The Dispatch

The Dispatch – June 18/19: Dazed and Confused

Georgian Prosecutors on how to Spell “Minister” – GD Chair’s Victim-Blaming Approach – Ex-EU Ambo Spotted alongside Ex-PM in Brussels – Struggle ahead of Mediation over Namakhvani – Journalists Say Baku-Tbilisi-Karsi Fails to Deliver – Messi’s Gift for Georgian Chess Legend

Hello from Georgia, where we keep trying to figure things out, with more errors, confusions, and miscommunications piling up. Maybe you’ll help? Here is Nini with our updates from Georgia.

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YES MILISTER

In Georgia, controversies are usually easily and quickly forgotten, but there is always someone who will dust them off just as everyone stopped to care. This time, it was the Prosecutor’s Office that bothered on June 18 to deliver the findings on the infamous tapes involving incumbent Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and Bera Ivanishvili, son of the now-retired ruling party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili. The recordings released some 3 months ago and featuring Bera plotting revenge against teenagers who insulted him – and engaging Garibashvili’s help  – caused an uproar. What the public found even more worrying was the mention of “Ministers” [in Georgian: Ministrebi]. This raised doubts of government complicity and also that the recordings were made after GD came to power, not sometime before 2011, as the party leadership claimed.

The fact of the calls was never denied – and was even justified – by both Bera and his advocates from the ruling party, though they claimed they were doctored. Garibashvili did not deny that the ministers were mentioned either, and explained that as the Head of Ivanishvili’s Cartu charity foundation, he would often receive phone calls from some officials of the previous administration.

Now the funny part: the Prosecutors said that in tapes what sounds like “Ministrebi” is just the compilation of the two portions of words: “Mili” and “Stebi” – to make the plural form of “milister.” Any idea what that means? Since the information came out, Georgian internauts have been entertaining themselves by guessing what “milisetbi” could stand for. Let us recall another bizarre twist in the same story – Bera earlier claimed that what others heard as “Tri-tri” (presumably a voice from his rap song that he was proposing the now-PM to set as the ringtone when “milistebi” would call) was actually “Antoine” – a French-sounding pet-name he reportedly used to call then-his producer, Garibashvili. Well, these days, you apparently can’t even trust your own ears in Georgia.

LET ‘EM STAY HOME

For those who were afraid that ultra-conservative Levan Vasadze would collect all the right-wing votes in future elections – don’t be, thanks to the ruling Georgian Dream party which seems to be absorbing his agenda: after Vasadze gave authorities 10 days to cancel the pride announced between 1-5 July, threatening with escalation, GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze was not amused. He found that organizers of the upcoming Pride Week in Tbilisi “should have abstained” from planning the event, he told TV Pirveli on June 17, “given the whole context, this would be the responsible decision.”

One important motive of this cavalier approach to the freedom of assembly, especially from the expert of Constitutional law Mr. Kobakhidze claims to be, might be that he wants to keep the Orthodox Patriarchate on his side. He said that much earlier on another topic but denied this was the motive for the Pride quip.

EX-EX

Ex-PM and For Georgia party leader Giorgi Gakharia continues his Brussels visit. Tweets show him meeting with MEPs and various relevant EU/NATO officials. “Good discussion with @GakhariaGiorgi today. #EU stands by #Georgia in the fight against #COVID19 and in support of economic recovery and reforms,” EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi tweeted. Our impression? We get a strange feeling that people outside Georgia still think Gakharia remains PM.

Some eyebrows were raised when a photo from one of such meetings of Mr. Gakharia in Brussels pictured Georgia’s ex-Ambo in town, Natalie Sabanadze. She did not come forward with explanations and neither did Mr. Gakharia. Ms. Sabanadze was absent from any other photos. A mystery remains.

BLOCKS

Another meeting, facilitated by the representatives of the Energy Community, was held between anti-Namakhvani HPP activists and authorities. In the first similar meeting, authorities were given time till Friday, June 18, to meet activists’ demands on ending repressions in Rioni Valley prior to moving to the next phase of the talks and, eventually, to an international mediation led by Energy Community. The latest meeting followed the removal of police-erected metal fences in the Valley which restricted the freedom of movement in the area and blocked activists and locals from moving towards the HPP construction site.

Activists, however, say that “invisible barricades” are still there, implying their freedom of movement remains restricted by the police. This is why protesters themselves keep blocking the road for the machinery and staff of the HPP company, they say. Stalemate? Varlam Goletiani, the leading activist, says he still does not view the talks with skepticism.

TRAIN TO NOWHERE

Speaking of large-scale economic projects: a recent piece by iFact, a team of Georgian investigative journalists, says Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, connecting Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, fails to deliver. The construction of the BTK railway was launched in 2007, originally set to be completed in 2010. Due to delays in construction, it was opened in 2017.  Journalists say the railway was supposed to carry an estimated 3-5 million tons of cargo annually starting 2018, but current traffic only amounts to 29% of the planned tonnage. According to iFact, the project was advertised as a “Door to Europe,” but experts say Europe so far has shown no interest, while Russian trains – key potential users – are deterred by additional costs of adjusting to the European-size gauge.

G.O.A.T.s

Georgian chess legend Nona Gaprindashvili, who was again propelled into the spotlight after The Queen’s Gambit Netflix TV show popularized women’s chess, received a valuable present for her 80th birthday: Lionel Messi’s jersey signed by the legendary Argentinian footballer himself. “This jersey will take a place of a special relic in my museum,” the amused chess player was quoted in media.

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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