The Dispatch - March 10-11: Gaslighting

Dangerous Moves to Justify Controversial Tapes |Bera Throws Another Yanny-Laurel Mystery | Awkward Framing of Anti-HPP Activists - and Epic Comeback | Symbolic Blackout in Brussels |Opposition's Failed Response to SVR Statement | Study: Pandemic Made it Worse for Women

Good evening from Georgia, where people have been trying their best lately not to give in to diverse psychological manipulations making them “question their thoughts, memories, and the events occurring around them” - abuse otherwise known as “gaslighting.” Past days have been filled with multiple attempts to confuse citizens to the extent that makes them question their own mental fitness.

The Dispatch and me, your operator – Nini – have put together some of those stories to show that it's them, not you... Subscribe here!

NORMALIZING REVENGE The controversy about tapes showing how the oligarch's cadet offspring, Bera Ivanishvili, sent his dad's goons to straighten out some trash-talking netizens took a little unexpected, but nonetheless logical turn. Forget for a moment that the goons in question were the current Head of State Protection Service Anzor Chubinidze, and now twice-PM Garibashvili. What matters is that Bera (to use his stage name) essentially confirmed the authenticity of recordings, and went on to say - so what?! Won't any Georgian man rough up some punks who use dirty language to offend your mommy? Expecting an unequivocal and resounding "Yes!" Bera proceeded to say that he'd do the same again today if he had to. The Georgian Dream MPs have lined up to sing a well-rehearsed Hosanna:

  • Head of Human Rights committee MP Mikheil Sarjveladze said he understands the "emotional component" involved and added: "I see nothing reproachable".
  • Deputy head of the same committee: Bera was "honest, human and full of dignity", all of Georgia's "decent people" would have "called offenders to account".
  • Deputy Speaker David Sergeenko: "see nothing special" in Bera "reacting" to people offending his family.
  • ...and the cherry on the cake, Georgian Dream member Tamar Taliashvili "if you see this interview, you'd see the proof that even in the high tech era, some young people retain their directness, their sensitivity, their humanity, irrespective of pressure."

Make no mistake, the tapes had Bera giggling with current (twice) PM about some teenagers "peeing their pants" when the goons came-a-knocking. How humane, how statesmanlike. We recoil at the thought of what normalizing such aggressive, toxic behavior would do to the teenagers that may see Bera as an aspirational role model. We'd pass on the message it sends about Mr. Garibashvili (who still did not comment) and Mr. Chubinidze - who said he was doing his job.

A kind advice to all the men out there sharing his spirits: what about showing love for your mothers by first asking them if they'd approve of such actions?

EARS BLEEDING This newly-developed discourse to manipulate the entire value systems of people turned into a full scale gaslighting when Bera tried to assure everyone that ambiguous and weirdly-sounding “Triiii!-Triii!” voices that people heard him exclaiming in those tapes actually were “Antonie” – a French pet-name he apparently used to called then-his producer (now PM) Garibashvili. Georgia's netizens were quick to recall the infamous “Yanny vs Laurel” voice mystery, except that it was only Bera who heard Yanny, while everybody else in Georgia clearly heard him pronouncing “Laurel.”

MISSION TO CIVILIZE Earlier on March 9, authorities offered a different kind of “everyone is stupid except us” approach. Ministers of Economy and Environment were heard in a parliamentary committee session to clear up persisting questions over the controversial Namakhvani HPP project: it has become relevant since too many people have gathered at the end of February in the city of Kutaisi to get noticed. Presenting her arguments, Economy Minister Natia Turnava continuously hinted at general rather than specific anti-HPP (or anti-development) arguments that might be behind the protest movement, even implying that there were “xenophobic and homophobic” attacks against foreign investors in charge of HPP constructions. Xenophobia allegations have now been commonly used to target the anti-HPP activists because the works are done by the Turkish company (organizers distance themselves from Turkophobe posters seen during the protests and say their claims have nothing to do with hating foreigners). The homophobia allegations, however, are something fresh – and hardly anyone could find any link with reality...

NORMALIZE... LANGUAGE! Marita Museliani, a lady leading the activist movement against the HPP, who also happened to be attending the hearing, gave a comeback so epic that we are not tired of replaying it (if you know Georgian, we would absolutely choose this recording over Triii-triiii). Listening to endless hints about how anti-progress and straight-outta-cave local anti-HPP activists are, she did her little discourse research: “Anti-development, full of phobias, asking for social assistance, in need of awareness-raising, deceived by lies and bias” she listed some of those allegations, adding that she even started "to feel sorry for herself" for a moment. This is definitely "not a language" that can be used between "social groups of people or in any case at all "– she said – calling the attitude unacceptable. Yet another good communication tutorial for political elites - and not only! And what a refreshing deployment of the Georgian language, after those wooden political tongues we so often bemoan!

BLACKOUT Minister Turnava also reiterated her arguments that Namakhvani HPP was crucial for ensuring Georgia’s energetic security and guaranteeing uninterrupted power supply. Why not try some alternative energy sources when talking about development? opponents retorted.  Hours later, the session room of the European Parliament witnessed a rare blackout - and the whole of Georgia doubled up in laughter - since that happened in the midst of the debate over Georgia. Those who lived through literally dark 1990s, would know why that was funny. But otherwise, is this how European-style alternative energy solutions work?! Brussels, give us better examples next time, please!

MISDIRECTED Our next story is about gaslighting, too. This time Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia (SVR) claimed on March 9 that “dissatisfaction is growing in Washington D.C. with the ruling Georgian Dream party," adding that Americans plan to provide support to the opposition and undermine the positions of GD. Forgotten was all the talk about Russian disinformation, active measures and reflexive control - Georgian politicians started bashing each other with usual delectation. Those in the ruling party wondered why such statements coincide with the West becoming more active in Georgia - and also with the UNM discourse. They concluded, that UNM was the Kremlin puppet. The very anti-Moscow and security-competent opposition reacted how?! They also took SVR remarks at their face value, some even considered it as a smoking gun to prove GD’s Kremlin loyalty. It could have been much worse though: hopefully, nobody called Langley to thank the CIA for planning a well-set coup against Oligarch Ivanishvili...

SUFFER WHAT THEY MUST It’s women – again. A recent study initiated by three UN agencies in Georgia and performed by CRRC-Georgia showed that the COVID-19 pandemic further worsened women’s condition in Georgia, particularly their physical and psychological health due to the disproportionate burden of household care. A significant share of men said they never cleaned, cooked, or looked after children... The findings of the study have their legitimate causes: if you scroll back upwards, it says that part of Georgian men was preoccupied with more pressing issues, such as plotting revenge against those who dared to verbally disrespect their mothers...

That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!

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