Dispatch – December 9-10: Opti-Males

Health Minister’s Unhealthy Resignation – GD Optimum Force, Mayor Says – Deputy Assistant Secretary What?! Kaladze Cringes – Skeptical Eyes of the Beholder: Zurabishvili Gets Scolded for Saying the Right Thing

Those trained in economics are probably familiar with the concept of Pareto efficiency/Pareto optimality, denoting a state when one dimension cannot improve without a second worsening, or no further changes can make one person better off without at the same time making another worse off. Turns out, this is the model Georgian voters have in their heads when casting a ballot. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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SHE’S GONE Hot off the presses: Ekaterine Tikaradze stepped down as Health Minister late on December 9 after two and a half years in office. No specific reason was given – Tikaradze thanked medical professionals at all levels, spoke about reforms, and said she’d remain in the ruling party political council. The media speculation about her clash with Prime Minister over indefinitely valid ‘Green Passes’ for those with recovered from Covid-19, was cautiously confirmed by party whip Gia Volski. But others say her vaguely anti-vaxxer vibes (she was reluctant to get the first jab, caught the disease afterward, and avoided taking the second one) were too much for a country that struggles to cross the 40% vaccination threshold. While for Georgia’s Covid-(mis)management is blatant, few would put that squarely at Tikaradze’s doorstep, especially since her tenure coincided with two elections that dictated the broader government agenda.

Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, currently in his post-hunger treatment, was quick to make this resignation about himself, too: he thanked Tikaradze for putting together a medical team to supervise his health in prison and suggested Bidzina Ivanishvili (GD patron) was unhappy with the health minister sticking to facts during Saakshvili’s hunger-strike ordeal. But maybe the former Minister is just tired: having never held public office, she had to handle the world’s biggest pandemic challenge in decades.

I BEG YOU PARDON  Unlike his party colleagues who are more into writing long-reads (and we can relate), Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze prefers short video addresses. In the last such address posted on December 8, the Mayor hinted the ruling party never promised a rose garden. “We may not be ideal, but we are optimal in this political and social context, as long as a destructive force like you {the opposition} exists,” he suggested, responding to what he called “unconstructive rhetoric, insult, defamations, and attempts to mislead the public” from a part of the opposition. The remarks came a day after City Council (Sakrebulo) session saw a heated exchange during the confirmation hearings for Kaladze’s all-male city cabinet (at least 23 officials). Opposition councilor Anna Dolidze mocked the lack of gender representation saying Kaladze, a veteran football star, seemed to have gotten used to all-male teams. But overall, that particular decision met less criticism than it probably deserved – being overshadowed by other exchanges. 

DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW Kaladze tried to make fun of his opponents, except his changing-room antics weren’t that funny. “Do they know at home that you are here?” the Mayor asked Saba Buadze, councilor from Lelo for Georgia party accusing Kaladze of corruption, apparently choosing to pick on his youthful appearance. The Mayor then suggested Buadze minds his own “corrupt and fraudster” bosses. Lelo leaders Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze are currently tried on money-laundering allegations involving a USD 17 million transaction that took place in 2008, back when they were bankers. Both deny the charge as politically motivated. The hearings – containing emotional court statements from main protagonists – have topped the list of must-see Georgian trials over the past days as ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili refused to appear in court on December 9 citing poor health.

THE…WHAT? Kaladze’s forced stand-up comedy tour did not end there and went to seek the international scene. On December 9 Kaladze was asked to comment on U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Erika Olson who recently criticized the Georgian Dream leadership for “eroding” democracy. “What the hell does deputy assistant mean? An assistant – and then a deputy assistant?” he asked in bewilderment, noting he was not aware that such a position even existed. True, it is unlikely the organizational chart of the Foggy Bottom is hanging in the F.C. Milan hall of fame. Also true, perhaps, that Mr. Kaladze cannot imagine a woman holding an important position. But still, Georgian Dream leaders have gotten into the rotten habit of denigrating Western officials. At least, we haven’t heard anyone say “Karasin?! Who the hell is Karasin” yet…

In the meantime, not all quiet in the local self-governments of other municipalities either:

R-WORD What is a Dispatch without covering at least one “hawkier-on-Russia than thou” row erupting? The Georgian Foreign Ministry stayed mum as the whole western world was making concerned and very concerned noises about Russia massing hundred thousand troops near Ukraine. The MFA Stratcom (which in Georgia often means Minister’s PR Service) defended the Ministry against that criticism, saying FM David Zalkaliani has been clear enough about Russian violations and threats against Kyiv at the OSCE Ministerial Council early in December.

President Salome Zurabishvili – who once famously remarked that she likes to be “aside and slightly above” the political fray – decided to say the right thing and on December 8 expressed solidarity and support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But the critics were quick to note that she managed to never mention Russia in that statement. Still, this does not necessarily mean the President intentionally spared Russia, perhaps quite the contrary: as a parent to two children she must know full well how to berate someone without naming names, thus giving no pretext to either brood or retort. Maybe that’s how the Kremlin’s chief persona feels now – like a teenager who was just grounded and lost his rights to his favorite Warcraft game. Heads down, avoiding eye contact, demoralized and ashamed, Mr. Putin could be just waiting in dread for the nightmare to be over. Never underestimate the power of long-practiced diplomacy!

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