The Dispatch – December 28

Political Mitosis Accelerates – Numbers Stand Corrected – Constitutional Court Rules Against Spurious Police Searches – Georgian Bishop’s Antisemitic Sermon

CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT Things have been falling apart in Georgian politics recently, and not in a decadently fashionable way, either. In one of the latest developments, Mamuka Khazaradze, leader of the Lelo for Georgia party, courted some righteous anger by simply stating he hopes for snap elections by 2022, instead of 2021 as agreed by opposition earlier. Labor leader Shalva Natelashvili, upset with Khazaradze downplaying the urgency of snap polls, displayed some appropriate class consciousness by promptly reminding Khazaradze he had moved from banking into politics. Ex-defense Minister Mr. Irakli Okruashvili attacked the macho corner more appropriate for his credentials quoting Rustaveli’s verse “you, the merchants, are the weaklings…”

SPLITS AND SPLINTERS And the lonesome Georgian Dream is busy imitating debate in the single-party parliament, the opposition parties have been, in turn, imitating outward unity. It appears, by compromising their internal integrity. In a series of major shifts that have unfolded over the past few weeks, the right-libertarian Girchi party split, and a second one was formed; chairman of the largest opposition party quit, and a new one was elected; European Georgia’s leader Elene Khoshtaria left the party, and hints about “many upcoming shifts” by UNM’s grande dame Salome Samadashvili might be the foreboding of things to come. One thing is clear: if something can go wrong, it will.

PARADIGM SHIFT Aside from factors such as economic policies, workforce training levels, or global crises, the unemployment levels in Georgia over the past decade have been affected by outdated – but politically convenient – statistical methods. The National Statistics Office (Geostat) said it has just upgraded from the older methodology of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to a newer one, which pushed the unemployment rates higher by several percentage points after recalculation. The major change is that agricultural workers who mainly produce for their own use do not automatically count as self-employed anymore. To illustrate, the unemployment rate in 2019 rose from earlier 11.6% to 17.6% as per new calculations, with rural areas particularly affected. It long has been an open secret, that counting the agriculture workers as self-employed was inflating the figures. It is helpful to see now, by how much, exactly.

PLANTING SEEDS FOR JUSTICE In a case argued by the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), a Georgian CSO, the Constitutional Court found convicting solely on the basis of evidence obtained through “operative information” (police reports and intel, in Georgian legalese) as unconstitutional. It also held that in assessing the lawfulness of the search operation conducted under the provisions of “indispensable necessity”, courts have to judge the degree to which the search was truly indispensable by the immediate context of the case, and shall seek to confirm the results of such search through an independent third party (e.g. a witness) and satisfy itself that sufficient consideration was taken to ascertain that the items discovered during such search were not planted. Or to ignore the search outcomes under such conditions altogether.

Importantly, the appeal originated from the infamous “BirjaMafia” case when two rap musicians were arrested in 2017 on drug charges after they’d aired a video clip mocking police. The arrest raised concerns at the tie, that the drugs were planted. Evidence-planting cases are “not rare,” EMC asserted, underscoring the significance of the latest ruling for preventing such practices in the future. At present, for example, the criminal case against Giorgi Rurua, pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi shareholder, has been seen by many in this very light.

HUMAN RIGHTS INFIDELITY Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI), Georgian CSO, said Georgian Metropolitan Bishop Ioane Gamrekeli, spread some antisemitic statements during a liturgy on December 20, portraying the Jewish as the persecutors of Christians and calling them “the faithless tribe”. The Patriarchate of Georgian Orthodox church has not yet publicly distanced itself from the remarks, TDI said. Tellingly the Bishop reportedly drew parallels between the “faithless” Jews and human rights advocates of today who “fight the Church.”

That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!