The Dispatch

The Dispatch – March 24/25: The Lives of Others

Sad Reminders of Surveillance Controversies – New Culture Minister’s First Battles – Story of One FB Page – How (Not) to Hear a Senate Hearing – Ex-EU Envoy’s Sobering Remark

Greetings from Tbilisi! Anticipating the upcoming return of the Envoy from Brussels, the world keeps debating Georgia’s Western future, and reports about the uncured disease of surveillance culture do not boost optimism. The Dispatch and Nini, your operator, are here to update you about developments on the ground. Subscribe and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil

  • Wake-up Call

EVERY STEP YOU TAKE The Prosecutor’s Office launched a probe into recent revelations that officers of various security agencies reportedly spied on each other. The allegations even led to the resignation of Deputy Interior Minister Kakhaber Sabanadze. While the rest of the country and its foreign partners debate democratic processes and ideas, new reports about unchecked and ubiquitous surveillance deliver a different truth: the shadowy men conduct covert surveillance outside the legal remit, at taxpayers expense (or not), then put those valuable tapes into politicians’ pockets – the tapes that decide who sits at the table and who quits. Those who remember the 1990s Soviet Union/Russia would recall those kompromat games played between oligarchs and the siloviki (“power-wielding agency people” – meaning cops and spooks, mainly). There is at least one man in Georgia that remembers those days very well. Perhaps, with some nostalgia?

EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE Women, apparently, are often targeted by these surveillance efforts. The reports suggest that cameras were planted at the home of activist lawyer and politician Anna Dolidze either immediately before or during 2015-2016 when she was serving as Deputy Defense Minister. This was a sad reminder that merely having a personal life may be used against ambitious women in a country with solid conservative sexist culture. Many women’s groups and human rights activists spoke in Dolidze’s support. The revelation casts a sinister light on the apparent underrepresentation of women in top political and security positions. We see how Ms. Dolidze was treated when she was considered to wield power. Neither this is just a hypothetical – female Foreign Minister had to resign over humiliating exposure of her personal life before.

THEY’LL BE WATCHING YOU But just as the private life is no longer sacred, neither the cultural gratification is likely to remain a matter of personal choice. The newly appointed Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani seems to have brought not only her deputies from her old job as the Justice Minister but also some quirky language: she says she’d want to draft the “Culture Code”. And whatever that means, the netizens quickly seized on the fact that Belarus’ strongman already got one.  Tsulukiani also did not mince words about the artists that happen to criticize the government as she pledged to “look into where their opinions come from.” Anita Rachvelishvili, internationally renowned Mezzo-Soprano known for her fierce anti-government stance, vowed not to step on the Georgian stage “as long as Tsulukiani is in charge of culture.”  The story won’t be ending there for sure. There were also reports today that some media representatives were not allowed to her press briefing. The ministry said they were late – a mere matter of culture.

  • Wide Spectrum of Hearts & Minds

HEARTS CAN CHANGE… Those who believe ex-PM Gakharia will continue to do his former patron, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s bidding while following his new political path saw the overnight name-change of “Bidzina Ivanishvili & Media” Facebook page (with 90k likes) to “Gakharia & Media” as the sign from the clouds they’d been waiting for. Someone close to Ivanishvili was long suspected to be behind the page. Georgian watchdog ISFED did some web forensics and found the page was created in 2011 by Gabriel Tsulaia, who held various communication positions in the Georgian Dream government, including as the Head of Strategic Communications at PM Gakharia’s Administration – which he quit soon after Gakharia’s resignation. Tsulaia responded by saying it was his younger brother who managed the page, while the elder held the public office. Now, as a private person again, he took back control to express his “own views.”

PARALLEL REALITIES Georgia may be a small country, but it is home to many parallel political universes. U.S. Senate subcommittee held a hearing on Georgia’s political crisis on March 23, and as it happens democratic societies – diverging views were expressed. But Georgians woke up to two parallel realities – created by polarized elites and media – about what was said last night. We offer a short overview of the most notable remarks from the hearing and predictable, but still funny domestic reactions.

PRO OR CONTRA Le Monde quoted Natalie Sabanadze, the freshly-retired Georgia’s EU envoy, as saying that “she had disagreements with the Gov’t of Georgia” in the past weeks. “All of our leaders say they are pro-European, but it is not sufficient to say it, it is important to be it,” she added, refusing to elaborate. And now it is up to the polarized society to discuss what not being pro-European enough means: being pro-somebody else or simply not having enough integrity to commit to declared values. Neither is reassuring…

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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