Dispatch – May 2/3: Silences

Shielding Putin – Black Lists and Black Swans – Peace-mongering – Whispered Answers

Georgia’s beaming Prime Minister handed in the first part of THE Questionnaire to the European Union, but country’s European future does not play itself on paper. Here is the Dispatch, with your usual updates about Georgia’s political life.

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Censorship Blues

SHIELDING PUTIN Toxic divorces in Georgian politics are frequent given the oversized nature of egos. But sometimes, the “tell-it-all” revelations ring particularly ominous. The ex-Dreamer Genevan Popkhadze dropped a bombshell over the weekend, saying the ruling party were censoring Putin critics among their ranks in 2017. True, it has been the official position of the Georgian Dream not to aggravate Russia, but it is a novel revelation that it had tried to whip its own supporters into the line. Even more damning is the claim that the State Security Service was tasked to track anti-Putin excesses on social media. Earlier leaks about massive eavesdropping practiced by the security services make one wonder, how much of taxpayer money was spent on silencing Putin critics in the past years…

NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON’T Three journalists were fired from the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) for publicizing – the management claims – unfounded and deceitful claims, damaging for the GPBs reputation. Damaging indeed – the three claimed earlier that they have been told to blacklist certain pundits – perceived as too critical on Russia – from the talk-show “Akhali Kvira”. The GPB says it still investigates the censorship claims, while the new/old general director Vasil Maglaperidze called the claims “absurd”. The Media Advocacy Coalition, a watchdog, has fired the howler (link in Georgian), while the journalists plan to sue.

Cry “Havoc!”

A MAN OF PEACE In the wake of Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, ruling party chair Irakli Kobakhidze has transformed into Georgia’s national Grima Wormtongue of the Lord of the Rings, a slimy advisor of once-proud nation who urges passivity to evil, but strikes out with vehemence at those who urge to combat it. Of course, the United National Movement (UNM) is his primary target, now framed as “the party of war”. Blatantly discarding causality and apparently questioning the unidirectional flow of time, Kobakhidze claims Saakashvili came (or was sent?!) to Georgia (in October 2021) to launch the second frontline of Ukraine war (which started in February 2022). By extension, says Kobakhidze, “the party of war” also includes Public Defender Nino Lomjaria, who called for humane treatment of imprisoned Mikheil Saakashvili, GD’s arch-enemy. According to the doctor’s team assembled by the Public Defender, Saakashvili’s condition is dire, as he suffers from “protein starvation” caused by anorexia. If he lacks proteins, let him eat cottage cheese and eggs, quipped Marie-Antoinettesque Kobakhidze. Clearly, once he (finally!) leaves politics, there is a flourishing career of nutrition coach ahead of him, albeit for the niche clientele with particular penchant for tough love.

FLARES Just like helicopters shooting off flares so that the rockets don’t home on their target, President Salome Zurabishvili tried to minimize the damage to Georgia (and to herself, while on visit in the US) saying “there should not be any talks of some party of war in Georgia.” “Calling each other traitors is exactly what Russia wants,” chimed in US Ambassador Kelly Degnan. But the sad truth is, whatever Madam President or Madam Ambassador say, Mr. Kobakhidze – and his boss, another Irakli, Garibashvili – are not easily driven off course. The party chair has “reminded” the Public Defender of criminal liability for doing her job back in November 2021. Anyone wondering how convincing the government’s answers to that EU candidacy questionnaire would be?!

Quiet! Work in progress.

HUSH-HUSH EU When one is seeing conspiracies everywhere, the drift towards secrecy comes naturally. The latest installment of counterproductive overthinking came in the form of the government refusing to publicize its responses to that famous EU Questionnaire, which may (but then again, might not) pave Georgia’s way towards the EU candidacy. The Foreign Minister said some of the answers are of sensitive character and making them public is “not advisable”. A cursory look at the 369 questions shows that the EU asks about basic constitutional, legislative and policy setup, as well as the economic and macro-financial criteria, and the state of human rights. True, answering some of these may be embarrassing, especially if we consider Georgia’s worsening democracy score in Nations of Transit index, the barrage of international criticism about the state of Georgia’s judiciary, dismal track record on minority rights, or the European Parliament’s recent rather critical report about the state of implementation of the Association Agreement. But secret this certainly isn’t. As expected, tens of major watchdogs and think-tanks petitioned the government to open the responses for public scrutiny, saying if something may indeed need to be classified, in accordance with Georgian laws, that part can be edited out.

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