The Dispatch

Dispatch – December 23/24: Politics of Sacrifice

New Transport Fares: Why People Are Angry – UNM’s Mass Hunger Strike Idea Draws Skepticism – Concerns Over Police Abuse, Inaction Mount

People, causes, or ideas must be quite dear if they are worth self-sacrifice. But a society, which demands, normalizes, or even institutionalizes sacrifice risks becoming cruel. Letting go of toxic, obsolete rituals can be a theme to contemplate over the upcoming holidays, particularly since this is the only thing the political class could offer for Christmas gifts. Here is Nini with holiday updates from Georgia.


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Hell Getting Expensive

END OF THE DAY Imagine leaving your work late tired. It’s freezing outside as you take a long walk and mentally prepare for a not so easy ride home – the city outskirts. Having reached the bus station, the LED display shows a double-digit waiting time. More people arrive, their faces tell they brace for the same destination. With too many of them now, the race will be tight. The bus comes, already crowded, and the battle to squeeze in begins – who knows when the next arrives, or if there is any free room in there. If you are lucky enough, you somehow get in on the first try and hold yourself with a single hand against sharp brakes as the vehicle slowly tries to find its way through the traffic for about an hour. The exhausted passengers, hardly breathing but probably thankful the public transport was not again suspended over Covid-19, now share a dream of surviving a dense trip without catching a virus.

You finally reach your destination, but at what cost? Whatever the cost, Tbilisi authorities believe it is not big enough and will be charging double: a single public transport ride – standard fare – will see a 100% rise starting in February. To calm the public, Mayor Kakha Kaladze offered weekly, monthly, quarterly, half-year, or annual subscriptions, and discount tariffs for certain groups will stay in place, with new groups added to the list. So what everyone did was to calculate whether at least the yearly pass for GEL 250 (USD 81) was worth it, but few found things cheaper in any arrangement compared to what they pay now. Even fewer are expected to be able to put together a one-time 250 Lari as lots of Tbilisites struggle to make it financially from pay to pay (out of Christmas gift ideas? Here is one!).

WE ARE NOT HAPPY This made people upset, and politicians reacted too: Anna Dolidze’s For People party held a small rally in front of the Tbilisi Sakrebulo building on December 23, pledging to continue protests. Aleko Elisashvili from the Citizens party said even him with his MP salary would barely afford the 250 Lari annual subscription, claiming it was private companies with state contracts that dictated the new rules. He also suggested – against the concern that the state-owned Tbilisi Transport Company has suffered huge financial losses over low fares – that many countries subsidize public transportation for fair reasons. The Sakrebulo session saw heated exchanges over the matter too. Larger protests, if they are to happen, are expected once the new rules take effect and people will start actually feeling the change in their pockets.


Creative Starvation

SUFFER FOR SUPPER With high inflation and skyrocketing prices, the United National Movement has a solution: saving on food. Pardon our dark humor, but party Chairman Nika Melia’s recent announcement of a mass hunger strike drew criticism and ridicule rather than sympathy and compassion this time. At least ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose release from jail is what at least 300 hungering supporters will be demanding, looks happy for the sacrifice (he did suffer, so shall others): in one of his many lengthy Facebook posts, he reminded skeptics that it was mass hunger strikes that got India its independence, ended apartheid, and set the stage for Georgia to regain its freedom too.

Isn’t it strange that it was the same Melia who preached not taking responsibility for potential casualties should he lead the protesters to radical actions: mass hunger strike in shared tents near the UNM headquarters as temperatures go below zero and Covid-19 is still with us may be the last humane act to offer supporters to volunteer for. What is more important, few expect the government to have any response but mockery on what many see as the desperate act for a party that ran out of ideas: the ruling party scare tactics were far more effective when UNM would stand up for those hungering against their will, particularly schoolchildren. But this move was easily forgotten once elections were over.

THOSE WHO KNOW BETTER The politics of regions, on the other hand, strike a contrast to what is happening in the center: it was on December 23 that Samegrelo’s Chkhorotskhu municipality, after failed attempts, now finally managed to elect a local council (Sakrebulo) chairman from Giorgi Gakharia’s For Georgia party, backed by UNM and Lelo councilors in an otherwise unlikely coalition. The news may deserve bigger attention than the hype around Tsalenjikha’s opposition mayor (the municipality now struggles to approve the council chair in the opposition-majority Sakrebulo). As the fates of other opposition-dominated Sakrebulos remain unknown, we will have to wait and see if Chkhorotsku will be able to lead the country by example and prove the viability of a coalition government.


Men in Uniforms

ABUSE Days ago, journalists from the coastal Batumi city alleged they endured violence at the police department and while it had supposedly little to do with their professional activities, the case still pointed at a worrying practice of police officers using excessive and unjustified force on detainees. Also, an economist and former official who reappeared after recently going missing, alleged abuse from a police officer which he said pushed him into contemplating suicide. As reports like these mount, practices of pervasive abuse of power by police may lead to new problems, and become itself a big problem for incumbent authorities: isn’t it time to learn from others’ mistakes?

IGNORANCE In a separate development, women’s rights activists reported that a 14-year-old girl was kidnapped for forced marriage in Iormughanlo, an ethnic Azerbaijani-settled village in the Kakheti region. The activists had to raise alarm as police, though informed, allegedly refuses to acknowledge it’s their job to intervene. If true, this will not be the first time the state neglects the mistreatment of girls or women from ethnic minorities, in what is now regarded as intersecting discrimination: Georgia has recently received an international response over inaction in a similar case.

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The Dispatch goes on Christmas break and will be back with fresh updates on January 10-11. We wish you a Merry Christmas (whenever you celebrate it) and a happy New Year! May 2022 be filled with more peace and fewer crises. Enjoy your holidays!

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