Dispatch – January 20/21: Temptations

Sending Saakashvili to Monastery – PM Touts “Return to Holy Land” – Another Guilty Verdict from Strasbourg – Alliance of Patriots Wake Up from Hibernation

Christian teachings may say a true believer should be able to resist many temptations, but Georgian leaders can’t help but succumb to the biggest temptation of using religion to build their political capital. This was also the reason why, as we like to say here, nothing was left sacred in developments that unfolded over the past days. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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HERMIT OPTION Not a day passes without one of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s allies or relatives offering a new idea to get around his problematic incarceration. This gets readily picked up by the media, social media bubble, and wider public. After the reactions have been more or less recorded, Saakashvili himself comments – approving or disapproving of whatever was suggested. So one never knows for certain whether it was his idea, to begin with, or indeed his concerned friends tried to do him some good. Neither do we know whose idea it was when Bishop Nikoloz of Akhalkalaki, Kumurdo, and Kari Diocese suggested his diocese may welcome the incarcerated former ruler as a home custody option.

Tech-heaven. The Bishop rose to fame (or infamy?) as an early adopter of technology, with a particular weakness for brand new iPhones that his parish happen to gift him (apparently, for making inspirational videos…). It is no surprise that he claimed that he also handed Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili a flash drive where he recorded excerpts from Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II’s preachings about repentance and forgiveness, as the two met in celebration of the Holy Epiphany at the altar of the Holy Trinity Cathedral on January 19. The bishop believes repentance and forgiveness are the ideas the country needs in times of political enmities.

Some sincere discussions followed in government-critical media whether Saakashvili truly needs to “go to the convent”. The ruling party leaders could but jump at the opportunity: Irakli Kobakhidze, ever acerbic, said the monastery would be the hardest place for Saakashvili to stay for his unatoned sins (or perhaps alluding to his numerous love affairs?). Gia Volski, another opponent-basher, spoke of “exorcism.” But these medieval throwbacks aside, a group of medical experts convened by the Public Defender said Saakashvili’s health is not improving after a long hunger strike and trauma, suggesting specific therapies and tests are needed. More here.

PERSONAL CRUSADE As any guest of Georgia knows medieval times are here the parallel reality that sometimes bleeds (even literally) into everyday reality. PM Garibashvili used the Epiphany sermon to pose like a latter-day crusader. “Georgia was handed a land at the Jordan river, near the site of Christ’s baptism,” he announced, adding that a center for Georgian culture is to be built there.“ After 300 years, Georgia returns to the Holy Land,” the Prime Minister noted, describing the news as a “historic event.” Garibashvili burnishes his conservative credentials by a child-like fascination with holy places: not so long ago, he recalled in a frank interview with TV Imedi that following his resignation in December 2015, he went alone to Mount Athos in Greece to “experience some kind of detox.”

YOU’VE BEEN SERVED But a good Christian he is, Mr. Garibashvili should be aware that past sins may come to haunt you (we wonder if Bishop Nikoloz served some of this wisdom to PM in a digital form, too). Another verdict arrived from Strasbourg on January 20, with the European Court of Human Rights holding Georgia responsible for violation of Article 2 of the Convention (right to life) in the procedural aspect regarding failure to conduct an effective investigation into the suicide of Mamuka Mikautadze the day after his questioning by police as a witness in 2013. Garibashvili was the one to lead the Ministry of the Internal Affairs at the time, and this is not the only guilty ECtHR ruling from his respective tenure: a month ago, the Court found Georgia complicit in a mob attack against the LGBTQ activists in May the same year. Also, two months ago, the Court ruled against Georgia in a case of police abuse and discrimination of four Muslim Georgians during their arrest in 2014, when Garibashvili had been already promoted to his Prime Ministerial tenure. Another hermit, perhaps, or a mere “religious detox” would suffice?

PATRIOT ACT You may feel we did not cover conservative themes enough in this newsletter? Fear not, there is more to come: the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia, the country’s prominent conservative/nativist political party, apparently woke up from its long hibernation to bring together like-minded organizations in what they call a “Unified Front of Georgia’s Patriots.” The party that would make lots of controversial headlines for its alleged links with Moscow ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections, vanished from the scene after its political leaders surrendered their legislative mandates to moneybags on a party list (who – oh, the irony, founded a party called….the European Socialists). The Patriots happily slept on through the tense 2021 municipal elections.

Now the party and organizations that joined them issued a declaration, which laments moral and economic decay, holding both the incumbent and former ruling parties responsible – alongside their evil Western “lobbyist” friends, of course. In an interesting “non-sequitur” the signatories of the declaration also demand constitutional changes to proclaim Georgia as a neutral country. True, it is not the first time Patriots call for this foreign policy direction(-lessness), but with the war drums around Ukraine sounding ever louder, this might be not the best timing to bring this up. Or, perhaps, quite the opposite.

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