The Dispatch

The Dispatch – December 21

UNM to Elect New Chair – Georgia in ‘Heritage at Risk’ Report – GYLA’s New Win – 88-Old Defending Her Vote – IDFI’s Energy Sector Overview

VIRTUAL DEMOCRACY The United National Movement, the largest opposition party in Georgia, is to elect a new chair after former head Grigol Vashadze quit citing “intolerable” differences with the leadership. Intra-party democracy is now cool in Georgia (which, Vashadze said, his party lacked), so the UNM  embarked on an online quest to elect the new head, pledging to engage “tens of thousands of [Georgian] citizens”. We checked – it’s actually a trivial Facebook poll putting head-to-head Levan Varshalomidze, former Adjarian Government Head, and Nika Melia – former MP and de-facto party mascot, who leads so far. The “democratic vote” comes as the party faces criticism over a single person (he-who-is-too-often-named) pulling the strings. But would the new Facebook-anointed king have the real power? 

NO STONE LEFT UNTURNED International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has released its “Heritage at Risk” report for 2016-2019, which also listed few Georgian sites in urgent need of protection. The report says that the “historic urban fabric” of the Black Sea city of Batumi, created from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries, has been sacrificed to modernization and “renovation” of the city since 2009, compromising the “spirit of the place.”

Also, turns out, the weaponization for the political campaign did not help save David Gareji Monasteries. The report says the place is falling apart structurally, while the dispute makes it less accessible to researchers. Another endangered site, the report says, is the 9-km long Khada valley in the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region, whose cultural heritage, natural environment, and local communities may suffer due to the planned construction of the Kvesheti-Kobi road.

WOMAN OF CULTURE The above report comes as authorities have been pondering de-coupling the Ministry of Culture from the Education Ministry. The controversial merger in 2018 left both sides of the ministry crippled in terms of the policy, as organizational cultures clashed. Ex-Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, who found the new taste for education and culture as head of the relevant parliamentary committee, apparently has eyes on the culture portfolio if and when it frees up. She was quoted saying that she’d “seriously consider” a Culture Minister position if offered.

GYLA WINS AGAIN Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Georgian CSO currently also in the process of electing a new chair, has recently secured yet another win in the Constitutional Court: this time, the Court agreed that a norm restricting the victims in criminal proceedings from obtaining photocopies of case files is unconstitutional. The appeal originated from the criminal case over the death of the first Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, with his eldest son as the main applicant. Remains to be seen whether the ruling heralds more transparency over this case. 

A VOTE THAT WASN’T A 88-year old woman from the Western Georgian Guria region, who, despite all the health risks, dared to go to a polling station to cast a ballot on October 31, now says her vote was not counted, RFE/RL Georgian service reports. Joined by her 8 fellow villagers, she filed a lawsuit supported by mounting evidence. All 9 appellants claim they have voted for the Labor Party. The vote tally, however, shows that Labor garnered zero votes in the precinct, while its MP candidate has 26 votes. Things clearly do not add up, and witness testimonies by local opposition observers further confirm the “error.” The investigation has been opened, and the case may set in motion an entirely new civil culture of defending votes. The province has a fascinating history of direct democracy – after all, the insurgent Gurians created community rule – the Gurian Republic – which survived under the Russian Empire between 1902 and 1906.

NEW REPORT COMES OUT Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), a local research NGO, released Energy Sector Overview. The report evaluates, among others, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the energy consumption in Georgia, state of the FDIs, import/export balance, and other relevant analytical data, also offering future scenarios and recommendations. See the full report here

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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