The Dispatch

The Dispatch – May 14/16: Rebel Rebel

Rally Season Opens: Rally Canceled – Approaching Right-Wing Gathering – Rioni Valley Activism Targeted with Discreditation Campaign – Lelo Gaining on Strength – Surprise Rebellion of Ruling Party MP

The following weeks look tense in Georgia:  diverse groups are to hit the streets for diverse causes. Things are on the move in the Parliament, too, as it comes online after the boycott, facing new factions and new frictions. Greetings from Tbilisi, The Dispatch and Nini, your operator, return with updates.

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Back to Streets

CHANGE OF PLANS The May rally season opens with a… canceled rally: THE opposition rally scheduled for May 15 has now officially been called off. The opposition leaders, including UNM’s Nika Melia, say the circumstances have changed and the show of force is no longer needed. Indeed, half of the opposition MPs have signed the April 19 agreement and ended the boycott, the majority of the rest seems set to follow suit. This particular rally had been long in the making: it was announced as early as March 20. They should have known better – one does not plan that far ahead in Georgia.

DOUBLE-DATE The show must go on, though: on May 16, a right-wing rally (or “gathering”) is to take place, where ultra-conservative and ultra-phobic (xeno-, homo-, you name it…) Levan Vasadze plans to unveil his political agenda and the composition of his new political force. The rally, falling on Sunday, precedes probably the most controversial date in Georgia’s recent history: May 17, initially known as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB), “just happens” to coincide with the “Family Purity Day,” a holiday established by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014, following the major outbreak of violence against the LGBTQ activists in May 2013, in which the clergy played the major incendiary and personal role.

BE QUIET The day is pregnant with anticipation of attacks by right-wing crowds on those marking the IDAHOTB. In its May 14 statement, the police said various events have been planned as part of IDAHOTB, and pledged to protect the civilians’ freedom of expression, though noted that “alternative” venues have been offered to organizers for their own safety, but organizers chose (in some cases) not to change their plans.

SUSPICIOUS MINDS This, however, is not the only controversy attached to the Vasadze rally: a week later, on May 23, another large-scale rally will be held in Tbilisi, announced since April 24 by Rioni Valley activists leading anti-HPP protests after a failed dialogue with authorities. Activists pledge continued protests in Tbilisi and currently hold preparatory meetings in different parts of the country. Vasadze’s announcement came only two weeks later, on May 6, but still, Georgian Facebook users were assailed with sponsored ads, articles, and pieces on pro-government media implying the two rallies, taking place a week apart, have something (much?) in common.

OLD & NEW QUESTIONS Some went as far as to predict leading Rioni activist Varlam Goletiani is considered on Vasadze’s team. The activists deny the link and warn against disinformation. The ‘suspicious’ outlets cite ultra-right groups ardently supporting both the Rioni Valley cause (often bringing xenophobic sentiments into it) and Vasadze’s undertakings. Such groups have raised questions earlier too, but it was rather about how well they played into the ruling party’s game.

Developments Indoors

LELO’S GENTLE RISE Lelo for Georgia, a relatively new opposition party led by former banker Mamuka Khazaradze, seem to be expanding their 4 MP parliamentary power by inviting three known opposition figures into the first opposition faction, including freshly ex-UNM Salome Samadashvili, as well as Shalva Shavgulidze and Armaz Akhvlediani, erstwhile from European Georgia party-list. Lelo earlier made waves, emerging as fixers during the amnesty impasse by getting the MEPs in Brussels to agree to vouch for the jailed Nika Melia. With several opposition parties coming out of the October 2020 elections with support rates of 3-4%, moves like these do make a difference for their future political survival.

DO NOT DISTURB Things look less optimistic for another wannabe faction that is supposed to build around the also 4-MP Strategy Agmashenebeli party: they may find a common ground with two MPs from the Republican party, but to rack up 7 MPs – the legal minimum to form a faction – they’ll need David Bakradze, former leader of the European Georgia. Bakradze, however, prefers to be left in peace, saying he will not be joining any of the parliamentary groups. His former party colleague, Giga Bokeria is after him though, saying Bakradze pledged not to enter the parliament if he fails to get a certain rate of voter support (which Bakradze earlier confirmed). Bokeria says the excommunicated leader shall be true to his word.

KNOW MY NAME But if Strategy Agmashenebeli is open for deserters, it might just have got one: Kakha Kakhishvili, Georgian Dream MP, who once headed the Administration of Government (under forgettable MP Bakhtadze…) complained in a surprise interview at the lack of intra-party democracy. The cabinet is deaf to the ruling party MPs, Kakhishvili complained, making it difficult to deliver the campaign promises. Having served as the minister of probation once, he should know… Is this yet another rogue MP, this time from the ruling team? And is he looking to jump ship, or just wants to look cool as the lone wolf? We will see. But the Parliament now looks more fragmented than one could expect just a week before.

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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