The Dispatch

The Dispatch – June 2/3: Countryside Blues

Reports: Violence, Rape Lawsuits Involving Church-Run Children’s Home | Bishop Talks Political Ambitions | Magical Thinking: #GakhariaFactor | Chiatura Miners’ Village Goes International | Dangerous Escalation in Rioni Valley? | EP Vice-President Backs Namakhvani Cause

As Tbilisi talks about new political arrangements, the state may be employing its worst practices to stem the protests. But Georgia’s provinces are suddenly the new hot topic on the political agenda – the backdrop of human rights concerns reaches Tbilisi quicker, but also transcends the borders, drawing international attention. Here is Nini with our usual updates from Georgia.

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NINOTSMINDA CAGE The children’s foster home in Ninotsminda, Samtskhe-Javakheti region, remains off-limits to the Public Defender’s Office. Reportedly housing over a hundred foster children, the home is managed by the local Georgian Orthodox bishop, who says he keeps the Ombudsperson off to ward off LGBTQ “propaganda” (apparently, the Public Defender’s support to LGBTQ rights does not sit well with the clergy). While the embarrassing standoff continues, concerns about the children’s condition grow. On June 2, Public Defender’s office cited reports from the prosecution that four criminal cases related to Ninotsminda foster home have opened since 2016. Three of them involve allegations of violent treatment of minors and one case is of the alleged rape. In all these cases, the victims reportedly approached the police after leaving the institution. Nino Lomjaria, the Public Defender, pointed out that despite being in the establishment ran by the Church, the children are the wards of the state and decried the failure of duty-bearers to meet their legal obligations and to provide for monitoring. Despite the interim measure triggered by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in May, urging government access, the establishment’s gates remain shut. The very existence of such an institution goes against Georgia’s human rights obligations, Lomjaria added. More here. 

TAKING OVER Confused with the blurred line between the state and the church? Don’t be! Bodbe Bishop Jakob, the bad cop of the Orthodox Church Patriarchate, talked about his political ambitions again but was blunter this time: “should I see that someone turns the country towards Russia, I will definitely intervene,” he pledged, implying readiness to take matters into his own hands, rather than teaming up with any of the parties currently active. To recall, Bishop Jakob is no friend of ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia, whom he earlier accused of plotting to unseat Patriarch Ilia II.

EX-FACTOR Gakharia’s own team believes in the magical powers of their leader (to be fair, they won’t be the first ones).  MP Anna Buchukuri, one of the six defectors from the Georgian Dream who joined ex-PM’s new party, attributed what she sees as the recent progress in Georgia’s political culture to #GakhariaFactor. Gakharia’s new party has been in existence for two days and the political elites got more moderate, Buchukuri says, the ruling party no longer slams its opponents, the United National Movement enters the parliament, the Georgian Dream goes to opposition-minded TV shows again, and Lelo focuses on anti-corruption policy. Coincidence? “They both were forced to do so” by #GakhariaFactor, argues starry-eyed Buchukuri.

CHIATURA GOES INTERNATIONAL Protests in Shukruti village of the Chiatura municipality, Imereti, where a part of villagers sewed their lips shut in a hunger strike demanding fair compensations for destructive nearby mining activities, have moved since May 30 to Tbilisi, near the U.S. Embassy.  The reason is sad: they believe that the government ignores its citizens, but would at least listen to the US Ambassador Kelly Degnan. Ambassador Degnan (unlike Georgian officials) responded promptly that while the U.S. has no “direct role” to play, the Embassy will try to facilitate a meeting with relevant human rights organizations. She added that the Human Rights Officer of the Embassy spoke with the protesters yesterday to hear their concerns. Two strikers have been reportedly hospitalized over the past two days. Earlier, Georgian Manganese, the company behind the minings, offered some concessions, but protesters speak about dirty tricks deployed to break the protest up.  On June 2, Vera Kupatadze, one of the protesters, said she had received a call from a stranger identifying as a “family friend,” who blackmailed her by releasing sex tapes of her daughter-in-law he allegedly had if she won’t end the hunger strike. Kupatadze said she approached the police immediately but was told the case was impossible to investigable.

DANGEROUS GAMES Rioni Valley activists say one of their activists was taken by the riot police, guns blazing, for punching the police officer days ago (details here). Detainee’s brother said police fired the warning shots “towards the feet,” reportedly wounding two. Varlam Goletiani, one of the protest leaders, says the authorities try to frame the movement as violent, to marginalize and break it up. Soon after that incident, a police detective from the area said he quit in solidarity with the protesters, noting he refuses to prevent his neighbors from going home.

BOOMERANG BACK It has not been long since it took the intervention of the highest EU official to break the political deadlock. Not really. Now it seems the European politicians get dragged into negotiating on behalf of the Georgian citizens, too. As tensions mount in Rioni Valley, the activists again received strong backing from the European Parliament Vice-President Heidi Hautala, who backed the anti-Namakhvani HPP cause in her tweet, describing it as a “new kind of mobilization of people of Georgia against a backward and destructive economic model.“ MEP Hautala, who hails from the Greens and has a political affinity to the cause, also pointed at a “shocking lack of transparency and accountability” when it comes to the HPP construction contract. We are waiting for the government statements that MEP is ill-informed, politically manipulated, and “Green-Communist” (as the fringe-libertarian “Girchi” took to calling anti-Namakhvani activists).

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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