The Dispatch – September 27/28: Prodigal Sons Return

Symbolism of Merit – Fly My Beauties: Saakashvili Posts Flight Ticket – “Traitor” Gakharia Bites the Hand that Fed Him – Surveillance = Unborn Babies’ Heartbeat – New Polls Project Election Results

Less than a week is left before the municipal elections, which, political elites promise, will decide the future of the country (as usual). Yet, it is precisely the future one talks about least in specific terms, when political discussions rage these days (also, as usual). So here is Nini with the usual updates from Georgia.

A WIN – OF SORTS Georgia marks the 28th anniversary of the fall of Sokhumi, which ended the armed phase of the conflict in Abkhazia in 1992-1993. On this sad and tragic day for many Georgians and particularly for those who lost their loved ones and had to flee their homes back then, President Salome Zurabishvili tried to bring a little symbolic joy. When visiting Paris, she took time to award Demna Gvasalia, the most prominent Georgian fashion designer and Balenciaga’s creative director, with a Medal of Honor. The creative work of Gvasalia, who hails from Sokhumi, has strongly featured aesthetic and emotional elements of his distant Georgian homeland, so the award is more than simply honoring a successful expatriate. „Me being here with you today to hand you this state award means that we have still won somewhere after all,” Zurabishvili said during the award ceremony at Maison Balenciaga.

COUNTRY ROADS, TAKE ME HOME Not all ex-pats have equal fun abroad, turns out, and some of them are ready to sacrifice their liberty for the joy of homecoming: to the disappointment of non-believers, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili says he is keeping his promise of arriving for the upcoming municipal elections. As proof, he posted online a Kyiv-Tbilisi flight ticket, with October 2, 11 pm landing time – some three hours after the polls close. His supporters claim dozens of thousands of people are ready to meet and shield the wanted ex-President from law enforcers at the airport. With or without Misha, however, nobody expects much peace by that time of the day anyways.

PRODIGAL SON Former PM Giorgi Gakharia does not shy away from the TV spotlight and is prepared to answer critical media questions which, of course, are about his troubled past: for example, it has become a routine for Georgian audience to hear him and his party defend the controversial dispersal of June 19-20, 2019 anti-occupation rally, while admitting to individual police misdemeanors. Still, Formula TV journalists were able to make him talk badly of Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, something he’s been carefully avoiding so far: Ivanishvili “did not live up to the confidence” from both himself and Georgian citizens, Gakharia said.

This, as expected, made his former party colleagues angry, with GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze quoted by news agencies as saying that Gakharia “lost his mind” and “living up to Gakharia’s hopes was all Ivanishvili has been dreaming of since childhood.” The GD Chair also said that the ex-PM’s remarks again confirmed “that information that we spread about his problems is real,” alluding to his own continuous accusations about Gakharia’s cocaine addiction. Indeed, his mind must be addled to bite the hand that fed him, GD mandarins claim. Gakharia, however, obviously had enough of this – he asked the Prosecutor’s Office to probe Kobakhidze’s accusations for slander.

RETREAT Unlike his predecessor, there were many warm mentions of Ivanishvili from incumbent Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili during his personal interview at a talk show on Imedi TV on September 26. From the past he recalled, one memory went particularly viral: he said following his resignation in December 2015, he went alone to Mount Athos in Greece to “experience some kind of detox” after serving two years as Prime Minister. Detox is definitely something Georgian voters would use now, and probably for the next few weeks – so better for the PM to find some more affordable destinations for the wider public.

SAFETY OVER CONSENT Georgian politicians continue to discuss – or avoid – the alleged leak of surveillance files from the State Security Service of Georgia. “What do I have to do with it?” was the question asked by SSG Head Grigol Liluashvili in response to journalists’ questions, pointing at the ongoing probe to establish the truth. PM Garibashvili, on the other hand, stood his ground by referring to the international practice of lawful surveillance. Ruling Party MP Lado Kakhadze, who happens to be a popular gynecologist, took things to the next, hitherto unknown level. He compared surveillance to his medical experience of listening to the unborn baby’s heartbeat, to ensure its health and safety. However, MP Kakhadze said the surveillance can only be used to protect individuals, not to target them or society as a whole. The sharp tongues remarked that they hoped Mr. Kakhadze was listening to those babies’ heartbeat with their parents’ consent, at least…

BACK TO THE FUTURE The party ratings commissioned by government-critical TV channels are out. According to the Ipsos study ordered by Mtavari Arkhi TV, 32% would vote for the ruling party in the local elections, followed by the United National Movement with 23% and Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia with 8%. 11% of respondents, however, refused to answer. Edison Research study commissioned by Formula TV, which chose to allocate the undecided voters, projected the GD to get 36% of votes, followed by UNM with 27% and For Georgia with 11%. Another interesting finding by Edison Research was that Georgian Dream lost most of its earlier (2020) voters – 12% – to For Georgia, while another 4% went to the UNM. 74% of them, however, stick to the ruling party.

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