Dispatch – December 20-21: European Culture

PM’s Annual Report: Nation, Church, the Family – Mr. Kobakhidze Takes on Post-Third Reich Sociology – UNM Rally Nears, But No Hype

The year nears its end, but in a place as unpredictable as Georgia is, the ten remaining days of 2021 are too long a time to feel on the final stretch. The vacation mood is not quite here yet either – most of the country’s citizens celebrate Christmas on January 7. The holiday atmosphere is left to the festive lights on central streets and the Government-organized New Year’s receptions – with aesthetics resembling a crossover between Rembrandt and dinners at movie-set Hogwarts. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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PM’s Annual Report: Things We Learned About GD in 2021

MAN OF FAMILY Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s annual report which he delivered on December 18 can serve as a good overview of what direction the ruling Georgian Dream party has taken this year. Being in the country’s service, PM said, means – among others – “to protect the interests of our country, our faith, the Church, the institution of family and to change the everyday life of our people for the better, improve their situation and bring prosperity and welfare to your people.” And it was not the only time family-loving PM mentioned protecting the Church. He did not mention protecting others from the Church though, although this was also an issue throughout the tumultuous 2021: think of Ninotsminda orphanage controversy or July 5 violence.

MAN OF PEOPLE But the obviously conservative (to put it mildly) Head of the Government also made it clear that the ruling party is “part of the people,” and here’s what it means: first he lashed out at politicians “both within and outside the country” for disregarding the rule of law and thus disrespecting “Georgian people.” Then, resonating with GD’s bitter remarks against government-critical western politicians or diplomats, he went saying that “we will not bow to anybody, but neither will we look down on anyone, Georgia is a sovereign country, which belongs to our proud and freedom-loving people and everyone shall show due respect for that.” So, dear evil imperialists, bear this in mind next time you decide to share your critical views, financial assistance, or whatever else it is you want to give.

MAN OF ORDER Turns out, Mr. Garibashvili, too, has a good deal of “me” to speak about. One may think Georgian Dream leaders should go back to 2012 to talk positive legacies, but not the incumbent Prime Minister, for whom the age of prosperity begins with his second coming to power in February this year. For example, “right after I took over the government, we started to uphold the (rule of law) principles, brought order to the country and put everybody to their places,” he said, alluding to his coming to power after the shocking resignation of Giorgi Gakharia, his predecessor and later an opposition leader himself, over the planned arrest of Nika Melia, United National Movement Chairman.

MAN OF VISIONS A big part of the PM’s address was dedicated to his economic and policy vision. Listing unemployment and poverty as persisting challenges in the country, he spoke about what he did – such as economic recovery “by striking a right balance between protecting the health and economic interests,” and what he plans to do, such as newly unveiled restrictions on gambling or labor activation policies, both in their draft phase. The Prime Minister also spoke about  “more state,” social policies, and reduced inequality since 2012, as well as soon to be announced plans about regulating the pharmaceutical market for more affordable medical prices (the government has been talking about these plans for a while now).

IMPORTED GOODS In his lengthy interview on Palitra TV, Georgian Dream Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze spoke about President Zurabishvili’s recent initiative of launching a process of “national consent.” Kobakhidze welcomed the idea of the process aimed at reducing the polarization and also shared the premise that there should be no preconditions at the start of the conversation – apart from the preconditions that he advanced, calling them – aptly – “THE NATURAL PRECONDITIONS.” At first, he pointed out that Georgia already missed the opportunity during GD’s first term to give the period of UNM governance a (presumably legal) assessment, which would have – according to Mr. Kobakhidze – meant UNM quitting politics in shame. He attributed that missed opportunity to the objections of GD’s then-coalition traitors partners and “foreign lobbyists.” Then he suggested that it is never too late to bring what he called “European standards” to Georgia. According to him, those standards imply that a politician quits politics having committed a crime.

On the talk show host’s question why not leave it to the public to decide who should quit or stay in politics, GD Chair cited the recent corruption controversy which prompted the resignation of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Should Kurz have stayed in politics, he’d still get his 30% votes, Kobakhidze assured, adding that “if it were not for Nuremberg trials, even Hitler would continue getting at least 30-40% in Germany” (yes, you remember it right, Hitler was already dead during Nuremberg trials). We reserve our judgment on what exactly shaped Dusseldorf-educated Kobakhidze’s views on postwar Germany, but for one, Mr. Kurz won’t be happy about that little segway to his infamous countryman… We do, however, look favorably at politicians with crappy track records quitting politics (and that’s probably the first time we extract a rational grain from Mr. Kobakhidze’s habitual delirium) – if that principle is fairly and equally applied, of course.

THRILL IS GONE The big day is finally here: on December 21, a large rally is planned to take place on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli avenue with key demand to release jailed former President Mikheil Saakashvili. The date, as we said earlier, is ominous: too many leaders were born on 21 December: Mikheil Saakashvili himself and UNM Chair Nika Melia, and Mr. Irakli Alasania, for those who still remember Georgia’s vanished caliph (our special wink to Messrs Macron and Michel). So in case the Maya calendar mistakenly set the apocalypse is to happen on December 21, 2021, instead of 2012 (a typo?) then the God-blessed Georgia would be the best place to set the end-of-the-world supra.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves – there is no hype, and it is unlikely there will be enough people for doomsday to credibly take place.

This may have to do with UNM’s desire to play a constructive actor after committing to the idea of national consent. Or it may be that Mr. Melia has recently acted quite miffed about hardliners egging on the crowds. The UNM Chairman, who spent some time in custody on charges of inciting and leading violence in June 2019, said he was not taking responsibility for sacrificing citizens to police bullets. With so many injured that day, the UNM leader seems to have taken a hard look at making sacrifices, including his own… and he may not be the only one in the party having second thoughts.

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