Dispatch – April 11-12: SICK ‘N TIRED

1 Month for Tbilisi to Fill EU Questionnaire – Bucha Invitation Explodes Into Series of Controversies – Tskhinvali ‘Runoffs’ and Tbilisi’s Envy

The world we live in may still see many ups and downs – be it devastating wars or new peace arrangements, power shifts or climate crises. But whatever is to come, we already know: in Georgia, it will still be about the endless and senseless spat between two political opponents. Here is Nini with the usual updates from Georgia.

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QUESTIONNAIRE The hopes for Georgia to move forward on its path of European integration brighten up the otherwise stagnant and tense political environment in the country. On April 11, in Luxemburg city,  European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi handed over the membership questionnaire to the newly-appointed Georgian Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili, and it is definitely much more than some routine form to fill during a usual application process: Commissioner Várhelyi himself described the event as “the first step” on Georgia’s European path. And President Salome Zurabishvili’s sophisticated-as-usual comments followed soon, calling for national unity over the matter and stressing that “this is not just a questionnaire, with yes or no answer, this is an enormous responsibility for our country.”

Fair enough: Georgia now has a month to fill out the document, and the decision about granting the candidate status is expected during the Council meeting in June. But knowing that it was unhappy developments in Ukraine that pushed Georgia’s application – initially planned to be made in 2024 – it is unclear how prepared the Georgian Dream government is to answer some awkward questions that may come from the EU. We are keeping our fingers crossed!

TEEN SPIRIT Months ago, before Putin would remind us of some real evil out there and Georgian political discourse would still define the peace as the absence of post-election frenzies, a new graffiti popped up in Tbilisi. At the first glance, there was nothing artistic or extraordinary in it: painted on the top floor of a soviet-time building in bold, black letters, the graffiti reads SICK ‘N TIRED. And this is all. But the simplicity did the job: it looked like the building emerged decades ago with the sole purpose to host this exact graffiti at some point. And if you happened to be a young person riding alongside the Mtkvari river, struggling to find your way in decades of chaos that had befallen your dear homeland, the spirit would ring right through your prematurely exhausted bones.

SICK DAYS But feeling sick does not seem to belong solely to resigned youth or those with actual health complications anymore: the government leaders are here to claim poor health to excuse themselves from ethical dilemmas. At least this is what many thought when “I think he is sick” was the words of one of GD MPs trying to defend Parliamentary Speaker Shalva Papuashvili from media attention after reports broke that the Chairman had been invited by his Ukrainian counterpart to visit Bucha, a place near Kyiv that became known for Russia’s ruthless war crimes. Indeed, it later turned out that Papuashvili’s unwillingness to go to Bucha was less about his poor health and more about the poor state of Tbilisi-Kyiv relations. Listing the latest controversies between the two countries, the Parliamentary Speaker said that “against the background of the incomprehensibility of these issues, the official invitation seems inappropriate.”

CIRCUS, AGAIN Through this, Papuashvili invited the wrath of opposition his way. For example, United National Movement MP Nona Mamulashvili went to see the “sick” Speaker and pass him the things that were supposed to help the healing, including an anal douche. Few were surprised: Mamulashvili is known for her bold moves (sometimes to the extremes, like when she got physical the other day during a disagreement on a talk show) and happens to be the sister of Mamuka Mamulashvili, chief of the Georgian volunteer legion fighting against Russian troops in Ukraine. And Georgian Dream was clearly not impressed with yet another strange piece of performance art in the country’s political history. But we are sure that we’ll be seeing more of such pieces in the future since even a nuclear war cannot stop the circus that is Georgian party politics.

MIXED SIGNALS But the story is not yet over: MP Levan Ioseliani, the Deputy Parliamentary Chairman from the opposition Citizens party, says he is coordinating a MPs’ trip to Bucha and hopes the ruling party will be joining too. Ioseliani’s one and only parliamentary party colleague, Aleko Elisashvili, is the one MP who has joined the combat to defend Ukraine as a volunteer, and no wonder Ioseliani wants to be somewhere near the frontline too. As for the Georgian Dream, some MPs might join as the party has been sending mixed messages these days: while MP Archil Talakvadze hinted at least some major MPs may take a trip to Ukraine, party Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze so far follows Papuashvili’s hardline position, setting some preconditions for war-plagued Kyiv. And once of such conditions is sacking UNM-linked Georgians from key government positions in Ukraine, including ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who currently serves a prison term in Georgian jail, but retains his office as head of Ukraine’s reforms council. Yes, things are that complicated.

ENVY Interesting developments in the Russian-held South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region: current leader Anatoly Bibilov, who sought reelection in the April 10 “presidential elections” – including by again bringing up the issue of Russia’s annexation of the region – was unable to secure the first-round victory and was unable to even end up as a frontrunner: opposition candidate Alan Gagloev came first with 36.9% of votes, while Bibilov garnered 33.5%. Gagloev, leader of the Nykhas party, has shown a relatively cautious stance about joining Russia but has not opposed such a prospect either. Still, the runoffs come with an additional thrill, and such a state of affairs has sparked some envy in Tbilisi: according to Labor Leader Shalva Natelashvili, it is “an irony of fate that Georgia’s separatist regions look more democratic than the rest of Georgia.”

While this may challenge the longtime narrative in Georgia that breakaway regions will turn back to Tbilisi once they see how prosperous it has become, Mr. Natelashvili could still save his envy for some more advanced marks of democratic culture: Tbilisi, too, went through runoffs over the past years, but all they did was to add to the toxic political polarization.

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.