The Dispatch

The Dispatch – April 19/20: Headcount

Crisis Ends, but Splits Continue – Top Member Joins Deal, Hints Farewell from UNM – Awkward Tweet by Presidential Palace – National Interests vs Academic Freedom

It was on a relatively calm Sunday, April 18, when the unexpected news about the renewed push for a compromise deal, proposed by European Council President Charles Michel to end the government crisis, broke in Georgia. A day later, the public woke to what looked like a complete mess – by the evening, the Brownian motion settled into a signed compromise, which, optimists say, ends the months-long political crisis. The pessimists snigger. The Dispatch and Nini, your operator, are here to make sense out of the rapidly updating developments on the ground. Subscribe and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil  

CAUTIOUS CELEBRATION “Sakartvelos Gaumarjos” [Long live Georgia]! – President Michel’s Twitter account erupted in joy, complete with a photo where he proudly watches his Georgia efforts finally yielding results. It was a hard day – after many splits and reservations expressed throughout the day, the ruling Georgian Dream party, part of the opposition parties, and some individual MPs from parties that abstained from signing went to Orbeliani Presidential Palace (President’s abode) to sign the compromise deal. The ceremony was preceded by a reluctant pledge from President Salome Zurabishvili to pardon Giorgi Rurua, a not-so-popular shareholder of the opposition-leaning Mtavari Arkhi TV, whose release the opposition wanted.

MATH FOR DUMMIES Prior to celebrating, the entire country was busy doing the math to see whether the signatories amounted to a constitutional majority of 113 out of 150 MPs. This, apparently, now is the case: those Georgians who still care can confidently pop their champagne bottles – and President Michel is expected to personally join the celebrations in Tbilisi tomorrow.

ONE AGAINST MANY The United National Movement (UNM), the opposition party that got most of the opposition votes during the polls, is still reluctant. We can cautiously assume that it will join the Parliament only after their detained leader, Nika Melia, leaves prison – after all, it was his arrest that deepened this crisis. Salome Samadashvili, the only UNM bigwig who decided to sign, showed much courage – this did not go down well among her party’s angry fringe, but made her more popular among more sober quarters – especially outside the UNM.

…AND LOGICAL OUTCOME? At the time of writing, the Facebook post followed: Samadashvili called “funny and infantile” the UNM’s stance of letting others sign and frame them as traitors,  “There is no place for me in this misunderstanding anymore. Good luck,” she wrote, in what sounded like a slamming the door. But this is Georgia, one can never be sure.

DISSENTING OPINION The European Georgia party underwent so many splits and departures throughout the days of the crisis that almost all of its five MP mandate-holders now live their quite autonomous lives. The decision of the former prominent member, Helen Khoshtaria, came as a surprise: she said she won’t join the parliament, since the MP mandate belongs to the party rather than to individual members and she feels she can’t join after having left the party.

SURPRISE BURDEN Talking of splits, President Zurabishvili seemed furious and slammed the ruling party today for using her powers of pardon “over and over” without prior consultation for making political bargains. While logical, her position lacks consistency – after all, when she got into electoral trouble, the ruling party removed (ostensibly non-partisan candidate) Zurabishvili from her own campaign banners during the second round of the Presidential campaign, and substituted her image with their party leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili. But these kinds of political incidents are easily forgotten. Some are not, though, especially when history is concerned.

BIBLICAL ILLUSTRATIONS When the Armenian President Armen Sargsyan came to hobnob with his Georgian counterpart, it seemed like an amicable affair, but it ended in a Biblical scandal. We all remember the bearded patriarch Noah, whose arch found its rest on Mount Ararat. Now, perhaps the religious solidarity was not what President Sargsyan was going for when he drew that mountain when signing the guestbook of Georgia’s Presidential Palace. Apparently, Georgian hosts were oblivious enough to re-Tweet the image. Many critical eyes were watching, however, particularly from the neighboring Turkey, where that mountain is now located. And no, they were not happy.

ACADEMIC WHAT? One man’s propagandist is another man’s academic freedom fighter. Irish media broke the story about Dublin City University professors being “astonished” with critical letters Ukrainian and Georgian diplomats wrote to the University president criticizing the contents of a course concerning the former Soviet countries. Diplomats were reportedly unhappy about “disinformation and propaganda” about the Russian deeds they believed the course contained. Academics, upset by their audacity, made quite a big deal out of this – saying going to the Uni. President – rather than the press, or by addressing them directly – it was an interference with academic freedom, adding that the course tried to present students with different points of view since students are well-trained to tell right from wrong. It does sound like a piece of news to societies that are used to yelling absolute truths into each other’s ears. Read more about the controversy here.

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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