WAITING FOR BITTER PILLS — MACRON’S ENTICING PLAN — A CHANGE OF TUNE? — NEW MAN IN TSKHINVALI
As one door closes, another one opens, goes the saying. The anniversary of the end of the World War II is a contested date in Georgia – is it the 8th, the Victory Day in Europe for some, the day of memory for the other European states, or is it the 9th, the Victory Day of USSR in its “Great Patriotic War” that began in 1941, not in 1939? Is it the day for celebration, or for saying “never again,” lament and reflection? This year, Ukraine upended the “never again” promise, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy so eloquently put. But as the old certainties crumble, is there a silver lining, the promise of the future, perhaps free, and perhaps more European? The doors have been opening and slamming for the whole week. And didn’t our grandmothers told us repeatedly – “you shall not stand in the cross-wind, you’ll catch your death that way?!” This is the Dispatch, with your bi-weekly coverage of what passes for Georgia’s politics these days.
EU WILL SEE YOU NOW Georgia was long stuck in the corridor of Europe, but the sacrifice of Ukraine, has let it advance one step further, just into the waiting room. Just like a hopeful patient at the physician’s reception room, Tbilisi is handing in the necessary questionnaires, hoping all goes well. But the test results seem inconclusive, at best — as the patient long suspected, the NATO official said there are signs of a chronic disease: inflamed liver of legal reforms, respiration troubles of electoral democracy, short-sightedness of security sector oversight… Not fatal, for now, but concerning. Add to that the unwillingness of the patient to exercise the rule of law as diligently and impartially as required, at least in the high profile case of the former president, and consistent inhalation of the toxic fumes of censorship. So when the Doctor EU will see you, what would the verdict be?! We are left chewing our nails.
MANU, MON AMOUR But what do we hear?! A sound of another door opening? Speaking to the European MPs in Strasbourg, the French president, fresh from the election victory, broached an idea of the European Political Community, where he explicitly placed Georgia, alongside Ukraine and Moldova. The new alliance, Macron said, is without prejudice to EU membership, but will give the states access to some benefits – such as infrastructural funds, people mobility, energy security and the like. This, in fact, looks much like something President Salome Zurabishvili has been asking for years now – deeper sectoral integration, without right to impact the EU decision-making. But the war in Ukraine has raised stakes, Zurabishvili admitted that “[Ukraine’s] heroic battle has hastened the opening of the European perspective for us.” Will Ukraine balk at the proposal?! Is the state of health of Georgia’s democracy fit for even such association? President Macron stressed repeatedly, that such partnership can only based on the accession “common pillar of values” and mentioned the rule of law more than once…
CHANGE OF TUNE? Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili has shown to be profoundly irritated by Ukraine leadership, who he sees as supporters of his party’s arch-enemy, Mikheil Saakashvili and his party, the UNM. Neither he likes the EU values much, slamming civil society, minorities, and arguing he serves only the will of majority. Yet, there has been a change of tone. Speaking in Poland Garibashvili was effusive about support to Ukraine. On 8 May, he said “Georgia’s European choice has no alternative.” Is that the wind of change blowing through the open door? Perhaps… Whenever the European affairs seemed to offer an opportunity, the leadership, however reticent, is used to the change the tone. Another leader with a penchant for authoritarianism, and with considerably more experience, Aleksandar Vučić from Serbia has been smelling the same change in the air. In Serbia, just like in Georgia, they are told early to pick the winning side, and to beware of the cross-winds…
UNKNOWN, UNLOVED, UNRECOGNIZED The war in Ukraine also plays tricks on Georgia’s not-so-frozen conflicts. Some see the war as the testimony to Russia’s incurable ambition for landgrabs and the backdated justification for Georgia’s actions pre- and during 2008. Others – including the government – treat the Kremlin’s naked aggression and brutality as a clear and present menace to be feared. In this context, many in Tbilisi look towards Sokhumi and Tskinvali with caution, even as some media display schadenfreude for combat losses in Donbas, where occupied territories’ troops were goaded to beef up the Russian offensive. The news of an underdog seemingly winning “presidential polls” in Tskhinvali dropped in this context as a bit of a surprise: some sighs of relief, as outgoing leader pledged prompt “reunification” with Russia. Some confusion, as to whether the new man can patch up some pressing concerns of the locals – like opening roads towards Georgia proper. And some dramatic pulling of hair from opposition-minded netizens over “Tskhinvali having better democracy than we do.” Wanton exaggeration, alas, is a part of our political culture – and beyond. But perhaps we shall celebrate our political theatrics it as a sign of our European, Mediterranean heritage?!
That’s full lid from us today. Join us every Tuesday and Friday for the tongue-in-cheek coverage of Georgia’s political life. And, hey, this is a shout out to those so called “media sources” that took to copy-pasting the Dispatch without referring to the source. The Georgian Telegraph (or the Telegraph Georgian, hard to guess from your website), you are stealing. Stop that.