War Anniversary & Usual Controversies – The Garbagemen Can – President Slams Ruling Party, Again – Gakharia’s Party Number Sparks Fun – Forbes Rankings: Guy Richer than Ivanishvili – Lukashenko’s Georgian Regrets – Minister Turns Prison into Art Space
Greetings from Georgia. The latest developments in the country were again marked by confronting attitudes, including among those who before used to get along well. Here is Nini with usual and unusual updates from Georgia.
SAME OLD STORY 13 years have passed since the Russian invasion of Georgia in hot August of 2008, and the anniversary again brought up all the grief, sense of injustice, and usual controversies on “who is to blame.” Many of Georgia’s international friends decided to make supportive statements on August 7, confirming it as a day when Russian aggression started, the information – many believe – is crucial to forming an accurate picture. The Russian narrative is that its armed forces only responded on 8 August to Georgia’s operation. The Georgian leaders, however, also held the commemorative events on August 8, deflecting the critical media questions. „Let us agree to one thing, August 7, or August 8, the war started far earlier and it was started by Russia,” said Parliamentary Speaker Kakha Kuchava. For those who think it matters, here are day-by-day accounts of August developments compiled by Civil.ge based on relevant archives.
GARBAGE REVOLT For some time now, many in Georgia felt that something was stinking in politics, but on August 6 Tbilisites woke up to literally be disturbed by the burning smell of the garbage piled up in the streets. Workers of Tbilservisi, a municipally-owned company responsible, among others, for public garbage disposal, went on strike, striking a blow to Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze, the only remaining ruling party candidate with high public approval, ahead of mayoral elections. The demands included pay rise, switching back to normal working hours, and proper working conditions. The text on the T-shirt worn by the fiercest leader of the striking workers said it all: I have nothing to lose but something to gain. Dear Marx, we see what you did there!
In response, Mayor Kaladze pulled out the usual Georgian Dream line calling the strike a “staged provocation,” assuring part of the servicemen went back to work and accusing the rest of bullying and intimidating their colleagues. He even posed as helping the workers take out the garbage late at night. Turns out, the posing was not enough, and Tbilisi authorities had to agree to eventually meet the workers’ demands. The strike is over, and Tbilisi residents can finally again wake up to the usual fresh air mixed with concrete dust.
PRAY VS PREY President Salome Zurabishvili started to openly criticize the government policies days ago, and has not stopped since: her latest discontents were directed – once again – at July 5 homophobic pogroms. “I think the July 5 developments could have been averted,” she told Imedi TV, adding that, contrary to the announced prayers in the Kashueti Catherdral on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue, she passed by that morning to see that people gathered there “definitely had not come to pray.” It is the “foremost duty of authorities to maintain order,” the President went on, also not shying away from confronting the church by mentioning that some of its “representatives” also took part in the violence at “least through statements.” Georgians are holding their breath to see whether the President will repeat the fate of her predecessor, Giorgi Margvelashvili, who burnt the bridges despite being elected on GD ticket.
DOES SIZE MATTER? Ex-PM Giorgi Gakharia never stops to attract and radiate what is commonly referred to as “big d**k energy” (pardon our French). A popular musician from the 90s even described him (admiringly) as a “man with balls.” Now 25 – a number assigned by the Central Election Commission to his For Georgia party ahead of October local elections – added spice to fun: the first thing that comes to mind to most of the country’s residents when hearing the number is a quote from Sun of the Sleepless movie from 1992, where actor Givi Sikharulidze brags about his 25 cm-long (well… you know what). Sikharulidze molded with that role perfectly – common guest at bizarre Georgian talk shows, he used to give his firm conservative opinions on female sexuality while boasting about his own rich and diverse sex life. Now we have to wait and see in October how much the size really matters. Want more fun? Scroll through a list of party names registered for the upcoming locals to see two Girchi’s, two “reformers”, and a diverse offer of democrats and ‘united Georgias.’
…WALLET SIZE DOES What we know for sure is that the size of walled does matter in Georgian politics, and the field has so far certainly been dominated by ruling party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili. Now he has been dethroned: according to the latest Forbes rankings, Mikhail Lomtadze, a Georgian rich man (and Harvard-graduate) making his fortune in Kazakhstan’s financial market, has surpassed Ivanishvili with his USD 5.1 bln net worth. Will he be interested in being the country’s next Messiah?
HEADACHE Belorussian leader Alexander Lukashenka has singled out Georgia “his headache,” mainly for distancing from other former Soviet countries. Particular regrets of the President were triggered by the fact that Georgian youth “more often” speaks English than Russian – a harsh reality he had to endure when visiting his then-counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili years ago. “Disaster! And it will get worse!” Lukashenka said. There is something heart-warming about the troubled dictator taking so much time to keep Georgia on his mind… More seriously, some discreet alarms went of in Georgia after Lukashenka mentioned Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia as separate countries during the same press conference. So far, the Belarussian dictator resisted Russian pressure to recognize these two occupied provinces as independent states.
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani is turning the former building of Ortachala prison in Tbilisi into an “alternative culture space,” a decision she called “unprecedented.” The space will be open for exhibitions and rehearsals, the Ministry says. What the Minister sees as turning the negative into creative, others see as worrying: Zaal Andronikashvili, the Georgian publicist, thought he’d seen the same idea before… And dug out a decision by Lavrenti Beria – Georgia’s communist leader, who went on to international notoriety as the Soviet KGB’s sadistic boss to turn famous Metekhi prison into a cultural center in the early 1930s… Something one could call a worrying parallel.
That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Monday and Thursday!