Dispatch May 4/5: Crumbling

Graft returning – Schoolchildren grounded – Deserter troops berate Bibilov – GD leaders trash-talk – Pandemic officially over

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry is fleeing its offices, apparently damaged by 13 February earthquake, which made sizeable cracks appear in its historic building (ironically, built as the home to “Highborn Women’s Boarding School of Transcaucasus” under Russia’s Imperial rule). The news gave us a flashback to the final scene from Eldar Shengelaia’s classic movie “Blue Mountains” where the building of the editorial house – shown to be rotten to the core from the inside – finally literally collapses. True, Shengelaia spoke allegorically of the Soviet system being on the brink of collapse, but perhaps also about the rotten way the Georgian society cohabitated with it – trying to have some private fun at public expense in the meantime. And as the order of things collapses around us, this is the Dispatch, with the bi-weekly reminder of things that don’t quite make it to Civil.ge-s Newsline.

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

MONEY MOVING Georgian government is quick to point out that corruption that was once considered “endemic” by international observers has receded considerably in the past two decades, and the indices confirm, that it is extremely rare for Georgians to hand over bribes. Yet, other types of graft are far from gone. The respected State Audit Office found that Kutaisi local officials have been neglecting duties and gave suspicious public procurement contracts. And if there is a lot to delve upon in the 46-page document, another type of corruption allegation seemed to be less comprehensively backed up: the recently appointed Minister of Healthcare pointed an accusatory finger at the doctors for misallocation of Covid-19-related state handouts. Top virologist and one of the Covid-generals, Tengis Tsertsvadze was affronted enough to suggest quitting over Minister’s accusations he thinks “unjust, utterly untrue, and baseless.” This comes as the pandemic is now – officially at least – almost over.

CHAPTER CLOSED After 780 days of daily updates, Civil Georgia ended its the COVID-19 live blog opened on March 15, 2020, just as the government lifted most of the measures to contain the virus. As of May 2, the date of the final daily update, Georgia (excluding occupied regions) had confirmed 1,655,221 cases of COVID, 1,637,293 recoveries and 16,811 fatalities. The pandemic, was left mostly to reap its morbid harvest unimpeded both by inept government, and anti-vaxxer populace.

GROUNDED The Ministry of Education decreed that secondary students are not allowed to go on school trips overnight and further than 150 km from home. While the decree is full with reasonable, common sense suggestions (such as the necessity of having a person with first aid skills around, avoiding dangerous locations (there have been several tragic accidents) and carrying enough food and water), the travel time/distance limitation raised eyebrows. This means students from East Georgia won’t be able to visit important sites in the West and vice versa, limiting the educational and integration purpose of such explorations. Throwing red tape at problems is rarely the solution, and in this case, participatory decision-making and reflection seem to have been dearly lacking.

NOT MY WAR News-site Mediazona (blocked in Russia) dug out a curious recording of S. Ossetian servicemen meeting their leader, Anatoly Bibilov. Furious at the troops packing up and going AWOL from Ukraine, where they were sent to back up the Russian invasion, Bibilov – himself a former paratrooper – runs into the wall. Soldiers complain about APCs that won’t start, tanks that won’t shoot, dismal field conditions, absence of the [Russian] officers, lack of comms equipment and any meaningful intelligence or command. Dared by Bibilov to respond whether they thought Russia would lose this war, are heard to respond affirmatively. Bibilov is heard berating the soldiers for abandoning the duty, claiming that if “nazis” win in Ukraine, they will show up in S. Ossetia next. He also claimed that if Russia were to lose, it would pull out of S. Ossetia. “The time will pass an nobody will remember if there was arms, equipment or communication [in the field] or not. There will be victory a parade in Kiev, 100%!”. But his sergeant screams fell on the deaf ears: Putin’s crumbling campaign fails to convince.

MAD MEN GD party boss Irakli Kobakhidze lately delivers an outrage every time he opens his mouth, especially when he speaks about opponents. The ruling party’s mudslinger-supremo took aim (again) at imprisoned Mikheil Saakashvili whose health is deteriorating, according to doctors. In a short phrase, which takes one paragraph, Kobakhidze used the words “mentally ill” to tag Saakashvili seven times (we counted!), that is fourteen out of 85 words used. Using mental health as a stigma is wrong on so many levels, that we won’t go discussing this further. Tragically, Mr. Kobakhidze’s tirades are clearly calculated, not improvised, and his buoyance at the top of GD does the ruling party no credit. But the Georgian Dream’s dandy-in-chief, Kakha Kaladze was no less crude: lambasting Ukraine’s presidential advisor Mikhailo Podoloyak, he used the criminal world dog-whistle, insinuating “do you know what life he led?” The usual implication of such phrasing – familiar to all in ex-Soviet space – is that someone violated the gangster code – snitched to the police, say, or is, heavens forbid, gay. He did not say anything specific, but the insinuation is hanging in the air, and the odium is likely to stick to Mr. Kaladze, despite his high-fashion mores.

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