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The Dispatch

Dispatch – May 11/12: And all that jazz…


During the past days the Georgian politics, habitually teetering on the verge of absurdity, made a decisive plunge into the abyss of the surreal. The ruling party members alluded to a conspiracy (perhaps led by the U.S.?) to draw their mentor and patron, Mr. Ivanishvili back into politics, and the country into the war with Russia. This outlandish allegation was drawing, it seems, solely on some delays in settlement of Mr. Ivanishvili’s private payments from a Swiss bank and difficulties in shifting prized artwork across Europe. The U.S. ambassador found this “confusing” and, frankly, we would have used the words ‘raving nonsense’, if not for that wise remark of one Irakli Kobakhidze to an incredulous journalist: “you did not understand? That’s ideal. This was the kind of issue, where it’s better that nobody understood.” That gave us pause. Indeed, why be peering into the smokescreen, when real issues beckon? This is the Dispatch, with bi-weekly updates from Georgia.

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LANDGRAB While we were looking elsewhere, the Russian businessman David Khidasheli grabbed huge chunk of public forests in West Georgia’s mountainous Racha region – close to 105 hectares to be precise – awarded with a lease of 49 years to set up the hunting grounds. Environmental NGOs cry foul – both by national legislation and Georgia’s international commitments, this was inadmissible, says Green Alternative, a watchdog. But to verify, they asked for some official documentation, which has been apparently denied by the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture. A blatant violation of the freedom of information laws, say the lawyers, who plan to bring the case to court. A rich man lobbying for sweet deals? Perhaps. But it gets juicier: not only Mr. Khidasheli is a former deputy vice-chair of the sanctioned Russian “SISTEMA” group, he was also at the origins of the infamous “Cartographers’ Case”, in which the ruling party jailed two civil servants on absurd charges and used the nationalist wave of “selling the lands of Georgia” for the electoral means. The former head of SISTEMA, billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov was recently caught on tape in a seemingly compromising conversation with Ivanishvili. So Khidasheli is the man close to Ivanishvili in more than one way. Perhaps that’s where one should be looking in unpacking the ministry’s sudden penchant for secrecy of contracts?

FAMILY MATTERS What is the relation between the sanctity of family and support to Ukraine? I am sure you could come up with some suggestions, but we bet on you failing to guess how exactly this question refracts through Georgia’s broken political mirror. May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), and on this day in 2013, Tbilisi saw the first major pogrom of the civil-society rally by the clergy. To further deny the field to the activists, next year, in 2014, the Georgian Orthodox Church instituted the “Day of strength of family and respect for parents” to fall on the same date. Ever since, the waft of violence is present in the air on each May 17. This time, the GoC announced its traditional “Family Day” gathering, but added a fresh twist: the day, the Patriarchy said “is also dedicated to peace in Georgia, but also in Ukraine and in the whole world”. Talking about the mere LGBTQ rights in this context is unpatriotic, surely?! But whatever the Church’s sly tactics, Georgians seem to be edging away from the clerical toxicity: the new study solicited by UNDP, found that hostility to LGBTQ rights agendas, including their right to rally, has dropped by some 20% since 2016 (albeit still remaining in upper 40%-s).

LETTER IN THE BOTTLE It’s done! Georgia has responded to the 2000-something-questionnaire of the European Union. Should the Georgians be sitting, biting their nails until 24-25 June, when the EU Council is slated to decide whether to grant the candidacy?! Not so, say some experts, who argue the Georgian government – and its civil society – should lobby actively to get a supportive declaration from the EU Parliament (which both Ukraine and Moldova already got), and lobby the European Commission to get the desired result. Whether or not that is possible, while the government persists in its paranoia (see the opening para) and civil society has credible concerns about the government’s commitment to the basics of the human rights and the rule of law, is an open question. All we can hope on, is that Brussels is clement and won’t be leaving Georgia out in the cold in the times of war. But honestly, on the basis of facts, could we blame them if they did?

CRUELTY After much humiliation and ridicule about his state of health, the government conceded to a transfer of Mikheil Saakashvili, who suffers from multiple ailments, to a civilian hospital for exams, and a possible treatment. Life has a cruel way of setting the record straight, and Saakashvili, whose administration is rightly accused of critical failures in the law enforcement and justice, became an iconic victim of the continued misuse of justice for political aims. Notably, coming to the defense of Saakashvili’s rights has become the third rail of the Georgian administration: the ruling party did away with the State Inspector’s Service and accused the Ombudsperson of bias towards so called “party of war” after they did their duty to defend the rights of inmate Saakashvili. Could the transfer herald an increased sensitivity of the government, if not to Saakashvili’s plight, but at least to the impact of his potential demise on Georgia’s EU application? We would not hold our breath.

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On that note: Dear Steve, as you may see we did not use our habitual “full lid” closing. We are keenly aware that this is not part of “generally recognized colloquial English.” But this is a tip-of-a-hat to one C.J. Cregg, whose legacy of witty, acerbic, yet humane tone we seek to embrace.

Oh, and yes, the Georgian Telegraph, you are still stealing. Stop that.


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