The Dispatch

The Dispatch – May 19/20: Bad Habits

Dmanisi: Unrests Ended, “Discussions” Continue – Blackboard, Black Words – Getting Rich on VIP COVID – Good Bye Lenin – Two Presidents’ Op-Ed on European Future – Georgian Leaders Head Overseas

After the “happy” ending of major unrest in ethnically mixed Dmanisi, discussions are underway on how to let go of hate-mongering habits that stand in the way of the country’s peaceful development. This happens as other embedded malign practices also resurface and demand high-level attention. Here is Nini, your operator, with relevant updates from Georgia.

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Unpacking Dmanisi – What is the Right Thing to Do?

SHORT-TERM HAPPY END Dmanisi unrest ended in reconciliation through the mediation of powers, whose provenance is not entirely clear. The wanton violence, as well as ensuing reconciliation, sparked an important discussion about how the country – and inevitable conflicts that occur in it – are managed. True, the “reconciliation” that does not resolve the fundamental conflict, has been the favorite practice of the Georgian Dream. Often this means the bully gets a pat on the back, while those who suffer the hateful attacks are forced to make up with their torturer, without the recourse to justice. The religious dispute in Buknari village, Guria, ended months ago in a similar handshake. In 2018, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze attracted criticism after arranging a friendly football match as a response to allegedly racist attacks on black students in Tbilisi. Is peace-building that simple? Were the religious leaders, gangster bosses, or neighboring Azerbaijan’s government involved behind the scenes in calming the tensions as some in the media speculate? We would probably never know. But Georgia’s post-independence history teaches us that sweeping the problems under the carpet is not helpful.

FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO Further criticism was directed at government officials and ruling party MPs, including Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri and MP Eliso Bolkvadze, who portrayed the conflict as an international one – pointing to the significance of Georgia-Azerbaijani relations. Discussions like this could be very productive and are necessary to build a democratic society – but unfortunately, these are usually extremely short-lived.

OLD HABITS DIE HARD To prevent further excesses of hate, maybe one should start at school. But not all is well there either: when the media broadcasted a school visit by the Head of Resource Officers of Educational Institutions, the state agency tasked with maintaining discipline at schools, spectators were left with a sense of malaise: the blackboard, well visible behind the handshakes, bore a gang-glorifying inscription “жизнь ворам” (in Russian: “Long Life to the Thieves”) harkening to the so-called “thieves in law” gangster culture, which many would like to think belongs to the dark post-Soviet 90s. But it seems to be alive and well, and in the prestigious #51 Public School of downtown Tbilisi, no less. It is hard to take it for the innocuous attention-seeking teen prank either – pupils from this very school were implicated in the infamous Khorava Street Murder in 2017, which left teenagers stabbed to death.

VIP SHOTS In a country as unequal as Georgia, no matter how fair you want the things done, people will still find ways to make it a privilege. The offer allegedly hanging in the halls of the prestigious Gudushauri hospital says that while COVID-19 vaccination costs are covered by the state, you can still buy yourself a “high-class VIP service” – spending the time after your coveted shot being watched over by the intensive care medical crew.  Indeed, dealing with your post-vaccine anxiety at other people’s expense that might actually need intensive care at that very moment should be expensive – but a realization that this service may actually be for sale made Georgian social media users quite angry.

GERMAN DREAM Those who hope to escape the inequality to a country with better social policies better think about the job they are picking. Tens of thousands of Georgians applied for seasonal harvest jobs in Germany which were legally allowed for the first time this year. So far, only dozens have made it – and some of them are not happy. The strawberry fields they were promised did not look as nice as they sound – guest workers report poor working conditions, miserable accommodation, and fewer working hours than promised, resulting in lower wages. Georgian authorities say they are working to solve the problem, holding responsible those employers who violated the labor agreements. The relevant German agencies will take care of it, they assure.

JOINT ACTION After becoming the vedette of that gripping EU-mediation drama, European Council President Charles Michel is not done with Georgia quite yet. He has teamed up for an op-ed with the Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, titled “Georgia’s future is European.” The article reflects on the success of the EU-brokered April 19 agreement, explaining why “it is a win for Georgia, its people, and the European Union.” The leaders, however, note that “constructive political engagement needs to be sustained,” calling involved parties to “live up to their commitments.” Interestingly, two Georgian think-tankers trod a similar line in an unrelated op-ed which probed a bit deeper into the question.

TRAVEL SEASON Georgian politics move overseas as country’s political leaders have opened travel season: Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, accompanied by three State Ministers, visits Madrid, while Parliamentary Speaker Kakha Kuchava holds high-level meetings in Brussels. Nika Melia, the freshly out-of-jail Chairman of the United National Movement, has recently also flown to Kiyv to meet Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, party’s leader-in-exile, as the UNM continues consultations over whether to end the boycott.

CORRECTION: In our last dispatch at some point we wrote “Marneuli’ when we really meant “Dmanisi”. We are sorry.

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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