Dispatch | June 29-July 1: Adapting

Politics in Georgia are seasonal. The summer season’s grand finale is going to be the rally scheduled for July 3, where pro-European civic activists have pledged to present their ideas for the “National Unity” or, as some call it, “technical” government, which is supposed to usher Georgia into the EU. As the government tried to downplay the civic drive, multiple signs point to them feeling quite edgy about many tens of thousands that have already hit Tbilisi seats twice. The Dispatch has observed multi-level efforts at adaptation and, this being Georgian politics, drama and (cheap) comedy often coalesced.

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NEAR, FAR… Just as the GD Chairman Kobakhidze was trying to downplay the EU-imposed 6-month deadline for making reforms necessary for the candidacy (we don’t get in today, we’d get in tomorrow, sad sanguine Chairman… he might want to talk to the Albanians…), something fishy was brewing in his own party. Three MPs quit the majority faction and the Georgian Dream, citing the need to express themselves freely and tell people “more truth”. Now, you may wonder what this truth might be. MP Sozar Subari obligingly clarified, that the matter is of national importance: thing is, the EU and the US are trying to drag Georgian into war with Russia, and President Zurabishvili is a part of this cunning plot, while the EU candidacy is a mousetrap for Georgia to stumble into hostilities. If all of this gibberish sounds familiar, this is because it has been Chairman Kobakhidze’s line for quite some time now, a sort of a plot-twist to divert attention from less-than-complimentary EC and EU decisions on candidacy. So why the drama of the three leaving the party? They explain, this was done not to expose the ruling party to outside criticism. For once, the explanation sounds sincere. But do they have their party’s backing nonetheless, is this the birth of the Georgian Dream’s (yet another) EU-hater spinoff? Two circumstantial hints say, yes. One, MP Dimitri Khundadze, one of the three, already served to furnish plausible deniability to the ruling party, by acting as a “rebel MP” who tore up the pact with the opposition to change election rules. Second: the statement of the three MPs was published under the banner or Parliament’s official statements on the legislature’s web-page and on its Facebook page – places that do not usually publish individual MP statements.

TOUGHENING UP Now with their official EU hater-spinoff in the works, the government has acted on more prominent (and exposed) hater groups. The Russophilic, violent group Alt-info capos were first questioned on June 27. Then on July1, 26 of the hardliners were detained as they took violent aim at the Pride Week closed-door events (outdoors events were considered impossible by organizers, due to threats). The Police also issued an unusual (but welcome) statement pledging to protect the events scheduled by gay activists. So far so good?

STATESMANLIKE What with the thee rebels working their media niche, Chairman Kobakhidze has (temporarily?) swapped his usual flamethrower for a more respectable tribune’s toga. Statesmanlike, he chaired the ruling party commission and unveiled a list of the ruling party proposals towards the implementation of the EU recommendations. The essence of the proposal is to create more commissions and working groups, to discuss all of the concerns advanced by the EU – be it political polarization, reducing of the power of the oligarchs, fairer ground rules for the elections or the appointment of an independent ombudsperson. This sounds like something that commission-addicted European bureaucracy would love. Yet, given Mr. Kobakhidze’s personal rhetoric on each of the topics only days before, it would be hard to convince both civic and political opposition of the sincerity of his intent. The Georgian Dream also has a track record of reneging on promises once the pressure from the street wanes. One clue is contained in the point one of the proposal – to reduce polarization, the ruling party essentially proposes that the media and opposition stop criticizing them. Some reflexes die hard. Or not at all.

MIXED MESSAGES Just as the police was saying and doing the right things, civic and party activists who campaigned in Georgia’s provinces to explain the aims of July 3 events and whip-up support to their pro-European agenda, they were assaulted – repeatedly and in an organized fashion – by groups of citizens slurring insults and provoking violence. When questioned, assailants articulated mostly homophobic and traditionalist responses, sometimes verging on the absurd (one man in Kakheti region made social media headlines by claiming ex-president Saakashvili personally slaughtered his 1000 pigs by spraying chemicals from airplanes. What a refreshing twist on a chemtrail conspiracy!). Civic activists and opposition accuse the Georgian Dream of orchestrating these attacks, to dissuade larger crowds from hitting Tbilisi streets on July 3 by raising the specter of violence. Similar radical crowd – replete with clergy – has gathered in front of the parliament on July 2. Alt-info supporters, seething from the overnight arrest of their leaders, reportedly even burnt the EU flag. If the past is any guide, the radical groups would try to occupy the area in front of the Parliament, giving grounds to the police to prevent the opposition gathering on a pretext of avoiding violence. Will the police stick to its positive streak of curbing extremist violence, or crack down on anti-governmental protests? We will see tomorrow.

PRESSING FLESH PM Irakli Garibashvili has had it bad recently. He has been targeted by the protesters for his inability – some say, apparent unwillingness – to guide Georgia closer to the EU. Facing the calls for resignation, PM has travelled to Madrid, with his press-office working overtime to pump out the images of Garibashvili hobnobbing with world leaders at the NATO summit – yes, even those, like UK PM Boris Johnson, who his party is accusing of wanting to drag Georgia into war. What made the opposition-minded Twittering masses happy though, was the image of PM Garibashvili first hopping into the chair designated to Finland during the summit and then – realizing his mistake – transferring to the one of Japan… Apparently, Georgia is not enough for Mr. Garibashvili, but – as the song goes – it is such a perfect place to start.

EARSHOT And to wrap the things up, a truly bizarre incident at the US Independence Day reception saw three ruling party MPs – with the chair of the legal committee MP Anri Okhanashvili leading the pack – in a scuffle with independent TV Pirveli owner, Vato Tsereteli. Okhanashvili said the TV boss murmured something extremely indecent in his ear, and he was forced to respond – as any Georgian man would. His party comrades are voicing full-throated support to the right of the Georgian man to protect his dignity. The Embassy, embarrassed, is investigating. Many Georgians wonder, how long the macho codes of honor would govern Georgian politics and how may this display of playground tantrums might be ended. In the meantime, yet another reports of apparent femicide hit the wires. Acting against the culture of violence must go beyond the soul-searching…

This was all for today, we will be back on Tuesday, and apologize for the delay in this issue, which was due to your author being struck by late COVID infection. Stay safe.