The Dispatch – January 29

Citizens slither into Parliament — From Britain with Love — Regional jitters — Maltese falcon — Family Jewels Protected by State — Conservationist Banished in Adjara — Sokhumi to Islamabad

CASA DI PAPEL After weeks of noise, two MPs from the Citizens party made a decision to break the opposition ranks and sneak into the parliament. Party leader Aleko Elisashvili portrayed this as a double victory: firstly, he said he brokered the deal with the Georgian Dream on the improved rules for the new elections. (Many feel this is an underhand way for the Georgian Dream to whitewash its public image and arm-wrestle the rest of the opposition.) And secondly, he ascribed to his negotiating prowess the release on bail of the two cartographers. Iveri Melashvili, one of the released, was not excited with Elisashvili’s remarks – even noting he’d prefer to go back to jail than becoming somebody’s excuse for breaking the opposition unity. For now, Elisashvili gets few public cheers and would have to settle for the sympathies of his only party colleague who will join him in the Parliament.

CARDS ON THE TABLE The two civil servants were detained pending trials on rather absurd, but no less grave accusations of treason – selling out the motherland, literally – during the border talks with Azerbaijan. Their release on bail just as the trial started came as a surprise. But while one rejoices at Mr. Melashvili and Mrs. Ilychova finding freedom, one does not need to have the law degree to know that bail does not equal freedom. Still,  the nature of courts in Georgia is such, that few believe now that the trial would result in imprisonment. The prosecution seems ready to pounce on the bigger fish – possibly the political opponents. How shocking.

FROM BRITAIN WITH LOVE The British Prime Minister congratulated his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Gakharia on re-appointment – and did not forget to include a valuable Easter egg in his letter: “I pay tribute to the courage you and your government have shown in firmly resisting Russian pressure,” it reads. Hard to know if the British PM’s office knew precisely how big a gift they handed to the government, which has been firmly resisting the opposition pressure of being painted as a Russian stooge. Surely the perfidious Albion beat the cousins across the channel with their meager Chevalier du Légion d’honneur. 

NEIGHBORHOOD BLUES Georgian politicos got jittery as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s landed in Tbilisi on an official visit. For once they may have a real-world reason. Prior to visiting Georgia, Zarif met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. The latter was subsequently quoted as saying that Georgia, along with Iran and Turkey, was interested in Nagorno-Karabakh’s economic recovery. Lavrov also stressed the significance of the so-called “3+3” initiative, proposed earlier by Turkish President Erdogan, which is to involve three regional powers – Iran, Turkey, and Russia alongside three South Caucasus states. Just as a reminder, that comes after Azerbaijan, allied with Turkey and with Russia’s underhand endorsement beat Armenia into humiliating submission over Nagorno-Karabakh. Deputy FM Aleksandre Khvtisiashvili had to officially clarify that Georgia was in no mood of sitting at the table with an occupying power, discussing peace and trade.

SIMPLE HOME COOKING As no end of the “partial” lockdown is in sight, over a hundred cafes and restaurants – businesses that suffered the most due to the restrictions  – announced a strike – vowing to suspend their takeaway and delivery services for a day. One would think that at least the large delivery services such as omnipresent Glovo would have made their couriers happy: they are the ones who have been shouldering the lockdown restrictions. Turns out, the pandemic only increased their workload, while their pay stayed the same, so they held a rally today to voice discontent. Fortunately, the weekend is ahead and until the strikers agree on their terms, the customers might take time to advance their own cooking skills at home.

MEDS FROM MY EX To end the crisis in his long-unseen sick homeland, Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili (who else?) has again deployed his brilliant networking skills. The pro-Saakashvili Mtavari Arkhi TV broke the news that Saakashvili waved a magic wand to discover Malta sitting on 300,000 free vaccine doses. Fact-checkers were quick to debunk the premise, pointing that poor Malta in the dumps itself.

FAMILY JEWELS The Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC), the regulatory body overseeing broadcasting, found that  Mtavari Arkhi TV violated the Law on Broadcasting for airing ‘obscene’ footage. The Commission has been recently very serious about obscenity and decided to act quickly when the channel – quite unsurprisingly – did not miss the chances for an acid remark when one of the Ministers was caught on camera touching his crotch: that seems the cabinet’s plan for the future, said the reporter off-camera.  The GNCC chose not to fine the broadcaster but the warning was passed. Also, the nation now knows that Minister’s family jewels are protected by the state.

BABEL The Cultural Heritage Protection Agency – a body responsible for issuing construction licenses on the cultural monuments in the Adjara region – has suspended Shota Gujabidze, a member of a subordinated council for actually attempting to protect the heritage. Gujabidze was dismissed on the basis of “deliberate discrediting” after he publicly protested against the permit to build a 16-floor hotel in the boulevard of the seaside city of Batumi. Due to the reckless modernization, Batumi was recently listed in the Heritage at Risk report, saying the renovation compromised the “spirit of the place.” During the election campaign last Summer, PM Gakharia announced Batumi finally needed a general development plan – turns out, what he had in mind was more awkwardly hammered skyscrapers in the historic part of the city.

BEGINNING OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP With global paralysis, cut ties, collapsing businesses, and halted fights, Kremlin-backed Sokhumi authorities still managed to reach out for new contacts overseas. “Foreign Minister” Daur Kove hosted somebody with a status of a President of the Association for the Promotion of Business Relations with Pakistan and discussed cooperation prospects between Abkhazia and Pakistan. It is unknown through how many more stages – following such a high-level meeting – they will have to go prior to reaching Islamabad itself, but the Abkhaz elites seem indeed eager.

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