The Dispatch – 27 January

Forget-me-nots wilt –  Church Offers Itself as Third Force – Land Dispute That Could Escalate – Sokhumi Slams Strasbourg – No Rest for Tskhinvali Elites

SOUND OF SILENCE A century ago, on January 26-27, 1921, the Allied Powers recognized the young Georgian Democratic Republic de jure. “The act of our recognition is not a momentary act, but an eternal one,” said the President of the Government Noe Jordania at the time. And truly, even though Georgia was erased from the political map following the Soviet invasion almost exactly one month after, its legal recognition paved the way for its rebirth. Sadly though, none of the modern Georgian leaders remembered to say a kind word. Tears will be shared aplenty on February 25, to commemorate a much sadder event – the start of the Soviet occupation. Perhaps the Georgians should abstract from the drama and think about achievements like that recognition instead – hard work of the government and civil servants, the electorate mobilized for the democratic cause – what is not there to celebrate, or indeed be proud of?

THREE IS THE SACRED NUMBER Presentiment of two things stirs even the most nihilistic of Georgians: the Rapture and the emergence of the “Third Political Force.” Rather elegantly, both refer to the end of Manichean duality – the first one, rather definitively, while the second – through more mundane emergence of the political power to break up the Montagues and the Capulets of Georgian politics. At the current turn of the political cycle, these are embodied by the UNM and the Georgian Dream. After so many false prophets and impostors, the “third force” seems to have acquired a religious tint:  Bishop Jakob of Bodbe told media today that the powerlessness and endless fragmentation of the Georgian polity make the Church ponder “interference.” The Bishop said, “if I see that they cannot behave, you will have your third force.” Neither authorities nor the opposition seemed to appreciate the Bishop’s quip, but words tend to get the life of their own in politics. Especially when an institution with real clout reaches for power.

THIS LAND IS MY LAND While the Bishop is pondering a political career, some priests are already doing their jobs. Tensions have been mounting recently in a Kesalo village of Marneuli, an Azeri-populated municipality of the Southern Georgian Kvemo Kartli region. Days ago, locals were complaining that their access to state-owned agricultural lands has been restricted due to interference by a local cleric. The situation escalated when the clerics asked locals to stop cultivating the land and move “over there” – pointing to Azerbaijan and to tend to “their own” land. The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, a Georgian CSO closely following the developments, warns that putting the religious motives into an ethnic mix may prove flammable and calls on authorities to calm the spirits, use more human rights- and social justice-oriented language.

UNJUST SATISFACTION The recent ECtHR judgment was apparently not for everyone: Georgians and its partners confidently celebrated the win, while Russia was also able to find something in the text misinterpretable enough to sell it on the domestic market. Predictably, the rulers in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia – the regions which, the judgment says, have been under “effective control” of Russia at least since August 12, 2008 – have rushed to slam the Court. The Abkhaz “ministry of foreign affairs” rushed a statement, saying Tbilisi got less than it asked for from the ECtHR, and that its claims of “historic victory” are mere pretense.  Sokhumi questioned the impartiality of ECtHR, citing the absence of representatives of “states” directly involved in the conflict – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – during the proceedings. The judgment is a long read, however, quite recommended if one wants to understand the reasons for such an “absence.”

BOYCOTT TUTORIAL The Kremlin-backed rulers in Tskhinvali are also in turmoil: Mr. Bibilov’s ‘government’ is haunted by the crisis that erupted back in August 2020 following the alleged torture and death of an inmate. Bibilov, leader of the occupied territory, was upset today with the rogue lawmakers who again dared to call off the extraordinary session, obstructing the process of adopting some “vital decisions.”

The ones who did not bother to show up were MPs from four opposition forces – Nykhas party, People’s Party, the party of Communists and union of independents “For Justice” – same who have been boycotting the parliament since last September and keep delaying the adoption of, among others, “state budget” (why to bother, it’s coming from the Kremlin anyway). At least Tbilisi opposition has something to envy in Tskhinvali – a boycott that works.

That’s all for today, we’d get back with the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics on Friday!