Envoy Returns – Ex-PM Gakharia Says He Never Left – History of Lone Comebacks in Georgian Politics – Permanent Spying Culture – Georgia’s Brussels Ambassador Leaves – Farewell beyond Barbed-wires – Deputy Defense Minister’s Tragicomic Mistake
Greeting from the very volatile country of Georgia. Our recent Dispatch issues have mostly been all about endings or returns. As for today, we do have some endings in the offer, but reports of grand returns are what is driving the day – from Brussels Envoy Christian Danielsson to former PM Giorgi Gakharia.
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 and now also follow us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil
Epic and Less Epic Comebacks
LAST CALL? Definitely good news first: when Christian Danielsson, European Council President Charles Michel’s envoy departed four days ago with no tangible success this dashed a sliver of hope for ending the protracted Georgia crisis. But President Michel is not a man who gives up easily – Mr. Danielsson is to return to Georgia. He expressed hope that the parties will cooperate “for the good of the Georgian people.” Hope springs eternal when there is nothing left to lose.
BACK IN GAME There is nothing to lose, and there is a game to win. After his noisy resignation, with surprisingly many tears shed in sympathy, former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia now said he is “not going anywhere” and plans a speedy comeback. Also, he is apparently working on his team now, openly meeting Kakhaber Kemoklidze, former Head of Government Administration, and current ruling party MP Mikheil Daushvili. Gakharia was more specific later in his Tweet: “Currently I am working on defining my political agenda. Georgia needs elimination of political polarization and elaboration of the real agenda for its European future,” he said. Now, with Mr. Danielsson, this makes the second person today to pledge return to depolarize the country. We are a bit worried though that Mr. Gakharia plots his political return first and starts thinking about his political agenda second…
THE PUZZLE Who would expect that Georgians would just take the news without launching a guessing game on “whose political project” the former PM is. The ruling party is taking the news surprisingly well so far – some think it’s because Gakharia still has Bidzina Ivanishvili’s back, who tries to diversify his political portfolio for handling the uncertain times. However, going openly against a man with so much public approval would be a wrong move anyways, unless you have something in your hand – like a secret tape. More about it later. Read the reactions to his comeback announcement here.
EARLIER PRACTICES (Nominally) retired officials coming back to power is quite common in Georgia, particularly under the Georgian Dream rule, with former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili and current PM Irakli Garibashvili being the best examples. However, it seems far less easy when one tries to come back without the backing of the ruling party (or being himself in charge of that party):
- Salome Zurabishvili To look back in the past, now President Salome Zurabishvili was one of the notable examples who tried to pave her own path following the resignation from her post as a Foreign Minister after fallout with the then-ruling United National Movement in 2005. She started a “public movement” straight away, but – without making a big difference – she announced quitting politics in 2010, pledging to come back. She did return as a President, but only with a substantial push from the Georgian Dream.
- Irakli Alasania The Odyssey pales in comparison with stories of former Defense Minister Irakli Alasania and his unlucky returns. His first “comeback” started in 2009 after he quit his position as an Ambassador to the United Nations in 2008. He did remain active for years, throwing his lot with various opposition parties, but true power only came – again – with the Georgian Dream government. Neither did he manage to have much in common with the GD, ending up banished after the controversial Cable Affair in 2014. Alasania quit politics for good after his subsequent solo attempts also failed.
- … and others Comebacks of two other former GD politicians – Ex-President Giorgi Margvelashvili and ex-PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili were also talked about. Margvelashvili did announce his return in active politics a year ago, but unless you find sporadic critical remarks as active engagement, he did not really deliver (he made today some bitter statements about Gakharia’s comeback too, calling it a GD vol. 2 project). As for Kvirikashvili, he also appears every now and then with his comments but does not really look like he’ll be doing something on his own.
LISTENING CULTURE Gakharia so far seems to enjoy bigger love and support than those listed, it is yet to be seen if it will be enough in the political scene governed by jungle laws. Big money is no less important when you want to come (back) to politics, but so are big ears. It is a well-known truth that listening skill is what makes a great politician – and Georgian elites have mastered the skill so good that it’s now called surveillance. New revelations show servants in various security government agencies were busy spying on each other, with one of the targets being Gakharia-close Deputy Interior Minister Kakhaber Sabanadze. When asked if he could have been one of the targets too, ex-PM said “I would rule that out.” So the question that logically follows is: why would he be so sure?
SERVICE AND ITS LIMITS Back in 2008, Alasania’s resignation as Ambassador to the UN showed that such decisions do not stay outside the borders. This raises questions about what the recent resignation of Natalie Sabanadze, Georgia’s Ambassador to Brussels, should mean for her future career. The Foreign Ministry said it was not unexpected – the Ambassador had agreed earlier to quit following the Association Council meeting on March 16. In her farewell letter, she did not name any particular reasons but only mentioning “moral dilemmas” shows all struggles Envoys have to face every now and then. The first tweet after the resignation, saying “Georgia cannot afford this prolonged crisis” about the potential resumption of Georgia talks, shows what was bothering her. We thank the Ambassador for her eight years of service.
BEEN THERE, (ALMOST) DONE THAT It is no surprise that the opposition raised alarm, implying her resignation was indicative of Georgia diverting from the declared European path. UNM’s Salome Samadashvili, Ambassador Sabanadze’s predecessor in the position, said she had considered quitting too, namely over the violent developments of November 7, 2007, but remained as then-President Mikheil Saakashvili took the responsibility and called snap elections, hinting at current crisis and government’s failure to handle it.
FLOWERS WITH NO POWER Today, Georgians gathered at the dividing line separating from the occupied Tskhinvali region in Khurvaleti village to bid farewell to “Data Papa” – 88-year-old Data Vanishvili who became a “Symbol of Russian Occupation.” Locked outside Georgia proper through the “borderization” since 2013, Data Papa eagerly communicated the matters with visitors from beyond the barbed-wire fences, including with foreign leaders. Now that he passed away, relatives were not allowed to cross to the other side to pay final respects. Instead, people – including Georgian politicians – had to watch his funeral ceremony from afar (high-ranking government officials were reportedly missing though). All they could is decorate the barbed-wires with red cloves: a flower that came to also symbolize the occupation and its victims now has become the embodiment of powerlessness too.
In Today’s Tragicomedy:
MUCH ADO ABOUT…SOMETHING? It’s Facebook – again. Somebody on the team of Deputy Defense Minister Davit Sujashvili did some googling that went very wrong: to mark National Border Guard’s Day, a picture of a border officer was posted on his Facebook page – which, critical eyes soon noticed, happened to be that of a Russian officer. Bad luck! The Deputy Minister did apologize for the mistake, claiming he did not compose the post himself. Still, the fire of criticism did not limit itself to “haha” reacts, with some calling for his resignation and others seeing it as – yet another – proof of the Georgian government’s allegiance to Russia.