Dispatch | June 9-10: All aboard!

“This is the Europe of our discontent,” would have spoken the Bard if he were to inhabit the modern-day Tbilisi. But the capital is now full of people no less prone to analogies, albeit with considerably lower quotient of talent. Such are the days – Georgia arrives to the rail platform seeing its European train ready to depart and, yet, instead of rushing to grasp its opportunity, it fumbles, confused, divided, disoriented. This is the Dispatch, and we relay this story as we feel it.

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STRASBOURG CALLING One after another, the members of the European Parliament of varying political stripes too the podium to deliver the blow after crushing blow of criticism at the Georgian government for its dismal treatment of the journalists and minorities, failures to ensure the freedom of the media. This is the “last wake-up call” they said, casting aside not only the diplomatic niceties that the MEPs are not bound to, but also the efforts to hint and to sweeten the pill. At the end of it, the resolution was passed that nonetheless calls onto the EU institutions to “work towards granting EU candidate status to Georgia” – a diminished formula, EU watchers noted, compared to the one “to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova.” But the worst – for the ruling Georgian Dream party – was yet to come: an amendment passed, which calls onto “democratic partners” to consider sanctioning the party’s reclusive patron, Bidzina Ivanishvili for “the destructive role” he plays, as sole oligarch, in Georgia’s politics and economy, but also for his alleged “personal and business links” with the Kremlin.

GLOWES STAY OFF This is the first time a Georgian political personality is singled out in this way. Sanctions – as we have learned – are the oligarch’s bane. And even though the elements of state capture are hard to miss – as our editorial suggested not so long ago – the party was usually responding with the mix of denial, whataboutism, and brazen appeals to sovereignty. While the party Chair Kobakhidze tried to diminish the resolution as “not worth a dime”, there is no hiding from the fact that even the EU Parliament Resolution is non-binding, it put the word “sanctions” out there, much like hanging that proverbial rifle on the political scene, while only the first act of the drama is being played. The ruling party was already on a preventive war-path against Europe, heating up the rhetoric and preparing the public. The litany of the illogical claims – that many EU MEPs are on the payroll of the opposition, while others get influenced by “fake news”, that some ill-wishers try to drag Georgia into war with Russia were all there. Troll army was out in force on social media to drum up support for Ivanishvili, as the contributor to arts and religion. Outlandish proposals to hold a rally in his support circulated – if that happens, that would arguably mark the first time people went out into streets to protect billionaire’s private assets. Eat you heart out, Marx!

JANUS While the ruling party, from its leadership to the lowly troll, were throwing their bodies to cover the leader’s (treasure-)chest, President Salome Zurabichvili and Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiasvhili were touring Europe, trying to defend Georgia’s cause. This Jekyll-and-Hyde antic of the Georgian Dream is getting old, and few people seem to have patience for it in Brussels any more. Some twiterrati have wondered, whether Ms. Zurabishvili, recently ostracized for making foreign policy decisions would be allowed to back into Georgia after this impromptu escapade to meet the EU leaders. The truth is, that even with her diminished powers, the President holds one important instrument – a presidential pardon – which could settle at least one matter contention with Brussels and set free the jailed opposition TV chief Nika Gvaramia, whose case Public Defender Nino Lomjaria found to suffer from an “extreme scarcity in [legal] consistency”. (May we note here, that if she continues to master euphemisms like this, Lomjaria would make an excellent Georgian EU commissioner, inshallah….).

DON’T GIVE UP With all the obstacles on the way, the Georgian civil society at least is not giving up, doing rounds of EU-backing awareness building sessions, meetings, and conferences. A pro-Europe rally is planned on June 20, which the political parties may yet join. It seems, EU is not ready to fully give up on Georgia as yet. Ambassador Pawel Herczynski was tapped as the new European Union representative. Apart from hailing from Poland – Georgia’s habitual foreign policy ally – he also was EU’s high-flyer: most recently as Director for Security and Defense Policy in the External Action Service. But is there a hint that Georgia’s security posture will become more important than its democracy credentials?! We hope not.

Such were the last two days, each bringing us close to that fateful statement of the European Commission and then to the June 24-25, when the Council of the EU will make its final call. But is this drama worth it?! If Georgia had a reasonable political debate, one side may have argued, that whatever the EU’s decision on the candidacy, it would still represent a step forward: nobody in Europe was willing to consider Georgia’s candidacy before Russia’s brazen invasion into Ukraine cast things in a different light. Another side could have retorted, that the war is unforeseeable, and the window of opportunity may shut just as quickly as it has unexpectedly opened, so one should strive to get the maximum benefit now, while the European capitals feel the need for symbolic gestures. That would have been an interesting debate…which we are not having. Wait for the Dispatch in your mailboxes on Tuesday, to hear about the debates that will nonetheless be raging.