Dispatch | May 30: Orbanizing

Georgia has celebrated its Independence Day on May 26. And even though the capital was draped for celebration, the mood was ambiguous and an aftertaste bitter. 104 years after Georgia has blazed the trail of liberal social democracy, there are signs of another type of ideology, a malaise of forgetting and avoiding responsibility for the future. This is the Dispatch, and things are not going in the right direction.

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BLAME GAME The EU ambassador to Georgia is a master of understatement – he said Georgia “could have prepared better” for backing up its historic application to the EU membership by showing its ability to reform and advance. Instead, the past days were filled with now usual routine of accusations by the ruling party leadership – against the media, civil society groups, the opposition, even the President and, yes, usual culprit of the ‘illiberal international’ – the Soros Foundation (here is the response from its chair, Keti Khutsishvili). The two Iraklis – Garibashvili the PM and Kobakhidze the party chair were at it again. And the nauseating litany about everyone trying to drag Georgia into war grew stronger still. Yet, it seems not everyone shares this “message-box”, as we call this in Tbilisi – a one-liner allegedly concocted by shadowy PR companies that drops into the mailboxes for the party loyalists to endlessly repeat. The Georgian Ambassador in Brussels, pressed to explain why Georgia won’t join the new sanctions against Russia was, after much tergiversation, reduced to “I frankly do not have the answer for you.” And when the said Open Society Foundation officer who GD leadership dragged into mud, claiming – wrongly – that he advocates against Georgia getting the EU candidacy asked the Chair of the Parliamentary Committee for EU integration whether she adhered to the party line? The respected Chair stayed silent and continued her presentation. Is the unity fraying?! We won’t bet on it.

BY THE RIVER OF BABYLON The Prime Minister has more important things to do than reporting to the Parliament (he controversially called the critical MP to leave the chambers last week). And what can be more important than the matter of faith?! The ruling party has consistently donned the mantle of the savior of the national values, and religion (Orthodox Christianity) is its primary beacon. This time, PM Garibashvili posed solemnly before the cameras in Jordan, where Georgia was apparently handed over a plot of land close to the river Jordan “about 15-20 meters from the Christian holy sight of the Baptismal Site of Jesus Christ” trumpeted the Administration of Government. PM waxed messianic: “we, the Georgians are returning to the Holy Land after 300 years of absence.” He also looked much more comfortable in the company of the King Abdullah ll than while visiting Brussels… But his photoshoot washing hands in the river Jordan (twice, say the sharp tongues: once for Imedi TV and second times for the Government cameramen), apart from soliciting uncomfortable parallels with certain Pontius Pilate, led to a veritable avalanche of memes. Enjoy a sample collection.

ATTACKED And while the government was busy saving the nation from imaginary threats, transgender women were apparently attacked by the violent mob in their apartment. The police have launched investigation, while the LGBTQ activists say these inquests have to become more effective and more preventive work is needed. In the meantime, the ruling party front-bencher Gia Volksi responded with classic “whataboutism” to criticism by the EU Ambassador – “5 July?! What happened on the 5 July that does not happen in the European capital?” Let us remember, that on that day a mob – endorsed by the PM, and egged on by police inaction – pursued and attacked gay activists, rights defenders and journalists in a massive mob violence. Despite several arrests of the perpetrators, watchdogs say organizers and inciters continue to walk free.

Ill fares the land… The combination of opposition-bashing pretending to be free speech, religious gesturing masquerading as faith, and intolerance towards minorities billed as historical values is turning Georgia to a place which is now all to familiar to Europe by its demarche. Georgia talks the Orbanist talk and walks its walk. And as the week of the historic EU decision dawns, the only glimmers of hope is the packed Book Fair in Tbilisi, and many, many new translations and original publications hitting the shelves… Oh, and yes, the Ministry of Culture refused to sponsor it: for the first time. No wonder – the minister was has been busy getting rid of the ‘wrong type of scientists’.

The Dispatch is saying good-bye till Friday. Will that be the day of clarity? Will we “all see what the future holds for us and for our children” as the civil society gathering has decreed? Have patience with us, we will be back to tell the story.