls and beaten… of course, they had the right to use all the tools at their disposal [to respond],” he stated.

According to Gakharia, in certain cases, demonstrators were informed of that the police was planning to use force, but in other cases – not. “When the contact [between police and protesters] during the storming of the parliament was direct, in some cases, police were forced to use rubber bullets, in a situation where no warning could be given. Such an obligation [to warn], did not exist, this was necessary self-defense aiming to repel [an attack], and the Law on police grants [the policemen] that right. Full stop.” PM-designate added.

He also stated that before “the storming of the parliament” started, none of the police officers had left the the perimeter of the parliament building. “If the politicians, including MPs, acted in a responsible way and did not call on citizens to storm [the parliament building], the situation would have been calmer,” he explained.

Gakharia also underscored that all types of bullets used for dispersal of the rally were non-lethal and some 800 of them were used. He claimed all the decisions made during June 20-21 events were in line with the law. Gakharia said it was him who made all the decisions during the June 20-21 developments, however, he noted that from today’s viewpoint, he would have changed “some of the procedures.”

Responding to the question about targeting journalists, Gakharia said unfortunately there are no regulations requiring the journalists to visibly identify themselves during mass rallies. He said in each of the cases, the journalists were injured accidentally, rather than targeted deliberately.

In his remarks, Giorgi Gakharia accused opposition of bad faith while negotiating on June 20. According to him, while one part of opposition was negotiating, another part was storming on the parliament building. Therefore, an urgent necessity existed for dispersing the rally, he stated.

European Georgia MPs accused Gakharia of lying, saying the decision to use force was made precisely at the moment when the opposition leaders expressed their willingness to negotiate. 

Afterwards, European Georgia followed UNM’s suit and left the meeting in protest.

Summing up the meeting, Giorgi Gakharia told journalists that “this branch of the United National Movement” was not at all interested in his responses, but rather wanted to spread lies.  

“It was astonishing when they did not let me respond. This is a very bizzare format [for a meeting]. All of the conventions have been violated, despite our several offers to, for example, talk of developments of June 20. They are not interested [in listening],” he said.

Gakharia also said that “with their lies”, EG and UNM attempt to mount an “emotional tension” and “expectations of certainty of the revolution,” saying the Government won’t let that happen.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party has nominated Giorgi Gakharia, who served as the Interior Minister since 2017, to become Georgia’s new Prime Minister. The parliament, where the Georgian Dream holds the decisive majority, is expected to confirm the candidate on Sunday, September 8.

Recently, Gakharia has become a highly polarizing figure in Georgian politics. Civic activists and the opposition hold him responsible for the police crackdown on Tbilisi protests on June 20-21 in front of the Parliament building, where thousands of activists and opposition protested the visit of Russian delegation at inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy in the Georgian Parliament on June 20.

240 people, including 80 police officers and 30 journalists have been treated for injuries as a result of crackdown. Many severe injuries to civilians occurred later during the night after the police dispersed protestors through massive use of tear gas and rubber bullets, including so called “less-lethal” rounds.

For over two months, since June 20, number of activists still hold protests in front of Georgian Parliament demanding Gakharia’s resignation. During his meeting with TV journalists, then Interior Minister Giorgi Gakharia reiterated several times, that June 20-21 developments “fall under his personal responsibility”, however, he then said he would not resign.

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