Dispatch – November 25/26: Schadenfreude

Saakashvili: New Escalation in Sight? – Sincere Talk of Ex-President’s Son Sparks Discussions – Anger in Batumi Brings Back Dark Memories – Culture Minister and Chronicles of Suspicious Dismissals

Georgians love drama – look at politics, public discussions, internet reactions, or…well..the actual, theatrical drama. But apart from being consistently irritating and periodically amusing, the love for drama has some dangerous effects – especially since misplaced theatricals may harm those left alone with real worries. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR Following Mikheil Saakashvili’s transfer to Gori military hospital, the war cries in the center subsided, but distant battle sounds are still heard. Public Defender Nino Lomjaria revealed early on November 23 that the European Court of Human Rights had instructed the Government of Georgia through updated interim measures to follow the advice of doctors appointed by Ombudsperson to transfer then hunger-striking Saakashvili to the multi-profile clinic. The revelation explained the government’s sudden willingness to move the ex-President on the very same day the document is dated. But the Deputy Justice Minister claimed the ECtHR decision only arrived after the government had already offered Saakashvili the transfer. Up to you which version of the story you trust.

And the story did not end there: as Saakashvili undergoes post-hunger treatment in Gori, lawyers and his personal doctor have been advocating for his at least temporary release for facilitating the recovery. The view about its medical necessity is not widely shared, and the government does not seem to be taking it seriously so far. Things may escalate as Saakashvili complained in his latest missive about MPs not being able to visit him and threatened to stop his treatment unless this changes. Another seminal “Misha moment” is coming up, as he is finally expected to attend his trial in relation to the so-called November 7 case in person. Does the ex-president know how to make any political circumstance about himself – you bet he does! Does the prosecution often bumble the cases? Ditto. So with Saakashvili calling on his supporters to gather outside the Tbilisi City Court as he stands in the dock, expect some more drama and fireworks.

MY FATHER’S SON Children should not be held responsible for their parents’ decisions. Neither are they bound to unconditionally support the ideas or endeavors of their parents. But Georgian politics (as Georgian everything…) is often a family affair, and people start to get ideas. And build expectations. Probably this is why the interview with Saakashvili’s elder son, Eduard, recorded by RFE/RL’s veteran Gogi Gvakharia in the Netherlands, landed as positively surprising for some and controversial for others. Aside from his brilliant typing skills (he’s beaten a world record in fastest Ipad typing), Eduard Saakashvili  – whose personality and appearance show both resemblances and contrasts to those of his father – turned out to be an engaging and sympathetic talker, too.

During the 40 minutes-long candid interview, Eduard Saakashvili son touched, among others, upon character differences with his father (Dixit Eduard: “to him, the world is somewhat one-dimensional”…); his worries as a son about his father’s risky, heroic, and self-sacrificial impulses, while respecting his right to a hunger strike; or his anger about current authorities hijacking “legitimate” criticism against previous government’s policies to seek “awful political retribution.”

But one quip went particularly viral: Eduard Saakashvili spoke about what he feels is “appalling” schadenfreude from the opposition, about the former President’s possible death as a result of his recent hunger strike. „Willingly or not, some develop ideas about how cool it would be if [Mikheil Saakashvili] really died, what cool things they would undertake [against the government on the wave of discontent],“  he said. The heated discussions followed, with Mikheil Saakashvili commenting that he disagrees with his son’s remarks, but respects his adult son’s right to have his own views. Maybe Saakasvhili senior never became a father to the nation, but perhaps the father-and-son duo may help Georgia see the less toxic side of parenting? Let us hope so.

UNDER PRESSURE Fury in the coastal city of Batumi as opposition alleged that Nugzar Putkaradze, United National Movement’s elected member of contested Batumi City Council, was pressured and offered a bribe from the ruling party officials, shortly before his death. The opposition claims that Putkaradze, suffering from diabetes, succumbed to high blood sugar possibly caused by nervousness over that pressure. The UNM has published a tape – with so far unverified authenticity – featuring the councilor-elect being talked into “neutrality.” The accusations follow earlier hints by the ruling Georgian Dream party that it would try to recruit individual councilors to secure a majority in the most contested Sakrebulo where, following Putkaradze’s death, the opposition’s majority has been hanging in balance. The police haven’t opened the probe yet. Earlier, a councilor from For Georgia party, led by former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, turned independent, and many suspects he has folded under similar pressure that may have cost Putkaradze his life.

The situation brings some other dark memories to the surface. In 2018, similar concerns were voiced over school principal Ia Kerzaia, who suffered a stroke and died following reported pressure by the authorities after she refused to join the campaign of the Salome Zurabishvili, then the presidential candidate endorsed by the ruling party. The case went to ECtHR a year later, after a six-month local investigation failed to establish the crime. In stark contrast, authorities were swift to investigate the sudden death of District Election Commission Chair Theodore Gobejishvili in November 2020, following a tense first round of the parliamentary elections. The court sent two persons to pretrial detention two days after the tragic event, charging them over offering the DEC Chair a bribe, threatening and coercing him in the name of the UNM a day before his death. Both of them were released on bail a month later after the opposition (that saw them as “political prisoners”) has demanded their release as a part of the post-election deal.

WHEEL OF JUSTICE The above-mentioned case of Kerzaia had another development too: her son, Bachana Shengelia, later saw his notary license withdrawn by the Justice Ministry. The Ministry argued then the social media statements of Shengelia (who became a vocal government critic following his mother’s death) violated the principle of political neutrality the notaries are required to uphold. Shengelia successfully challenged the decision in court. Tea Tsulukiani, who was then Justice Minister, is now holding the Culture portfolio and is apparently continuing her long track record of dubious dismissals. Two Georgian CSOs – Social Justice Center and Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association – allege that upon taking office, Tsulukiani embarked on mass reshuffling in national museums and subordinate offices, which resulted in ten dismissals. CSOs decry this as an attempt to censor dissenters who voiced their professional opinion and will help those dismissed to challenge the vindictive Minister in courts.

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