The Dispatch, October 28/29: Humans

GD Rally: Things We See and Unsee – Ruling Party in Series of Controversies Over Saakashvili’s Treatment – Film Review: Opposition’s New Campaign Clip – Who’s Stealing Gakharia’s Sakrebulo People

Hours left before Georgians will vote in tense runoffs, and no matter who wins, some may have already lost the best in them: human dignity. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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LET MY PEOPLE GO On Wednesday, October 27, the ruling Georgian Dream party gathered thousands of people in Tbilisi’s central Freedom Square in what they called a “conclusive rally” ahead of municipal election runoffs. A large number of people was not surprising, considering the resources – its own, and state’s – the party controls. There were, for example, reports of civil servants being mobilized and brought to the rally from the provinces. In what might be a telltale confirmation, the municipal council building in Ozurgeti, Guria region, was reportedly so empty on Wednesday, that the United National Movement (UNM) hoisted the #FreeSaakashvili banner over the balcony. But what share of civil servants was corralled this way? And does it matter? These are the questions bothering Georgian netizens.

In the “opposition bubble” of the traditional and social media, those who arrived at the rally were quite often treated with open disdain as unprincipled “human mass,” ready to sell out democracy for few Laris. Other comments were openly patronizing those “poor people” who are ready to sell their vote for the highest bidder. In this toxic atmosphere, some participants, confused, avoided media questions, while others obviously lied about the reasons behind their arrival to the capital. Yet, there were those who cited their contempt for the UNM, and also videos showing how some of them lashed out at journalists who asked questions. At the end of the day, however, beyond the noise and fuss, it was hard to figure out who exactly were those many people, why they came, and what worries them. Critics have raised concerns about dehumanizing attitudes from both sides of the polarized aisle towards the opponents.  Perhaps, too much estrangement for a country as small as Georgia?

YOU SHALL NOT PASS A government head talking human rights is usually a good thing, but PM Garibashvili managed to turn even that upside down: he spoke of “the right to suicide” – obviously, in reference to the jailed ex-President. Speaking to friendly Imedi TV, Garibasvhvili dismissed the question about Saakashvili’s hunger strike by saying “the law says an individual has the right to suicide.” This comes after comments from other ruling party officials, notably Irakli Kobakhidze, saying Saakashvili is not, in fact, on hunger strike and is “doing it for the show.”

This was just another from a series of controversies related to the government’s treatment of their highest-profile inmate. This includes the stubborn refusal to transfer him to a civilian hospital, booking instead the underequipped penitentiary medical facility – Garibashvili claimed this was because Saakashvili planned “provocations” at the private hospital. The problem got its international dimension, as Georgia apparently denied entry to foreign media and lawyers who wanted to visit the former President. This very episode – turning away reputed Ukrainian journalist Dmitry Gordon and Saakashvili’s also Ukrainian lawyer for no apparent grounds, aside from criticism, sparked discussions about why Georgian authorities would make moves that only cost them reputation. But one should not underestimate the role of animus in politics, wise men say. 

FILM REVIEW UNM’s Tbilisi mayoral candidate Nika Melia, with his old and new coalition partners and projected deputies, rolled out a new campaign clip, showing the opposition squad in avengers-like heroic postures. The plot: all five of them – Melia, Lelo’s Mamuka Khazaradze, Droa’s Elene Khoshtaria, Girchi’s Zura Japaridze, and Irakli Abesadze start their early mornings in their own ways, observe the capital city with their caring and concerned facial expressions, and get together later in an office apparently to brainstorm over Tbilisi’s future. Good thing: the ad looks unusually humane for the Georgian election campaign, focused on positive promises rather than slinging mud at the opponents. Criticism: for the same reasons, it actually shares some similarities with GD clips that feature early-morning city harmony, as if everything was fine. Tip for candidates: next time, wake up for the clip somewhere in a suburb a bit later in the morning, take the bus, and get stuck in a traffic jam so familiar to many Tbilisites. There will be more inspiration and more time to prepare notes for the brainstorming session, we promise!

JOLENE The lyrics of Dolly Parton’s all-time hit Jolene – “I’m begging of you please don’t take my man” – may be the best in showing the current state of Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party. Today, a second councilor-elect left the party of the ex-PM while retaining the mandate as independents. After Tsalenjikha, the departure now came in the coastal city of Batumi, a hotly-contested city where the party is a kingmaker. Both deserters cited their unacceptability of cooperating with the UNM, implying For Georgia’s possible coalition with other opposition parties instead of the GD. The news comes after repeated hints by GD leaders that they were trying to recruit individual opposition councilors to secure the majority. And it is certainly not an easy job to compete with a force this big. At this point, GD takes 16 seats in Batumi council (Sakrebulo), plus former For Georgia mandate-holder who may join them in a coalition. The UNM has 15 mandates, For Georgia – 2, and Lelo -1, still leaving the opposition with a tiny advantage (so far).

FINAL COUNTDOWN Tomorrow, Georgians will be casting ballots in runoffs with not-so-rich options available. Will God be again kind enough to deliver the utilitarian outcomes producing “the greatest good for the greatest number?” We hold our breath. Until then, you can scroll through the article where we tried to bring together the relevant contexts ahead of the vote. See you post-elections!

That’s the full lid for today. Join us every Tuesday and Friday for the tongue-in-cheek coverage of Georgia’s political life.