The Dispatch – September 24/25: Paradise Lost

Cockfight – …and Coke Fight – Cherchez la Femme – Police Slapped with Fine – Lights Out at Namakhvani While School Children go Hungry

The refrain of the current election campaign is “anything but real problems”. Two silly topics lead the charts this week: a Kobakhidze-Melia cockfight in front of the EU delegation and yet another installment of the “cocaine saga” around Gakharia. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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SHOWDOWN Nika Melia, chairman of the United National Movement, and ruling party chairman Irakli Kobakhidze made headlines by hurling obscenities at each other after meeting EU officials in Tbilisi. Melia got personal and pressed flesh over the Dmanisi stabbing incident where two UNM supporters were injured. Kobakhidze riposted with swearing. He apologized the next day, but only to “rectify” his obscene phrase by calling Melia a “hooligan with no intellect.” EU Ambassador Carl Hartzell expressed exasperated regrets over what happened and welcomed Kobakhidze’s apology. But Amb. Hartzell can do no right by GD these days – especially since the EU summoned the Georgian ambassador over the alleged spying. Kobakhidze slammed Amb. Hartzell’s statement as “fairly soft”, arguing that Melia “who has problems with intellect” may take them as a green light for “for staging further provocations.” 

MEN WRITING WOMEN The spin-doctors of the ruling Georgian Dream threw all of their ardor into framing former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia as a drug addict (or “cokehead” as Mr. Irakli Kobakhidze called him). It is the story of betrayal (the bloodstained billboards that showed up in Tbilisi call Gakharia just that, the traitor). And to follow the literary logic, Gakharia’s fall from Olympus and from grace must be accompanied by moral decadence. Hence the drugs. But no picture of moral depravity is complete without a woman, you’d agree… So Irakli Kobakhidze, who has the leading role in spinning GD’s yarn – duly brought in the “femme fatale”. He claimed it was “the woman” who introduced Gakharia to cocaine, sometime in March-April this year. The mysterious woman is now in ex-PM-s party, he added. Oh, the temptress! Something tells us, more transparent hints will be dropped… Perhaps a recording or two?! To their credit, women candidates from Gakharia’s “For Georgia” party hit social media by #IamthatWoman hashtag. Far cry from “I am Spartacus”, but there you go…

PERSONAL IS POLITICAL In the meantime, addict-shaming is a problem in Georgia far exceeding the campaign run: it was on Friday that State Inspector, an agency overseeing personal data breaches and office abuse, fined the Interior Ministry for violating the privacy rights of Lekso Lashkharava, a camera operator who died days after falling victim to July 5 anti-Pride violence. Back then, the police hinted at drug overdose as a cause of death and aired footage supposedly showing that Lashkharava bought psychotropic drugs and narcotics before his death on July 11 (read more here). 

Little did Londa Toloraia, the Inspector, know that by the ruling she’d invite outrage her way: conservative groups led by Nana Kakabadze were unhappy that Toloraia’s agency while fining the Ministry, fails to fine media outlets for exposing the alleged surveillance files on Georgian Orthodox Church. Kakabadze called on the Prosecutor’s Office to study Inspector’s activities and alleged that Toloraia was ex-PM Gakharia’s pick in the position, hence her current actions are politically tinted.

THRILL IS GONE The construction of the controversial Namakhvani HPP cascade in west Georgia was put indefinitely on halt after ENKA Insaat, the investor company, decided to terminate the contract with the Georgian government citing the breaches of contract and force majeure. Months ago, noisy celebrations would have followed such news after the protests over economic and environmental concerns had united people from various backgrounds. Today, however, there is more booing than applause. “Save Rioni Valley”, a grassroots protest movement leading the protests, has lost the support of the liberal CSOs and media, after its leaders took a stance against Pride March and even joined the July 5 anti-Pride demonstration, which turned violent. 

The voices of those who supported the HPP project (and/or opposed the Save Rioni Valley movement) got more amplified in the media: some bemoan the potential financial penalties the state would suffer if the case goes into arbitration. Others worry that Georgia may lose many future large investments as a result. The most ardent adepts of Ayn Rand say the “green fascists” achieved their aim of undercutting Georgia’s energy independence, benefiting Russia knowingly, or as “useful idiots.” Varlam Goletiani, the leading activist who enjoyed the meteoric media popularity, now finds his points much harder to bring across…

CHILDREN DON’T VOTE And now to real issues: 74% of the Georgian schools have no canteen, and children who come from economically poor families often go hungry, the Ombudsperson’s office and other research found. Children who can buy snacks in nearby shops are often on an unhealthy diet. Only 26% of those schools that have canteens, can guarantee a balanced meal. There is some heartwrenching reading on the topic here.

That’s the full lid for today. The bizarre side in Georgia’s politics is here to stay, and we cover it: every Tuesday and Friday