The Dispatch

The Dispatch – May 28/29: Handshake Culture

MEP Von Cramon Meets Misha, GD Miffed | Vasadze Spotted with Dugin | Rioni Protests: Symbolic Moves | Gakharia Party | Kutaisi Goes Bronze Age | Nurse Wins Over Med-Giant

Both locally and globally, women look to higher goals and talk unity among those who are usually at odds with each other. But such gestures have their detractors. Did the time for the waking of empathy come? Only time will tell. Here is Nini, your operator, with usual updates from Georgia.

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COFFEE OUTDOORS Georgian politicians have gleefully joined the post-lockdown flash-mob started by the foreign leaders (even though Georgian vaccination rates are still among the lowest in Europe). Some of the coffee ceremonies – even if they did not happen in Georgia – were less than anticipated. MEP Viola von Cramon, European Green politician with years of Georgia engagement behind her, tweeted a picture of her sipping the warm beverage with former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on a bright day in Brussels. “We generally tend to disagree on many things but we agree that developing #Mariupol is a key for resisting Russian occupation and fighting corruption in Ukraine has no alternative,” the MEP wrote. The two are far from being political friends when it comes to Georgia but apparently can see eye-to-eye on Ukraine. The Georgian Dream was not amused: MP Shalva Papuashvili tweeted in response that meeting “a convicted felon in the heart of EU does not really convey an air of the rule of law and is more of an offense to ECHR.” Attacking the West over the rule of law? The irony won’t be lost on MEP von Cramon, surely.

RECONNECT Images surfaced in the Georgian media of a multi-phobic hate-knight Levan Vasadze enjoying his coffee with his Russian master (and Commander?), right-wing pop-ideologist Aleksandr Dugin in Moscow.  Vasadze’s name was thrown around a lot in Tbilisi during the protest rally against the Namakhvani HPP project – some say he acts like an agent provocateur to discredit the rally, some say he wants to hijack it, some claim he is in cahoots with the Rioni Valley team, others retort a government (in Tbilisi or in Moscow) uses him as a straw-man. Too much honor, perhaps, for a minor actor? Vasadze’s friendship with Dugin is no secret, but a stark visual reminder of such brazen display of friendliness with the Russian Great Empire’s ideologue struck a chord, particularly after Vasadze’s announcement of political ambitions in Georgia.

A CROSS TO BEAR After hate attacks on LGBTQ activists during the May 23-24 Rioni Valley movement rallies in Tbilisi, the organizers called against wearing divisive symbols to avoid further confrontation. In response to ensuing criticism that the rally leaders did bear religious symbols, leading activist Maka Suladze publicly set aside her wooden cross which – she said – symbolized her faith and land. People of other faiths in Tbilisi may find it offensive, and she does not want to put them in an awkward position, Suladze said. This brave move earned her much respect, but also backlash. Some in liberal quarters said she did not condemn the aggression against LGBTQ symbols clearly enough. Others, some clergymen and ultra-conservatives like Guram and Aleksandre Palavandishvili, prominent father & son who undertook the said assault, smarted at the move which, in their mind, “equalized” the Holy Cross to a rainbow-colored badge.

FATHER AND SON On May 27, a social media video showed Suladze confronting both Palavandishvilis over persecuting LGBTQ people for their rainbow-colored badges in a rally that carried a different purpose. She cited Christian teachings on tolerance and said her religion teaches her “bearing each others’ burden.”  “In this society, everybody has the equal right to their living environment,” with Palavandishvili’s reduced to awkward silence.  The short confrontation touched the hearts of many who had lost all hopes of ever overcoming deep-rooted social divisions and alienation but apparently fed all right-wing Facebook trolls who were hungry for fresh motives in their smear campaign. Some observers also noted that Suladze also argued that at her rally and in her village, she was calling the shots and the “guests” had to do as told, implying her tolerance was tactical, rather than rights-based. One way or the other, a rare sight of the radical-right being overtaken from the conservative flank on tolerance issues. A debate that bears closer examination – after all, every society travels its own way to tolerance. And that path is often less than glorious.

IN THE RICH MAN’S WORLD After politicians and media bombarded the Rioni Valley protesters with questions concerning their funding sources, the activists pledge to disclose all information once the personal data precautions are taken. The leaders of the movement retorted, however, that those organizations and media outlets that question the provenance of the Rioni Valley protest coffers, must go and make their benefactors known too. Before the accounts go public, supporters of the movement launched a social media campaign, with user-after-user publicly confirming they have donated for the cause.

PARTY TIME: Ex-Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia is to present his new party „For Georgia” on May 29. What we know so far are about his team are those less prominent 6 MP-s who split from the Georgian Dream party in mid-April to join him, former Presidential counselor Giorgi Abashishvili, former Georgian Ambassador to NATO Levan Dolidze, few public servants who followed the suit after Gakharia’s resignation in February, and a couple of usual fresh faces with “clean” backgrounds.

HOW MUCH? Ahead of the scheduled event, articles started appearing from pro-government media and some newly-emerged suspicious sources over Gakharia’s party being funded by Davit Kezerashvili, a businessman and former Defense Minister who served under the United National Movement. “Who pays you” campaigns have become a new normal in Georgian politics, but here’s the main question: did Gakharia wait too long to allow the excitement to cool down and his popularity to fade? Who’d predict such a change of the political discourse over the weeks? A reminder: he is one of the “bad guys” in the Rioni Valley story, MP Gakharia’s signatures allegedly are on the HPP construction deals that the activists decry.

KUTAISI GOES BRONZE Poland’s public Polskie Radio reported on May 27 that the latest discovery by an expedition of Polish and Georgian archaeologists in Kutaisi, Imereti region, indicates that “the city is several hundred years older than previously believed.” The findings involve a fortification system that dates back “to either the 13th or 12th century BC,” pushing its roots into the Bronze Age, while the city was so far thought “to have been established in the 8th or 7th century BC.”

HEALTH CORPS After 4 years of judicial proceedings, Nona Zandarashvili, a nurse, won a lawsuit against Evex Corporation, a Georgian medical giant which allegedly fired the nurse in 2017 along with up to 90 other medics after a change in management. “95% of hospitals in Georgia are private, half of which are owned by ‘Evex Corporation’ which sets the rules in the hospital sector,” says Solidarity Network, a union of healthcare and service sector workers. The organization said the nurses are being “exploited” and subject to hard labor, while their wages “do not even suffice for survival.”

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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