The Dispatch

Dispatch | October 20 – November 1

Georgia’s political life continued with further narrowing down of the political space for democratic debate. As the notorious judges get at the helm of the top judiciary body, and the Public Defender’s parliamentary hearings degenerate into a circus, Georgia’s leadership is cultivating the friendships that go well with the trend.

ORBAN LOVE On October 27, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, signed a declaration on the two countries’ strategic partnership and issued official press statements. The agreement was reached during Irakli Garibashvili’s visit to Hungary. Warmly welcomed by Orban, Georgia’s Prime Minister did not hold back in lavishing praise on his Hungarian counterpart. Irakli Garibashvili expressed his ‘great respect’ for Viktor Orban, who had designated the EU’s refusal to grant Georgia the candidacy ‘discriminatory.’ “Our guest and his country have earned candidate status because they have worked hard for many years. Such a decision was disrespectful to Georgia. We will continue to support Georgia in obtaining candidate status and joining the European Union as soon as possible, and we will attract experts,” Hungarian PM said. Does Garibashvili hope that Hungary’s own EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, who deals with enlargement, will work the same “advancement magic” that allowed Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to advance on the EU path while backtracking on the rule of law and democracy? The time will tell. In the meantime, PM Garibashvili’s recent friendlies include President Ilham Aliev and President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of UAE. We can’t help but notice, that Mr. Garibashvili looks much more relaxed in this company than in Brussels…

SULFUROUS ROBES The 31st conference of judges held at the High School of Justice (HSoJ) elected Levan Murusidze and Dimitri Gvritishvili as members of the High Council of Justice. Both Murusidze and Gvritishvili are considered major dons of the ‘clan’ which ensures that the judiciary follows political orders. Their role has been harshly criticized and condemned by the domestic opposition, watchdogs as well as the country’s strategic partners. Obviously, the watchdogs were livid but the judges seem nonplussed. On the contrary, one of them promised to “go on the offensive” against these meddling scoundrels. Judging by the intensity with which the government-loving media lashes out at CSOs, we could expect some frivolous lawsuits soon-ish, and the ear of Themis may turn out to be quite benevolent indeed…

…AND MORE SULFUROUS ROBES The elections that are not contested have a whiff of a foul play about them. So eyebrows were raised as Tbilisi State University picked its new rector with only one person running. Twenty-eight members from the Academic Council of Georgia’s most ancient tertiary institutions out of 33 picked Jaba Samushia, a 51-year-old PhD to lead them. The fact that no other candidate stood was seen as a clear indication that the academics – prone to understand the direction of the political wind – sensed the weight of support from the government rallying behind Samushia. Quite understandably, some students protested, demanding a change in the procedure for electing a rector and calling on the University to build a dormitory for students and provide subsidized housing. After Samushia was elected, one of the students stated that they do not recognize his election as legitimate, because “it was held by bypassing the students.” Samushia was a member of the Tbilisi City Council from the Georgian Dream in 2014-2017.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT? The decision by the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, on sanctioning the close relatives and business partners of Georgian Dream’s patron, Bidzina Ivanishvili, made headlines, further straining the Georgia-Ukraine relations, and undoubtedly stirring Ivanishvili’s sanctions paranoia. The Ukrainian President’s October 19 decree sanctions Bidzina’s brother, Alexandre Ivanishvili, Alexandre’s wife and his alleged intermediary to the Russian political elite, Ketevan Kharaidze, and Bidzina Ivanishvili’s cousin and confidant Ucha Mamatsashvili, together with his son Tate Mamatsashvili, among other 256 names. The ruling party’s vociferous condemnation was easy to foresee. opposition representatives claimed (here, For Georgia and here, Lelo for Georgia) they were not happy with the decision, as it clearly damages Georgia’s reputation. Others, also foreseeably – rejoiced.

[NOT]HITTING STAR Major controversy hit Georgia as the tennis star Nikoloz Basilashvili, ranked 16th in the world in 2019, has been acquitted of all four charges brought against him by the Prosecutor’s office. He had been accused of physical, phycological, verbal as well as economic abuse of his wife.  Most of the reputed human rights defenders, especially those focusing on domestic violence and violence against women, said they were shocked by the judge’s lack of gender sensitivity and inability to protect women against perpetrators. Ana Abashidze, picked by the opposition for the country’s next Ombudsperson, hailed the Prosecutor’s Office for its performance in the court, but slammed the decision by the judge as ‘incompetent and biased.’ Basilashvili, much like many other internationally successful Georgian sports professionals, is considered to be the ruling party’s PR asset. In 2021, he publicly endorsed Kakha Kaladze, incumbent Tbilisi mayor from GD, to be reelected for the second term. Basilashvili’s connections with the ruling party further overshadowed the legitimacy of the judge’s decision, but there were some other details: the court officials were seen taking selfies during the hearings, and the judge referred to Basilashvili with the respectful patronymic while being on the first-name terms with the claimant wife…

DEFENDER BLUES The hearings of the Public Defender candidates at the parliament have predictably turned into a political and media circus, after the parties moved to hear all of the applicants, including the ones who clearly submitted frivolous applications. Hence, the pearls like “I am a lawyer by training, but in the recent past I was in touch with the divine, rather than with your earthly matters” were heard and picked up by social media. The hearings lacked depth, and the fact of MPs taking this point lightly and through partisan mud-slinging adds nothing to the dismal state of human rights, and the important role that the Public Defender plays in righting the wrongs. Only in the recent week, the office looked into the case of dismissal of the journalists from the public broadcaster, purges at the National Museum, commented on the [sorry] state of the judiciary, and acted as a watchdog on the fulfillment of EU recommendations. Frankly, many of the candidates the Parliament was hearing lacked the elementary knowledge to tackle such matters. We hold our breath for the final pick.

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