2 Years since Gavrilov Night (that Never Ends) – UNM Hints of Joining the April 19 Deal – Rustaveli National Theater under Fire over Moscow Journey – Journalists Look into Companies behind Namakhvani HPP – More Opposition Figures Travel to Washington D.C. – President Wrongly Bullied
Greetings from Georgia which keeps struggling to learn how to deal with its northern neighbor, which can turn things upside down here in a second. While some artists play endgame for their reputation, there are bad games that never seem to end. Here is Nini with our updates from Georgia.
NIGHT THAT NEVER ENDS
2 Years Gone. Activists and politicians marked in a rally the 2 years anniversary of June 20-21, 2019, protests, when the anti-occupation rally ended in a violent dispersal leaving numerous people injured and two protesters half-blind. The night is often referred to as “Gavrilov’s Night” to stress that the dispersal came after Georgians took to the street to protest Russian Duma MP taking the seat of Parliamentary Chairman, who back then happened to be Irakli Kobakhidze, now the ruling party Chairman.
Bearing the Consequences. While CSOs and activists remind that those who suffered still fail to access the due justice, the night never really stopped to define the course of Georgian politics: the criminal case launched against UNM’s Nika Melia based on allegations of incitement to storm the parliament, eventually ended with his arrest in winter 2021, which played out in the pre-existing post-election political crisis to trigger the resignation of Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia. Ironically, it was the same Gakharia who took the official responsibility for the bloody dispersal of the 2019 rally, and whose resignation protesters have been demanding in weeks and months that followed. And the very same Gakharia got promoted instead to PM and went on to consolidate his standing – until that fateful night came back to haunt him in February and ended his career. For now.
Pending Closure. The amnesty for crimes related to June 20-21 night was one part of the April 19 agreement, signed by the ruling party and part of opposition MPs. The amnesty clause sparked a controversy that it would let the police officers who abused office walk free – and the UNM refused to join the document despite ending the parliamentary boycott. Streaming from Washington D.C. on the air of Palitra TV on June 17, Tina Bokuchava, top UNM member, said that “after Georgian Dream adopts this malicious amnesty bill <…> of course, the United National Movement will be able to join the spirit of [April 19] document.” It is unclear whether “joining the spirit” means signing it, but the party obviously tries to get the most out of the deal at a minimal reputational cost. Well, that’s the name of the game.
Hardly having digested the scandal when grave domestic violence allegations were brought against its top actor, the once-famed Rustaveli Theater descends into yet another controversy: the troupe will travel to Moscow to take part in Chekhov International Theater Festival, bringing Samuel Beckett’s play “Endgame” to viewers in Russia. No Georgian actor wishing to travel to the occupying capital has been able to do so without bearing the cross of public controversy (rightly so, we add) and the Rustaveli Theater is no exception. Especially since it is led by famous Robert Sturua who has grown more and more controversial – read xenophobic, Putinophilic, and generally recalcitrant – in his old age. Arguments by theater actors, comparing their visit to the Georgian soccer team playing in the (hypothetical) Russia-hosted world cup, are so far not helping. It needs to be said though, that demanding clarity on the Russia policy from the government sounds more logical…
ALL ROADS LEAD TO…
Russia, again. Team of Georgian investigative journalists iFact looked into the companies in charge of building and operating the controversial Namakhvani HPP, a project with an investment worth up to USD 800 mln. Key findings are that ENKA, the Turkish company founded in 1957 and holding 90% shares of the project, enjoys leading positions on the Russian real estate market and was in charge of key infrastructure projects there, including the construction of Moscow airport terminals and renovation of the parliament and government buildings there. Most of the current projects are reportedly also concentrated in Russia, in addition to the quite warm reception of company heads there. Of course, being loved in Moscow and being paid by the Russian state is not a crime. Or is it?
Murky links. ENKA became the largest investor in the Namakhvani HPP project after it gradually acquired 90% of shares from the Norway-based Clean Energy Group. iFact found that this Clean Energy Group was founded in 2016, and won the initial license for building Namakhvani HPP. This was its first-ever project. But the Clean Energy Group was a successor to Clean Energy Invest, another company established in Oslo 2 months before bagging the contract to win the Shuakhevi HPP in Adjara. Very soon after winning (which happened only 4 days after announcing the competition), Bjorn Brandtzaeg, a consultant from Econ Poyry who was reportedly counseling the Energy Ministry on energy projects at the time, quit his advisory role and got employed at the same company. Brandtzaeg is currently one of the Directors of Clean Energy Group. On the face of – a light odium of the potential conflict of interest and/or influence peddling. We will wait and see if the parties involved would comment and will get back to you with the news.
FLIGHTS BOOKED AND CROSS-CHECKED
After the Brussels visit, ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia reportedly heads to Washington D.C. to meet with representatives of political, expert, and academic circles, as well as those in the State Department and various international organizations. Other opposition parties also took to the skies once the Covid restrictions have eased: MP Grigol Gegelia (Lelo for Georgia) and Salome Samadashvili (independent, UNM party list) announced departure to the U.S. for high-level meetings in Congress and the State Department. The UNM is on its way back from a similar 10-day visit.
GIVE HER A BREAK
President Salome Zurabishvili arrived at the Vatican on June 18 and held an audience with Pope Francis. She was warmly received by the Pope, but people in her homeland were unhappy with the outfit: black dress and headscarf raised eyebrows, the President was said to be looking like a mourner or a goth (there were many other, unflattering comparisons). Luckily, some Georgian social media users dug up the photos of other female visitors to the pontiff (notably the Trump-power-duo) wearing black and calmed the spirits somewhat. President Zurabishvili may have her political faults, but her personality really seems to brush some Georgians the wrong way. On the other hand, now everyone in Georgia [who counts on social media] knows what the Privilège du blanc is…
That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday!