The Dispatch – February 15

How to Lose a Mandate: Paying for Old Sins…or Opening a Speakeasy — Helen’s Trip of Thousand Ships — Old Boys Networks — Progressive Women Feel Silenced

HOW TO LOSE A MANDATE: As you know by now, Georgia’s political scene oscillates between kafkaesque and grotesque – which is our daily political bread. The recent game in town – how to lose a hardly won MP mandate, if the ruling party refuses to let you tear it apart.  At least two of the MPs turned to the life of [an alleged] crime.

…OLD SINS UNM’s Nika Melia is “lucky” – the ruling party will vote on February 16 to strip him of his immunity. That is because Mr. Melia refuses to pay the bail to stay out of prison, while he is being tried for fomenting unrest on June 20-21, 2019. If you recall, June 20-21 was when Tbilisi erupted in protests over the presence of Russian Duma’s Deputy Speaker, Mr. Gavrilov, in Georgia’s Parliament. To explain the heavy-handed showdown the government said some leaders – including Mr. Melia – tried to manipulate protests and take over the parliament building.  To complete the circus, Mr. Gavrilov has stepped onto the stage to pat the ruling party on the back.  Mr. Melia took it as a sign that the ruling party works on Gavrilov’s “direct command”. The show must go on!

…BOOTLEG SPEAKEASY Zura Japaridze, the stunt-loving opposition politician, found another way to lose his mandate. He is turning entrepreneurial activities into political acts of resistance: opening a bar against the COVID-19-related endless government regulations cost him GEL 2,000 (USD 600) fine. Since he already had a similar stunt on his record when he opened a gym in locked-down coastal Batumi city earlier, misdemeanors are escalating to a felony – criminal charges are likely to follow, which would end his MP mandate. Bingo!

ON THE ROAD In the meantime, Helen Khoshtaria, an opposition figure who was smart enough to jump ship from European Georgia before it caught fire – has now embarked on a solo road trip through Georgia. It is rare for Georgian politicians to take interest in people’s lives outside the active campaigning phase. Khoshtaria has been making stops to pick and advocate for issues she came across – reports about politically motivated dismissals of school principals;  construction of an HPP in the mountainous resort of Bakhmaro, Guria, which – Khoshtaria claims – could endanger the entire resort and its sustainable development; and demands to end the 5-day quarantine rule for Georgians who have to cross from the territory of occupied Abkhazia: the quarantine reportedly forces them to take risks by using alternative, more dangerous routes. At least someone is trying to do real politics.

JOBS FOR THE BOYS While the parliament is poised to strip Mr. Melia of his immunity, not all MPs are ready to goosestep with the diktat. But fear not, that is not for the sake of political principles. Patriot-cum-Socialist David Zilpimiani said he can’t support the censure, for the respect of Nika’s father, surgeon Anzor Melia. Apparently, Dr. Melia did successful heart surgery on MP Zilpimiani – a debt that he will now, partially, repay.  Politics in Georgia is apparently a family business – prominent political families play a distinctive role and their support is political capital. In the latest parliamentary elections at least two key leaders – Shalva Natelashvili and Nino Burjanadze – were running alongside their sons.

Herein perhaps, one explanation for Mr. Ivanishvili’s good political fortunes – from the layman’s perspective, he did not draw on the ancient Tbilisi influence network. No, he is a true hillbilly – lucky enough to make a fortune and wily enough to keep it, he gave those city nobs and snobs run for their money. And yet, they denigrate him for being a redneck.

AWKWARD SILENCE As some princes with noble ancestries are left with power in their hands, the less privileged are sometimes left with nothing but violence and death. This was the case of the 14-year-old teen, alleged rape victim, whose suicide, reportedly preceded by a series of domestic violence and institutional neglect, shook Georgia and sparked new debate. Turns out, various pressing problems women in Georgia are facing could not make their way to where they belong first – on the leftist agenda.

…KEEPING WOMEN QUIET More specifically, women on the progressive left have recently been up in arms against their male colleagues’ relegation of gender-based violence and oppression to the background. They say old boys’ clubs, systemic silence, lots of mansplaining, and – most importantly – failure to listen – are among the most apparent problems that are common on both left and right of the political spectrum. Sad, as the culture of listening could indeed fill the gaps in the male-produced intellectual world full of theories, ideas, and positivist traditions, where many commonly known truths have been sacrificed to the strict methodological limitations and indifference.

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