The Dispatch

The Dispatch – March 3-4: Morning After

Opposition, Ruling Party Struggle to Be Nicer |U.S. Called to Wake Up to Georgia Crisis |Pavilionis’ under Fire at Home for Georgia Efforts | Namakhvani HPP: Gov’t Blames Bad Communication – CSO Says It’s Bad Contract | COVAX Vaccine Pledges Don’t Help Government | Lady Pundits Can’t But Laugh On Air |

Greetings from Tbilisi! Waking up after what looked like a groundbreaking visit of the European Council President, we follow the visibly strained efforts of our political elites to find the common ground out of the stalemate (of their own making).

The Dispatch and me, your operator, Nini, are having our ear to the ground – seeking context in isolated events – and trying to glean the meaning in the absurd. Subscribe here!

MORNING AFTER Some hoped for the visit of the European Council President Charles Michel to be a gamechanger. And it – surprisingly – was. Not only Mssr. Michel made the right noises, but he got his hands dirty and sat the irreconcilable politicians down. Not only that, but he gave them homework, to hand in after 16 days, in Brussels.  Now, we Georgians – even the political sort – like to please a guest. But both the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition were a little bit far in their game to change the tack. Their abstinence from going for each others’ jugular lasted precisely till the morning of President Michel’s departure.  The opposition had difficulties restraining their planned picketing of the Parliament, things got a bit out of hand, and they predictably came under righteous fire from GD.

The ruling party’s rhetorical flamethrower only started to cool down but they rapidly cranked it up to the “medium burn” intensity.

ALMOST PROGRESS But you can’t pump intolerance and hope it would disappear into thin air – the regional office of the United National Movement was attacked. Gracefully, the police acted quickly by arresting four. In the meantime, the opposition – facing the backlash for their own brinkmanship – modified its March rally schedule, promising to make less noise.

Progress? The last time we checked, the two sides were still trading the accusations of obstructing the dialogue. It seems the pupils are going to cram their Brussels homework into the eleventh hour.

EVERY LITTLE HELPS? As the ruling party and the opposition try to pretend that they are trying, the party of Citizens remains under pressure to show tangible results of breaking the ranks with the opposition. The Georgian Dream is playing along: side by side they unveiled draft amendments to the Georgian election code – envisaging electoral changes allowed by a simple parliamentary majority. And as that notorious meme would have it, “it ain’t much, but it’s honest work.”

Or is it? This insightful piece by Vakhushti Menabde, GYLA chief, will tell you why it is too little and too late:

A CITY UPON A HILL To quote President Michel, the EU “has opened its eyes” on Georgia but Tbilisi pundits are more used to the attention from across the pond. And not only Georgians: Žygimantas Pavilionis, a Lithuanian politician, is no stranger to Washington D.C., where he served as an Ambassador.  He caught quite a bit of the political limelight at home, in Brussels, and in D.C. by playing a tough-talking bad cop on the Georgian crisis. At least he got everyones’ attention by letting slip the “s-word” (“sanctions”, to the uninitiated). Today, during the online international discussion on Georgia’s crisis by the prestigious Atlantic Council, a K Street think-shop, Pavilionis upped his game and suggested Secretary Blinken visit Tbilisi in the coming two weeks. Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent demurred, saying US Ambassador Degnan got things under control in Tbilisi and hinted that Georgians must embrace the “do it yourself” philosophy. We will see how that works out when the caravan heads to Brussels.

ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL MP Pavilionis is the Lithuanian Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee Chair. Him pinning new feathers to his cap while handling the Georgian crisis seems to have irked some officials at home, who felt, perhaps, unduly upstaged. The controversial mediation efforts in the Georgia crisis were reportedly criticized by President Gitanas Nausėda, who accused the MP of “damaging Lithuania’s reputation” as a mediator, while Seimas Speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen slammed him for being “undiplomatic” (to which MP Pavilionis retorted – quite reasonably – that he was done being diplomatic after he quit the Foreign Ministry and entered politics…).  Mr. Pavilionis will have to explain himself before the parliament’s leadership on Wednesday, Lithuanian media reported, adding that the opposition Social Democratic Party of Lithuania demanded his resignation as Foreign Affairs Committee Chair. And many in Georgia seem to be following those developments – some with jubilation, others with consternation. At least they would learn a thing or two about the way the Parliamentary republic is supposed to work.

TOO HARD TO REACH Sunday’s rally against the Namakhvani HPP project turned out to be too massive to ignore: the Western Georgians finally had their attention in the Parliament, but the MP’s decided it was communication errors rather than anything else that made the opponents hate the project. MP Beka Davituliani argued that should authorities fail to clearly communicate all the economic benefits of the colossal HPP cascade due to be built in the Imereti and Racha-Lechkhumi regions of Western Georgia, the future of other 80 HPPs will be also questioned. Besides, the state must offer the locals something in exchange for sticking those giant powerplants near their homes, Davituliani suggested.

AND TOO EASY FOR RICH The latest report by the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), a Georgian CSO, makes it clear, however, that it’s not only “those locals” who can’t understand all economic goods: experts have questions, too. EMC’s analysis claims that it’s bad contract rather than bad communication that has failed Rioni Gorge residents: the agreement allegedly concedes too much to the private investor, imposes a significant financial burden on state coffers,  lets the state pick the risks, and might not create as many jobs, or generate as much electricity – as previously suggested. To make things worse, the public was not aware of the contract until it was leaked, the report says. Just a reminder – the Association Agreement with the EU suggests fair and open public consultation on such matters.

CONTROVERSY OVERDOSE With less blood expected on the political scene, all media and public attention go to where it still bleeds: pandemic. Health authorities remain under scrutiny due to vaccine delays, and questions asked include why no shots have arrived? When will the state allow the private sector to distribute vaccines? Why is Georgia failing to be like Israel? (common lament), and, importantly Whose heads will roll? COVAX, an international platform that is supposed to deliver the first shots, now published a table showing Georgia is to receive 129,600 doses of AstraZeneca shots within the next 3 months and is on the exceptional list to also receive 29,250 Pfizer doses during this period. Too little and way too late, say the skeptics.

LIES AND SMILES Check out the most adequate reaction to all the ongoing fuss – the on-air discussion involving Lelo for Georgia’s Pikria Chikhradze and political expert Khatuna Lagazidze was supposed to reflect on the immediate legacy left by affable President Michel in Georgia – but instead broke into 5-minute non-stop, infectious, neurotic laughter. Indeed a very sane emotional response to all the accumulated absurdity. We are heading to that point too. 

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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