The Dispatch

The Dispatch – May 10/11: Next Chapter

UNM Chair Bailed Out, Party Undecided about Ending Boycott | In Church, Physical Violence Meets Techno-Eccentrics | Reversed Vaccine Crisis | Mystery over Young Woman’s Shocking Death  

Yet another milestone in a slow end of Georgia’s political crisis: the EU posted bail (through EED, its NGO-funding branch) and got opposition leader Nika Melia released from jail, at least temporarily. However, the crisis, if weakened, lingers as the controversial amnesty law is still tabled and internal party disputes make turning the page difficult.

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Clearing the Decks

EUROPEAN CASH Nika Melia, Chairman of the United National Movement jailed since February, got released after he agreed to accept the unprecedented (and face-saving) bail posted by the European Union through the intermediary of the European Endowment of Democracy, who, in turn, gave cash to GYLA, a veteran Georgian legal assistance CSO. The bail gets Mr. Melia out only temporarily, it does not end the prosecution. The amnesty bill would, but the one drafted by the ruling Georgian Dream is highly controversial, due to concerns that it also would let the violent policemen go free. So far, Melia refuses to benefit from it. So the crisis is not resolved, it just lingers and the European diplomats might have to – again – pack their suitcases. After all, Georgia can be charming in summer…

LONEWOLF Freshly out of jail, Melia meets the opposition even more disunited: Salome Samadashvili, UNM’s leader who defied the party position by choosing to sign the April 19 agreement, is now “practically” out. In her frank May 10 interview with Palitra TV, Samadashvili said she is considering working with [other] “pro-western” forces in the parliament.  The UNM has not yet decided whether it joins the Parliament, now that Melia is released. Having long advocated for the contrary, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, party leader-in-exile, advised colleagues to do so at least. Without the opposition party with the highest number of seats, the compromise on ending the boycott looks symbolic.

OUT OF TOUCH “Without strengthening the pro-Western wing outside the UNM in the country, it will be very hard to defeat Ivanishvili for good,” Samadashvili said. She argued the collapse of the opposition unity is a “natural outcome” of parliamentary boycott in any country and cited foreign examples. Most importantly, however, the former diplomat argued that the past six months got the opposition “bogged down in its own internal problems” and distanced from the people, something – she says – now needs to be remedied through the parliamentary work.

Two Faces of Priesthood

ANGER ISSUES Georgian Orthodox Church has descended into series of physical confrontations, often against journalists. In yet another episode, Vani and Bagdati Diocese Bishop hit the Mtavari Arkhi TV reporter. Violent priesthood is now a trend rather than an isolated incident: we had several scuffles in the Chkondidi diocese, an attack on Cartographer Iveri Melashvili and journalists in David Gareji, and a story of the Archpriest getting hit over offending a bishop. Apparently, presenting another cheek is no longer an option.

ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE Another group of clerics, apparently, found a more peaceful and modern outlet for argumentative and creative energies: Bishop Nikoloz of Akhalkalaki, Kumurdo, and Kari Diocese was first ridiculed for his fascination for luxury, flagship iPhone – he just had to ask for it, and the tech store just gifted it to the tech-savvy cleric. Gradually though, his self-deprecating rant, identifying himself as a tech-nerd, made him something of a minor media celebrity. A Bishop and a tech influencer?! Beat that, Elon Musk!

CAMEL & NEEDLE Or take Father Petre (Kolkhi), another frocked eccentric, fond of poetry and fashionable sunglasses. He has quite a following on social media: days after surprising the public with his on-air rhyming on DJ-mixed electronic music, he had some pertinent questions to ask Levan Vasadze, a rich, xeno- and homo-phobic ultra-conservative who had recently graced Georgian politics with his presence.  Father Petre said on Facebook that Mr. Vasadze’s brand of folk clothing is beautiful, and his private school is fab, but both are too expensive. The newcomer politician thus “only demonstrates the inequality and privilege of the wealthy,” said the socially woke clergyman.  Is it not written: “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven”? Does Father Petre advocate for the same rule to be applied to politics, or just needs some fashionable garb to spice up his social media presence?! We hold our breath.

VACCINE CRISIS, REVERSED Two months of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was overshadowed in Georgia by anti-vaxxer concerns, as people hesitated to register even for the few available shots. Now the tables have turned: the applications are up and the authorities fail to back the demand up with logistics. Georgians who dissed Astra/Zeneca fare are flocking for the Chinese Sinopharm jab. The top health officials warn the country is at the peak of the third wave of infections, with daily cases climbing over 1,000.

CRIME SCENE The news about a 26-year old woman from Kazakhstan jumping to her death in Tbilisi after allegedly being raped came as a shock. The mother of the victim is quoted ruling out the suicide, claiming she was thrown out of the window. She also said the young woman was sold by a relative “for a price of a car” and then trafficked to Georgia. The suspect has been arrested, investigations are ongoing. The tragic case throws light on the plight of women in general, but also on a murkier trafficking business that Georgian authorities (and CSOs) usually claim some success in jointly dealing with.

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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