Dispatch – February 17/18: Red Flags

MP Mandates Terminated: a Story of Evil, Inconsistency, and Questionable Strategies – GD Chair on Ukraine Support & Fear of Russia – Patriot Acts: a Day when GD and UNM Rallied Around Same Flag

Time goes by, and the positions and steps of the ruling party and the opposition continue to be increasingly irreconcilable. Until the national flag comes to save the day and unite the rivals with the sole aim to raise a patriotic generation. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

Dispatch is our regular newsletter. Subscribe and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil and hear Civil.ge news first on Telegram: https://t.me/CivilGe_Live

CLOSE THE DOOR Georgian opposition has been in fury since the Georgian Dream majority went to terminate MP mandates of three opposition lawmakers. Two of them – Lelo for Georgia’s Badri Japaridze and Labor Party’s Shalva Natelashvili – did not ask for it, at least for now: Natelashvili did not leave the post-election boycott that started back in 2020 until this February when he changed his mind and was still punished for his continuous absence; Japaridze joined the parliament after the EU-brokered deal ended the opposition boycott, but was ousted after he, alongside his business & politics buddy Mamuka Khazaradze, was convicted but spared jail due to statute of limitations in the controversial money-laundering charges (later re-qualified as fraud).

The verdict against the two, both from the procedural and justice perspectives, still puzzles lawyers and many others. Still, the ruling party (particularly chairman Irakli Kobakhidze) has been effectively using the ruling to label the two as fraudsters and justify ending Japaridze’s mandate by “moral” considerations. But government critics have other theories to explain the ruling party’s stubbornness, such as preventing the opposition MPs to have enough votes to form the long-discussed parliamentary commission to probe the ill-treatment of jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili. The argument here is also that the GD majority refused to move their finger to allow the ousted MPs to be replaced by their party colleagues after the respective parties had their proportional lists annulled earlier to protect the boycott (read more here).

JOB OPPORTUNITIES However, while GD was left with a role of the main villain in the story, it has made very good use of the recent development to portray the mainstream opposition as inconsistent and unprincipled, and not too unfairly: seeing the MPs who would once shame each other into the boycott, in particular the United National Movement, now protesting and begging to reverse the annulment of proportional-party lists, did raise some eyebrows. But the tragic outcome turned out not that tragic after all, and losing a job may not be a big deal if you are not very poor and have some useful connections to help you out: fresh out of the Parliament, Japaridze was quickly named as a majoritarian candidate for the upcoming parliamentary by-elections in Rustavi to take place in April, and key opposition parties will be backing his candidacy.

Even though Rustavi has an opposition-dominated city council (Sakrebulo) after the last year’s municipal elections (but GD won the mayoral race), the opposition may still have to think again about whether backing a small-party non-local was a strategic move or simply a question of influence: Japaridze would rather qualify as one of those nice guys in Georgian politics whom many approve, but for whom not many would bother leaving their homes if heavy rainfalls would coincide with the polling day.

IT’S OK TO BE AFRAID With the Ukraine crisis still here, discussions about how supportive Georgia is or should be towards its overseas friend in times of trouble continue. There has been a warm Twitter exchange between the presidents of the two countries, and the Tbilisi TV tower was lit up in blue and yellow to mark the day of Ukrainian unity. But the ruling party, which has been continuously accused of bringing its caution over Russia too far, continues to face critical questions. As a talk-show guest on Palitra TV, Georgian Dream chair Irakli Kobakhidze argued the country already went to the lengths by being one of the rare nations to offer a supportive parliamentary resolution to Ukraine (which came under fire for not explicitly mentioning Russia), noting that averting the war should be the key goal. He also noted that Georgia has limited resources to go beyond the expression of solidarity, but showed readiness to provide humanitarian aid in case a war breaks out.

MAN OF PEACE To highlight real threats from Russia in the face of criticism about the ruling party’s fears not to irritate the Northern neighbor, Kobakhidze cited ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s recent remarks claiming Russia also plans provocations in Georgia. Even if there was such a fear, the MP went on, “there would be nothing humiliating in this either. Wish they {UNM government} had been scared back in 2008 when they enabled Russia to occupy 20% {of Georgian territories}.” Continuing his criticism against the UNM-led government’s policies before the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, Kobakhidze argued that the UNM “drew the borders of so-called South Ossetia, legalized the borders that had been abolished under {Zviad} Gamsakhurdia’s rule early in the 90s, conducted alternative de facto elections…” According to the chairman, the former ruling party “did unimaginable things” and went on to hand to Russia 20% of the country’s territories “through their consistent – negatively meant – actions.”

Noteworthy, it was weeks ago that Georgian Dream MPs – out of the blue – asked the EU to stop using the term “South Ossetia” instead of the occupied Tskhinvali region, arguing that the term had “Stalinist” origins.

LEAVE THEM KIDS ALONE If you believed for a moment that the ruling party and the UNM, its arch-rival, could never find harmony, the February 16 plenary session is here to prove you wrong. It all started when GD MP Kakha Kakhishvili presented his bill about making it mandatory to regularly raise the national flag in schools and kindergartens, to introduce the flag to children, and also teach them the national anthem by heart “in order to be more of the patriotism in our country.” MP Kakhishvili also expressed regrets that in some foreign countries those national flags are hanging everywhere, a culture that remains absent in Georgia. And next steps might be introducing the rule at universities too, MP added (in case schools fail at patriotic upbringing, right?).

Members of New Political Center – Girchi were not happy, with MP Alexandre Rakviashvili claiming this is not how you start loving your homeland, citing similar practices in the Soviet Union which turned out unsuccessful to spark that love for the union. The MP warned the practice can be even counterproductive after forcing a kid to learn the anthem by heart, and said that little Georgians first have to live and experience that country to fall in love with it. But as Girchi opposed, UNM was there to show its love, support, and respect for MP Kakhishvili’s brilliant idea. While such warmth towards the enemy may not be usually expected from UNM MPs (this time it was MP Davit Kirkitadze), the former ruling party was the one to adopt the current national flag when it came to power and was also into showing it off everywhere. But MP Kirkitadze still asked for specialists to check for the possible negative impacts such a practice can have.

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