The Dispatch – September 13/14: Decameron

Church Files Shake Georgia – Big Brother is Texting You – 40,000 Followers Ready to Shield Misha – Reports: Ukraine to Extradite UNM Era Fixer – Hair Loss: Ex-PM Heads to Europe

Nobody expected the campaign ahead of the 2021 municipal elections in Georgia to go without secret files: the question is generally “about whom” rather than “if.” Today’s data dump was, however, massive and serves as a good indication of the disproportional importance these otherwise mundane elections have. Here is Nini with updates from Georgia where the lives of others are hot political commodities.

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LEAKY CAULDRON The dumping of what allegedly are the secret service surveillance files containing reports of high-ranking clergymen of the Georgian Orthodox Church is what’s driving the news day in Georgia. The documents include files about power dynamics/clan rule in the religious institutions, as well as their Russian links, business connections, and [fairly colorful, if we are to believe the spooks] personal lives. According to those who combed through the files today, there are too many secrets to be forgotten overnight – in a country that is not easily shocked. The Church, which, strictly speaking, is the main victim of the leak, is also its main villain – for the Church that sticks to Biblical orthodoxy and often ventures into inquisitory zeal, there is no sin in the Book that has not been committed. Apart from some confused media remarks from several Bishops, the Orthodox Church Patriarchate has not commented, and neither did the State Security Service has delivered its usual debunking.

It was only party chair Irakli Kobakhidze and MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, these Castor and Pollux of the Georgian Dream, that leaped to the defense of both Church and State, conveniently evading the theme of surveillance and of the leak.

In the meantime, several notables whose conversations are referenced in the files recognized their words and recalled communication, meaning that at least some of these files are real: Lelo for Georgia leader Mamuka Khazaradze said his conversation with certain clergyman checks out. Eka Kvesitadze, the talk-show host on the Mtavari Arkhi TV, even said that the listed conversations came from Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, warning these applications are under state surveillance. Public Defender Nino Lomjaria noted there is a “high likelihood” of such illegal surveillance indeed taking place, considering the current flawed regulatory framework, which gives the Security Service loopholes for encroaching on privacy. The Public Defender’s appeal against these regulations is pending at the Constitutional Court.

And this is not all: Security Service Accused of Spying on School, Kindergarten Principals

TBILISI, 1979 Another comeback announcement by ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili is viewed by many with skepticism: rumors (and ill-wishers) have it that the charismatic leader wanted by Georgian authorities lacks the gut to serve even a short time in prison, whatever his ultimate grand purpose may be. Nika Melia, the current leader of the United National Movement, is on the higher moral ground here: not only he went to jail, but also made his jail time a significant part of the recent government crisis in Georgia. Whatever Misha’s real plans, some of his ardent followers are keeping the faith. Tako Charkviani, leader of the Law and Justice party, decided to take matters into her own hands and founded a United Public Movement for Mikheil Saakashvili’s Return. As funny as it may sound, the leaders of the initiative now claim that over 40,000 people have signed up over the past few days, pledging to meet the ex-President at the border upon his arrival and prevent law enforcers from grabbing their leader at the border. We all remember that Saakashvili has already done this trick in Ukraine.

MR. DARKSIDE So will the Ayatollah Khomeini scenario play out in Tbilisi airport in the weeks to come? Less likely, but those who crave political drama may still get some: Megis Kardava, who held offices in law enforcement bodies under the UNM rule, is reportedly expected to be extradited to Georgia. Some prominent UNM figures managed to remain in the public eye, making a (more or less credible) claim that the charges leveled by the Georgian Dream prosecutors were frivolous, and fight off the accusations of human rights violations by pointing at a positive story of reforms and revival. But Megis Kardava’s status as a villain is rarely challenged. He’s been prosecuted and found guilty on multiple charges, including torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, illegal deprivation of liberty, and sexual actions committed through violence. In the public eye, he embodies the worst of the UNM era, something so traumatizing that – according to media quotes from 2017 – even Saakashvili denied having personal acquaintance.

A message on a Facebook profile appeared, allegedly dictated by him and posted by his wife, claiming that the case of Kardava, who was detained by Ukrainian authorities in 2017 is being expedited for extradition. Kardava’s post says this is an “act of political agreement between parties”: an “informal exchange” by which Georgia’s pardoning of Ukrainian sailors in July was exchanged for Kardava’s extradition. Kardava alleges the extradition will be used for campaign purposes by the Georgian Dream, which indeed is a real possibility: GD’s campaign so far has been shaped by promises of the tourism boom that rang hollow. But on a final stretch, the return of Kardava could help GD rehash the usual trope of villainous UNM for the hesitant voters, and to serve the image of just punishment to its supporters.

TO PEE, OR NOT TO PEE is not the question anymore. Giorgi Gakharia, now a mayoral candidate, has been repeatedly (and bizarrely) called out by his competitor, sitting mayor Kakha Kaladze, to submit a urine test to check for illicit drug abuse. Gakharia now hit back, slamming the GD’s “propagandistic machine” on September 13. He claimed to have “incontrovertible evidence” that the ruling party was planning to frame him by rigging the test at Levan Samkharauli National Forensics Bureau. To avoid the “speculations,” the ex-PM said he will travel to Europe and give his hair for a drugs test in an “international laboratory.” The results will be public in two weeks, he promised. Just in time for the vote.

That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Tuesday and Friday!