Dispatch – December 13/14: Healing

President Zurabishvili Speaks Reconciliation (in English) – Ex-President Margvelashvili Quizzed About Saakashvili Pardon – December 21 Announcement: Rally or Big Birthday Party? – 3+3 Flag of Discord

Ever come across one of those “when you and your sibling are fighting and mom walks in” memes on the internet? This is probably how the opposition and the ruling party look in the foreign eyes as Zurabishvili brings up “national reconciliation”. But seeing the regional context, the country could really use some unity right now. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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Main Theme: National Reconciliation, Vol. 2

TALKING ABOUT TALKING On December 9-10, President Salome Zurabishvili, upon invitation of U.S. President Joe Biden represented Georgia at the much-talked-about Democracy Summit. In her address, the Georgian President listed threats to democracy in the world, noting that her country, too, is prone to these challenges. “Russia still occupies 20% of its territories where human rights and democracy are ignored,” she said, adding that on the domestic front, the polarization has directly affected the country’s democratic institutions and processes. She then went on to pledge as a President “to initiate an inclusive process, a national conversation involving all of society to find the way to achieve a shared understanding of recent history, to help heal the pains, and to move forward.”

GORI TRIO Perhaps surprisingly for herself, the President got support from ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili who – for someone in jail – was quite quick to react with a letter. Saakashvili welcomed the idea of the reconciliation process and took up the initiative of his immediate successor Giorgi Margvelashvili to convene a summit meeting of the last three Presidents of independent Georgia. Recalling the tired phantom of “civil confrontation,” and noting his otherwise detained situation, Saakashvili invited his two successors to the Gori military hospital (where he is currently being treated following a hunger strike). Margvelashvili seems in the game, while Ms. Zurabishvili remains, so far, silent: could it be that she did not expect anyone to read her statement carefully? Unlikely. Does she mean anything else by “reconciliation” than talking to Saakashvili? Possibly. At least, GD chair Irakli Kobakhidze was quick to formulate the ruling party’s idea of “reconciliation”: the United National Movement admits its crimes and shows remorse. Then we reconcile. For the UNM, making up is not an option either as long as its leader remains behind the bars.

RUNNING UP THAT HILL As for Margvelashvili, his recent TV appearance demonstrated how complicated such reconciliation may be: cornered by Nika Gvaramia, Saakashvili’s lawyer, TV magnate, and talk-show host (because…working two-three jobs is how you make ends meet in Georgia these days), Margvelashvili could not quite say he’d pardon Saakashvili. Strange for someone who only weeks ago spoke about politically motivated persecution against his predecessor. Instead, Margvelashvili – philosopher that he is by education- went on the conjecture to say Saakashvili has never asked for pardon, including when Margvelashvili was in office. That awkward TV conversation reminded us of two things: for one, it is easier to be resolute when you are not the decision-maker, but for some people, it is hard anyway. And secondly: one of the charges for which Saakashvili was found guilty is about him pardoning the sentenced inmates. Now that unprecedented conviction is hanging over any successor’s head.

BIRTHDAY PARTY: Mark your calendars for December 21: UNM is throwing the party for two of its leaders: Mikheil Saakashvili, former Georgian President, and Nika Melia, current UNM Chairman were born on this day. The day is apparently rich on political men: Charles Michel, European Council President, and Emmanuel Macron, the French President will also be receiving gifts. But the cautionary tale lingers in the background: according to some sources, Joseph Stalin, Soviet leader of Georgian descent was also born on that day… Oh, how would he have smirked on his dacha, to know that in his birthplace that he once dedicated naive and romantic poems to (yes, even he had the age of innocence) people will be gathering to demand the ex-president’s release from prison. Could UNM match the scale of the October 14 rally – held for the same stated purpose? That’s a tall order. Or will then the GD again respond by mobilizing tens of thousands in downtown Tbilisi? And yes, nobody bothers with Covid-19 concerns. Omicron is such a long word.

Irreconcilable Interests Outside

RED FLAGS As parties struggle – or pretend to struggle – to find some common ground in Georgia, the rest of Europe tries to resolve yet another escalating Moscow tantrum. As any bully worth his salt, the Kremlin, caught amassing additional invasion force at Ukraine’s borders, managed to flip the game: so instead of negotiating the withdrawal of Russian troops, Washington and Brussels ended up talking about their own alleged transgression: Russia wants the NATO to “disavow” its 2008 statement Ukraine and Georgia will join the alliance if they want to, someday.

Even though Tbilisi is trying not to irk its moody neighbor these days (as you recall, President Zurabishvili condemned threats to Ukraine without mentioning Russia a single time), the Georgian Foreign Ministry had to condemn Moscow’s calls (more about this here). Tbilisi also skipped the first meeting of the so-called 3+3 regional cooperation platform, pushed by Moscow and Ankara in the aftermath of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war. So everything seemed patriotic enough from Georgian authorities to finally counter the not-tough-enough-on-Russia criticism from their opponents.

But no luck. Sharp opposition eyes spotted the Georgian flag flown – with all its five crosses – in Moscow, during a 3+3 meeting. Pushed into explanations, Foreign Ministry said flying the Georgian flag at that meeting was “unacceptable” and that Moscow was informed about Tbilisi’s displeasure “through the relevant diplomatic channels.” Lessons learned: never leave your flag, or your territories, unattended.

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