The Dispatch

The Dispatch – April 28/29: Unusual Activities

Opposition’s Taken Seats & 1st Legislative Battles – Suspicious Activity in Patriarchate Yard – Surprise High Demand of Sinopharm Shots – Labor Leader’s New Allegations Against U.S. Ambassador – Workers’ Rights Back in Spotlight – Georgia Mourns Famous Actor

Life in Georgia over the past months has been marked by multiple crises, be it in healthcare, economy, politics, or vaccination. On April 27-28, however, Georgians woke up to a slightly altered reality: most seats in the parliament are now taken, and – big surprise – vaccine appointments are overbooked. Here are the Dispatch and Nini, your operator, aiding and guiding you into those new realities as smoothly as possible. Subscribe and find us on Twitter: @DispatchCivil  

FUN MOVES INTO PARLIAMENT The images streaming from the Parliament of opposition MPs taking their seats on April 27 made a strange impression: they seemed to belong there, but we got so caught up in the drama of boycott, hard breakups and departures, that all those MPs felt like a cast of b-reel celebrities invited over for their cameo appearance. Both the Georgian Dream and opposition talked compromise and solutions to the crisis in their plenary remarks: “full of either honest toasts or fakeness,” as MP Zura Japaridze summed them up later. Most of UNM still stays out.

FIRST BATTLES Well, fake it till you can make it: with Giorgi Rurua, Mtavari-Arkhi shareholder pardoned by the President, now it’s the turn of UNM Chair Nika Melia, who “gave up” and agreed to allow the EU post his bail to avoid the adoption of the controversial amnesty law – which might end up pardoning those responsible for June 20-21 night police violence. Remarks of the ruling party chairman Irakli Kobakhidze were symptomatic: Melia retracting his earlier bail rejection was “not a manly thing to do” he said. And while the country continues to be crushed between the oversized egos of the party leaders, two amnesty laws were registered in the parliament – one by the ruling party and another by the opposition. Unlike the GD bill, the opposition MPs said today theirs foresees amnesty to happen after the consent of the civilian victims of the wrongdoings and does not extend to state officials at the time. Lelo proposed to form the parliamentary investigative committee to establish facts about much-contested June 20-21 events.

UNUSUAL ACTIVITY 1 On the sunny morning of April 28, media reported military vehicles entering the courtyard of the Orthodox Church Patriarchate. A military helicopter was also spotted buzzing the area. Shocking? Perhaps. But the Church has been on a war footing lately – months-long discord in Chkondidi Diocese grew into skirmishes a couple of times. False alarm though  – Patriarchate PR Andria Jagmaidze posted on Facebook adding “feeling happy” flavor to his post: Patriarch Ilia II was simply requisitioning military hardware to send aid to the countryside. Nothing to worry about…

UNUSUAL ACTIVITY 2 Following a very slow and somewhat reserved start of vaccination in Georgia in mid-March, the country’s vaccine booking portal was taken by a highly unexpected storm: more than 6,000 persons aged over 18 years crowded into the website overnight to book the jabs of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine. The vaccine is yet to be approved by the WHO, but Georgians, who previously snubbed AstraZeneca, left grabbed all free spots for the first two weeks. Up to a million doses of Pfizer are also expected in the country, authorities claim, in summer.

SCHEME CRACKED Speaking of a pandemic: Labor leader Shalva Natelashvili, the fiercest and most stable opponent of ending the parliamentary boycott, got infected with COVID-19, which means he now makes noise from home: in one of his latest Facebook rants, Natelashvili alleged “the whole election rigging scheme, particularly against the Labor party, was agreed personally with [U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan],” claiming this was the reason why the diplomat went an extra mile to get part of the opposition to sign the “shameful ultimatum.”

UPRISING Workers’ rights are again in the spotlight: on April 25, part of up to 3,000 striking miners in Chiatura town of Imereti got their pay-rise demands met. The discontents were echoed in the Eastern part of the country, in the industrial city of Rustavi, where hundreds of “Azoti” chemical factory workers went on strike on April 26 demanding “human work conditions” and a long-promised pay rise.

FREE MARKET DISEASES So are the medics next in line? In today’s parliamentary address, Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze spoke about the need to improve working conditions for doctors who she said were exhausted by working multiple jobs to make their ends meet. “Some doctors are paid GEL 300 [USD 87] a month, while others are paid GEL 120,000 [USD 35,000]. How fair is it? You will probably agree, this is unfair,” she was quoted as saying, and yes, we do agree. But that simple response hides deeper logic, which might require more unpacking.

FAREWELL Georgia mourns as Kakhi Kavsadze, a famous and loved theater and film actor, passed away at the age of 85. Known for his memorable roles and remarkable personality, Kavsadze portrayed numerous characters in plays of Rustaveli Theatre and pieces of Georgian cinematography of the 20th and 21st centuries. His health deteriorated after he was hospitalized with a COVID-19 infection later last year. He eventually succumbed to chronic health complications.

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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