The Dispatch

The Dispatch – August 23/24: Tragedy

President Michel Shows Strict Face – False Promise of Vaccine Campaign Has Consequences – Public Defender Slams Elites for Pandemic Mismanagement – Activists Seek to Deoccupy Minority Surnames

Raging pandemic and upcoming elections make two dominating contexts in the country at the moment. With the end of virus-related tragedies nowhere in sight, questions about the reasonableness to conduct elections pop up. Here is Nini with usual and unusual updates from Georgia.

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REFORMS, I SAID! Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili was visiting Ukraine, holding high-level official meetings and taking part in the inaugural summit of Crimea Platform, a diplomatic initiative aimed at strengthening international coordination against Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. The visit implied continued warming of relations between Tbilisi and Kyiv after earlier disharmony. The PM, however, had to again face the major protagonist of the recent history of Georgian politics – European Council President Charles Michel.

“Underlined to Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili that reforms are as needed as ever,” President Michel tweeted, adding that “the deadline for disbursement of macro-financial assistance is looming and it is time for the Georgian government to demonstrate its commitment to the agreements and notably the reform agenda.” Garibashvili, on his part, said he assured the President that “Georgia remains committed to the reform agenda outlined in the April 19 Agreement” (from which his party withdrew late in July, though pledging to continue key reforms). But forget about the conditionality part for a moment: the photo from the informal meeting featuring the guilty-faced, eye-contact avoiding Prime Minister and the EU official’s straight face says it all.

FALSE PROMISE? With daily COVID-19 related fatalities now regularly surpassing 60 and the government struggling to convince about half of its population to vaccinate, the Health Minister confirming the first recorded death of a fully vaccinated person, presumably of Covid-19-related complications, is not going to make things any easier. Health authorities say the patient had comorbidities, and the case is being studied. In fact, it may even be surprising the tragedy had not happened earlier, knowing that no vaccine available offers 100% protection from death and spiking infections in Georgia further raised such chances. The thing is, some in the authorities, relying on the clean records so far, created an optimistic picture that fully vaccinated do not die – rather than an accurate one about vaccines just significantly reducing such risks, thus not properly preparing the public for similar reports. So now anti-vaxxers all over the internet offer victorious claims ranging from “you see, those vaccinated still die” to “it was the vaccine that caused death.”

THINGS AS THEY ARE Public Defender Nino Lomjaria decided to call things by their true names: the government’s pandemic management policy involved achieving economic growth at the risk of human lives, winning hearts of law-breakers ahead of elections by waiving fines for breaking lockdown rules, and abstaining from actively campaigning for vaccines fearing to lose numerous anti-vaxxer supporters, she wrote on social media. “Opposition’s policy was to say the opposite to the government’s moves,” she added. Later, during a short interview with TV Pirveli, the Public Defender questioned why is nobody, including the opposition, even discussing whether the elections can take place in such a situation. “What is more alarming, more tragic that can be going on in the country,” she wondered.

WILL THEY LISTEN? Less likely: the opposition keeps regarding the October 2 local elections as a referendum, expecting early elections in 2022 if the ruling party ends up under 43%, a commitment taken by the Georgian Dream party under the EU-brokered deal, which the GD later took back. Not surprising: Georgian Dream published on August 23 THEIR OWN survey results, showing the ruling party ending up in Kutaisi, a major western Georgian city, with 44,7% in party ratings, slightly above the sacred 43%. This may mean that things to expect most from the elections are lots of protests from the day after – and thus even more transmission risks.

OCCUPIED SURNAMES Salam Platform, a local organization focusing on the issues of non-dominant ethnic/religious groups in Georgia, has launched a petition, collecting signatures to demand “de-occupation of surnames.” The initiative aims to allow removing “Russian suffixes” (-ov, -ev, etc.) from the surnames of the Georgian Azeris, returning earlier “traditional, authentic” suffixes to them (like turning Mammedov back to Mammedli). “20% of my country/surname is occupied,” the campaign line reads, and the activists go door-to-door to get the necessary signatures for attaining relevant legislative changes.

That’s the full lid for today. Celebrate the bizarre and the curious in Georgia’s politics with us every Tuesday and Friday!

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