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The Dispatch

Dispatch | October 12-19: Crime and Punishment

The past week turned out to be about crimes and the responsibility for them, both domestically and internationally. A tragedy may be the trigger for society to consider its sense of justice, adjust its mores, and adapts its laws to this new understanding. Will Georgians? The jury is out. This is the Dispatch.

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ASHES Georgians were stunned to learn on October 13, that three teens were electrocuted – one of the fatally – in a newly rehabilitated central fountain, which was opened to great pomp by the Tbilisi Mayor, Kakha Kaladze just a day before. The incident confronted society with an array of questions considering the concept of responsibility and specifically – political responsibility. The mayor said he was ready to step down, “if found guilty”, and the investigation charged nine, mostly contractors who carried out works, but also one municipality official, with criminal negligence. Some Georgians said the Mayor, who was happy to take the credit for the bling-bling works in Tbilisi’s affluent suburb, should also be ready to face the music when his project failed so catastrophically. Some – very few – hit the streets. In a discussion of “what should Kaladze do”, one element stands out: Georgian society reacts viscerally to direct criminal responsibility, and usually wants the law to avenge the crime. Absent is the instinctive notion of civic responsibility (backed by and repressed through civil lawsuits) for damaging the very fabric of social contract, of civic co-existence. That implicit contract, which says the common spaces should be secure, that the public works should be done right, and that safety procedures must be followed. The Mayor’s PR team built his defense on the notion that, of course, Mayor Kaladze did not personally kill the teen, nor he had such intent. The Mayor and his ruling party blamed the opposition for “politicizing” the case. Kaladze made sure to look adequately bereaved, went to the funeral of the deceased teen, and visited the surviving one, even gifting him his footballer jersey (the photo of the boy-who-lived wearing the jersey with “Kaladze” written on it was immediately picked up by the pro-governmental media). Where there is no civic spirit, there is no political responsibility, where there is no notion of crime, there can not be punishment. Yet, fragmented and disjointed, without civic values to guide it, the society won’t build democracy, but will somber into apathetic fatalism so beloved by the Church…and by the autocrats.

FACADES Georgia’s public procurement system is often hailed for its transparency and ease of use. But the Tbilisi incident showed both its pretty and ugly sides. On the one hand, the watchdogs and digital media were able to access procurement files, the description of contractors, their track records, and certifications within minutes of the incident. On the other hand, it transpired that even as the formal procedures are sometimes followed, the backroom deals are cut to short-circuit them. In the most visible example, both the contractor company and the one that issued (fake) safety certificates for the works used to be black-listed for past misdeeds, but after making cosmetic adjustments, were allowed to re-compete, and to get direct contracts worth millions in public money. That is one area, where the City Hall can hardly avoid political responsibility. But in a political climate, where both the ruling party and the majority of the opposition are still sneering at the very notion of safety standards and inspections, this is NOT the responsibility that the citizens are sensitized to react to. A short news attention span, fuelled by social media tempo, is not helping, either.

EDUCATION, SHMEDUCATION Democracy is deliberation-driven, and – in our complex world – deliberations should be expertise-driven. Modern European democracy can hardly function without engaged and educated citizens. Yet, the damning new report published by the World Bank says Georgia is falling woefully short: 65 percent of its 15-year-old students are functionally illiterate; almost half of the Georgian children younger than five have less than three children’s books at home; one in four youths aged 15-24 is neither in employment, education nor training; Georgia is among the most unequal countries in Europe and Central Asia; the rate of avoidable diseases, linked to lifestyle and nutrition, is one of the highest in the region; high out-of-pocket health expenditures force many poor and vulnerable households to choose between falling further into destitution to pay for health care and not seeking treatment when it is required. These are only some of the findings. Degradation of the human capital, complemented by the outflow of qualified Georgians, means deliberative democracy has less fertile soil to thrive on. No sign of political responsibility on either side of the partisan trenches.

NOT MY PROBLEM Talking of the trenches, the news broke that the delegation of the Georgian Dream did not vote for the resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) which condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and labeled its regime “a terrorist one”. The ruling party delegates bolted – apparently – due to a paragraph in that resolution calling “to review the case” of Mikheil Saakashvili “Ukrainian citizen and former President of Georgia”. The amendment referring to Saakashvili was initiated by the delegates of the United National Movement and its allies from the EPP political family. But instead of mobilizing its own allies to vote this amendment down, GD chose to scuttle its support for the resolution altogether. Georgia’s navel-gazing foreign policy apparently offers a comfortable space for mental retreat to some. But clearly, being in that place is fully irresponsible and oblivious of the world that surrounds us. While Europe is ablaze, one neglects natural allies at one’s own peril…

And thus ended this week… Georgia swam without compass and rudderless in troubled waters, hoping that occasional hob-nobbing with European counterparts, an occasional speech vaunting successes and ignoring challenges, occasional sensible utterance from [hamstrung] the President help it keeping in sufficiently off the Russian radar, but sufficiently close the right camp, long enough to weather the storm. We think this hope is vain. We hope we are wrong.

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