Dispatch – December 6-7: Scientists

Flak from History Textbooks – Scores March Against Green Passes, Few Notice – Poison or Cure: Saakashvili’s Prescription Alarms – Pensions Hike: Too little, too late?

Trust science, they tell us, and we cannot agree more. The trouble starts when you need to choose which scientists to trust, and in Georgia, it is a BIG TROUBLE. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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Main Theme: History Classes

KNOW YOUR PLACE Would you write the biography of Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire and founding father of the ruling Georgian Dream party, in a contemporary history section of a textbook for ninth-graders? And if yes, how would you describe him? On a calm Sunday of December 5, Georgian social media exploded in (yet another) frenzy after a page featuring beaming Ivanishvili from Education Ministry-approved history textbook. The story of the Georgian Dream’s coming to power in 2012 and Ivanishvili’s bio promote the narrative of continued European integration under the GD, a view to which not all opposition supporters subscribe. Ivanishvili’s face in the school textbook and his depiction as a “philanthropist” sparked backlash, leading some in the opposition to announce (and lead) protests against what they saw as the government bending history to its partisan will.

NOT TOO FAST In a while, though, internauts got to browse more history books, to discover that previous leaders featured in the same books too, so the discussion moved to figuring out whether all periods were treated with equal justice, with some arguing it subtly favored the incumbent ruling party. But does the word “philanthropist” truly provide a biased, overly positive description for a billionaire – or oligarch – who was called by that name and known for charity work prior to moving into politics? Or could that exact status be potentially used for wider system criticism? Ask progressives: there have been years-long debates globally containing arguments that philanthropy-reliant welfare models actually harm democracy, benefitting givers more than receivers. Where else would you look for examples than in the inequality-torn country of Georgia?

HERE WE GO AGAIN But there are probably not enough progressives among ruling classes to bring this point up. But the attention spans these days measure in “one scrolldown” – wandering on, the attention zoomed onto another sensitive topic: one of the books treated the 2008 Russo-Georgian war very critically towards to Russia, but said Georgia reacted to “intensive fire” by separatists against Georgian-settled villages by bringing armed forces into the region, to which then Russia responded with “direct military aggression.” This line sparked outrage as it goes against the officially shared account that the Russian forces were already in the Tskhinvali region when the Georgian troops opened fire. The accusations against authors and publishers of breeding “Russian narrative” were quick to be leveled.   

DISCUSSTING! Authors and Education Ministry said in self-defense that the textbooks were designed this way to encourage discussion among youth, including through posing provocative questions. They also argued that books have been freely available for public discussion to which any interested party could have contributed at the time. This did not help calm things down, with historians debating how reasonable (and feasible) it is to give a historical account of recent events, on which no general consensus is yet formed, and which are the subject of heated partisan debate. But, more importantly, these books apparently delivered some right lessons in a wrong way: professionals in relevant fields raised concerns that politicians could have indeed contributed to improved school teaching through more stable scrutiny and supervision using relevant frameworks (e.g. Parliamentary committees), but usually settle for sporadic (and pointed) outbursts of anger. …And the politicians scrolled down, and the historians scrolled down, and the nation scrolled down… We will let you know what the next five minutes of rage would be about.

HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY Scores of people marched on Sunday protesting the introduction of so-called ‘Green Passes,‘ effective since December 1 and required to access a wide array of facilities, including cafes and restaurants, a weak point for feast-loving Georgians. But if you did not happen to pass by Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue, there was a little chance of hearing about the rally, which saw an astonishing absence of media coverage. And no, there were probably no evil Philanthropists (this word became so loaded overnight) like Bill Gates paying the journalists to stay home. It may more have to do with a heavy (ultra-)conservative presence among the protesters, who were the authors of the July 5 violence against the journalists during the pogrom of the planned Pride Parade. But it would be unfair to say that only ultra-conservatives or anti-vaxxers were sympathizing with the anti-Green Pass march: ‘pro-choice’ right-libertarians like Girchi – More Freedom party have also spoken up against. In his dystopia-inspired post, their leader Zura Japaridze said the regulation creates classes of people “with right protein and without that protein.”

MEDS Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, currently in post-hunger treatment in Gori military hospital, enjoys the supervision of three medical councils: one government-assembled, another Ombudsperson-convened, and so-called “alternative” council formed by non-profit center Empathy. It was the latter that has recently raised the alarm that Saakashvili was prescribed certain psychoactive drugs (outside the ones he was already reportedly taking prior to his arrest as part of post-Covid treatment), the improper use of which – the statement said – would amount to “pharmacological torture.” His personal doctor Nikoloz Kipshidze additionally said there were plans, presumably in Gori hospital, to give him a stronger dose that would make Saakashvili too drowsy for appearing in court.

Nino Sharashenidze, a hematologist from a state-convened council, said Saakashvili was himself against lowering the dosage recommended by his Dutch doctor who prescribed it, while Giorgi Grigolia, a doctor from Ombudsperson’s council, said he was aware of three psychoactive drugs the ex-President was taking but was not aware whether Gori hospital doctors increased the doses. The other two councils have not raised concerns about the issue so far. In the meantime, the discussions are quite confusing for the wider public which is now left alone to judge whether such things can really happen to the most-supervised patient in the country (and if they can, what a mere mortal can expect?!).

CHECK DATA Georgian authorities trumpeted that GDP per capita will surpass USD 5,500 in 2022, a “historic maximum” (to compare: GDP per capita amounted to USD 4,255.7 in 2020 and was projected at USD 4,882.6 for 2021). The question that logically follows is how much individual citizens will be able to feel this and the other purported economic breakthroughs the authorities are talking so much about. The government made further announcements, including the rise of monthly allowances for war veterans from current GEL 22-44 (USD 7-14) to GEL 100 (USD 32), and a 10% rise in salaries for those working in public service.

The authorities also announced a pensions hike, from GEL 240 to GEL 260 (USD 83) for retirees 70 years or younger, and from GEL 275 to GEL 300 (USD 96) for those aged 71 or older. Early this year, the government introduced a “pension indexation mechanism,” a guaranteed annual increase in pensions by “taking economic indicators into account.” But if one takes the November national inflation rate of 12.5% into account, the current GEL 275 pension indexed to inflation would have to be GEL 309 to retain the same value, and we don’t even go into making the purchase parity adjustments here… So “the pensions hike” might not exactly bring much improvement for Georgia’s seniors.

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