In Georgia, another week has passed. As the international order is consumed in the flames of Russia’s atrocious aggression in Ukraine, and as Europe burns in the throes of the climate change whose catastrophic effects become ever-harder to ignore, the Georgian government is prioritizing one lawsuit. Of a private person towards a Swiss bank. A private person that, the government argues, is fully detached from the business of government. His name is Ivanishvili, Bidzina Ivanishvili. And he is NOT an oligarch. This is the Dispatch, with news that were considered important, and those that might have been.
(DON’T) CALL HIM BY HIS NAME The epistolary malediction that befell the Georgian leadership has continued unabated. Worse, it has expanded to the international arena. PM Irakli Garibashvili wrote a flamboyant letter to the EC President Ursula von der Leyen, asking her, by and large, to disavow the “falsehoods” that the European Parliament has been spinning about one Bidzina Ivanishvili. Let’s ignore, for a second, the fact that the said letter (you can see the full official version here) foregoes all the diplomatic polite form, habitual for such correspondence. Let us also forget, for another second, that it seems to be drafted by a homegrown attorney, who is positioning the government legally for a lawsuit, but doing it in such as misplaced way as to make it sound ridiculous.
If we abstract from the grotesque, several things jump to the eye. For one, Georgian PM thinks the EC President can tut-tut the EU Parliament into submission. And no wonder he does! This is the same PM that called Georgian MPs “maniacs” and “traitors” not so long ago. But it is worrying that the diplomatic corps, who should know better, was not consulted – or that their opinion was ignored.
Second, for a letter, which is supposed to take up an issue with the EU Parliament calling Mr. Ivanishvili an oligarch, PM Garibashvili certainly refers to private-citizen-Ivanishvili’s financial and other concerns a lot. More, he attaches to this missive his another recent opus – “Open Letter” published urbi et orbi – which refers to Mr. Ivanishvili no less than 40 times in five pages. A curious way to put some air-gap between the government and the said “non-oligarch”.
As observers noted, the Georgian Dream is in the tight spot: they try to demonstrate to the Western powers that they are not beholden to Ivanishvili, while simultaneously trying to signal to their Georgian supporters, that Ivanishvili is firmly in control, but suffering an unfair onslaught from the West.
Why go to such contortions, you ask?! The answer is simple – if Ivanishvili were not in control, why would anyone support the Georgian Dream?! The effort this double-messaging takes, is putting a visible strain on the leadership’s ability to stay at least somewhat coherent.
KIDS ARE NOT OK In the meantime, the government’s international standing is slipping. Its StratCom (let us say in passing, lavishly supported by the foreign donors, who thought they’d counter Russian propaganda) is desperately pushing out jubilatory posts purporting Georgia’s ascension in various ratings. But even those excited reports are on a shaky ground: they ignore other ratings and do not exactly hold up to superficial fact-checking, journalists found.
Still, it is the political reality that bites the hardest. The European Parliament (yes, the one derided by the PM) has heard a critical report about the implementation of the Association Agreement, particularly noting failures in the judiciary. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner lambasted the government for failures to protect the rights of LGBT community, and those of the religious minorities. The GRECO – Council of Europe’s financial propriety watchdog – raises questions about financial transparency.
So when we hear the government say “coordinated campaign to discredit Georgia’s governance system”, we can but roll our eyes and hope they’d grow up a little.
TINKER, TAILOR… Ioseb (Soso) Gogashvili, once Georgia’s deputy top-spy has landed in jail, after alleging the government conspiracy to fix the election results. Even on surface, the story sounds spicy. Scratch that surface, and – as often in Georgia – the picture becomes surreal. Gogashvili has long been the tough cop of Georgia’s security service. His name is associated with 2017 operation in Tbilisi and Pankisi, which caused death of 18-year-old Temirlan Machalikashvili, apparently shot in his bed, he succumbed to his wounds. Gogashvili exited the scene after Machalikashvili’s father, Malkhaz, emerged as a prominent protest figure.
Now, the ex-spy came in from the cold slamming the Georgian Dream and saying the “ugly system must be dismantled” in 2021, after a set of alleged security service recordings documenting massive surveillance was leaked to the media. At the time, it was rumored that Gogashvili was behind that leak.
The circumstances leading up to Gogashvili’s arrest were no less intriguing, and included a release of the illegal covert recording of the critical Mtavari Arkhi TV newsroom, where the editor and journalists were discussing how to handle the security service recordings’ leak in 2021.
Now, Gogashvili says the repressive government machinery came to get him for trying to expose Russian spies in the system. As the prosecution levels charges of abuse of office, illegal distribution of private data, and illegal possession of firearms, Gogashvili’s family claims the weapon was planted on him, seeking support of the rights groups. Ironically, one civic activist does recall, that Gogashvilis son, Nika, was prominent in attacking the protesters against ruling party… Truly, the boomerang of bad governance and police brutality strikes its erstwhile authors, too. But finding justice in their defense is just as crucial.
POINTING FINGERS Pointing accusatory fingers towards the West is the new fad in Georgia, and everyone has a field day. Justice Lasha Chkhikvadze, who recently sent the TV owner and political persona, Nika Gvaramia to jail on – Ombudsperson says – absurd charges, says the U.S. Embassy and Members of the European Parliament are interfering with the Georgian justice system. In the meantime, the Georgian Dream-affiliated pundit, Zaza Shatirishvili alleges the U.S. “controls” the Swiss banking system as well as the international media through – you’d laugh – its “invisible hand”. Why? Because Credit Suisse is pursuing a self-destructive effort against Bidzina Ivanishvili’s assets and the Swiss press refuses to publish his lobbyists’ letters unveiling this plot, which undermines the whole Swiss banking system. A point of view from a slightly deranged conspiracy theorist, you say?! Well, wait, MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, head of the Georgian Dream’s parliamentary faction, is of the same opinion: “everyone understands that there are forces that may put into question even the reputation of the Swiss banking system. When I speak of those forces, I purposefully avoid being more specific.” Luckily, Mr. Shatirishvili and Mr. Ivanishvili’s law firm MKD are there to cast aside those bashful diplomatic brackets. U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan had to respond, once again, to absurd allegations…
As the main thrust of the government’s effort has been directed at strongarming the Credit Suisse in the interests of one simple Georgian citizen (NOT an oligarch), the ruling party has successfully scuttled the effort to hold the parliament session on the EU accession priorities. And as PM Garibashvili was addressing long and angry letter to EC President, Mrs. Von der Leyen was within arm’s reach – visiting Baku to negotiate additional gas supplies. But PM Garibashvili had other things to do. He was marveling at the state-of-the-art skating arena in…Uzbekistan, and went on to visit Turkmenistan. A hint, perhaps, at the vector of the Georgian foreign and domestic policy in the making?!