The Dispatch

The Dispatch – August 2/3: Summertime Madness

Catching Up With Mad July | Locals Scheduled, GD Bullies Ex-PM | Death of Australian Teacher Shocks Georgia | Spy Drama Continues | Conspiracy Quote of the Day

The Dispatch is back after a month’s break. While we tried to rest, the powerful of this country tried their best – and succeeded – in bringing Georgia into a madness unseen even in the earlier crazy months of the now permanent political crisis. Here is Nini with our usual updates of unusual local occurrences.

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First, catch up with crazy July:

  • It all started early in July when anti-Pride protests turned “unexpectedly” violent, leaving over 50 media workers injured. The violence – many believe their eyes and ears – was green-lighted by the top officials from the Church and State. Days later, Lekso Lashkarava, one of the injured cameramen, was found dead in his house. The news sparked major protest, and while forensic examination results are not yet known, police quickly cut to the street cam footage allegedly showing Lashkarava getting drugs. So, the police is so far hinting, winking and nudging at drug overdose.
  • In stark contrast, police failed to bring to justice the instigators of the 5-6 July violence, and were notably slow to pinpoint the assailants who were caught on camera. While some leaders of hate groups who openly incited violence were interrogated, none have been arrested.
  • In the wake of protests the government doubled down on journalists, claiming that the media are “violent themselves” – asking uncomfortable questions, being nosy and noisy. The pinnacle of the government attitude has featured the Minister of, well, culture, Tea Tsulukiani, snatching  the microphone from Mtavari Arkhi TV journalist and bullying her to publicly cheer for the Dear Leader Bidzina.
  • Mrs Tsulukiani – previously the pharaonic governor of the Justice Ministry, now a visible culture supremo and vice-prime minister – suffered one blow when the majority of contestants of the Ministry-sponsored literary prize Litera pulled out. Reason? The Minister tried to implant her own appointee into the jury, triggering concerns about fairness.
  • To complete the picture, the ruling party “exasperated” (that was the wording by the US Embassy) its partners by abruptly withdrawing from the EU-brokered political deal with the opposition. “What about the UNM not joining?!” – is the defense line from the ruling party. It seems, “whataboutism” is becoming Georgia’s new official ideology.
  • In all this chaos, the only joy Georgians witnessed was thanks to those who chose to channel their aggression somewhere else: Olympic games, where Georgian athletes have already secured six medals, including one Gold.

Moving to the present…

NOW IT’S OFFICIAL The local elections have been officially scheduled for October 2. But is the thrill now gone? After all, the ruling party tore up the April 19 deal and said it won’t schedule snap general elections if it fails to get 43% of votes in the local. Many analysts think that the “43%” is still a psychological threshold for the ruling party legitimacy, while the GD bets on the opposite.

SMOKE ON THE WATER In the meantime, GD election machinery is busy targeting their former PM, Giorgi Gakharia. According to the latest IRI polls, Gakharia outstrips the current PM Garibashvili but ranks lower than Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, GD’s top-seeded candidate in upcoming locals. The same poll also suggests GD is bleeding votes and they are going to Mr. Gakharia’s new outfit “For Georgia”. GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze – who with PM Garibashvili and VPM Tsulukiani is forming the ruling party’s “hate troika” – said PM Gakharia was so full of empty banter that his colleagues nicknamed him “smoky”.  Seeing the current political temperature, we’d see more smoke and mirrors, but many Georgian internauts wondered, what Mr. Kobakhidze’s party moniker might be…

ANOTHER CRIME Tbilisites are reeling under shock after the death of Shanae Brooke, a 31-year-old Australian teacher who worked in Tbilisi and enjoyed hikes in the Mtatsminda area of the capital city. It was during one of these hikes on July 30 when she went missing, but only after making a desperate call to her friend, calling for help. Her body was found in Mtatsminda park after search teams, including many volunteers, went to look for her. The Police are investigating the case as a homicide. The details are yet unknown, but several mediatized assaults, including on foreigners reported in the last days raised alarms, particularly among women. At least one online shop that specializes in self-defense items reported that it was out of pepper spray. The case also got political – while the opposition-minded observers blamed the attacks on the mounting feeling of impunity, encouraged by the official support to hate groups, others – including some suspected trolls on the ruling party payroll – pushed the message that “crimes happen anywhere”.  “What about the Georgian girl killed in Venezuela?” they asked. Yes, that “whataboutism” again.

LIVES OF OTHERS Mtavari Arkhi’s muck-racking director, Nika Gvaramia made a shocking revelation on August 1 when he read what allegedly were some classified memos of covert recordings, compiled by the State Security Service. His readout – the documents were not shown – implied that phones of President Salome Zurabishvili, presidential and government administration officials, opposition and civil society leaders, businessmen, clergy, and at least one foreign embassy employee were routinely tapped ahead of the 2020 parliamentary polls. Most of these tappings related to uncovering the compromising details of their private, sexual life – such as illicit, extramarital, or homosexual liaisons,  Gvaramia named very few names but said he would reveal more if the ruling party tries to use these recordings for blackmail. The State Security Service officially denied the authenticity of these documents, although several people who were mentioned – civil society activists, and journalists – confirmed that the recorded conversations really took place. This is not the first time when the ruling party is caught spying on its opponents – or colleagues. PM Garibashvili’s first term in office was particularly picturesque in that sense. So while not many people are surprised, you can read more details about memos here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY „The United States of America, European Union and ‘Soros Fund’ spent about USD 6,5 billion in 1993-2012 aiming to banish everyone whose mind is truly Georgian from Georgian politics and business, and instead implant genetically modified saboteurs with changed surnames [i.e. ethnically non-Georgians who pretend to be Georgian – eds.], sodomites and infidels in their place,” reads a “political expert” column in Asaval-Dasavali, THE Georgian right-wing rag. The darkly creative media outlet thus once again advances the vocal “they’re taking away our Georgianness” discourse. You would notice that this alleged depravity ended in 2012 when the Georgian Dream took over. An accident?! Hardly. Bidzina Ivanishvili often gave exclusive interviews to this paper and once even held it up as a standard of quality in journalism.

Good Night, and Good Luck!

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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