The Dispatch – October 18/19: Stuck in the Middle

Saakashvili’s Hunger Strike Faces Silence from West – GD Back to “End UNM” Campaigning – Runoff Endorsements Come with Aggression – Comeback of Georgia’s Favorite Telenovela Announced – Georgian Female Convicts Win Chess Trophy

As the country enters the intense campaign phase of municipal runoffs, its citizens grow increasingly unable to find common ground. In all this noise, the comeback announcement of the nation’s favorite telenovela may be the only thing to lift the spirits. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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

PUZZLING SILENCE The hunger strike of jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili continues, and the worries about his deteriorating health mount. Amid all the noise that is made these days, however, there is one silence that particularly strikes. On the media questions why key international actors remain reluctant to step in for Saakashvili, those from the United National Movement said they expected reactions after those abroad would see masses of people in the streets of Tbilisi during the October 14 rally. The people came, but the international letters didn’t. The one that arrived on October 18, signed by multiple MEPs, Lithuanian MPs as well as former leaders of Latvia, Ukraine, and Sweden rather reaffirmed than refuted that impression: addressing EU leaders, the signatories called for Saakashvili’s release (read more here). “There is no option of silence now,” the letter reads, but the silence continues, making the matter more puzzling than many admit in Georgia.

DEFINE ‘EXTRAORDINARY’ On the other side, the ruling Georgian Dream only managed to talk the talk of “forgiveness” for one day, and then went down the known path of hate to campaign for the municipal runoffs. The new campaign clips, more or less intensely, offer “to finish off” the UNM as the key campaign promise. One particularly nefarious video is entirely compiled of footage and close-ups where Saakashvili is looking his worst. Meanwhile, the ruling party mouthpiece, Imedi TV again “switched” to the “extraordinary broadcasting” ahead of runoffs to avert as the editorial statement claimed the victory of “revanchist” UNM. The statement came as a surprise to all of those who thought Imedi TV’s editorial line was already going through quite extraordinary lengths. In a way, the full attack mode never relented after being first officially introduced for the runoffs of the 2018 presidential vote. In a state Georgia currently finds itself in, staying calm and impartial might be the most extraordinary (and dangerous) thing to do. 

DEFINE ‘OPPOSITION’ With runoffs looming, and with many smaller players having bitten the dust of the reigning party duality, a tough choice of endorsements presents itself in all its decrepit glory. Ex-President Giorgi Margvelashvili, the trained philosopher he is, offered his solution to the dilemma. As someone “who traditionally confronted the UNM and has long been confronting the Georgian Dream,” he said he is currently “in favor of a third political force,” but, since no such force presents itself in the second round, he chooses to empower the “opposition,” whoever that may be is (and in Tbilisi, it is UNM’s Nika Melia).

ENEMY IS BORN But most contenders decided to rally to the cry of “Plague on both your houses!” Anna Dolidze’s 4.56% in Tbilisi mayoral race was one of the beacons for those who decided to ditch both arch-enemies (an interesting side: Dolidze used to be the parliamentary secretary or President Margvelashvili once. Georgian politics is a soap opera with a limited cast). Dolidze announced her decision not to endorse any of the mayoral candidates in the runoff and became the target of ill-contained rage. One should not rely exclusively on the unmoderated comments section on social media in a study of public attitudes, but the aggression towards her decision – mostly from those supporting the UNM – was out of bounds. The candidate, who takes her time to read the comments, later expressed concern over the “gender-based” abuse she received – kindly tagging the UNM in her tweet.

EPIC COMEBACK Amid all the toxic hostilities in the country, finally some good news that could unite: TV network Telemundo has just announced a comeback of Pasion de Gavilanes, epic Latin American telenovela so many Georgians admired years ago for all its romanticized machismo, love intrigue, and romantic fire. Latin soap operas were quite a thing a decade or more ago before the Turkish series slowly took over the market. Still, many miss the intense Latino plots that would glue several generations of a single-family to the screens, at least temporarily distracting the country from their own misery and turmoil. So, the nation has to wait till 2022 to have some joy back and maybe take personal inspiration too: if three brothers could end up marrying three sisters from the enemy’s family, can’t we at least have that long-yearned-for coalition government for once?!

ORANGE IS THE NEW WHITE & BLACK Not all inmates planning their winning moves in their cells are politicians: the Georgian team has just won the chess world championship among female convicts. According to the Ministry of Justice, 43 teams from 31 countries competed for the trophy.  “Resocialization-rehabilitation of convicts is one of the main priorities of the Special Penitentiary Service,” the Ministry noted with pride. Turns out, even the prison bars cannot stop Georgian women from amazing the world with their brilliant chess skills. Shall we expect Prison Break/Queen’s Gambit crossover to be shot in Georgia?!

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