The Dispatch

The Dispatch – March 15-16: He Came to Stay

Endless Enthusiasm of Brussels Envoy – UNM Chair’s Jail Letters – (Re)Birth of Participatory Political Culture in Western Georgia – Public at Odds over Basilashvili’s Win – CSO to Defend Single Men’s Surrogacy Rights – Anti-vaxxers and Minister’s Pending Vaccine Jab – Parties Eye Gakharia’s Political Potential

Greetings from Georgia – a divided nation in a continued (if half-hearted) search for unity. As the Envoy from Brussels has extended his Tbilisi visit in the hope to reconcile parties’ positions, the public still does not run out of topics to disagree about.

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! 

Tired Nation, Tireless Envoy

  • HE CAME TO STAY Christian Danielsson, European Council President Charles Michel’s envoy to mediate crisis talks in Georgia, seems to have brought plenty of enthusiasm with him: ever since arriving on March 12, Mr. Envoy has extended his visit, repeatedly holding meetings with all parties. Is he charmed by notorious Georgian hospitality or does the mediator believe in achieving something the rest of Georgia has long lost faith in? At least, he keeps bringing parties to the table – although the images of men taking front seats while female leaders sitting in the background were a taxing sight to behold. Plebiscite about holding snap elections and the release of political prisoners seem to be major stumbling topics. Leaders leaving the meetings indeed talk some progress – but we have yet to hear the details.
  • RESTRICTED In the meantime, the male leader who has been sitting somewhere else – namely in jail – seems to be entertaining himself with writing letters, as it has been the prisoners’ custom. UNM Chair Nika Melia’s latest missive, says it is being on Facebook that he misses the most. Sounds legit, and Foucaulting considering Georgian’s heavy Facebook addiction, as well as the significant role this social media plays in the political process. Lawyers at the top might revise their “discipline and punish” approaches by giving more considerations to the proportionality of punishment when depriving the detainees of their social media access.
  • EXCHANGE PROGRAM The country’s top decision-maker (well, at least formally), Irakli Garibashvili, left for Brussels, including for delivering progress reports to European Council President Michel, and judging by his gloomy facial expressions, he is not very happy about it. Does that imply that the rest of the country may be happy with what comes next? We don’t hold our breath.
  • SHAKE IT OFF By “losing the faith” we mean public exhaustion with crises that gradually grew into apathy. Yesterday’s Facebook post by Public Defender Nino Lomjaria, calling on both the ruling Georgian Dream and the opposition parties to reach an agreement, was more than relatable: “This country cannot bear so much agitation, stagnation, and polarization anymore!” she warned. We agree.

200 km apart: (Re)Birth of Western Georgian Political Culture

ALTERNATIVE POLICY SOURCES For many in Georgia, Tbilisi is like Mount Olympus to the ancient Greeks – if something bad happens, it’s mainly because some self-proclaimed Gods got jealous of each other, or another “Zeus” could not keep his predatory instincts in check… Some 200 km away from this Olympos, Western Georgians in the city of Kutaisi chose to turn to Athens for their political inspirations: with another large-scale rally against the controversial Namakhvani HPP project happening yesterday, the protests – with an initial focus on environmental impacts and suspicious investor agreements – eventually laid the groundwork for a new, more participatory political culture where people ask to be consulted first prior to being presented with fait accompli. The activists in the “Rioni Gorge Movement” vow to move to Tbilisi if authorities again fail to respond to their demands. We can only hope that they bring some of that culture with them.

Where More Growth is Needed

  • MATCH POINT After less successful seasons, Georgian tennis star Nikoloz Basilashvili found new glory by beating legendary Roger Federer first and moving to win the Doha Open. Not everybody in his country was happy, however, recalling the domestic violence allegations against him pending in court. Lawyers of his wife and some women’s rights activists say those multiple restraining orders were issued by the court for a reason, claiming there is mounting evidence he actually beat his wife. Many Georgians, however, were not reassured, choosing to celebrate Basilashvili’s victory while holding out for the final verdict.
  • OFFEND TO DEFEND Others, however, who tirelessly cited the presumption of innocence in Basilashvili’s defense, were quick to paint his ex-wife: as a gold-digger, the tennis star looks nothing like a bad guy, they claimed. Isn’t this proof enough? Some went further to say he could beat his ex-wife as long as he beat Federer too. Things escalated further when reports – later debunked as fake news – were spread that Georgian CSOs and the Public Defender requested Basilashvili to be disqualified. All of that would truly make one regret being born a woman in Georgia.
  • MEN DO CARE Yes, the men have it hard too at times. Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association intends to file a lawsuit at Constitutional Court, contesting laws restricting single men from accessing ‘extracorporeal fertilization’ services. Last year, Georgia tightened its surrogacy laws, citing children’s rights concerns, allowing only heterosexual couples to use the service.
  • FIRST THEY CAME FOR OXFORD After a long wait, Georgia finally started the vaccine rollout on March 15 with AstraZeneca shots – and nobody really expected it to go without its anti-vaxxer resistance, with all the fuss happening in Western countries over the Oxford manufacturer: there are reportedly also many Georgian doctors among those abstaining from vaccination. Leading health professionals are trying their best, allowing live broadcasts as they take first shots. Still, the public keeps waiting for Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze to get the jab – and she seems in no hurry to do so.
  • FORESIGHT In an awkward interview with Rustavi 2 TV, ruling party Chair Irakli Kobakhidze, said till 5 pm on February 17, ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia was in accord with GD leaders about arresting UNM Chair Nika Melia, but bolted later. Kobakhidze’s opponents wondered, why would be the ruling party discussing Melia’s arrest at 5 pm when the court ruled on Melia’s detention much later into the night. The proof of tampering with the court? Rubbish, say the Georgian Dream leaders, claiming they were merely weighting options. A commendable foresight, which we all expect to be applied wider when governance is concerned.
  • SEEKING FAMILY APPROVAL? Speaking of Ex-PM, some in opposition may be thinking those 200,000 likes on his farewell selfie were too many to forget: Mtavari Arkhi TV broke the news yesterday that a public opinion survey was fielded to check public attitudes about Giorgi Vashadze’s Strategy Agmashenebeli joining forces with ex-PM. Vashadze defiantly confirmed he had commissioned that survey, saying he was checking options with many other politicians.

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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