Dispatch | June 15-17: (Comfortably) Numb

This was the day when the rumors and speculations became harsh reality: Georgia fails to hold on to Ukraine’s coattails and remains in the purgatory ante-chamber of the EU. Despite much finger-pointing – even the President they themselves endorsed talks of the “spoiled job” – the ruling party does not feel even slightly embarrassed. But as the EU demands reforms the ruling majority has not only evaded, but also expressly countered for years, is there a momentum to push for real change? This is the Dispatch – delayed to reflect todays see-saw of emotions.

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CALL US LATER The jury is in and the verdict is out: Georgia may become an official EU candidate, if it fulfills an extensive set of preconditions. On the up side: Georgia got the so called “European perspective” i.e. the formal admission that it may, in principle become an EU member. Such status was earlier denied to Georgia, when it was negotiating the Association Agreement, based on the arcane (and flimsy) argument that it is not really in Europe (Mssr. Macron seems to still think the same way). On the down side: the so called “associating trio” of which Georgia used to be the leader is now broken up. Kyiv and Chisinau head towards the greener European pastures, while Tbilisi is…put out to pasture. Sure, one can argue that the preconditions may be met by the end of the year, but we would not hold our breath – demanding the ruling party dominated by the single oligarch to commit voluntary “de-oligarchisation” by the end of the year is the fools’ errand, and Georgians know it.

WHO? ME?! The reaction of the Georgian Dream to the news was insolent and brazen lies. Chairman Kobakhidze, who excels in that role, said EU candidacy does not proffer any material benefits or advantages (it does, there is a thing called Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA) which is currently endowed with 14,2 billion EUR); that the oligarch mentioned in EU memo is not Bidzina Ivanishvili (it is), but ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and his henchmen (quite certainly not); and that the calls to end polarization are addressed to the opposition (they are addressed to both, the ruling party and the opposition). This is not the kind of attitude that would help Georgia catch up on EC’s demands.

CHANGE WE CAN’T BELIEVE IN There is one optimist left holding a high office. President Salome Zurabishvili gave the government quite some thrashing. But the solution she suggested – to go out and unite in a manifestation for Europe, fell miserably short of even her office’s limited powers (as the Ombudsperson was quick to point out). The attendance at the pro-European kumbaya on June 16 was meager. A missed opportunity to rally around one office not directly occupied by the Georgian Dream, some say. Zurabishvili is creating the smokescreen to protect Ivanishvili and get rid of competitors at his court, others retort. Indeed, while she was acerbic about the government, President has refrained from hitting The Man in the High Castle of Avlabari.

SUMMER OF DISCONTENT? Youth movement “Shame!” has long announced the rally on June 20 to protest the government’s failure – deliberate, they say – to meet the European Union’s criteria for candidacy. The movement, and their supporters were irate at Zurabishvili’s initiative to hold another rally, and even more upset at her calls to cancel June 20, since it “might be unsafe” (she might have a point there – violent mobs that orchestrated pogroms last year have announced their intent to counter the pro-European rally. These are the same groups, that journalistic investigation alleged, is on security services’ leash). With President’s meeting failing though, the pressure is on June 20 to deliver a strong message of unity for European choice. But the organizers have marked differences of opinion with at least some opposition parties, who advocate for calling for the government’s ouster. One of “Shame!” movement’s leaders, Shota Digmelashvili wrote that pressuring the government to implement the reforms that EU demands is a more logical starting point. He called for “systemic, non violent protest” based on civic, rather than partisan activism. The coalition of biggish CSOs, called Step to Europe, which joins the June 20 rally, called for the implementation of the EC roadmap for candidacy, stopping short of articulating other demands.

REARGUARD ACTION There were some signs of the government officials responding to criticism. After the barrage of ridicule for missing the first round, the Defense Minister deigned to attend the Ukraine-friendly bash of defense chiefs and then met the NATO Secretary-General. The Parliament Chairman – otherwise quite invisible – has been touring the Nordic countries and hobnobbing with the royals. Little in this activity looks serious enough to make the difference, yet, even little movement is considered a positive change these days.

Will any of this work? Could the Council of the European Union, scheduled to meet next week, reverse the EC recommendation and get Georgia over the brink of candidacy? May anything that the Georgian civil society or party groups may help towards this objective?! We are skeptical, even though we endorse the sentiment that Ted Jonas articulated in his op-ed, that it is the time for Georgia’s pro-European forces to stand together. But as Georgia is facing its “Yanukovic moment”, do its progressive forces have enough momentum left in them for “Euromaidan”? Nothing suggests this is the case. In fact, as another op-ed suggested, rather than simply suffering from political polarisation, Georgia is in the throes of “re-feudalisation”, where one man commands the loyalty of his vassals through money and fear, and where the official institutions are hijacked to serve that order. Is there hope, an exit door? Undoubtedly, yet unlikely in the short-term. But we will certainly keep you posted.