The Dispatch – October 11/12: Cracks

Batumi Tragedy – Media Ethics in Spotlight – Fashion Designers and Clerics Sign to #Freemisha – Saakashvili’s Hunger Strike Turns Into Math Problem

The polarization hit a new high in Georgia, after the arrival and arrest of former President Mikheil Saakashvili, highlighting the cracks in the social fabric. The tragedy of the roof caving in on hapless inhabitants of a Batumi apartment block – apparently due to the botched repair works – brought the country into a painful realization that undermining the edifice claims lives and destroys the future. Both figuratively and, tragically, literally. Here is Nini with updates, as Georgia mourns the victims of Batumi.

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CITY IN RUINS The country mourns the loss of nine lives after the shocking collapse of the residential city in the coastal city of Batumi. Three suspects were sent on October 11 to pre-trial custody – the owner of the ground floor apartment and two renovation workers. The prosecutor alleges that during the repairs, the workers knocked down, among others, the load-bearing wall, and failed to report the structural damage. As Georgians are seething at yet another deadly neglect, many refuse to see the incident as an isolated case. Batumi, once a breezy and comfy two-story town, has been buoyed by the construction bubble. Skyscrapers lining the shoreline hide the “concrete jungle” driven by corporate greed – and excessive deregulation. Some lawyers talk failure of the state to meet its positive obligation. As if to prove their point, a hung ceiling came down on October 11 in a children’s hospital in Batumi. Gracefully, none of the four patients who were allegedly in the room at the time were seriously injured. While voices are heard for better regulation and oversight, few hope that things would move beyond mourning and promises to punish those immediately responsible.

FIRST WE TAKE MANHATAN The Batumi tragedy also brought media ethics into the spotlight: as Georgians were glued to their screen watching the rescue teams dig for survivors, a journalist from TV Pirveli, an opposition-leaning channel, grabbed attention by pushing a man in distress – he would eventually lose three members of his family – to answer her on live TV. The journalist later apologized, but the discussion escalated quickly. One TV anchor was angry people were prompt to point at the journalists’ mistakes, but let the government misdeeds unnoticed. “First take part in eliminating the decay now and then we can argue about some standards in a salon-like manner, in a normal country,” he wrote. Not everyone agreed that the country can’t afford ethics while in a constant state of emergency. In fact, this discussion has been haunting Georgian politics: shall one stay silent on human rights abuses if the progress is happening? Or shall one ignore “smaller” problems if the regime change is what the country agrees on? Those are very good and relevant questions, but overheated Facebook posts are unlikely places to bring a satisfying answer.

UNLIKELY COMRADES Where else do you find the openly gay, internationally renowned eccentric fashion designer sharing the cause with high-ranking clergymen from the Georgian Orthodox Church, but among the signatories of the fresh petition to #FREEMISHA. While the signature reportedly belonging to Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia was celebrated among Saakashvili supporters, the bishops were the ones to explain their backing of the ex-President’s release from jail. Confirming his signature, Bishop Melkisedek of Margveti and Ubisa diocese, Imereti, said Georgians need to start striving towards “big national reconciliation,” warning against sacrificing the country to the personal confrontation.

MORAL PROBLEM Whatever the priests preach, the Saakashvili’s current status has sent Georgians grappling for repairs. Those who insist on the ex-President’s immediate release, say the current legal system can not be trusted to deal with the case which is so blatantly political. The opponents point out that that that flawed judicial system is of Saakashvili’s own doing, and whether or not he’s been rightfully convicted in specific cases, he is guilty overall, and must be punished. Yet others fear that the former President behind the bars is driving an additional wedge into Georgian society – after all, one of Georgia’s presidents already died in exile. Then again, there are people who say they have suffered under Saakashvili’s regime and deserve justice, a key promise of the Georgian Dream government. Some personalities from the dark side of the UNM rule have been convicted by the same judiciary under GD, but few rallied for them. Besides, institutionalized impunity of leaders bears a risk of having malign effects on the incumbent officeholders as well – further complicating the matter.

…AND A HONEY TRAP What is more troubling, is when the professional standards and duties get sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. A truly bizarre discussion emerged concerning Saakashvili’s state of health. The former president is on a hunger strike, and his personal doctor claimed his condition is worsening. The penitentiary disagreed, claiming the health of the hungering inmate was satisfying. The ex-President himself jumped into the frat and expressed outrage about the information on his health becoming the political token. He called on his supporters to win the runoffs instead.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili found nothing better to speak about today than discussing at length…. whether Saakashvili bought honey in prison. “A person who claims to be on hunger strike should not be eating half a kilo of honey,” Garibashvili commented, alleging the ex-President purchased “seven boxes of honey” in jail.

Eka Kherkheulidze, UNM’s old-timer, met Saakashvili in jail and clarified the “honey trap”: apparently Misha bought five small cans of honey to put into his tea, as recommended by doctors. But learning the Prime Minister could not resist the sweet temptation, Misha, having already opened one, reportedly surrendered four remaining small honey pots to the prison administration.

…To make the situation even more Tarantinoesque, the residents of Mughanlo village, Kvemo Karli, went to see the hungering leader in jail…and slaughtered sheep to tempt the poor soul with sizzling barbecue. Before accusing them of sadism, however, it is important to note that they did it in good faith, reportedly calling on Saakashvili to end the strike because “Georgia needs him”.

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