Survey amid Turbulence – UNM Chair’s Trial Scheduled – Judge Me if You Can – Pozner to be Back – Tskhinvali Bargains: Life for Icons – Changes Promised in Social Care
Greetings from restless Georgia. Fresh from the crazy weekend, we were offered a new IRI poll that left more questions than provided answers. The Dispatch and Nini, your operator, are here to update you about developments on the ground. Subscribe and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil
The latest opinion poll by the International Republican Institute reaffirmed some observations, such as ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia having the best favorable/unfavorable ratio. As expected, Georgians are failing to grasp the logic of the opposition parliamentary boycott, which we have termed the “suicide pact.” The interesting takeaway is that Georgians increasingly think the country is going in the wrong direction and are almost evenly split between those in favor or against snap elections. But the 45% in favor (even if balanced out by equal share against) is a serious reason to consider pumping some credit of confidence back into the political system – and yes, in a democracy that happens through elections.
But the saddest truth the study delivered was what a risky undertaking it is to do polling in a country as unpredictable as Georgia. To illustrate: here are a few of the events that happened during and after that very poll was fielded – February 2-26:
- February 18: Giorgi Gakharia quits as Prime Minister, Garibashvili picked as successor;
- February 23: Police storms United National Movement office, detains UNM Chair Nika Melia – deepening the crisis;
- February 28 – March 1: European Council President Charles Michel visits Tbilisi, launches EU mediation of the political crisis;
- March 6: Scandalous covert recordings involving PM Garibashvili and Bera Ivanishvili drop;
- March 12 – March 31: EU mediation fails – TWICE!
- March 15: Georgia starts vaccination rollout, followed by vaccination crisis;
- March 22: ex-PM Gakharia announces that he’d stay in politics;
- March 31 – April 1: Russian journalist’s birthday-party visit fuels unrest in Tbilisi…
How did these events affect the public mood?! We would never know because the next poll will probably come in 3 to 6 months. Yes, Georgia needs more reliable polling, not less.
WILD WEST No rest for the wicked, and no rest for the weekend as the Western part of the country was again overtaken by protests and turbulence: tensions were mounting near Namkhvani Hydropower Plant site in Imereti when the promised “Georgian director” of the HPP arrived to announce the resumption of the preparatory groundworks – much to the chagrin of the opponents. Police were present in force, impeding the activists from joining the rally, and – some argue – either jamming mobile internet or asking the cellphone company to do so. In the meantime, an anti-curfew rally in the coastal city of Batumi ended in a skirmish with police, which arrested several people. Concerned about possible excess of official powers by police, the State Inspector opened a probe.
TRY AGAIN No, no rest for the wicked (and the journalists…that is almost the same thing in Georgia, anyway): a court hearing of Nika Melia, from the United National Movement, has been scheduled for April 8. His controversial arrest led to the resignation of oh-so-popular Gakharia, while PM Garibashvili’s refusal to consider releasing him apparently dogged the European mediation efforts. Is the government going to blink, or add fuel to the fire?! Whichever way it goes, it is bound to be nerve-wreaking: the event falls on the eve of April 9 – the date both tragic, for the death of scores of protesters in 1989 at the hands of the Soviet army, and celebratory, as Georgia’s restoration of independence was declared in 1991. Not many hope for the ruling that may bring temporary respite and peace – similar hopes have been already dashed in February.
ONE-WAY TICKET Speaking of judicial independence: Nazi Janezashvili, a member of the High Council of Justice – a body overseeing Georgian Judiciary – who dissents often and with some gusto, delivered some tragi-comical news. Apparently one of the Georgian judges who was recently granted lifetime tenure decided to stay in the U.S. after the vacations. She reportedly filed her resignation from overseas. „A very right decision done in a fully appropriate manner in this system,” Janezashvili quipped.
TREAT THREATS Vladimir Pozner, Russian media guru, was apparently not deterred by the outrage he sowed during his impromptu Tbilisi feast. He wrote on his personal website, blaming all the noise on partisan squabbles. I’m definitely coming back, he said, to live up to his status as an “honorary Kakhetian” – something he probably earned consuming the Georgian viticultural region’s trademark produce. But why does his “I’ll be back” sound eerily like a threat?
NATIONAL TREASURE Elite Moscowites’ self-entitlement to “drop-in” for a glass – or a bottle – of wine gets all the more upsetting when Zaza Gakheladze, a Georgian citizen unlawfully detained and jailed by Kremlin-backed Tskhinvali authorities, may not be able to return to his family for another 12 years – or more. Now his wife says that Tskhinvali may be ready to trade his freedom for Tbilisi demolishing the Chorchana-Tsnelisi police observation post near the occupation line, and for a valuable 10th-century icon that reportedly disappeared from Tskhinvali during a conflict in the early 90s. The icon is at the Georgian National Museum after 2004 when it was purchased at Christie’s Auction. Gakheladze himself reportedly stays firm and wants no favors. We sincerely wish good luck to those working hard to bring him home.
#PROGRESSREPORT Social Services Agency, a primary provider of state social care under the Health Ministry, announced “structural and organizational changes” today. The plan is to ensure timely response to the needs of beneficiaries and improve work conditions for the staff, the agency says, adding that experts from UNICEF are aiding in making changes to social policy. Challenges in social care came into focus multiple times over the past few months, particularly amid grave reports of sexual violence targeting minors. The social workers continuously complained about being understaffed and overloaded, and even went to strike to make their voice heard. So the plan does sound like a step in the right direction – provided the “organizational changes” stand for a meaningful substantive change, rather than another bout of mass dismissals – something that has reportedly happened last year.
That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!