The Dispatch

The Dispatch – April 21/22: Prisoner’s Dilemma

Tale of 3 UNM Chairs – Ethics of Amnesty – Heads Fall over Interior Ministry Hazing – Continued Drama in Chkondidi Diocese – Rioni Valley Activists Give Gov’t Time till Friday

President Charles Michel might have popped champagne and gone home, but there is no rest for the wicked.  The opposition has atomized so much, that the parliament may serve like a Hadron collider with parti(cl)es flickering in and out of existence. But the first real “post (non)deal” drama is linked to the proposed amnesty. Greetings from Tbilisi, the Dispatch and Nini, you operator, are back with usual updates about Georgia’s (rare) highs and (deeper)lows. Subscribe and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil  

THREE CHAIRS The once-monolithic United National Movement (UNM) finds itself with thee ephemeric chairmen. The real chair, Nika Melia, is in prison. UNM’s brand master, former President Mikheil Saakashvili, is in exile. And the previous chair, Grigol Vashadze simply left. But all three showed up in the context of the presque-historic signing of the compromise document,  proposed by the European Council President Charles Michel. Mr. Melia’s part was obvious – it was his arrest that triggered the recent crisis, and his release was one of the opposition demands. Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, former Chair of the United National Movement (UNM), surprisingly said his party should sign the proposal – albeit only after the release of its jailed UNM Chair Nika Melia (which is going ahead, because others signed). In the meantime, Grigol Vashadze, another ex-UNM Chair and Saakashvili’s successor – who quit and disappeared from the public eye months ago – suddenly reemerged and quietly put his signature to the proposal.

ALMOST DONE Haunted by leaders past, UNM has a problem with at least some of the leaders present. UNM’s radical fringe unleashed social media storm at Salome Samadashvili, who endured slings and arrows of outrageous fortune… for having the audacity to join the reception at President Salome Zurabishvili’s palace, hosted by President Michel.  For that – quite mighty – radical UNM fringe Ms. Zurabishvili is, of course, the usurper and the factotum of the devil, whose name is Bidzina Ivanishvili. Plus, Ms. Samadashvili had the misfortune to agree to Michel’s compromise before Saakashvili gave his accord. Hence the pillory. Georgia’s former ambassador to Brussels, Samadashvili said she’d quit the party but then decided to wait for Melia’s release and square things out with him personally. .

UNFORGIVEN The EU bureaucrats got some symbolic civic peace, but only for a fleeting moment. The opposition and many in civil society clashed with the ruling party over the meaning of the suggested “amnesty” in the agreement. The oppositions’ intent was for this to apply to Melia, charged with inciting and heading mass violence on the night of June 20-21, 2019. But the ruling party seems to include the policemen who are being investigated for excessive use of force against the protesters during the same dark night, which left several people wounded with “non-lethal” bullets. Some lost their eyes. Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, a local CSO representing those affected in violent June dispersals, called against the pardoning those responsible for grave abuses, including “inhuman and degrading treatment”. The watchdog says such a move would also amount to a violation of international law and is ready to sue in international courts.

PRISONER’S DILEMMA Melia himself reportedly refuses the amnesty but does not want anyone, including the EU, to pay his bail either – cutting an alternative path to his freedom. Part of government opponents suggests the amnesty only applies to Melia – something the ruling Georgian Dream party is unlikely to accept: it would have found the ways earlier if there were a willingness to do so, for example, by ending the criminal prosecution, as proposed by the Public Defender as a way to avoid all the awkwardness. So, tune in for another long episode of the “ethical dilemma” series, which the GD promises to start with the initiation of the amnesty bill in weeks to come.

OFFICIAL POWER SICKNESS Speaking of inhuman treatment: State Inspector Service stated today that it detained two staffers of the Facilities Protection Department of the Interior Ministry over “exceeding their official powers.” The two of them allegedly subjected military conscripts to hazing in 2020, making them scrub toilets with toothbrushes for hours on their knees, while wearing some 10 kilos of body armor. The Interior Ministry is among those few agencies that still receive conscripts – a practice that has been criticized for years for reported abuse and low efficiency. Yet another proof that even small authority can corrupt, and that putting conscripts in effective slavery is simply wrong.

DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING The drama continues in Georgian Orthodox Church’s Chkondidi Diocese, Samegrelo region, formerly ruled by Petre Tsaava. Tsaava was banished over insulting Patriarch Ilia II, whom he even publicly “accused” of homosexuality. Following Petre’s dismissal, part of the clerics in the Diocese refuses to welcome new ruler – Bishop Stephane, who found a passive-aggressive response hallowed by history: whenever he is confronted, he breaks into chanting hymns. The video footage of Rustavi 2 shows him again “chanting down” the opponents that tried preventing him from holding service. Read about earlier developments here.

CLOCK TICKING Past days were relatively calm in the Rioni Valley of Western Georgia, where the activists protesting against the controversial Namakhvani HPP were waiting for the authorities to make good on their promises of discussion and compromise, following the promising meeting with government representatives a week ago. Locals’ demands as preconditions for continued dialogue include halting preparatory works on the construction site and allowing activists to re-open their protest camp-site in Namakhvani village, which was dismantled by the police on April 11. Leading activist Varlam Goletiani said today that authorities presented excuses for the delay, saying Prime Minister was down with COVID-19 and then busy with President Michel’s visit. Activists said they will wait till Friday. At least someone in this country has retained patience.

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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