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The Dispatch

Dispatch – February 7/8: Inner Workings

UNM’s Awkward Chair – Writers’ Breakaway Contest – Stage Director Caught in State Property Drama – Inadequate Energy Bills Spark Outrage

Life in Georgia has been getting more expensive lately, but some have prices even higher to pay for things they never ordered, be it inadequate energy bills or an unexpectedly arriving ex-President. Here is Nini with usual updates from Georgia.

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TANGLED The ruling Georgian Dream party and the pro-government media have long hinted at internal conflicts in the United National Movement (UNM), its arch-rival. A particular focus was on rumors that Chairman Nika Melia and ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, believed to wield the biggest power in the party, were not getting along, and that things got even worse after Saakashvili’s arrival whilst Melia was giving it all to solidify his reputation and standing in the party. Such rumors got additional backing after the recent party reorganizations, particularly when Melia – while keeping his chairmanship – was replaced by MP Koba Nakopia, UNM’s wealthy man, to head the party’s political council. Both Saakashvili and Melia have vehemently denied the rumors, now shared by groups outside the ruling party circles as well. The chairman would even go the extra mile to prove the opposite, such as a move to declare and participate in a short-lived mass hunger strike during New Years’ celebrations. >>>

>OVERHEARD IN PUBLIC Now the government-friendly Imedi TV aired footage (which it claimed a citizen provided) showing Melia arguing in a conversation with a group of what looks like party supporters that he was “categorically against” ex-President Saakashvili’s return to Georgia. The chairman claimed he was familiar with the attitudes of “Americans and Europeans” who would not “raise their voice” on the matter and foreigners would not jump in his support. “50% why {Georgian} Dream is today in power is our fault,” he is heard saying, arguing the party did not do enough work and plan well ahead of elections, going “to play soccer against the rival without prior training” confident about winning the game. Another bitter highlight was him being heard saying that „if the main idea for you and your neighbor is ‘freedom for Misha,’ it’s not going to work.” >>>

>SO WHAT Responding to a schadenfreude-hype in pro-government media (and in the ruling party too), Melia said in a Facebook statement that “low-quality” video only showed what he’s been trying to tell the public all this time: that he repeatedly stated publicly about being against Saakashvili’s return, and that he and the ex-President share the view that it should be the idea of “a better Georgia” that should bring people to streets rather than solely the idea of Saakashvili’s freedom. “We may have different strategies, but we have a common goal, and this is what matters most,” the party chairman said, also reiterating the importance for the opposition to be better prepared to attain a victory.  So far, his party colleagues have not publicly decried his honest talk. The UNM does have a record of such small disagreements resulting in leaders quitting the party, but Mr. Melia has sacrificed too much to give up that easily.

ALTERNATE ENDING On February 5, “Free Litera” – an alternate literary award took place in Georgia, to compensate for the original “Litera” contest canceled mid-2021 amid a massive boycott from contestants and jury members who cited “attempted censorship” by Culture Minister Tea Tsulukiani. PEN Georgia, an organization uniting Georgian writers which organized the February 5 event, said back in October that it would be a one-time award held in the same framework as the original contest and aimed at “empowering the literary process damaged by the ongoing censorship.” Relying both on individual donations and funding from larger donors, the contest awarded prizes in six literary nominations. The event follows a series of controversies that the culture field saw since hardline former Justice Minister Tsulukiani took on her new role last year. Since then, Tsulukiani was repeatedly accused of a crackdown on critical opinion, “cleansing” in national museums, favoritism in theaters, etc.

THIS LAND IS MINE Another controversy that unfolded in the culture field these days – and also follows scandalous revelations about Prime Minister’s wife being handed lands by the state – was the news that the government granted Robert Sturua, famous Georgian stage director, a land property near Tbilisi’s Lisi Lake for a symbolic price of GEL 1 (USD 0,33). National Agency of State Property, a body operating under the Ministry of Economy, did not deny the reports: according to its statement published by media outlet Interpressnews, the move aimed at honoring the renowned director, and a respective request at the Ministry was filed by the Rustaveli Theater he is leading. But there are still questions whether the decision was dictated by the desire to keep people in art loyal to the ruling party.

OVERENERGIZED Georgian Lari continues to appreciate against US Dollar, and the residents of the country keep waiting when the positive trend will also positively affect the excessively inflated prices. The inflation was particularly high in utility prices which saw a drastic rise last year. Things became even more dramatic this year after the government ended the subsidies on electricity. But this is not the end of the story: anywhere you go – in community groups operating in social media, on public transport, in the streets – the inadequately high energy bills are what everybody has been talking about. Some even claim they received expensive bills from uninhabited, closed premises.

Now the Georgian National Energy and Water Supply Regulatory Commission (GNERC) – faced with numerous complaints from users – decided to look into the matter. The state agency promised on February 3 to study the billing and meter systems applied by private companies responsible for electricity distribution (Telasi) and supply (Telmiko) in Tbilisi, pledging to impose sanctions if things are done the wrong way and reimburse excessive fees for users. The issue has become the most-discussed subject in the capital city over the past weeks and also landed on the political agenda: the United National Movement now offers the disappointed citizens assistance in appealing inadequately costly bills.

That’s the full lid for today. Join us every Tuesday and Friday for the tongue-in-cheek coverage of Georgia’s political life.


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