Dispatch – Jan. 31/Feb. 1: Life for Rent

Lives of Others: how the poor people die – Forest Bump: PM’s Timberland Romance – Look who’s coming for a session! UNM finds its seats in parliament

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WINTER COLD No winter passes in Georgia without lives lost to gas-related incidents, be it negligence-induced blasts or carbon monoxide poisoning, known as a “silent killer.” The tragedies attract momentary media attention, only to fade into oblivion. The stories are usually followed by images in media showing engineers arriving at the scene to point at the flaws in installation, and warning to watch for safety regulations. But the installation of warning devices is not mandatory and also expensive to pay out of pocket. So what the shocked TV audience often sees is the image of poverty that pushes families to take risks and cut corners to survive the winter freeze.

Such appears to be the story of a family of five, including three minors, who seem to have succumbed to CO poisoning in their newly rented apartment in Tbilisi’s Gldani district. The incident apparently occurred as the family kept the gas oven turned on to keep their rooms warm.

LOOK WHO’S BACK The United National Movement, the country’s largest opposition party, has (again) ended the parliamentary boycott. Yes, if you have a feeling of a déjà vu, you are not alone. Party first ditched the post-election boycott on May 30, 2021, only to resume it in the summer of 2021 after the government’s refusal to resign over the death of a cameraman severely beaten during July 5 anti-Pride violence. After long-term deliberations and party reshuffle UNM re-reenters the chamber, valiantly promising to fight “on all fronts.”

FIRST WORLD REPUBLIC PROBLEMS In the Parliament, UNM also pledges to work not only on “elitist political” matters but also on “difficult” day-to-day issues of regular people. Let us take that with a pinch of salt: the first thing the party wants is to set up a temporary investigative commission to examine the allegations of inhuman treatment of jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili. Another hot potato flung by MP Nato Chkheidze is to pronounce April 9 as the official Independence Day instead of the current May 26. MP Chkheidze is a fan of belated president Zviad Gamsakhurdia (his fan-club grew considerably in recent decades and now unites people who wanted him dead in the first place), and thus prefers to mark April 9, 1991, when Gamsakhuria restored independence, rather than May 26, 1918, when Georgia actually pronounced it. All very important for the “regular” people, and not “elitist” at all, you’d agree.

NOW WE CARE But to be fair, UNM faction head MP Khatia Dekanoidze also vowed to address labor safety, picking up on the coal mine explosion in the town of Tkibuli on January 30, which killed one and left eight other workers injured. Tkibuli mines are another deathtrap, killing miners regularly. But it was under UNM’s watch that the Labor Inspection Service, responsible for controlling workplace safety, was abolished, back in 2006. Claims of the service being corrupt were most likely true, but ditching it had its costs in human lives: the Fair Labor Platform, a progressive labor advocacy group, says 41 miners have died at their workplace in Tkibuli since 2007.

The labor inspection was revived in 2015 – partly owing to the foreign and labor advocacy efforts. Its mandate and authority grew after 2020 labor reforms – also largely EU-induced. But it so happens that since 2020 the Inspection has not checked the mine that was hit by the explosion on January 30. Citing the official data, local watchdog Social Justice Center said in its recent report that in the first quarter of 2021, 98% of the Labor Inspection Service’s activities were directed at enforcing the COVID19 pandemic-related restrictions, relegating labor rights and workplace safety to the background.

Also in labor news: Sacked Employees to File Lawsuit Against Culture Ministry

FOREST, RUN (BY PM’S WIFE) The family of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has been the center of attention lately: media reported that in December 2021, the National Forestry Agency, a state body, granted Garibashvili’s wife, Nunu Tamazashvili a lease of 49 years on half-a-hectare of woodlands in Bakuriani, a winter/summer resort. The territory in question reportedly borders more of Ms. Tamazashvili’s privately owned land. Allegations of insider trading and corruption were complemented by jokes about the particular expressions of tenderness by the Prime Minister.

But the ruling party and government agencies say there is nothing to worry about: ruling party chair Irakli Kobakhidze said that what critics call woodland is actually “just a couple of trees” leaving us grappling with a philosophical problem of how many trees does it take to make a forest.

The National Forestry Agency claimed Mrs. Tamazashvili got the land fair and square in an open auction. Levan Davitashvili, Minister of Environment, even said anyone could get a forest, one just has to ask properly. Whatever the truth, the cautionary words of the Georgian Dream founder and PM’s mentor Bidzina Ivanishvili (himself a known admirer of trees) about Garibashvili back in 2015 ring particularly true: “I told him numerous times – your relatives will be your problem.”

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