The Dispatch – February 22: Age of the Jackal

Garibashvili’s Angry Lullaby – Angry Businessman = Revolutionary – Defense Minister on the Defensive – Biased Platform Slams Bias – Neither is it Quiet on the Western Front – Former PM’s Selfie Turns Friends into Foes

Good evening from the turbulent city of Tbilisi! As of the time of writing, pro-opposition media is issuing spoiler alerts about the forthcoming police raid to capture UNM leader Nika Melia. We can neither confirm nor deny it – but today’s developments did not leave much room for optimism.

COMFORTABLY NUMB Prior to the confirmation of the old, new government, the Parliament of Georgia heard a lengthy speech of now PM Irakli Garibashvili. Besides the traditional mantra of we-must-end-UNM and stricter-order-needed lines, Garibashvili dared to attack the UNM-satellites too – which this time happened to be the entire country of Lithuania – something other officials have been trying to rectify for the rest of the day. The most adequate response to his lines from the hall? That one Minister who could not help but to not fall asleep during his monologue! As a dentist by training, she must know how to anesthetize pain…

Here are our takeaways, in case you are mentally ready to go through them:

FATAL MIX On top of the strong hand and a sweeping framing of the opposition as “saboteurs,” “destructive” and (during the QandA session) even “terrorist,” the PM threw in good old dirigisme into the mix advocating for states intervention in the economy. If history is any guide, the ideological conservatism coupled with economic leftism is not a mix that augurs well.

PLOT TWIST! What happens, however, when one ditches conservative patriotism to turn into a western-style socialist? Today was the first time when the name of the European Socialists – a party formed by four businessmen from the nativist Alliance of Patriots party-list (which is in itself Kafkaesque enough) – actually made sense! Since most of the opposition seats are left vacant these days, we have to satisfy ourselves with the margarine version.

David Zilpimiani, European Socialist who is very much into physics, cosmic research, and broadcasting, was first today after PM’s monologue in the Parliament to ask for a time on the opposition’s behalf – only to voice his own business concerns. Zilpimiani went on to rant about how the authorities would not allow the privatization of premises for his broadcasting company, and how the case of the violent raid of his TV channel (1st Stereo) back in 2012, under the UNM rule, was still pending in the prosecutor’s office. At first, the ministers’ cabinet in waiting could not hold their smiles:

Ministers-in-waiting listening to MP Zilpimiani. Photo: screengrab from Parliament live stream

…until the rant took a sudden dramatic turn and it was not funny anymore: Zilpimiani said the prosecutors won’t touch the perpetrators, including David Bezhuashvili, former UNM MP now leading the Georgian Industry Group that owned the coal mines in the western Georgian city of Tkibuli up until 2019. “This is the same Davit Bezhuashvili who has killed dozens of people in mines because it was more profitable for his busin….” this is when Speaker Talakvadze decided the MP now went too far and cut his mic, stripping us all of the chance to watch live how an angry rich man is actually becoming a devoted leftist.

ON DEFENSIVE The hurdles women with families face on the employment market globally are no secret. Well, Georgians now tried to make things more equal by giving men hard time too: as Garibashvili’s new cabinet offered hardly anything new, the tapped Defense Minister Juansher Burchuladze quickly became everyone’s favorite target. He came under fire for never having served in the military. Minister Burchuladze tried to defend himself, arguing it was due to his early marriage – the fact that he has his little army of 8 children at home quickly hit the headlines earlier that day (What an excuse! Couldn’t he just leave them on someone else’s watch? What are the wives there for?!).

His first name might have added to the puzzle too: it’s neither run-of-the-mill Irakli nor Giorgi, but Juansher (!!!) – what is that archaism even supposed to mean? And with so many red flags on his CV, hardly anyone scrolled long enough to spot his junior staffer career at then Ivanishvili-owned Cartu bank. (Honestly, though, the absence of such an entry would have been much more shocking for a GD official). Our friendly advice: don’t go to the EU with these complaints – there was once a female Defense Minister with 7 children and no service background in Germany – and now she happens to head the European Commission.

CRITIQUE OF CRITICAL CRITICISM Amid all the fuss Georgia currently finds itself in, Mediacritic, a platform by the Communication Commission, the regulatory authority of broadcasting and electronic communication, thought it was a good idea to deliver its criticism on negative coverage against the newly-coronated King Garibashvili. The satirical article by a Georgian online media outlet, listing Garibashvili’s 10 most memorable quotes, is the best example of how otherwise impartial media comes to quickly take sides whenever political conflicts escalate, Mediacritic argues. True! How could an agency take aim so unsteadily, now at opposition, then at Mr. Garibashvili? It is better to follow the Mediacritic’s example and have a stable and solid bias!

ENERGETIC WILD WEST It remains tense in the West too: locals are not going to end their fierce resistance against the construction of the colossal Namakhvani HPP cascade on the Rioni river. Perhaps, because it is in the seismic zones of Imereti and Racha-Lechkhumi regions? Citizens complain about selective restrictions by the police to curb protests: today, the police have reportedly only partly blocked a highway in Gumati village, Imereti region, letting pass everyone but the activists. The locals tried to access the HPP site in the nearby Namakhvani village for their usual gatherings against construction works, to end up eventually confronting police over road blockage. And as Tbilisi is busy chasing nonsense, the growing protest wave is swelling from the grassroots.

UNUSUAL OPINION POLL In the previous issue, we mentioned former PM Gakharia’s sudden popularity surge following his resignation. Over 200 thousand “liked” his farewell selfie. Ever since many a liberal social media pundit went on an angry rampage decimating their wayward friend-list of those who dared to join the “likers”. Knowing how bad Georgians are at interpreting data, perhaps many were blacklisted for failing to resist former PM’s rugged masculine charms. Friendships were tested as people righteously accused their friends of having a “short memory span”, acquitting by a mindless flick of a button ex-Prime Minister of all his sins – especially those committed during that fateful night of June 20, 2019. Others who were more forgiving said fine, at least he avoided the bloodshed this time. Many also found it cool that Gakharia made fool of his party colleagues and out-tricked Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s trickster-in-chief.

And while we admit the limits of amateur statistics – and also question to what extent a Facebook “react” is a real marker of a deeply held belief, or even of superficial support to a politician, may we assume, with perhaps vain hope,  that Georgians only wanted to tell the politicians “Want our support? Stop with the nonsense.” Hear that, Mr. Garibashvili?!

The Dispatch comes back on Wednesday… Good night, and good luck!