The Dispatch – February 8

MEPs Deliver Blows — Melia’s Fumbled Compliment — Gov’t Seeks Help in Releasing Tskhinvali Prisoner — ECHR Ruling Fallout — MP Tsulukiani Overindulges in Free Speech — Politicians Prefer Bubbles — Protest Erupts over HPP

EUROPE STUNNED The opposition might have rejoiced at the MEPs slamming Ex-Justice Minister, MP Tea Tsulukiani – who visibly thrives in her new role of the ruling party’s villain du-jour – in an expertly crafted (and translated!) letter. But MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, whose penmanship is all over the joint letter, spreads her blows evenly, fairly, without fear or favor.  The letter reiterated the position of MEPs dealing with Georgia that they expect the opposition to take up their seats, and to thus show respect to their voters.

OPPOSITION DAZED We once termed that move of the opposition “the suicide pact” – and for a good reason. It might have seemed like a good – if desperate – idea at the time, is quite embarrassing by now, but at least they are in it together. When Georgia’s western friends struggle to grasp the logic (which there isn’t), the opposition gets childishly irate and blindly snaps back. UNM Chair Nika Melia, for example, attributed the calls by the U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan to end the boycott…to her good looks.

“Now, if I were Kelly Degnan, if I were as eye-catching as Ms. Kelly Degnan is, I’d probably make the same statement (as her),” Melia said rather cryptically.  He added, more coherently If I were an ambassador…she is making the right statement from the ambassador’s perspective.”

Like an awkward teenager trying to get out of a compliment that has gone terribly wrong, he tried to recover (“she is a remarkable person, including her looks”) – but only dug himself in deeper. Yet another sexist slip by Georgia’s macho politician?! The new chair of the largest opposition party learning the hard way how to (not) mix compliments and diplomacy?! A latent superpower fetish? The jury is out.

PRICE OF VICTORY The EU and U.S. Ambassadors were invited over by Georgian authorities as the government tries to amass international support to achieve prompt release of Zaza Gakheladze, illegally detained Georgian citizen sentenced to 12,5 years in Tskhinvali prison. Gakheladze’s family has been organizing rallies in desperation, including by blocking a major highway. Is this another timely reminder that Russia and the occupying regimes it backs have absolutely no regard for international human rights principles? To quote Giorgi Khelashvili, a ruling party MP and rumored foreign ministerial runner-up, the unfair sentence was “Russia’s asymmetric response to January 21 ruling [by the European Court of Human Rights in favor of Georgia]”

JUDGEMENT DAY In today’s joint parliamentary committee hearing, Justice Minister Gocha Lortkipanidze answered questions over the January 21 ECHR ruling Georgia v Russia (II). Lortkipanidze said the authorities are analyzing whether Georgia’s legal standing has improved sufficiently by ECHR ruling and whether the current international environment is favorable for re-launching the dispute at the International Court of Justice. The ICJ considered Georgia’s initial interstate claim against Russia inadmissible in 2011. Georgia claimed that Russia violated its obligations under the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) during three distinct phases of its interventions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the period from 1990 to August 2008.

As for the International Criminal Court (ICC), where the Prosecutor currently investigates the military crimes committed during the 2008 war, the Minister –  future ICC judge himself – said that the base of up to 700 pieces of evidence presented to the ICC are identical to those submitted to ECHR, and, judging by a statement by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, a tangible result can be seen in this regard as early as this year.

READY TO PAY? Another good news was that the compliance on Russia’s part in the part of the enforcement/compensation is not entirely without hope, Minister said. According to Lortkipanidze, Russia has recently stopped refusing the payout of the compensation to the victims in the deportation case, the first won ECHR case against Russia, and got engaged in the discussion process over the payment. The January 21 judgment might have played a role, Lortkipanidze concluded.

INDULGING IN FREEDOM That hearing simply could not end without MP Tsulukiani’s cameo appearance. Ex-Minister of Justice pressed the partisan point home to say the previous government did nothing to process the ECHR claim “in a qualified manner.” She added, however, in a somewhat questionable manner, that the ECHR ruling finally destroyed the Russian narrative of Tbilisi attacking Tskhinvali in 2008. The judgment does not actually address this part of the story at all. But these are details. MP Tsulukiani disclosed the reasons for her newly found voice and sass: unlike being a Minister, she said, “I am an MP now and can talk openly”. No wonder that the rumors are swirling about her for a Ministerial portfolio – that of Culture – again.

SYRENS OF CULTURE The sycophants from the ruling party MPs and the “workers of the cultural front” are already lining up to publicly sing praise to Mrs. Tsulukiani’s ability. Some pearls: “her appointment will open great cultural prospects for Georgia” intoned one GD MP, “she has great insight, she is the one who could bring the content and the form together” seconded another, “someone incorruptible, impartial…very good manager and a lawyer that’s what culture needs!” exclaimed one well-networked director…

ON THE HEAD OF THE PIN  While the ruling party indulges in its “home alone” moment in the parliament, praising and criticizing, well, itself, the opposition is on a daily regiment of navel-gazing followed by an obligatory afternoon storm in a teapot. The futile debate of the day: how many angel-saviors can dance on the head of the vaccine syringe’s pin?

Mamuka Khazaradze, banker-cum-politician of the suspiciously centrist (aren’t they all?!) Lelo party got tired of the government’s persisting inability to deliver the jabs and suggested commercial procurement and distribution of the vaccines as one of the solutions. The left flank was up in arms claiming ex-banker only cares about the health of the rich. Grigol Gegelia who holds the left outfielder position in Lelo was sent to shore up that flank. In the meantime, the self-acclaimed liberal right-wing has attacked the (mostly urban) lefties for economic ignorance and faking the care for the working class. The best part of the story is that according to vaccine makers, these are not commercially available – at least not yet. Once again, Georgia’s politics are not only polarized, but both poles seem incredibly self-sufficient in their splendid isolation.

WAVE OF RESISTANCE Meanwhile in the real world… another rally was held on February 7 in Namakhvani village of the Imereti region, where locals again came together to resist the construction of a colossal Namakhvani Hydropower Project. To say nothing about harms the HPP may pose to the local environment, including to the micro-climates for producing notorious Georgian wines, what keeps the Westerners awake at night is that – should something go wrong in the seismic active region – a giant wave from the dam is to reach Georgia’s second-largest city of Kutaisi in 20 minutes, experts argue. The resistance far exceeds local protests and has united various scientists, activists, and environmentalists from across the country around the cause. There is only one group missing – the politicians.

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