Parliament Gets Busy – UN Country Team on Ninotsminda Crisis – Namakhvani Protests Prepare for European Mediation – Criminal Authorities Problem Returns – Former Executive Alleges Politically Motivated Dismissal – Anniversary of Odd Harmful Tradition – Stray Doggos Steal Spotlight
Greetings from Georgia, a country on the troubled path of breaking away from destructive habits, only to see that there are more remnants of the dark past to deal with than initially thought. Here is Nini with our usual updates from Georgia.
Busy days in the Parliament: the legislative amendments adopted on June 11 and only applicable to the current convocation, lower the number of MPs required to form a political group in the Parliament from four to two, with the “political group” gaining rights equal to a parliamentary faction. Also, controversial information security laws adopted on June 10 were lauded by some for strengthened cybersecurity measures. The NGOs, however, talk of personal data risks.
Progressing: The much-contested bill stripping state funding from political parties who fail to take up at least half of their legislative mandates passed the second hearing. Parliament also continues to process the amnesty bill as foreseen by the EU-brokered Agreement. The opposition proposal that envisaged approval by victims ahead of pardoning those responsible for abuses during the June 20, 2019, protest dispersal and exempted those in political positions from the amnesty, failed to get enough votes; the ruling party amnesty bill, on the other hand, will proceed to the final hearing.
Papers Falling. During June 11 plenary, MPs were also reminded of crises unfolding outside: activist threw scores of paper notes reading “What is going on in Ninotsminda foster home?” – a form of protest against negligence from the top. The inside stories of church-run children’s foster home that came into the spotlight after alerts of locking off the Public Defender’s monitors come gradually to the surface (details here): more residents come forward with abuse allegations, while the Ombudsperson and rights defenders talk about actual and potential pressures exerted on whistleblowers.
Statement. On June 11, in response to the ongoing crisis, the United Nations Country Team in Georgia condemned “any form of violence and other abuses against children” and “any attempts to prevent the Public Defender’s Office and relevant state monitoring institutions from exercising their constitutional duties.” The UN team further called for deinstitutionalization and transitioning all remaining children in institutions to family- and community-based care.
Alternate Dispute Resolution. The Interior Ministry proudly reported on June 10 that in a major operation police captured 13 suspects on charges related to links with a “world of thieves” – associated with a tradition of the rule of criminal strongmen – so-called “thieves in law” – stemming from the darkest Soviet Gulags, and taking the different hue of darkness in the 1990s. The detainees face seven to ten years in prison. The operation came after some businessmen decided to resolve their financial dispute by engaging the criminal underground.
Persisting Problem. There are apparently some business people out there who are not willing to deal with criminal bosses, but are forced to do so: an owner of a supermarket chain in Batumi, Adjara region, says he was contacted by a stranger identifying himself as a prominent local thief-in-law, who threatened him – something that preceded multiple arson attacks on his shops. Police wouldn’t bother to properly investigate the link with the organized crime, limiting themselves to arresting a teen on arson charges instead, the businessman tells Batumelebi media outlet.
NAMAKHVANI HPP: NEXT STEPS
European Mediation: The Namakhvani HPP protests to enter a new phase on June 12: negotiations are planned to start as part of a mediation involving the Energy Community, an international organization bringing together the European Union and its neighbors to create an integrated pan-European energy market. The representatives of authorities, as well as experts and Rioni Valley activists, are expected to participate. On May 6, the Energy Community stated that Dirk Buschle, the Chair of the Secretariat’s Dispute Resolution and Negotiation Centre, Deputy Director, will mediate and “review all documents and procedures carried out in relation to the project so far against Energy Community law and best European practice” on government’s invitation.
Seeing the Problem? Welcoming the mediation framework, Economy Minister Natia Turnava said on June 11 that the HPP project “needs to be put in a more perfected form,” noting that some articles in the investor agreement are “problematic” and raised questions. The Minister added that Georgia has not implemented a project of this scale over the past few decades, which means that authorities are “learning step-by-step how to refine the legislation.”
Otherwise detained. Ahead of mediation, another Rioni Valley protester was detained on charges of attacking a police officer during a demonstration in Imereti. The suspect faces four to seven years in prison. Activists call the charges “unfounded”, politically motivated, and pledge to hold a rally.
Mindia Davitadze, who has served since February 2020 as a Head of Sakpatenti – the government agency tasked with determining Intellectual Property policies, said he was unexpectedly emailed about his dismissal by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. The former executive alleges the dismissal comes due to him being ex-PM Gakharia’s appointee, calling the decision “political persecution.” Davitadze says the Labor Inspection Department was “instrumentalized” to oust him, pledging to contest the decision.
BURNS, BURNS, BURNS
Georgia marks 10 years anniversary of one of its most bizarre summertime traditions: getting severely sunburnt by a decoction of fig leaves. It was a decade ago that patient zero landed in Tbilisi hospital, recalls Guga Kashibadze, a doctor with a vaudevillian mustache whom the Georgian public came to know largely due to his frequent TV appearances commenting on such stories. Ever since, the harmful method had many unhappy followers. The legend of mysterious origins and with no scientific backing says the fluid helps get the desired brown skin for those left in city concrete jungle amid the summer heat. The concoction does make skin photo-sensitive, but instead of the sought-after bronzage those who trust the legend usually get hospital treatments for different degrees of burns. Do not repeat at home!
Red Carpets: As Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda continues his Georgia visit, something else steals the spotlight: a stray dog enjoying itself on the red carpet arranged for the ceremonial meeting of two Presidents. This is not the first time a street dog gets all the attention on such events: weeks ago, one fluffy doggo photobombed the Independence Day ceremony from every possible corner, even marching ahead of soldiers like a field marshal.
Stray dogs, mostly recognizable by the ear-pins confirming their vaccination status (apparently – fewer anti-vaxxers among them), are part of the daily lives of Georgians. The sad fact that they largely outnumber those wanting adoption has left them in the streets, something that probably shaped their sad-looking facial features over time. Still, stray dogs are rather loved by locals than feared, and they frequently avail themselves of treats from nearby restaurants and actively participate in social life, including through freeriding the public transportation or aiding small children to safely cross the streets.
That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!