Dispatch – December 16/17: Piano Sounds

President’s National Reconciliation Idea: What’s the Plan, and Who’s In? – Twice Damned: Courts Rule on Government’s Criminal Inaction – Dr. Who? Looking for Health Minister Replacement

In a country long exhausted by unnecessary crises followed by unsuccessful attempts to solve them, yet another effort to achieve closure and healing to destructive social and political divisions easily sparks skepticism. But things are different now, the President promises. Here is Nini, who really wants to believe her, with usual updates from Georgia.

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It’s My Party: President to Lead ‘National Reconciliation’ Process

THE ATMOSPHERE Warm festive lights. The rooms of Tbilisi’s Orbeliani Palace, the presidential residence, have been decorated with Chichilaki’s, Georgian environmentally conscious Christmas decorations (effectively – sculpted logs). Familiar faces of invited guests slowly appear, the live, uninterrupted piano performance makes awkward conversations inaudible. The environment strikes a contrast to the TV histrionics of Georgia. Soon, the host will enter the room in an outfit that matches the muted eggshell color palette of the interior (Mr. Big would have hated it) to say that Georgians – the people of “mood” – could also use some change of ambiance.

THE PLEDGE President Salome Zurabishvili made good of her pledge from her address at the Democracy Summit to initiate “an inclusive process,” as she called it, for overcoming “polarization” in her country. As expected, she dodged her predecessor’s, Mikheil Saakashvili’s reciprocal call to host a conclave of the last three Georgian Presidents in his jail/hospital room. Zurabishvili prefers doing things her way, instead of again allowing the man from the past to make himself the center of everything. Having received the blessings of Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II (in Georgia, the profane still takes back seat to the sacred) she called all political parties, including those with no parliamentary mandates, to a Christmas party at the Presidential Palace. Apparently, the invite cards listed no specific purpose.

THE PROBLEM Some key players were absent, but still many came. The leaders of the ruling party and representatives of most opposition parties were in attendance. The President delivered another address, making it clear that the true purpose was launching a process of “national reconciliation.” She first won the hearts of government opponents by painting a grim picture of the current state of the nation where “major issues” such as social and economic problems still await solutions, youth try to flee the country, and hate and negativity have become toxic. The elites also grew ignorant of the outside international context, she warned, mentioning the lack of coherent anti-occupation strategy as well.

THE PROCESS According to the President’s plan, the process needs to start with “listening” and be based on the inclusion of all social groups and on transparency. There will be no preconditions, even the “reconciliation” cannot be the strictly prescribed end, she went on, stressing that the significance of the process should prevail over its unforeseeable results. Noting that this time Georgians will be asked to take matters into their own hands instead of relying on foreign intervention, Zurabishvili warned things won’t magically resolve themselves in a couple of days. A key component will be assessing the past and turning the pages. Should the lengthy process turn out successful, Georgia can even show an example to other countries – including advanced democracies – plagued by divisions, President hopes.

THOSE MISSING Those who did not show up cited either distrust or skepticism towards the process or questioned the purpose of this single event. The representatives of the United National Movement, the opposition party at the center of divisions, while backing the dialogue, balked at the party with no agenda.

But UNM’s leader and inspiration Mikheil Saakashvili was again positive, applauding Zurabishvili’s “courage” of speaking up about the country’s problems, rather than adding her sugary dash to the rosy picture the government tries to paint. Given the incumbent President deliberately designed the process with no strict rules or deadlines, it would be a challenge to fully sabotage it. But the future participants are now expected to act in a way that shows they are committed to an eventual solution and care about urgent issues the country faces. Is this politically naive? Possibly. Does it seem to have the ruling party’s sincere support? Highly unlikely. But, still, we can’t help being sympathetic to someone finally creating the space that encourages the Georgian politicians to act like responsible adults. For the politicians to act like responsible adults?! Yes, we do see the snag there, too.

Paying Price

RULING 1 Anyone who lives here knows – Georgia is noisy. That effusive quality does not end with your “ezo” (a courtyard), it spreads to regional and international politics. Yet, Georgia can fall extremely silent. Consider this: on December 15, the German court sentenced Russian citizen Vadim Krasikov to life for the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian national. The court found that most likely the Russian government ordered the killing that took place in 2019 in Berlin-Tiergarten. Khangoshvili sought refuge in Germany after surviving an assassination attempt in Tbilisi in 2015. Germany expelled two Russian diplomats in protest. The Georgian government? Said (and did) nothing. The silence is especially “vocal” since Khangoshvili’s alleged role as a valuable security asset for Georgia (and the US) in confronting both Islamic extremism and Russian malice is becoming more and more public.

RULING 2 Governing is like playing that quintessentially Soviet Tetris game: your successes evaporate, while your mistakes accumulate to finally bring you down. The Georgian Dream government has been racking up defeats in international courts. This time, the European Court of Human Rights said “unprecedented violence” against LGBT demonstrators on May 17, 2013 – the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) – in Tbilisi, occurred with the state connivance. Georgian authorities drew ECtHR’s criticism both for failing to do enough to prevent the mobbing and then failing to properly investigate the hate crimes. Now Georgia has to pay the applicants – two gay rights groups – a compensation totaling EUR 193,500, a solid amount for the country’s budget, but less than fair for those who barely survived the pogrom. And if it serves as a wake-up call for a government that has now repeatedly appeared as greenlighting the mobbing, including to punish the critics, the political price is far bigger. “Despite this exacting obligation and the full knowledge of the risks, the authorities’ response to the gravity of the situation was merely to deploy unarmed and unprotected police patrol officers who were supposed to contain the tens of thousands of aggressive people by forming thin human cordons” – May 17, 2013, when the Court said Georgia “failed to protect” the freedom of expression happened on Irakli Garibashvili’s watch as Interior Minister.

Weekly Puzzle

Dr. Who?! Ever since Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze announced her resignation, media has been chasing mysteries behind her departure, while public discussions strangely trend towards her character rehabilitation after being in charge of the country’s public health in the worst of possible times. Tikaradze remains the Minister ad interim till the end of 2021, so netizens opened bets on successors. The rumors say it will be either former parliamentary speaker Archil Talakvadze or MD Levan Ratiani, who rose to fame as one of those star-medics to manage the Covid-patients.

BACK TO SPOTLIGHT So far, MP Talakvadze’s candidacy looks more likely: he surrendered the Parliament’s chairmanship to “Mr.nice-guy” Kakha Kuchava earlier in this year and has been out of the spotlight for a while. The recent history shows that once exposed to the limelight, GD officials resurface (think once-defenestrated Mr. Kobakhidze, now GD Chair). Besides, the former speaker came to big politics as a trained medic and public health manager, with some experience in the branch. Is that the fresh hazmat suit we hear rustle?

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