Dispatch | June 23-23: Lost (or found?)

Georgians live in alternate realities. If you listen to the government media mouthpieces and hear the officials, yesterday was a day of triumph, when Georgia’s “European perspective” was recognized. If you are a part of the opposition-minded social media bubble, Georgia missed its historic opportunity to become the EU membership candidate. Yet, nothing describes the absurdity of Georgia’s current state than a humble twitter post by PM Garibashvili, congratulating Georgia (as well as Moldova and Ukraine) on a “historic day”. PM had to post it thrice: first time, because he mixed up the EU Council with the EU Commission. And the second time, because instead of the Moldovan flag, he posted that of… Andorra. Error is human, of course, but some errors are more telling than others. This is the Dispatch, from Georgia on the verge of nervous breakdown.

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SHOUTAMENT Talking, let alone deliberating, is something that rarely happens in the Georgian Parliament. But PM Garibashvili’s latest shouting match with the opposition was still exceptional by the amount of sheer venom, ill-will and aggressivity that dominated the floor. Garibashvili, as we wrote back in 2021 when he reclaimed premiership, is not habitually a man of compromise. But the clear failure to secure the EU candidacy for his nation, especially since it does look deliberate, lost him the last shreds of respect from across the isle. He, predictably. lashed out – repeatedly calling opposition MPs “sick” or “mad”, threatening to kick them out of the hall. PM Garibashvili looked very weak, almost cornered. Still, the recurring theme of calling his opponents “traitors” must give Georgia-watchers (already exhausted by the ruling party’s foibles) a pause. Politics may look like circus, but it is important not to miss the moment, when the intensity of the clowns slips into Joker-like horror.

TREASON!!! Chairman Kobakhidze is particularly troubling. His flamethrower rhetoric is no longer a surprise, and with all the rambling fury, he stopped being a good butt of a joke, too. His latest bout of vitriol was directed at Vano Chkhikvadze, one of Georgia’s respected analysts and EU-watchers. Drawing on the article that Chkhikvadze co-authored and which foreshadowed the EC decision, Kobakhidze said he was a “traitor” against Georgia getting the EU candidacy. He than constructed the arc of conspiracy, linking the analyst’s article with his employer, the Georgian chapter of Open Society Foundation (funded by philanthropist George Soros). The same foundation, alleged Kobkahidze, is the donor of the the Shame Movement, which organized the recent massive rally in support of the EU. And the Shame Movement – alleges the ruling party chair – is in cahoots with the United National Movement. So, in Kobakhidze’s mind, Chkhikvadze lobbied on behalf of UNM, against Georgia’s EU candidacy for the purpose of overthrowing the Georgian Dram government, and then helped gave money to civic activists to pass into action. The dangerous delirium of the “conspiracy against Georgia” recently became the mainstay of the Georgian Dream propaganda and also involves European politicians. It was called out by at least two Members of the EU Parliament.

BLADERUNNER As the ruling party slides further away from Europe, President Salome Zurabishvili is increasingly left alone to keep up the democratic appearances. She did call PM Garibashvili’s parliamentary antics “absurd” and wielded her first Presidential veto against the law dramatically expanding the rights of non-judiciary surveillance. She also addressed the EU Council in a videoconference pledging necessary reforms for attaining Georgia’s candidacy. But as her compatriot, French President Emmanuel Macron has contemplated the “arc of will” stretching from the President to the Georgian citizens that filled Tbilisi’s streets, Zurabishvili’s political position is precarious. She does not wield significant constitutional powers, and the few ones she does – such as the prerogative to pardon – she (so far) refuses to wield to release Nika Gvaramia, opposition TV boss, jailed on absurd charges (“the gross violation of the principle of legality” says Ombudsperson’s office). In Georgia’s polarized political climate, many in opposition say the President plays the “good cop” on behalf of Bidzina Ivanishvili, while PM Garibashvili is the “bad cop”. The suspicion is hardly surprising, given that when Zurabishvili, running as an independent, stumbled in the first round of the presidential elections, it was Ivanishvili’s face that appeared – alone, without an actual candidate – on her campaign posters. So as the dance with Brussels goes on, the jury is still out on whose head this particular Salomé will deliver on a silver plate…

MYTH-THRUSTER As if the EU-related controversy was not enough, PM Garibashvili has also reached out to NATO, and argued that while Georgia’s territories remain occupied, the membership in the North Atlantic Alliance would remain impossible. While this is the argument of some analysts, and indeed of the Kremlin, Georgia’s – as well as the NATOs – official position has always been to argue the contrary. Indeed, as it was pointed out on social media – the brochure of the NATO Information Center of the Georgian Foreign Ministry has published a brochure, which lists that statement as a “myth”- ranking number two, for its potency and spread. Guess who’s been mixing in a bad company?!

TRUMPETS As we are drafting this Dispatch, Tbilisi is gearing up for the second rally by Shame Movement – this time to decry the failure of the government to obtain the EU candidacy, but also to present the plan of action and – some say – contours of the new popular movement, which aims to pressure the government towards the fulfillment of the EU Commission recommendations. The tension is palpable between those who, traditionally for Georgia, count on the decisive strike to destabilize the government and those, mostly from civil society, who call for sustained and institutionalized effort to bring about change. The martial rhetoric of the ruling party leadership leaves little doubt – if the numbers in Tbilisi’s streets won’t be as intimidating as on June 20, reprisals will follow, backed up by the “treason” charges.

And as Georgia habitually teeters between hope and demise, we will be reporting on how the chips fall. Stay tuned for Civil.ge coverage. The Dispatch will be back on Tuesday, trying to keep in mind that the lives continue, and that the big political drama often overshadows streams of opinion and real lives of people. Yet those are the very lifeblood of democracy.