The Dispatch

The Dispatch – April 12/13: Tents of Discontents

Gov’t Plows over Seeds of Democracy – Tents that Symbolize Today’s Politics – Opposition Party Implodes – EU FMs Arrival Rumored – Georgian Dream Chair Hits the Road – Batumi Civil Servant’s Controversial Dismissal

In medieval Georgia, during the “Golden Age” rule of King Tamar, nobles on strike proposed forming “Karavi” – Georgian word denoting a tent – as a first-ever local project of a legislative assembly, supposed to strip Kings of many of their powers. The project was stillborn – but, some believe this failed revindication by the noblemen helped soften the autocracy.

In today’s Georgia, pitching the tents came to signify a lasting civic protest. During the past few days, the tents were back into the spotlight. The Dispatch and Nini, your operator, are here to update you about the happenings inside, outside, and about those makeshift habitations. Subscribe and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil  

  • Tentocracy

From Karavi to Carthage Activists opposing the controversial Namakhvani HPP project spent over five months taking turns in tents near the construction site, and reportedly managed to brew a local protest sub-culture there, replete with sanitized location, neatly marked alleyways, and fireside chats about how to make their country’s life better. Now the police went and forcibly dismantled the camp. But the story did not end there: the locals were back the next morning to find the site plowed over (and probably sowed with salt?!) No, we do not feel sorry for our medieval intro – Georgian authorities, are clearly stuck with their antiquated political toolbox.

PARADISE LOST As for what happened inside those tents while they were still standing: outside observers recall strict discipline, well-defined rules, and strong determination not to provoke any unrest. “A true political space, a place of assembly, discussion, solidarity, where people used to arrive from different parts of the country to participate in this historic process and express their positions and support,” writes Kote Eristavi, Professor at Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA).

ROT AT THE TOP In our previous Dispatch we told a story of how Gia Gachechiladze, a musician with the stage name “Utsnobi” vandalized the Berlin Wall fragment in Tbilisi as he led thousands of people to unite against … well, something that has to do with the specter of UNM. This is also when he uttered threats against tent-dwellers in front of the Parliament building, who demand the release of jailed opposition leader Nika Melia. Gachechiladze said one must “dismantle those stinky and dirty tents.” This was Gachechiladze, who once himself pitched… no, not the mere tents, but cages (you got it, symbolizing oppression) for months on the very same spot on Rustaveli avenue.  The deplorable hygiene of the opponents also seemed to trouble Bishop Jakob, the self-made-Torquemada of the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate.

WEAR MASKS This we can neither confirm, nor deny: if there is a bad smell in the area, it may be also coming from a building nearby – long-shelved reforms may have started to ferment in the parliament halls. No need to worry: FFP2 masks, excellent to ward off Covid-19 also protect from the unseemly smell of rotting bills and policy documents.

NOT ON OUR WATCH Another tent story is about protesters who demanded to end the lockdown-related curfew, which has been in force since late November last year. They tried to pitch their tents in front of the Government Administration Building in Tbilisi. The Police did not allow it, citing laws that prohibit tent-pitching near the administrative building. And we only have to tap the good policemen on their hard-working backs: saved some taxpayer money there – it would have been so much more difficult to plow over the concrete slabs.

  • …and Othercracies

LONELY AT THE TOP There are those “2-second-tents tents” that can be installed instantly – now Georgia has a party that can implode just as quickly – so many leading figures have retired from the opposition European Georgia, that one would not have been surprised if someone came plowing over their office. But, lo and behold, Giga Bokeria stayed behind to hold the fort. Those who left said the dismal performance in the past elections compelled them to “yield the place to the youth”. Bokeria said, when the going gets tough, he should lead the pack. And that was that.

TOURIST SEASON Moving to hotel rooms: Georgian opposition has been humming with excitement lately at the rumors of a trip by unnamed European Foreign Ministers. Some say six of those riders are to ride to the rescue of the Georgian democracy – much like the damsel in distress that she is. There were reports early in March that EU foreign ministers – much likely those from the Easternmost parts who are somewhat bizarrely sympathetic to our dysfunctional country – are working to establish a mediator group. In the meantime, Christian Danielsson’s “third mediation trip to Tbilisi might happen in the near future,” RFE/RL’s Rikard Jozwiak tweeted. Not sure they can save Georgia this time, but foreign guests are always welcome here – especially since the pandemic left Georgia’s tourism gasping for some air. 

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE In the meantime, ruling party Chair Irakli Kobakhidze, the Mr. Blast-the-political-infidels-with-holy-cynicism himself, heads to the U.S. and will be meeting “congressmen, senators, high-ranking officials of State Department and White House, as well as representatives of American think tanks.” True, the Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom have probably seen worse, and the Hill definitely has. Yet, beware: opposition’s own designated Judas, Aleko Elisashvili, once compared Kobakhidze to two-faced Janus. What if he only took the nice face to D.C. and left the… less-nice one home?!  Probably nobody will notice.

BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS Irakli Jincharadze, now former Director of Batumi Boulevard, a stretch of sand and park managed by the Finance and Economy Ministry of Adjara Autonomous Republic, told RFE/RL Georgia that he was fired for opposing a long-term lease which would transform the central parts Boulevard into the private beach. Official grounds behind his dismissal are reportedly the findings by the State Audit, concerning some dubious transactions some three years ago. Jincharadze wonders, why no one had bothered about the Audit’s three-year-old report earlier. That is a reasonable question, indeed.

Find out more about Batumi cultural heritage concerns (among others) in our newest piece: From Khulo to Namakhvani to Gardabani, Georgia’s Activists in Spotlight

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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