Dispatch – March 21/22: Veil of Ignorance

Sense of Irony as PM Marks Journalists’ Day – Azerbaijani Mark Novruz Bayram, Community Concerns Spotlighted – Women Come to Support Activist Targeted by Alt-Info

Over the past week, Georgia and its capital have seen abundant snowfall, unusual for this season. But on the first days of spring, the white-covered landscapes hardly spark romantic feelings… while some try to use the cold veil to whitewash dirty deeds. 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

CLOCKS First it was the pandemic. Then came the war – not here, but very close. No surprise that many in Georgia, like elsewhere, have lost touch with time, having trouble getting a sense of what day, month, or even a year it is when they wake up. But the most confused seems to be the weather: for many days, the heavy snowfalls in Tbilisi were nothing like you’ve seen them in spring, or probably in any other season in the past years. So perhaps this is why it was through the post of the Georgian Government Facebook page that some of us learned that March 21 was the Day of Georgian Journalism.

AUDACITY “Our Government guarantees a free, pluralist media environment. According to studies by authoritative international organizations, the degree of media freedom has significantly improved as a result of reforms passed after Georgian Dream’s coming to power,” Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s congratulatory statement reads. Well! Why not celebrate that day on July 5, some asked, reminding the ruling party of one of the most shameful days under its rule when the authorities failed to prevent – some say quietly condoned – the mob violence in a homophobic rally that left dozens of journalists injured.

Even if the government has presented excuses such as the inability to foresee the unprecedented violence against journalists, authorities did little to punish the key organizers and even helped further incite hate against media workers with controversial rhetoric. So losing touch with time may not be that much of a problem: some at the top have lost the touch with reality too. Oh, and some netizens also reported that their critical comments on the government’s Facebook post were deleted.

GOOD DAYS, BAD DAYS Georgia’s Azerbaijani community marked on March 21 Novruz Bayram, a holiday to welcome the new year. Government leaders, including Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Parliamentary Chairman Shalva Papuashviil, and Reconciliation Minister Tea Akhvlediani, attended the celebrations in Marneuli, a municipality in the ethnically diverse Kvemo Kartli region. But Azerbaijani community has long argued that sporadic visits of leaders on holidays or during campaigns are not nearly enough for giving the region and its citizens from the ethnic minorities due attention. To list a few, there has been a call for the state to declare Novruz a public holiday, but so far authorities have been ignoring it.

Also, Azerbaijani activists have long fought against being seen – and spoken about – as a diaspora, calling to be accepted as equal citizens of the country they live in. The government stubbornly continues to proffer the opposite: identifying them with the Republic of Azerbaijan rhetorically and in deeds: to recall only the recent development, the government leaders were accompanied during the Novruz celebrations by the ambassador of Azerbaijan and Director General of the Georgian branch of SOCAR, Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil and gas company. Further concerns include insufficient state efforts to integrate the non-dominant ethnic groups, including due to persisting gaps in education or access to information.

ALL FOR ONE A group of woman politicians and civil society representatives also arrived to Kvemo Kartli on March 21 to show their support to Samira Bayramova, a local ethnic Azerbaijani activist, and celebrate Novruz Bayram with her. Bayramova recently came into the spotlight for being targeted by Alt-Info, an ultra-conservative pro-Russian group that led the July 5 homophobic violence. She started receiving various threats after she spray-painted the local office of the Conservative Movement, the party established by Alt-Info. The activist’s move to paint the flags of Ukraine and EU flags over the party symbols came as part of the larger nationwide protests against the newly-opened regional offices of the Conservative Movement, with backlash rising after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The first retaliation followed and the activist found the local office of the opposition United National Movement party spray-painted with offensive words and symbols against her. The UNM office was chosen as a target to wrongly identify her with the party she has no links to, the activist assumes. The observers further believe that Bayramova is a particular target as a woman who belongs to an ethnic minority: this much is obvious from the choice of threats and slurs. Many called on the Ministry of Interior to do more to protect Bayramova. The police have opened the investigation, but since it failed to prevent the first attack, concerns over the activist’s safety mount.

That’s the full lid for today. May the next issue come out in a more peaceful world. Join us every Tuesday and Friday for the incisive coverage of Georgia’s political life.