Dispatch | June 2-3: Expectations

The first days of summer are pregnant with expectation… Will she say yes?! Will she say no? Europa, the rejected, the feared, yet so desired, astride her charging bull of bureaucracy (hard to say who kidnapped whom, in the end, this is a post-modern world we are living in) is expected to deliver the verdict… This is the Dispatch from Georgia, where words mean their opposite and things are not what they seem.

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MAMMA MIA LET ME…IN Yes, yes, Mamma Europa, we have just killed the judicial reforms, pulled the trigger on political deals we negotiated and don’t quite agree with what you are. But we deserve to be in, because…well, we’ve been good in the past, and not so naughty, and even tidied some mess on the kitchen floor. This has been the general tenor of Georgia’s pleas to Europe. Civil society organizations have penned a surprisingly eloquent manifesto asking the European Commission to grant Georgia the candidate status (despite Chairman Kobakhidze accusing them of the opposite), so have the opposition parties Lelo and For Georgia (despite Chairman Kobakhidze accusing them of the opposite), and even the United National Movement joined the call (you guessed it right, despite Chairman Kobakhidze being utterly convinced of the opposite). Chairman Kobakhidze certainly thinks his government deserves candidacy, albeit he did speak in mildly bizarre terms, essentially saying the EU should grant candidacy because the candidacy does not mean anything. Managing expectations down, perhaps?! In the meantime, two MPs, holding the Georgian Dream’s crumbling pro-European façade like two Atlases, penned an op-ed lambasting the CEPS think-tank’s article about Georgia’s “dubious application” critical assessment of Georgia’s candidacy. The op-ed contains this pearl of a prose:

Blatantly omitted from the article’s partial analysis are the achievements of the Georgian government, including a re-balanced constitutional system towards greater checks and balances, dramatically improved freedom of speech and freedom of media, an ever-growing pluralistic political environment, and a greater popular trust in the judicial system than ever before in Georgia’s history.

Clearly Messrs. Khelashvili and Samkharadze have been walking through the looking glass every morning. Oh, and President Zurabishvili seems to have noticed – she called the ruling party comrades’ tirades against the EU “reckless” and impolite.

…OR NOT While Georgia is trying to get its place in Europe, its occupied provinces are looking cautiously (Abkhazia) or hopefully (Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia) towards Mother Russia, which – we all know – likes to devour its [alleged] children. But lately, the Kremlin is having a nasty indigestion problem with Ukraine. Alan Gagloev, who stepped into the Spanish shoes of leader deftly cut in Moscow, decided to let slide the referendum on joining Russia, planned by his predecessor. At least for now. Curiously, there have been crossed wires somewhere: the Kremlin mouthpiece RIA-Novosti first rejected the news of cancellation, quoting the Tskhinvali election commission representative. The said representative told the local agencies she said nothing of the sort. Gosh, the Kremlin news agencies are making things up. SO SHOCKING. In the end Moscow patted Gagloev on the back and said it was all very sensible. No hard feelings.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Talking of the “greatly improved freedom of speech and freedom of media”: the LGBTQ community has announced it will be refraining from holding the public march this year and will be holding cultural events and debates indoors, since the perpetrators of the last year’s violent pogrom were still at large. As if to give justice to the organizers’ claim of “a stagnant, violent, and uncompassionate system which refuses to protect the rights of its citizens and excludes LGBTQ people from public space and public life”, the announcement of Pride Fest was met by naked threats from one of the leaders of the violent “Alt-Info” group, Konstantine Morgoshia. Yet there was a silver lining: while spewing gay-hatred, Morgoshia was sporting…. a black Versace T-shirt. Homophobes’ adulation for queer couturier’s work is commendable, and certainly, public ridicule is a great weapon against hate.

TROUBLES AND SOLUTIONS Whatever the lofty aspirations and word games, people are being hurt by the ongoing crisis and the government’s penchant of prioritizing symbolic gestures over practical solutions. The government touting increasing child subventions to socially vulnerable families to a meager equivalent of USD 49 is, frankly, appallingly insufficient. Workers of the Russian-owned Borjomi IDS, producer of Georgia’s famed mineral waters (NOT to be mixed with Vichy) which fell victim of the sanctions, are on strike. And Tbilisi ambulance workers plan to follow suit. Of course, security and geopolitics are important, and Georgia is in a precarious spot, but we are reminded that acceding to the standards of the European Union may also help guarantee the rights of workers and resolve such issues more peacefully, and tangibly.

This was the harvest of the last two days. Georgian politics still lacked the direct contact with the reality of people’s lives. Despite all of its failures, the government and the ruling party are setting the media agenda, largely devoid of meaning and substance, while the opposition is missing in action: subdued, bitter, reactive. The European Union – candidacy or not – is not going to resolve this fundamental problem. And as we are encouraged by hearing about more and more civil society groups trying to reach the citizens in remote areas and listen to their concerns, we hear many wonder, if it is too little, too late, too discordant. But we are confident, that it is definitely worth a decent try.