The Dispatch – February 5

Ex-Minister Bullies EU Ambassador — and Gets her Comeuppance — Georgia’s Democracy Index Slips — Kremlin’s Borgias are at it again — Bail the UNM Chair Won’t Pay — CIA Officer’s Murder Case Dusted Off – Fired TV Staff Find Justice — Crime of Desperation in Abkhazia — Jobs for the Boys

BULLY PULPIT Ex-Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani revels in being the playground bully. And while before her antics were confined to the quiet corridors of the Ministry of Justice, the brand new MP seat gave her the bully pulpit he adores. One day on the floor and she whipped the opposition strike-breaker Elisashvili for…well, being a sissy and a stooge, and went on to broadcast the opposition TV CEO’s private cellphone. When the EU Ambassador Hartzell said this is not how one behaves in a respectable family, MP Tsulukiani called Ambassador for a dressing down in her office. Being a diplomat and a gentleman, Ambassador Hartzell did show up. And as if calling him in was not cheeky enough, Ms. Tsulukiani added insult to injury by telling the media after the meet, that Ambassador was speaking for himself, not the EU. EU Ambo demurred. But he went back and brought in the big guns.

MAJOR LEAGUE Personal opinion?! Turns out – not so much. Several Members of the European Parliament, including MEP Viola von Cramon-Traubadel, who has her way with words, sent a howler to Speaker Talakvadze, decrying “the careless breach of privacy during the plenary session, as well as unflattering attitude towards the EU Ambassador to Georgia.” Knowing MP Tsulukiani, this game is not over.

MINISTER OF (CANCEL-) CULTURE The leaked reports about MP Tsulukiani taking over the Ministry of Culture did not make everyone happy. A petition is going around titled #CancelThea. Don’t hold your breath though: there is no such thing as a cancel-culture in Georgia, just look at the vagaries of the political past of many a current public face. Anyway, the sassy hashtag is not what would bring Mrs. Tsulukiani down – her style and substance are genuine and point to some bigger problems with Georgia’s politics. But we got too serious here for our own good.

BAD FIGURES The political toxicity in the country appears to grow at the expense of democracy: The Economist has released new Democracy Index data covering 2020, showing that Georgia has slipped from 89th place in 2019 to 91st in 2020, while the country’s overall score has decreased from earlier 5,42 to  5,31 – still leaving it among the “hybrid regimes”. And it is hybrid not in a cool hipster way.

NOT OUR CUP OF TEA Talking of toxicity, let us segway to the laced teacups that the Kremlin has been deploying to hobble its opponents. German media reports say the probe into the Berlin killing of Georgian citizen Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in 2019 revealed that the Kremlin tried to poison the suspected killer – a Russian citizen, who is now in German custody. Nobody is shocked, sadly.

I WON’T PAY YA, NO WAY… Nika Melia, the freshly-elected chairperson of the United National Movement, was apparently so busy corralling new people to his party that he forgot to favor his parole. Melia, who was charged for inciting and heading mass violence on the night of June 20-21, 2019 outside the Parliament, did not bother transferring the bail money he owed to the state for his release. Catch me if you can, “I am not paying!” Melia said. Rather than just being a scrouge, Melia said he wanted to cast the critical light on the judiciary being biased, and to his refusing to “participate in this farce.”

DECLASSIFIED Georgia’s prosecution has been digging up the old files, these days. Eldar Gogoladze, a former official of Cartu Group, Ivanishvili’s outfit, found himself summoned for testimony in a – abruptly revived – probe into the murder of Freddie Woodruff, a CIA officer killed back in 1993 near Tbilisi. He was riding with Gogoladze, security officer of then-President Shevardnadze. Gogoladze thinks unpleasant remarks about former boss Ivanishvili during the October 2020 lengthy interview with the Mtavari Arkhi TV are to be blamed for this sudden interest in a case that has been judged and closed both in Georgia and in the US a long time ago.

JUSTICE AT LAST At least other longstanding lawsuits yield fairer outcomes – Georgian Supreme Court held today that 26 staff members of Maestro TV, Georgian TV channel, were unfairly sacked back in 2016. Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) claimed the employees were dismissed due to their protest against the management decision that would threaten the editorial independence. Now the TV channel has to pay off hefty compensation to all those unjustly fired, GTUC says.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE Authorities in occupied Abkhazia captured a young man after he kidnapped a minor to extort the ransom in the amount of 200,000 Russian roubles (USD 2,700). The perpetrator said he needed the money to “go away.” The plan obviously failed, and the desired destination is not known – does it matter though?! The desperation speaks volumes.

BIG TEN Transparency International Georgia, a local corruption watchdog, traced ten companies who gained the largest sums of money through direct state contracts in 2020. Six of them have donated for the ruling Georgian Dream party or the GD-backed presidential candidate, the watchdog finds – quite unsurprisingly. While those direct contracts are legal, a significant portion of such money going to party donors raises some doubts of foul play, TI thinks.

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