The Dispatch – February 10
Saakashvili Breaks Things…Again — Opposition’s Slow-burning Meltdown — Pine-cone Pins — Who Needs a Vaccine When You Got Syringes? — Georgian Swimming Trees Go to Berlin — Malign Russian Influence in Georgia
USUAL SUSPECT If you hoped that the Dispatch would be back without diplomatic controversies this time, we failed you: they are celebrating Russian Diplomats’ Day in the North, and in the meantime, the Georgian diplomacy continues to buckle from kicks of people that must be helping it. The latest spat was fueled by ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili. Why?! Let’s say because he is pretty good at those. With his own very personal national identity split, spiced with his obsession to shake things up, and Tbilisi’s inexhaustible animus, the third President put bilateral relations between Georgia and Ukraine at risk. Responding to the criticism by the Ukrainian Ambassador over ex-President’s rebellious bellowing in Georgia, Saakashvili pulled another one of the bad habits off his sleeve and went on to smear the Ambassador – by retelling his own version of the diplomat’s past. Read more here. It’s ugly.
SHUFFLE, SHUFFLE…RHYMES WITH TROUBLE Post-elections the Georgian politicians have been spending most of their time in settling intra-party scores. The European Georgia seems to be imploding. Helen Khoshtaria, one of the most dynamic figures, left the party weeks ago. But it looks like there are still too many generals in the party that underperformed in October 2020 elections. (OK, admittedly, your perception may change depending on how badly you think elections were rigged). So far they are calling it “a reshuffle”.
Speaking about that, party Chairman Davit Bakradze said he cannot disclose any of the “personal” or “personnel” decisions yet, but promised to clear things up by the week’s end. The Europeans have been flying under the radar recently. The more feeble on the opposition boycott bench have been complaining about Giga Bokeria and Gigi Ugulava trying to keep them in line. Who is to blame for the debacle? Rumors have it, President Saakashvili met Ugulava and Bakradze in secret, enraging “No-Misha” Bokeria and triggering Bakradze’s potential defenestration. Sounds a bit too simple, reflexive and straightforward for the self-appointed intellectual powerhouse. Or does it?!
WITH OT WITHOUT YOU After the split of the right-libertarian Girchi party, the closure is still pending. The three MPs who are holding out on turning in their MP badges in the hope of zero-threshold proportional elections by 2024, now ponder what to do with Zurab Japaridze, their departed leader, and his proportional MP mandate. They expect Japaridze to join them, should the zero-threshold deal be put on the table, Vakhtang Megrelishvili said. Japaridze, however, who has been talking revolution lately (and with his new baseball cap complementing his trademark hoodie, he does look like someone who could burst into the legislative body), has filed a claim at the Constitutional Court. He argues the ruling party cannot refuse to cancel his MP mandate, thus defending his basic human liberty to…well…be left alone.
NEEDLES AND PINS Not a single dose of coronavirus vaccines has yet reached Georgia, but Health Ministry today cheerfully announced the arrival of 50,000 special COVID-19 vaccine syringes. Georgians are laughing, some wryly, some hysterically. But the issue appears to be way more serious than at the first sight: international news broke that Japan would be leaving millions of coveted Pfizer vaccine doses in the discarded vials due to the shortage of special syringes. The Georgian health authorities are likely to jump the chance to say that other nations are having just as many troubles.
UNTAMING THE CULTURE Some grim voices predict the impending dark ages in Georgia’s cultural field, fearing the advent of ex-Justice-Crusader Ms. Tsulukiani to the Ministry. But not all news is grim. “Taming the Garden” – a documentary directed by Georgian director Salome Jashi, is to be displayed at the Berlin International Film Festival. Jashi has depicted and immortalized the spectacular and somewhat perplexing scenes that Georgians won’t soon forget. “An ode to the rivalry between men and nature, this the story of how a powerful man indulges an unusual hobby by having century-old trees uprooted in communities along the Georgian coast and transplanted to his private garden,” reads the resume. Seems like the one powerful, rich man – he-who-shall-not-be-named – has left a legacy enough to spill over from politics to culture. Not quite the way he intended to though. We keep our fingers crossed for Ms. Jashi, who – we proudly remember – had her first student job at Civil.ge before going on to documentarist fame.
KREMLIN INFLUENCE HAUNTING GEORGIA The hawkish Prague-based European Values Center for Security Policy delivered a report on foreign influence in Georgia, co-authored by the researchers from Georgian think-tanks. The report analyses “malign foreign influences” coming from Russia and, to a lesser extent, from China or other countries, concluding that the number of Russia-sponsored organizations and radical movements in Georgia has been increasing, while authorities have been “tacitly supportive” of such groups. The research also looks deeper into the pillars of Russian soft power strategy such as Orthodox clergy, while the authors see “first signs of shifting loyalties” from widespread NATO/EU public support in Georgia.
That’s all for today, we’d get back with the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics on Friday!