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The Dispatch

The Dispatch – June 4/5: Tumbling Walls

Foster Home: Anger Grows with New Allegations – Pride Week Announced in July – ‘Charles Michel’ Faction Splits Republicans – GEL’s Mysterious Appreciation – Strikes Continue

Drama concerning the Church-run Ninotsminda children’s foster home is heating up, with some shocking allegations. The taboo has lifted, and the pent-up systemic trouble pours out, after having been swept under the carpet for years. Here is Nini with our usual updates from Georgia.

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  • Concerns about the situation in a church-run children’s home in Ninotsminda, Samtskhe-Javakheti, grow by an hour, with disturbing revelations coming to light. Children’s foster homes in Georgia shelter dozens of children who cannot access family care, including orphans or abandoned minors. The existence of such institutions goes against international best practices, human rights experts say, and the “deinstitutionalization” process is currently underway. Ninotsminda facility, run by Bishop Spiridon, came into the spotlight after the Public Defender raised alarm about being prevented to access the facility for years. It now surfaced in the media – and the Interior Ministry confirms – that several criminal cases have been ongoing for a while, involving violence and rape. These have not become public and are dragging out, with concerns that the state was complicit in the cover-up (read more about the controversy here).
  • For days now, the former residents of the foster facility have been stepping forward recounting chilling personal stories, corporal punishment, sexual harassment and abuse. The facility’s wardens, including Bishop Spiridon personally, have countered with social media recordings, the exclusive footage of the hate-mongering TV stations in which the current wards of the facility fiercely deny the reports of abuse, accusing Public Defender of anti-Church bias.
  • The State Care Agency which bears the duty to ensure the protection of the children in foster facilities, apparently also had limited access to the Ninotsminda orphanage before, without even being able to confirm the exact number of children it houses. The Agency stated on June 4, once its agents entered the institution, 6 wards expressed the desire to leave it, and the other ten apparently will soon follow. This was followed by a Facebook stream by Bishop Spiridon, who is seen personally phoning the relatives of the children and demands from them to confirm they do not approve of the state taking away the children. The social workers are seen awkwardly sitting at the table, while a visibly terrorized child is paraded in front of them tearfully defending their “benefactor”. This broke the dam: the Ministry of Health said the footage was in violation of the rights of the child, the State Inspector said it studies the dissemination of footage with identifiable faces of children and warned all sides against sharing such images due to the potential harm they may inflict to minors.
  • Amid the raging controversy, the government came under fire for avoiding addressing the allegations of abuse. The Ninotsminda foster home receives public funding, yet, the new allegations emerge that it has been in violation of the state regulations – for example, concerning the number of children it can house – for years, yet, never brought to account. The ruling Party MP’s insist the children are safe at the moment and promise access to the Ombudsperson – with former Ombudsman Sozar Subari even counter-attacking the incumbent Public Defender Nino Lomjaria for not raising the alarm earlier.
  • In the meantime, the criticism targets the government for being reluctant to take action, for the fear of angering the influential Church – whose support it needs in upcoming local elections. The Georgian Dream’s usually fire-breathing chair, Irakli Kobakhidze did not equivocate: “of course we don’t want to spoil the relations with the Patriarchate…tough statements are not a solution,” he was quoted.

HEDDUNIT! If you are worried for a moment – as we were – about the emergence of the new, milder version of Irakli Kobakhidze, do not be troubled! His reticence apparently only covers the Church. Come the matters of this sinful world, and he is back to his usual form – now with the new target of choice: former PM Giorgi Gakharia. Kobakhidze accused Gakharia of an ultimate crime – being in cahoots with Mikheil Saakashvili. PM Gakharia suddenly break ranks on detaining UNM leader Nika Melia, said Kobakhidze , just as the Georgian Dream received the news “from our people in Kyiv” that the UNM was planning a coup, forming the “alternative government” with some police and security officials involved. “Draw the conclusions yourself!” suggested Kobakhidze.

PROUD ANNOUNCEMENT Tbilisi Pride, a local LGBTQ+ organization, announced “Pride Week” will take place between July 1-5, involving “various political and cultural events.” The main event is “March of Dignity” planned on July 5 on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s major thoroughfare, and people from various areas, including politics, are invited to participate. “Solidarity” will be the lead message this year, activists say. Now, hate groups are expected to organize against the planned event, preparing yet another “headache” for the Interior Ministry, which will have to handle the challenge to protect the vulnerable, rather than contribute to their oppression.

PERSONAL REFORM GROUP As the United National Movement refuses to sign the EU-brokered agreement, other opposition MP’s try to make sure the vital mediation efforts of the European Council President are appreciated enough, forming another faction with a funny-sounding name: Charles Michel Reform Group. Many were amused since the name sounds as if the group aims to reform the incumbent EuCo President. But how would President Michel react if he heard that the formation of a faction named after him led to a split in yet another small Georgian opposition party?

1-1 SPLIT Republican MP Tamar Kordzaia, who run in the 2020 elections in coalition with the United National Movement, stated she is leaving the party, after learning that Khatuna Samnidze, another Republican MP, joined the Michel Faction. Two Republican MPs “should have continued the future cooperation with partner opposition parties without a faction/through independent activities. By voicing the bold Republican ideas and fighting from the parliamentary podium,” MP Kordzaia said. Soon, Levan Berdzenishvili, prominent Georgian politician and intellectual and the founding member of the Republican party, followed in MP Kordzaia’s footsteps, citing the same reasons.

GEL MYSTERY Georgian currency Lari (GEL) continues its rapid appreciation against foreign currencies, as it took only days for the exchange rate to go from 3.40 GEL/1 USD to 3.10-3.05. Hardly anyone among citizens expected such a radical change after the months of freefall. The experts argue positive expectations along with the gradual lifting of lockdown have buoyed the troubled Lari. The Economy Minister Natia Turnava cited recent foreign currency inflows, foreign transactions, reopening tourism, expectations of business and investors, as well as “unprecedented” economic growth rates, citing 70% export growth in April, as well as 44,8% year-to-year real GDP growth in the same month (obviously, this happened against the hard lockdown month of 2020).

MORE QUESTIONS Does the strengthened currency make the public happy? The happiness is overpowered by a sense of suspicion, insecurity, and instability, but also by critical questions: many Georgians, who have to deal with increased fuel, grocery, and utility prices on a daily basis – something that reportedly came as a result of currency crisis – now want to know whether life again gets cheaper.

STRIKE ON Strike season not yet over in Georgia: workers of Gulistani flour factory in Ozurgeti, Guria, continue their strike that started early in May, protesting, among others, pay cuts. Now the trade union says that the “foreign employer” from Guria Express, a company running the factory, stated that they will not respond to the concerns of the employees and will close the factory. Workers plan to lock the factory on June 5, vowing not to reopen unless they are paid salaries “that have been robbed and cut by the company for 21 years.” Also, a protest march will be held in Ozurgeti on June 5, joined by trade unions from various parts of Georgia. The strikers also addressed the Prime Minister, asking to lawfully expropriate the factory since the employer resorts to “such illegal punishment methods” against Georgian citizens. Guria Express is fully owned by Ismail Bölükbaş, a citizen of Turkey.

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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