Dispatch – November 11/12: Truman Show

Misha Condition to End Hunger Strike: How Realistic? ECtHR Decision: Short Text, Many Interpretations – Saakashvili’s Prison Videos: Goals and Ends – Gela Charkviani’s Obituary – National Team’s Surprise Win

Many remember THE DRESS illusion from 2015 when a simple picture of a dress posted on the internet has divided people all around the globe: some insisted the dress was white and gold, while others were convinced it was black and blue. In Georgia, public discussions have long worn that exact dress, be it for the election results, justice, statements from abroad, or dietary supplements. Late on November 11, when Georgians were tired of wearing those dresses and were about to switch into the comfy pajamas, Strasbourg delivered a shiny gown that suddenly everybody wanted to try on. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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ONE CONDITION It was the usual mess on November 11, with one unpleasant news coming after another, when reports broke that Mikheil Saakashvili, jailed ex-President who has been refusing food for more than 40 days, was about to end his hunger strike. It was as if the time had come for those worried about his health and the ever-straining situation in the country to sigh the breath of relief. But there was one “but”: the Ex-President, who has been placed in a prison hospital apparently against his will, will only make the move if he will be able to undergo the subsequent treatment in a civilian clinic – his longtime demand due to safety fears in the penitentiary prison. His concerns have been supported by the arguments of the Public Defender, and others outside his party have shared his worries too. Over the past weeks, this may be the closest the country came to de-escalation of one significant part of a larger crisis, one would say. But few hope that government will be ready to compromise, despite a common practice of inmates being treated at public clinics.

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STRASBOURG PUZZLE Saakashvili’s decision apparently followed the November 10 decision of ECtHR on the application for interim measures, where Saakashvili’s lawyers reportedly requested his prompt transfer to a civilian clinic. The Court, finding the claim admissible, urged Saakashvili to call off his hunger strike (the exact translation of word “urge” has brought back that famous “dress” situation too, with perceived meanings ranging between “call on” and “insist” depending which political tribe you belong to). The Court further decided that the Georgian Government should inform it on Saakashvili’s state of health, as well as the medical hospital treatment dispensed in the prison hospital; and that the authorities should ensure the ex-President’s safety in prison in general and should him with appropriate medical care for the post-hunger strike recovery period.

WIN-WIN The political tribes split up on the news and jumped into well-prepared trenches: Justice Minister Rati Bregadze gloated on Facebook that “Strasbourg Court did not satisfy Saakashvili’s claim regarding his transfer to a civilian clinic and demanded him to end the hunger strike.” He was joined by the choir of ruling party personas, government-friendly media and social media troll army followed suit. In the red corner, “our request for taking interim measures has been granted,” trumpeted Nika Gvaramia, one of Saakashvili’s lawyers – and incidentally (…or is that “indecently”?! Always mix that spelling up) the head of hard-hitting Mtavari TV. He also mentioned that – not to put too fine a point on it – by urging to end the strike, ECtHR actually confirmed that the ex-President was hungering, which the Georgian Dream officials rather cynically questioned before.

With both parties celebrating the win and their partisans rejoicing with the headlines, two parallel realities, like in a state of quantum coupling emerged in the country once again, as Georgia’s Facebook aficionados have transformed overnight from nutritionists to European human rights law experts. Eventually, the actual lawyers weighed in, clarifying that while not granting the immediate request to transfer the inmate to a civilian clinic, the Court still gave the case priority and indeed invoked the interim measures by putting forward certain demands. Also, more specific demands may follow should the Court eventually establish that Saakashvili is indeed inappropriately treated in the penitentiary clinic. Lawyers also said that the Court not prescribing more specific steps right away follows an established practice in such cases, however, there were also cases when the ECtHR did immediately order a transfer to a specific facility.

TRUMAN SHOW The ECtHR controversy was soon overshadowed on the next day as the government posted two reels of footage showing Saakashvili’s transfer to and placement at the prison hospital in Gldani, Tbilisi. The videos, obviously posted with the aim to show the inmate treating the guards aggressively, had quite an opposite effect on many viewers: they only reaffirmed that the ex-President’s anger was caused by being deceitfully taken to the hospital against his will, while his physical resistance – leading to him being summarily dragged into the facility – sparked empathy in those who can’t seriously be considered to be Saakashvili’s fans. More generally, the authorities came under heavy fire for mistreating the inmate, both physically and through the continuous release of videos – apparently cut – showing him in humiliating conditions.

DON’T DREAM IT’S OVER While the feeling of being on the verge of civil confrontation has been exhausting the country more every day, the Georgian Dream government seems to be pushing its uncompromising policy towards the United National Movement, Saakashvili’s party. It explains the dogged refusal to transfer Saakashvili to a civilian clinic – an approach considered by critics as selective since hundreds of other inmates apparently benefit from such service annually. But the ruling party argues the UNM hotheads are bent on “staging provocations” once finding their leader is outside the high-security perimeter. This very argument was also used to deny Saakashvili the right to attend his own trial on November 10. To counter these arguments, the UNM, currently holding multiple rallies throughout the capital city, pledged not to rally outside or in the vicinity of any hospital that the former President is transferred to. While some observers think the ruling party is acting irrationally, the actual attitudes of a broader public towards the issues remain mysterious – and like that dress again – depends on which social media bubble you look into…

A MAN WHO FELT Gela Charkviani, a famous Georgian diplomat, writer, and teacher, passed away at the age of 82. A man of many talents, he was known not only for his skills and intelligence, but his outstanding ability to feel, to love unconditionally, and to display this with no reservations. Charkviani, himself a son of a high-ranking Soviet official, was a father to famous Georgian musician Irakli Charkviani, whom he tragically lost in 2006. As someone who held diplomatic positions in Soviet times and then again in two governments of independent Georgia, including as a foreign policy advisor to Eduard Shevardnadze and an Ambassador under Saakashvili – whom he had once taught English – Charkviani was above and beyond all the divisions, polarities, and enmities that have been ravaging the country. Younger generations came to know him as a writer, thinker, and somewhat poetic personality, never beholden to the past he came from and in love with the change that the future brought. His loss is mourned in Georgia by many – regardless of age, social group, or political belonging. A rare gift that he bestowed on a divided country.

LOOK AT THE BRIGHT SIDE… The Georgian national football team secured a 2:0 victory against Sweden on November 11 in a world qualifier game, where wins have been particularly rare in many years. While Georgia has no chance of making it to the World Cup, it did get the rival in trouble by making it far more difficult for the earlier group leader to avoid play-offs, thus eliciting a sincere “ვაიმეე”(vaimee) – an exclamation of awestruck deception that most expats learn few weeks into their stay in Georgia – in a tweet reaction of Ulrik Tideström, the Swedish Ambassador to Georgia. The frustrated Ambassador, who attended the game in Batumi, Adjara region, gallant in defeat, still congratulated Georgia on its win.

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