The Dispatch

The Dispatch, April 26/27: Vanity Fair

The more you watch Georgian politics the more you realize that it is about the comings and goings, about the circle – or is it a downwards spiral? – of eternal repetition. Many a time violence and death announce the intrusion of reality into the spectacle so eerie, so absurd and effortless, as to leave Mr. David Lynch speechless… No wonder the maestro of Twin Peaks was once planning to open his studio in Tbilisi… One wonders whether that idea has also disappeared into the void…

This issue of The Dispatch is about disappearances, and about vanity. For what is vanity, but the refusal to accept one’s inevitable departure? Greetings, while Nini is on a break, this is Jaba, your temporary operator, with our usual updates. Subscribe to receive us in your mailbox and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil  

WHERE HAVE ALL THE SPEAKERS GONE… And one Saturday morning he was gone. Archil Talakvadze, Speaker of the Parliament, one in the triad of Constitutional positions has just stepped aside, to yield to his deputy, one Kakha Kuchava, 41, who has barely registered on Georgia’s political horizon (much like Talakvadze before him, one may add). Tbilisi being what it is, the rumors abound – was he too soft during the EU-mediated talks to anger the Georgian Dream’s omniscient patron Bidzina Ivanishvili?! Was he, on the contrary, too brash for the European negotiators’ taste? Did he get into conflict with Irakli Kobakhidze, yet another former speaker, who is just back from Brussels and tries to re-consolidate his grip on the ruling party? Or was he tapped at the higher, glass-and-metal offices to run for Tbilisi mayors’ office instead of Kakha Kaladze, who proved too independent-minded?! The chattering masses were set abuzz. One thing is quite simple and clear though: from the day when it ran in the last general elections, the Georgian Dream has shed its leader, its Prime Minister, and its Parliament Speaker. Is it still the same party that people voted for? The point is moot. But before we bemoan the state of the Georgian democracy, let us recall the gilded tradition of the Serenissima: the Venetians, whose republic (an oligarchy, we may politely add) has been so shockingly resilient through centuries, elected its leaders in a game of chance.

HOSANNA WITH A KICK There is a Georgian saying “Like Layman, Like Priest”, a linguistic witness, no doubt of the close communion the men of the robe enjoyed with their parish of old. Yet it also means that the clergy is not immune from the vices of the day: including occasional lack of tolerance to the brethren and the certain reluctance to turn the other cheek. Case in point – Chkondidi Diocese, where Bishop Stepane is unloved – especially by those priests who were loyal to his predecessor and are now dismissed. An unsightly scuffle accompanied the Palm Sunday, and some voices were heard of the Evil amongst us. Banish the thought.

KING IN THE NORTH Many have compared – most jokingly, some, worryingly, with some hope – Varlam Goletiani, youthful and bearded chieftain of anti-HPP rally in Namakhvani to John Snow, the character from now cult Game of the Thrones series. Yet, eyebrows were raised when he headed to the strife-stricken parish to mediate. The thing is that Mr. Goletiani’s father is – apparently – a clergyman himself, and he enjoys close acquaintance with Bishop Stepane. Throwing his weight behind the father’s liege is what John Snow would have certainly done, but that was in the movie series (and even then, that did not always end up so swell…). Mr. Goletiani ended up between the two fires in the Tbilisi bubble: ridiculed by those who could not stand him getting public acclaim to begin with, and castigated by those who initially saw him the chosen one – the progressive man of the people – and were now grieving him throwing the lot with the clergy. Let’s see how this controversy affects the turnout at the planned Tbilisi rally – a test of national standing for the Rioni Valley defenders’ movement. Vanity – that definitely is the Devil’s favorite sin – and he served it with lavish abandon in this particular case, all around…

BAIL ME OR LEAVE ME Yes, Mr. Nika Melia is still languishing in prison while the coalitions form and break, the mighty fall, and the sheep dine with lions in Georgia’s politics over his fate. The terms of his release were much disputed. After much, principled refusal, he is now willing to leave the prison if the EU posts bail – something that both he and his lawyers previously claimed was unethical, and not very legally sound either. Why the sudden change of heart? Mr. Melia says he can’t accept the alternative way – amnesty that would touch all those accused of June 20-21, 2019 violence – including the policemen who fired “non-lethal” projectiles and injured the protesters. There are clear signals, that the mediators, most of the involved politicians, and much of the public want to see the curtain fall on this sorry scene. And the faster, the better.

INCENTIVE STRUCTURES In the meantime, the ruling party is working past yesterday’s struggles: PM Garibashvili announced GEL 500 million (USD 145 million) program to facelift the countryside. Music to the ears of the local governors and mayors, who have no funds of their own and depend on transfers from the central government. While the Prime Minister was talking jobs and tourism, we must be reminded that the terms of the EU-mediated settlement just tied the future of the new elections with the ruling party scoring better than 43% in the upcoming local elections. Hence the limited largess. After all, politics is about power, and power is about vanity.

Thus we come full circle. That’s the full lid for today, enjoy – nay, celebrate – the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us next time! In the meantime, do take a pensive and socially distanced springtime walk in the countryside. Apparently unity with nature helps tame the impulses of vain pride.


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