The Dispatch – October 7/8: Correcting for Toxicity

PM’s Toxic Blunder – Saakashvili’s Drug-Test Challenge – Line Forms to See Misha in Jail – Sentimental Education – Troubled Start of Coalition Talks UNM Teeters in Zugdidi Council

Since the last year’s vote, Georgia has had a new tradition of closely studying errors, manipulations, and corrections in election protocols. The practice remained unchanged this year, though with less turmoil: it was some other error that caught more attention these days. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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MATTER OF SUBSTANCE Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has dabbled in epistle writing only to discover why good editors matter. In a winding ramble, reminiscent of the best writings of his mentor, Bidzina Ivanishvili, PM (re)evaluated recent history (2003 Rose Revolution was reduced to “stone-throwing”, which, by the way, never happened; Mikheil Saakashvili (yes, him as well) was called a drug-addict; his way of appearing in Georgia was, apparently, “unmanly”, the list goes on). But one peculiar slip has caught the public eye: amidst verbal grandstanding, PM said Saakashvili’s possible destructive actions (like a meager “5000-person rally” he could have mustered) would have been thwarted, PM said by water cannons or – if it came to that – use of “asphyxiating gas.” That particularly brutal innovation in crowd control raised quite a few eyebrows, so the Facebook post was amended to read “tear gas” instead. The nation is grateful to PM for the show of humanity and rejoices in the knowledge that the mixup occurred on paper, rather than in real life…

DRUG-TEST CHALLENGE Beka Basilaia, the defense lawyer of now-jailed President Saakashvili’s lawyer, shot back at PM Garibashvili’s assertion that Saakashvili’s surprise return might have been the fruit of his drug-addled brain. The lawyer offered to arrange a drug test for Saakashvili in the prison facility, to be carried out in journalists’ presence, and challenged PM Garibashvili to undergo the test as well. That water-bucket challenge looks so last century now, doesn’t it?

  • Read more about the Prime Minister’s epistle here.

CLOAK AND CROSS On October 7, Mikheil Saakashvili was visited by Archpriest Mikael Botkoveli, the Secretary of Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II, who reportedly passed to Patriarch’s personal greetings and blessings, together with a gilded book of Gospel, and the request to end the hunger-strike. Saakashvili declined, “with all due respect”. While the Patriarchy went to some lengths to claim that it calls to end the hunger strike “in all such cases,” observers noted that not every poor soul might be getting the Patriarch’s personal greetings and the good book inlaid with precious stones. Is the Orthodox Church the true heir to the Byzantine ecclesiastic and political tradition, hedging its bets?

FAMILY MATTERS Saakashvili’s imprisonment is taking a truly cinematic turn. The Montecristoesque return and the emissaries of the clergy bearing gifts are the shadowy intrigues that would have been incomplete without some romance. And there is some: Ukrainian MP and intellectual bombshell (and Oxford alum, after all) Lisa Yasko is Misha’s “new family” now, as transpired in a viral video from that mad October. She is now in Georgia and went to see her knight in shining armor. Among those lining up to visit is former first lady Sandra Roelofs as well, who was extremely classy by throwing her full support behind the calls for her (ex) husband’s liberation, while admitting that the announcement about his new paramour was “unexpected” and the way she learned about it (from the said video) “completely unacceptable”.

LAWS OF FLEXIBILITY In 2019, Transparency International Georgia, a local corruption watchdog, dug up the paperwork that meant Shalva Tadumadze, Georgia’s then Prosecutor General, had claimed to have enrolled at a university in 1993, while the university itself was legally founded only a year later, in 1994. Obvious questions about the validity of his lawyer diploma were raised, including by reputed watchdogs. Tadumadze now sits on the Supreme Court bench and has taken to ruling on the cases he once prosecuted. And he can hold the grudge: Tadumadze is now suing Eka Gigauri, head of TI, for defamation. Gigauri told the media the lawsuit is flawed, sharing that the Supreme Court judge wants her to stop discussing the diploma issue until the final resolution of the dispute.

KINGMAKER, KINGSLAYER… Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party emerged as kingmaker in a few local councils and will be forced to align either with the United National Movement (UNM) or the Georgian Dream. This presents a dilemma: Gakharia has been positioning himself as more radical on UNM than GD itself. At the same time, he has been smeared as a “traitor” and “cokehead” by his former friends in the Georgian Dream. With no love lost on either side, Gakharia showed readiness on October 7 to talk with both, but slammed their attempts to negotiate in secret.

Rather confusingly inviting GD and UNM to “open trilateral negotiations,” the ex-PM warned For Georgia will continue on with its “fundamental principle of balance of power – not to allow concentration of power at any municipal level” should the parties fail to reach an agreement. What does that mean, precisely, remains a mystery. Ruling party members called Gakharia’s accusation about “dirty methods” “another lie.” Earlier, on October 4, GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze had ruled out cooperating with a party of “traitor,” adding that For Georgia would definitely “fall apart” on its own accord due to poor showing, indicating that GD would be willing to pick up the pieces.

The members of UNM and Lelo for Georgia, another potential kingmaker, but with more limited powers, said they were ready to talk multi-party coalitions.

RECOUNT Gakharia’s kingmaking powers may grow: as of the time of writing, the news comes in that a recount of several precincts in Zugdidi, Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, may have UNM lose its only full majority in municipal Sakrebulo. Party Chair Nika Melia, who alleged the ruling party manipulation, said the recount led to assigning the first-round victory in one of the majoritarian districts from UNM to a GD candidate. Should it remain so, the UNM will have a chance to retain the majority if it wins the sole majoritarian runoff. If it loses, For Georgia with its three won mandates will take the kingmaker’s position in yet another municipality.

  • For more reflections on the election outcomes, read our fresh explainer.

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