The Dispatch

The Dispatch – March 12-13: Of Friends & Haters

Brussels Envoy Takes Temperature as PM Garibashvili Breaks Silence – Georgians Educated about Shield Laws – Rumors of Kaladze Moving On – IRI Findings Bring Boycott into Question – Khoshtaria Tries to Prove Election Fraud – Rioni Gorge Activists Irked by Ministers’ Departure – Western Friends Deliver Ugly Truths – Historic Ruling for the Disabled in Georgia

Greetings from Georgia! The past two days have been marked by continued attempts to launch a political dialogue, while the questions over the logic and viability of the opposition boycott of the parliament came back into the spotlight. 

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!

ENVOY ON MISSION Christian Danielsson, European Council President’s Special Envoy to mediate Georgia’s political crisis talks, has arrived in Tbilisi to meet parties of the political process because – to use his words – “what happens here matters in Brussels.” The envoy took temperature today, meeting government leaders, CSOs, and opposition. Nothing much is known about the terms discussed yet.

HATERS GONNA HATE PM Garibashvili broke the silence over the covert featuring him and ex-PM’s son Bera Ivanishvili. His message was on a well-beaten track: Garibashvili is a victim of “fabrication,” Bera was the victim of bullying by UNM when he was a child, ex-President Saakashvili is responsible for both, Bera’s bullying and Garibashvili’s suffering. PM insisted the recordings date back to 2010-2011– at the time when Bidzina Ivanishvili was still a relatively anonymous well-doer. To make comments more topical, PM also said that Saakashvili dropped the tapes to undermine the (already troubled) dialogue. Haters gonna hate – to paraphrase Parliamentary Speaker Archil Talakvadze.

More about this: PM Garibashvili Breaks Silence Over Covert Recordings

LIST OF (P)REFERENCES The authorities did move to open a probe into the tape controversy, but skipped the “contents” part, focusing instead on the illegal wiretapping. The permission by the Court to retrieve material evidence from TV Pirveli – the channel that aired the recordings – stirred further controversy and raised concerns of potential media intimidation. On the positive side: in days to come, Georgians are going to learn more about shield laws and journalists’ privilege allowing them to protect their sources. The prosecution (slightly taken aback by the outcry?) pledged it was not going to break into TV Pirveli.

NEXT IN LINE Rumors swirl more potently about Mayor Kakha Kaladze’s imminent departure from the GD. The latest media reports suggest the ruling party seeks Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, as his replacement. The Mayor himself said Pololikashvili’s candidacy was “a lie,” but ducked a question on whether he was going to run. Irakli Kobakhidze said whether Kaladze runs for Tbilisi Mayor would “depend on Kaladze himself” and called him “a distinguished leader” of the party. All of that “non-denial denial” sounds that the Mayor is indeed on his way out. We are likely to hear more soon.

UNPLEASANT REMINDER International Republican Institute (IRI) published yesterday its final report on the 2020 elections – and it was far less critical than those in the opposition probably hoped. Although listing the problems linked to the conduct of the ruling party, the findings also brought into the spotlight the inability of the opposition to present proof of massive election fraud –  and therefore the legitimacy of their boycotting the Parliament. No wonder, that the Georgian Dream – skipping the criticism – joyfully embraced the report by the otherwise unloved non-profit, brandishing it as proof that the international community has no questions over the legitimacy of elections.

See the findings here: IRI Releases Final Election Observation Report on Georgia

13 REASONS WHY Helen Khoshtaria, after setting up an independent platform “Droa” (Time Has Come), decided to tackle precisely that question of election fraud in her video address. Khoshtaria listed 13 ways the GD allegedly rigged the polls, including registration manipulations, carousel voting, misuse of anti-Covid procedures, bribings, intimidation, correction of vote-tabulation protocols, and even an antifungal agent to bypass voter inking procedure. Despite naming some names allegedly in charge of the fraud, as well as documental evidence of their alleged links with GD figures, the video still left us with much void. The irrefutable facts to substantiate such fraud that would warrant a boycott seem to be in short supply.

  • Protests We Follow

The ongoing protests against the Namakhvani HPP have exposed problems well beyond the controversial dam – bringing again to light flawed relations between the elites and people. The process also showed the rich bedrock of political culture that Rioni Gorge was apparently hiding.

Today, Ministers of Economy and Environment met with the activists to achieve that holy grail of “better communication.” Ministers shortly presented incentives for the opponents, including halting construction of HPP dam and reservoir until “reputable” Georgian experts study the concerns; setting up USD 5 million Rioni Gorge development fund; appointing a Georgian citizen as a project head to ensure “active communication” and protection of labor rights; creating a supervisory body to oversee the construction process.

We hoped for a lengthy and heated discussion which…never happened. The Ministers took off right after their presentation, leaving activists angry and perplexed:  “[their behavior] has practically ruled out the possibility of continued dialogue,” activist Varlam Goletiani said. Apparently even improved communication or the cabinet is still one-way communication.

Marita Museliani, another leader behind the anti-Namakhvani HPP movement, also questioned the ministers’ motive behind the appointment of a “Georgian director” – which the protesters never asked for. Undoubtedly, this is a continuation of the “xenophobia” trope, which the officials often used to paint the resistance. “Whether that director is Georgian or not makes no difference to us,” Museliani said, arguing that when the activists had disputes it was mostly with Georgian project representatives. The protesters will gather again on 14 March, in Kutaisi.

Ugly Truth Frankly Spoken

  • TRUTH IS A BETTER FRIEND In a discussion over Western engagement in South Caucasus, moderated by MEP Anna Fotyga, MEPs, policymakers, and experts talked Georgia crisis too. Former U.S. diplomat Matthew Bryza, a man with a significant – and controversial – legacy in Georgia, said he urged his friends in [boycotting] Georgian opposition to take up the mandates, citing international assessments about “flawed but fundamentally competitive” elections.
  • SOME OF THEM WANT TO USE YOU Claiming the detention of UNM Chair Nika Melia was an “unacceptable escalation” by the government and calling for his release, Mr. Bryza spoke about the need to strike a balance, warning against being “instrumentalized” by the opposition either. “[Governent’s opponents] have a tendency to hope that transatlantic big institutions – the EU and the U.S. – are going to be like a cavalry riding over the hills to rescue them in a moment of crisis,” he said.
  • UPS AND DOWNS Speaking of the Georgia developments, Luke Coffey from the Heritage Foundation said that for him “it is a process of establishing a good governance in a path towards democracy,” adding that “every democracy has ups and downs – look at January 6 events here in the U.S.” As for solutions, Coffey was next person to see the need of Secretary Antony Blinken’s Tbilisi visit. So, dear Secretary, you are kindly invited!
  • TAKE OFF ROSE-COLORED GLASSES Tornike Gordadze, political scientist and former Georgian Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration, did not agree, saying he saw many “downs” in the region, but cannot remember a single case of “up” in terms of democratization over the past few years.

Progress Report

PAIN RELIEF Speaking of examples of “ups”: Partnership for Human Rights (PHR), a Georgian CSO, reported that the court has issued an interim ruling to ensure immediate state funding of dental care with general anesthesia to all disabled persons suffering from behavioral disorders and/or communication difficulties. The PHR, which filed the motion, says that these persons, who often cannot receive treatment without general anesthesia, had either to cover the costs independently – something many could not afford – or wait for up to 30 days to receive a state funding, causing them prolonged pain suffering. The decision is “historic” for the right of disabled persons in Georgia, the CSO concludes.

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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