The Dispatch – September 16-17: Coke, Spooks and Some Smoking Barrels

GD Stabs in the Dark – Georgia is On the Record – That Bad, Bad Skoda Octavia – Guns, Guns! – Coke’n’Stock

Days after a huge batch of alleged surveillance reports were made public, Georgia’s political game resembles that famous spiderman meme: all three frontrunners of upcoming elections pointing fingers at each other, calling each other dirty spies, and worse. Finally, in the same boat, they are sailing through less than clean waters. Here is Nini with declassified updates from Georgia.

The Dispatch is our regular newsletter. Subscribe and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil

SWITCHING BLAME The ruling Georgian Dream party looks far more confused than it was in any of its earlier crises (and, boy, there were many…). A huge amount of data seems to have leaked from the State Security Service (SSG, better known under Georgian abbreviation, “Susi”). The ruling party first reached for the most reptilian of its instincts: blame it on the United National Movement. True, UNM was not big on privacy while it was in power till 2012, reportedly amassing a massive surveillance database which, also allegedly, the Georgian Dream, has destroyed in front of the cameras. But the records that were dumped are well posterior to the UNMs days in power. So after crying wolf, it was decided to cry treason. The GD suddenly remembered that former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, now the opposition party leader and GD’s main smear target, has some former police guys on his team, including Alexandre Khojevanishvili, ex-Deputy Head of SSG. Gakharia’s For Georgia party now expects Khojevanishvili’s arrest over the case, who says he never supervised surveillance departments and is the first one wanting to get to the bottom of this case.

KNOW THYSELF Curiously, no ruling party official has denied the authenticity of the files: too many persons of public renown: journalists, clergymen, politicians – have recognized their calls and conversations. Some claim that even in-person chats ended up in the files, raising doubt that personal spaces such as homes may be bugged. The journalists continue to sift through the files, saying they choose to report information of public interest only: but admit there is a lot of private muck and smut in them. The directory that was leaked is centered around the clergy, but it includes files that reveal tapping into the phones and messages of diplomats, media, and civic activists. PM Garibashvili tries to shrug it off: “the whole world is governed in this way,” he said, tapping into the strongly engrained cynicism of Georgians about the world, which the ruling party does only encourage.

RECORD IT, SAM! How does the public react? If Georgia was really on its way “to Europe,” such a major breach of privacy would trigger a huge backlash. But the parliament is quiet, the head of SSG was not even summoned for routine questions. The netizen liberals are raging, but there is little in form of public outcry. No international fuss either, after all, this is not another NSA-spying-on-Merkel controversy. The scandal generates newspaper inches and media time but seems to have landed more like another episode of well-known series. The only real noise was made by members of the “Girchi – More Liberty” (that’s the one with Zurab Japaridze) who smashed (their own) Scoda Octavia – the preferred vehicle of surveillance spooks, apparently – near the SSG headquarters as a protest performance.

A CALL TO ARMS What does the other Girchi (the crazier, splinter group) do? After (finally) coming out as conservatives, the members now actively advocate for liberalizing gun carry laws. Like this is the only thing missing in Georgia, polarized and wound up to the extreme. There have been too many guns on the news over the past days – the media reported several shootings, including those involving teens. A young man being shot and killed in central Tbilisi, allegedly by a hitman, came as particularly shocking. But to form an individual opinion on amending gun laws, one could start by imagining July 5 anti-Pride violence with everybody coming there armed.

TRAINSPOTTING GD’s campaign is now in its full, maddening spin. What started as transparent hints as Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze called out Giorgi Gakharia to get tested for drug use, became direct accusations in the mouth of GD’s spinner-general Irakli Kobakhidze. After Gakharia said the ruling party was trying to frame him by fixing the test result and went to Vienna to sip some melange and give his hair for analysis, Kobakhidze started to claim the former prime minister had a drug addiction problem. Speaking to the Public Broadcaster, Kobakhidze even called Gakharia “a “cokehead unworthy to waste one’s time on.” The talking point is now making its way to the top: PM Garibashvili also called ex-President Saakashvili a “known drug user” – and, yes, also implied Gakharia was in the same category. There is a whole conspiracy theory being built on this: Kobakhidze mentioned that since other opposition party mayoral candidates refused to get tested in solidarity with Gakharia, this proves the existence of a “clear alliance” between Gakharia and UNM.

Little did we know starting The Dispatch, how bizarre Georgia’s politics were going to get. That’s was full lid for today, but expect more where this came from – every Tuesday and Friday!