April 9 and Talks of Unity – Tilting at Windmills in Tbilisi – Paint the Wall Black – 1,000 More Workers Head Overseas – Landmark Ruling Delivers Bread & Justice
As Georgia marks April 9 – one of the most important dates in the country’s recent history, all contradictions in Georgian politics of memory and national unity bubble up to the surface…to break on the wall of cynicism. The Dispatch and Nini, your operator, are here to update you about developments on the ground. Subscribe and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil
QUOTE-MASTERS April 9 brings into one-two key dates in Georgia’s history: the tragic massacre of 1989 when the Soviet crackdown on peaceful protesters in Tbilisi left 21 civilians dead; and the proclamation of the restoration of independence from the USSR in 1991. This is the day when the Georgian leaders, particularly the Presidents of the day, like to speak about unity. The less executive Georgia’s presidents become, the more philosophical get: Giorgi Margvelashvili, penultimate President, remarked aptly – and philosophically – that the country might have gained independence, but its freedom is still to be won.
FACE-SAVING FACEMASKS Today it was President Salome Zurabishvili’s turn. Her statement was unexpectedly remarkable – particularly due to the rare, but quite apparent criticism of the ruling party and her tilting away from the official line on the pressing problems of the day, such as Namakhvani protests and her quip that the ruling party didn’t bother to consult the president, let alone the opposition, when setting an objective to apply for the EU membership in 2024. (You can check out the President’s remarks here.) Why this sudden independent-mindedness? Could it be that Zurabishvili, a long-time French diplomat, after all, is the last remaining government official that understands the gravity of messages coming from Brussels? Perhaps. No less importantly, we just must note her tasteful face-mask: a combination of both the current national flag and that of the First Republic. Eye-catching, with a touch of Janus.
… and Disunity
OTHERS Sadly, however, 1989 was not the last time Rustaveli Avenue saw bloodshed – it has been implicated in much political and even armed violence since. These memories, as expected, spark far less unity. Do we need better politics of memory, with a touch of German quality?
PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER >>> but sometimes without knowing where to channel it. Unusually warm weather on April 8 in Tbilisi was swiftly replaced by strong cold winds on the next day, giving a perfect venue to thousands of Don Quixotes to fight the windmills of their making. Leading them through the streets of the Georgian capital was Gia Gachechiladze – a politically prolific musician with a penchant for showmanship, incidentally a brother of a prominent anti-UNM politician and winemaker Levan Gachechiladze, both scions of Tbilisite elite of the vintage Vake-Vera sort.
..AND PEOPLE ARE STRANGE Gachechiladze – with the stage name “Utsnobi” (translated: STRANGER) has called up scores of people to mark – no less – the “Day of Eternity” (yes, we don’t get it either) that this STRANGER has invented. Like April 9 was lacking in historical symbolism. Anyway, the organizers say they are about to take civil control functions in a country where media serves the interests of vengeful political forces, and the ruling party fails to do anything about it. They also want, allegedly, “to clean up Tbilisi.” Confused? Bewildered?! So are we! Evil tongues say, however, that the rally – filled with kowtowing to the Orthodox Patriarchy – may have been greenlighted (or even facilitated) by the ruling party, since Gachechiladze has consistently been an ardent and virulent anti-UNM force. Albeit mothballed and now brought to the light of the political day, looking somewhat moth-eaten.
PAINT IT BLACK As if the bizarreness of it all was not sufficient, there was this incident with Berlin Wall. Yes, yes, THE Berlin Wall. Its fragment arrived as a symbol of German-Georgian friendship to Tbilisi back in 2017 and was erected on Tbilisi’s Europe Square. Utsnobi used the piece of erect concrete as his backdrop, then suddenly claimed it had to become a monument reading “God is Love.” He promptly went to tag these words on the wall himself (he succeeded on his second try) in handwriting that would have made shudder both his Georgian teacher and the taggers of the world in a rarely witnessed unison.
The SECOND COMMANDMENT Shaken out of their complacency by the Twitterati, Tbilisi authorities said they’d fine the vandal for defacing the monument. In its current shape and with its message, however, the wall does remind of a biblical “Tablets of Stone” – so perhaps the municipal authorities may just amend it by “Thou shall not take the LORD’s name in vain”?
We give up – the Georgian treatment of politics and of memory is truly something to behold…
… and People who Work the Country
RUN, FOREST, RUN! New paths are opening for those who are left with nothing but to flee the country. After Germany, now Israel offers Georgians a 1,000-person annual quota for legal employment – mainly in care facilities. Anti-vaxxers are not welcome, as the vaccine shots against COVID-19 are a mandatory prerequisite for applying. The authorities have been bent on pushing dissent outside the borders – and are succeeding.
BREAD FOR JUSTICE The Georgian saying “Justice ate its bread at last” – means someone got the fair treatment they deserved. The recent landmark court ruling did consider that bread has become far more expensive over the past decades: Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association represented a man who suffered a workplace trauma back in (ah, the irony) 1989 – and has been receiving monthly compensation ever since, in the amount of GEL 60 (USD 20). His lawyers argued that life has become more costly since, and have asked for due compensation as per current labor rules. The court was generous, ordering a tenfold rise of monthly compensation, with a one-time supplement of GEL 17,280 (USD 5,050) to cover the arrears.
That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!