There are times when the denial of reality is catching up even with politicians. For a while now, one is overcome with a tingling sensation that change is afoot, that the absurdity of what passes for political life in Georgia is no longer tenable. Or perhaps, we are just passing the desired for the inevitable? Only time will tell. This is the Dispatch, and we talk about some signs and symptoms of reincarnations.
The Dispatch will be coming to you weekly, in your mailboxes on Wednesday.
POWER TO DREAM The MPs have been mysteriously drip-dripping out of the ruling Georgian Dream party and into the sovereignist outfit that now calls itself People Power (yes, we noticed it too, both names are quite generic). We once likened the new group to a populist spinoff of the main series, and it now seems the spin-off got a whole new season. With five more MPs, the Dream has lost its sole proprietorship of power. Technically and until further notice, PM Irakli Garibashvili now presides over the minority government, propped by the People Power, which pledged support. This means that should the government need to renew its parliamentary mandate (say, purely hypothetically of course, if the Prime Minister resigned), People Power could – also hypothetically – withdraw support and thus trigger snap elections. Georgian media and analysts are used to what GD patron and First Citizen, Bidzina Ivanishvili once termed “my little tricks.” Let us recall, that a “rebellion” within the ranks of the Georgian Dream MPs once caused an important compromise on the election system to “unexpectedly” fall through. Five of those “rebels”, who gave GD a convenient alibi for reneging on its reform promise, are now members of People Power. What convenient escape hatch would they provide now?! Here’s looking at you, EU’s 12-point recommendations.
STOCKING THE SHELVES Every supermarket chain knows, that brands try to stock all the shelves with variants of the same product, to maximize profits. Mr. Ivanishvili may be an oligarch, but he is a businessman after all. There is well-founded suspicion, that for a long time, he supported extreme-right outfits, such as “Patriot’s Alliance” to mobilize a hardcore elector base against his opponents. In 2020, the Alliance of Patriots, whose leader, Irma Inashvili was elevated to vice-chair of the parliament, was doing the kind of west-bashing that the Georgian Dream is now handling. So there is no surprise, that rather than sending this business across the street, GD now may try to elevate a similar voice in-house, so to say. But therein emerges a problem: GD Chair Irakli Kobakhidze and PM Irakli Garibashvili have been treading a line that is extremely close to that of People Power. Chairman Kobakhidze reiterated yesterday, that their difference is that of form, rather than values. Since GD fully jettisoned its pro-western flank in 2020 – they quit after the “rebel” MPs blocked election system amendments – it has no unambiguously pro-western politicians. Would Mr. Ivanishvili take care of that problem to reload GD to the center of People Power? Interestingly, while the anniversary of the Georgian Dream’s coming to power was celebrated by its current leaders with a statement affirming the sovereignist drift, its former supporters accused the leadership of forgetting the ideals of 2012. Did they sense the opportunity for a comeback?
TRAVELLING CIRCUS Aleksandar Lukashenka, authoritarian as he might have been, used to be the only man to openly snub his nose at Putin. No more. His hands are now in the blood of repressed protests at home, and his country serves as the base for Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine. While at some point, Georgia was happy to play the intermediary between Minsk and Brussels, the tables have turned. Demonstrating servility to the Kremlin, or perhaps with some more sinister plot, Lukashenka popped up in Georgia’s occupied Abkhazia and hobnobbed with local leaders, in disregard of the international as well as Georgia’s national laws. Tbilisi reacted in uproar: the Belarussian Ambassador to Georgia was immediately summoned to the MFA. Georgian MFA, and the President were dismayed, Prime Minister was miffed, the Speaker of the Parliament disgruntled, Defense and Culture ministers – menacing (if we were Lukashenka, we’d fear the Culture Minister more…), and the ruling party head well, far less menacing than he is towards the media or the opposition. Lukashenka’s former wily self shone only in his press office statement following the visit: showing the marvels of conflict-sensitive drafting, it refers to the trip as the visit to the “north-eastern Black Sea coast”, rather than Abkhazia, and never mention official titles of Sokhumi leadership. Too little, too late. But Georgia is now reaping the “negative benefits” of sticking with the old policy far beyond its best-before date – Tbilisi failed to condemn Minsk’s repression of protests and never entertained relations with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s cabinet-in-exile. Perhaps, now the time has come to change the tack.
TOGETHER AT LAST? Our readers would recall, that the Georgian Dream has been pushing the narrative, that some western actors are pushing Georgia into a military confrontation with Russia to aid Ukraine’s effort. This has become the main narrative line – we may freely call it a conspiracy theory – of the People Power. That theory has new and unexpected proponents. First, Inal Ardzinba, the Kremlin’s point-man in Sokhumi echoed the same line. Now, ‘’field commander’’ Akhra Avidzba, fresh from Ukraine where he was fighting under Russian colors, albeit no friend of Ardzinba’s, has reiterated the idea, that the Western ‘’curators’’ are forcing Georgia to start a war. He said, with sympathy that the Georgian government itself is “sincerely unwilling” to do so. In our minds, this is the first time since the bloody war, when Sokhumi and Tbilisi are so close, both ideologically and rhetorically.
In other news:
- Georgia firmly condemned sham referenda and Russia’s ensuing annexation of the Ukrainian regions. The statements came a bit too late for our taste, but better late than never: both the President of Georgia and the MFA were quite clear. PM demurred.
- PM Garibashvili waxed self-congratulatory as 10th Anniversary of GD in power was marked. According to the Prime Minister, while Europe is struggling to stay warm this winter, Georgia has doubled its economic growth. Perhaps ‘’encouraged’’ by Georgia’s ‘’unprecedented economic success,’’ also pledged salary increases for the military, security personnel, police officers, and civil servants. GD also boasted to be the only party in the history of independent Georgia under whose watch the country has not experienced war. Isn’t it ironic that the State Security Service of Georgia (SSG) reported on October 1 that the occupying Russian forces have continued to “mark the border” of the territories they occupy?
- Talking of the irony – the Georgian Dream says it is planning to propose a bill on de-oligarchization based on the Ukrainian template. Why a sudden love of Ukraine, you may ask? Because their legal provisions, according to GD luminaries won’t touch their patron Bidzina Ivanishvili but will help go after opposition donors, such as Davit Kezerashvili. And if the opposition does not like our bill, we won’t vote for it, says GD Chair Kobakhidze. Nice try, right, Brussels? Right?!
This is all for today, we will meet next Wednesday to see how the reloading is going…