Since we have last spoken, the reginal conflagration has been drawing ever closer, with Georgia’s two next-door neighbors coming to blows, again. Yet, no matter that the Pax (well, cynically speaking) Russica has been unravelling from the flatlands of Ukraine to the deserts of Central Asia. The Georgian politics remained blissfully oblivious and doggedly self-obsessed. The government prioritized squeezing civil society and media, while pretending to be tilting against the paper tigers it has bred. Liberal bubble was happy its champion Zurab Japaridze wiped the floor with one rambling TV host, spent artist formerly known as Ucnobi (Unknown). In the meantime, the Georgian people have spoken (sort of), but the political cacophony has drowned out their desperate cry.
This is the Dispatch, with things that happened, and those that could have.
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THE NUMBERS GAME It is back, the survey everyone loves …to hate. The National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S. non-profit, has released its regular report commissioned from the local pollster, CRRC. It reflects the mood of Georgians on a wide range of issues, including persisting support for the EU and NATO integration, popular disenchantment with the state institutions, economy, Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, and the future.
EU membership support has dropped by 7 percent compared to the last polls in March, but 75 percent of Georgians still approve of the country’s eventual membership. Similarly, a small dip registered in NATO membership support, but the solid 69 percent of Georgians remain in favor.
Perhaps what should have been an alert for the authorities is that 92 percent of citizens consider living in a democracy important, while 62% believe Georgia is not the one itself and the majority think the country cannot serve as a good example for its neighbors.
While accurate and unbiased polls are a great means of fostering the development of more responsive governance, Georgian authorities seem to be hesitant to pick up on the signals. Instead, perhaps considering themselves infallible, they prefer to discredit NDI and CRRC for making hard-to-face, yet legitimate concerns of the people heard. The Parliament Speaker, along with the other ruling GD officials, was prompt to claim that NDI polls are never accurate, reliable, or meaningful. He said they contribute to domestic polarization. The opposition, whose support showings are depressingly dismal, generally believed the figures but slammed the ruling force, whose authoritarian streak, they argued, limits expression so much, that their [competent] voices are not heard. Perhaps true, but a little self-criticism would not have hurt. No luck – only a thin sliver of self-doubt broke through the clouds of grand-standing.
ON THE ROLL AGAIN: The “GD Dissenters”, the “Straight-Talking Four”, the four riders of the anti-Western apocalypse, dour faced and straight-backed, with their mind swirling with conspiracy theories and their tongues dipping hatred with fake US-bashing anti-colonialism. They were back in force, like a superficial skin rash announcing the festering plague.
Are the Americans trying to enslave us?! What is the U.S. money serving if not our exploitation? Why the U.S. are funding their own agents, those NGOs, pretending to support democracy? Is the blood price Georgian soldiers paid cheaper than U.S. assistance? Framed as questions these are – in reality – statements of an targeted, black-ops media campaign.
On September 15, one of the key targets of this campaign, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan, went to the government mouthpiece, Imedi TV, to respond to the accusations in an exclusive interview. But her every uttered word was used, predictably, against her. The Ambassador said the US expects the ruling party to distance itself from such false accusations. How naïve. The new wave of accusations was unleashed by the Dissenting Four, while the GD stood aside, barely pretending to play plausible deniability. Perhaps, the new EU Ambassador picked altogether more appropriate tone, calling the declarations of “the abysmal four” what it is – “rubbish”. We encourage the Polish diplomat not to mince his words in the future, too.
BOOMER-ANGST When you make some claims that have no grounds in fact, one day, the boomerang would swing right back to smack you on the head. Irakli Kobakhidze, the Flaming Sword of the Dream (yes, we watched The Sandman), got his money’s worth, when his functional twin-brother from Sokhumi, Inal Ardzinba, said “the probability of Georgia is quite high.” Ardzinba was, of course, picking on Kobakhidze’s sneering remark, that perhaps one should ask Georgians if they want to be dragged into war – in a referendum. Our readers surely recall, that the conspiracy of the domestic (read UNM) and foreign (read Western) “forces” trying to drag Georgia into war with Russia has been a jewel of the Georgian Dream’s information intoxication operation. A story deemed so successful in fact, that it was spun-off as stand-alone series, starring the “Dissenting Four”. But Mr. Ardzinba either does not know that, or he just does not care. It fits his little internal narrative, that of Georgians armed to their teeth, coming to get Abkhazia. This narrative is also probably useful for fundraising purposes in the Kremlin. What we are wondering about, is how the MGIMO-going Ardzinba and German-educated Kobakhidze got their…ahem…values so synchronized. Parallel-universes, same dorm-room?!
And while the made up politicians dealt with dreamt-up problems, some working bees were down to their little things:
- A proposal to introduce e-voting could be used to fix elections better – just ask Mr. Putin (no, not now, he is busy).
- But if someone, purely theoretically, was planning to do that, they would want to squeeze those nosy watchdogs, right? This is precisely what has been happening, and Civil.ge explained the why’s and the how’s.
- Speaking of the nosy, those journalists and independent media are quite irritating, too. Let us change that overly permissive legislation, and blame the EU regulations. Oldest trick in the book, since the Belraymont was built?! It is coming to the theaters near us.
- Those opposition parties are in electoral doldrums, but one may still want to keep tabs on them. Reports of massive surveillance, infiltration and snooping that TV Pirveli reporters uncovered are quite flabbergasting. The ruling party just brushes these aside, and the show goes on – based on the laws that have been vetoed not once, but thrice by two different (GD-backed) Presidents and proclaimed unconstitutional by the Court once.
- No wonder, that when the stodgy evaluators unroll their parchments to take stock of the results that the EU assistance – all of EUR 939 million in 2014-2020 – brought, they start to use polite code-phrases like “conditionality” and “leverage”. Check for yourself in this breakdown of the evaluation report that is just out.
That is all in our focused outbox for today. There were other news competing for our attention – about Mr. Kobakhidze’s mom filing (and winning) a frivolous libel lawsuit against an independent TV, about hostages in Kutaisi bank exchanging trademark humorous remarks with hostage-taker in a deliciously folkloric redux of the Casa de Papel TV series, and about now-sanctioned IranAir Boeings flying through Georgia with – allegedly – gifts for Moscow. But we would put that to sleep for now, and will check back to you next week. Perhaps, some of these stories would grow, but all we know for sure, is that the Georgian political scene will continue to dazzle.