The Dispatch

The Dispatch – June 14/15: Villain

NATO’s Empty Fortune Cookie – Kobakhidze Hangs June 20 Sins on Gakharia – UNM Leader Heads to the U.S. – OSCE Sec-Gen Arrives – Pre-Mediation Terms Negotiated in Namakhvani Talks – Ninotsminda Foster Home Drama Continues – Church Entangled in Land Disputes

The legend has it that Irakli Kobakhidze is one of the lesser immortals. In his early days, youthful and curly, he ran after the Roman consuls whispering “memento mori” into their ears, later, he assisted the papal coronation ceremonies declaring “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” (So passes the worldly glory!). His eternal soul was set to wander the earth by enraged gods, according to the legend, and he is haunting still: this time setting his eyes on Giorgi Gakharia, former PM, whose hubris can only be matched by Kobakhidze’s nemesis. But the Greek Gods, they aren’t… Just children of Georgia’s public politics, whose boundless immorality has recently been laid bare, and expect the public judgment. Here is Nini with our updates from Georgia – and remember we used to say we expose the bizarre in Georgian politics? That’s all that is left these days…

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Back in 2008, at the memorable NATO Bucharest Summit, allies refused to grant Georgia and Ukraine Membership Action Plans (MAP) but assured that the two countries “will become members of the alliance”. The Georgian authorities at the time tried to spin this assurance domestically as something even “better than a MAP” – a coveted membership plan which charts the specific path to NATO. Some argue Russia took that empty promise as an invitation to nip  Georgia’s aspiration in the bud, by invading at the first opportune moment in 2008. The 2021 Brussels Summit made it clear that the joke is still in Georgia: the Allies simply reiterated the 2008 Bucharest Summit decision. Repetition is the mother of knowledge, as we all know. But this empty fortune cookie is not good enough.


Not so long ago, the Georgian Dream was so arrogant, they took to boycott the critical TV channels. Now Irakli Kobakhidze, the hero of this Dispatch, has managed a “mini-rapture” by appearing on reviled Mtavari TV. And boy he came with guns blazing – this time picking not Mtavari TV, or its avowed political patron, the United National Movement (UNM) as the primary political target, no. His sights were set on Giorgi Gakharia, GD’s erstwhile PM, whom Kobakhidze sang lavish praise numerous times. But in the remarks of June 14, Kobakidze blamed Gakharia for all earthly sins:

Just as a reminder, June 20 events started with the so-called “Gavrilov controversy” which disgracefully ended Kobakhidze’s tenure as the Parliament chair.  Despite the violent dispersal of the protests that night, interior minister Gakharia was promoted as a Prime Minister.


How political fortunes change: once Georgia’s most controversial prisoner, let out on bail through EU mediation and with European money, UNM Chair Nika Melia is heading for his first official visit to Washington D.C. Flanked by UNM’s Tina Bokuchava and Nona Mamulashvili, he plans to meet congressmen, NGO representatives, and experts working on Georgia. Melia started the journey on June 12, and the visit will last for ten days, with discussion topics involving the country’s political, economic, and foreign policy issues.


OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid started her Georgia visit and already attended the opening ceremony of a new water supply system in the village of Tsitsagiantkari located near the occupation line with Tskhinvali/South Ossetia. As part of the visit, the Secretary-General plans to meet Georgian leaders and take part in the 100th Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms (IPRMs) meeting in Ergneti village, near the Tskhinvali Region occupation line. Read more.


On June 12, the first meeting was held among Rioni Valley activists, authorities, and representatives of the Energy Community – an international organization uniting the EU and its neighbors, which was invited to mediate the Namakhvani HPP crisis. The activists claim the current meetings are not yet the formal mediation, but a prelude, during which the government has to meet their demands: 1) the removal of metal barriers that the police erected in Rioni Valley and restoration of freedom of movement. A drop in overall police presence and the end of “repressions”; 2) Moving protests back to Namokhvani village near the construction site, where activists’ tents were dismantled by the police months ago; 3) complete halt to HPP construction preparatory works until the final resolution is found.

According to Lina Ghvinianidze from Social Justice Center, the CSO engaged in the process, HPP opponents and authorities agreed that the government will indicate by Friday if it is ready to meet the first two demands. If so, another meeting will be held about the third demand, and the mediation will then formally start. “It was also agreed that the Government must present an energy security policy document drafted with the involvement of the civil society,” Ghvinianidze wrote on Facebook. Economy Minister Natia Turnava, however, was quoted as saying that police will only leave the area after the activists pledge they continue their protests peacefully and will not obstruct the preparatory works or damage company assets. More updates on the project are here.


After weeks of dramatic and heart-rending controversy over the children’s foster home in Ninotsminda, the Georgian Orthodox Church, that runs the place, seems to be retreating behind a whirlwind of controversy that already caused major reputational damage. Patriarchate PR Andria Jagmaidze said bigger foster care institutions under Patriarchate control are planned to transform into smaller facilities, again run by the church, an “obligation” due to be met until April 1, 2022. “This is not new,” Jagmaidze tried to argue.

Meanwhile, reports are coming that Skhaltian Bishop Spiridon, the former manager of the foster home, quit “on his own request” and with thanks from the patriarchate, and was swiftly replaced by Bodbean Bishop Jakob – a clergyman prominent for his tough and confrontational attitudes, including towards the government officials, as well as for his recently stated political ambitions. The move eerily resembles the medieval practice of appointing the harshest inquisitor to clean up the major church-related controversy, and the results might prove just as ugly as in the middle ages.

The deinstitutionalization process of large foster care facilities has been launched and mostly completed in Georgia years ago, but the ones under Church control were less affected, reports say. Public Defender Nino Lomjaria told Rustavi 2 on June 13 that “history and practice have demonstrated” a high prevalence of violent abuse in such facilities, thus proving the necessity of smaller-size family-type foster homes or foster family care policies. Some 12-20% of children in foster care have been removed from their families because the caregivers could not provide for them, Lomjaria said, arguing that poverty cannot be the reason for taking children away from their homes: according to the Public Defender, the state should do its utmost to aid the families to keep providing for their children. More about the controversy here.


CHURCH GRABS LANDS The Georgian Orthodox Church has emerged as the country’s major landowner in the past decades, and its appetite for land often brings it into conflict with the locals. Villagers in Kintsvisi, Shida Kartli, allege that clergymen have been illegally fencing the pastures adding that authorities so far fail to help. Similar accusations were voiced earlier elsewhere, such as in Bodbe, Kakheti region, where a dispute between the local monastery and the villagers has been going on for years, or in Adigeni, Samtskhe-Javakheti region, where the local Muslim community had been asking for the return of plots in their use after the state allegedly granted to the Patriarchate for free. M

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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