The Dispatch

Dispatch | Jan. 30 – Feb. 5: Demobilized

Can a country where 61% of the respondents say no party represents them pretend to be a representative democracy? And are all the other mundane questions about institutions, political preferences, and all bells and whistles that the pollsters like to pose to an unsuspecting citizen simply nullified by that single finding? These were our thoughts as we wandered through a country that chases the shadows of foreign cultural and political expansion while destroying its national heritage out of pure incompetence.

This is Jaba at the Dispatch, trying to patch the un-patchable.

CHERCHEZ LA FEMME There was a poet, Paolo Iashvili, one of the famous Blue Horns literary movement, whose exuberant life and tragic death Dr. Lasha Bakradze had so poetically exposed on our pages once. He apparently had a female alter ego, known under the pen-name of Elene Dariani, whose erotically charged poetry formed a spicy staple of the Blue Horns literary evenings. Some argued Dariani was just a phantom, an alternative poetical persona that Iashvili built for himself. Others knew this to be the real woman whose love with the poet flourished into a beautiful and mutually enriching collaboration. Iashvili killed himself in the literary house in that infamous year 1937, at the height of Stalinist repressions. Dariani’s shadow was laid to rest with him until discovered by her descendants – including Dr. Bakradze – who published a book trying to reconstruct the woman behind the mystery.

Enter the crusading minister.

Yes, yes, you know her well from our missives. Once the Sword of Themis, Tea Tsulukiani has hanged up her robes of the chief inquisitor to slip into something more comfortable – a crimson negligé of the Minister of Muses Culture. The tortured generation of Soviet artists knew well that being “the director of artists” is no less bloody affair than stringing high the enemies of the revolution in the judiciary. And Ms. Tsulukiani knows that, too.

From the get-go, she has struck down the Dariani story as heresy. The original book, published under the aegis of the National Museum (formally under HER Ministry), was withdrawn from circulation, ostensibly for mistakenly assigning two of another female poet’s verses to Dariani. It was re-published privately, with corrigenda. On Friday, February 3, she delivered the final coup de grace – the Ministry published a counter-book that – Mme. Tsulukiani says – restores justice.

“There were certain forces that tried to tarnish the heritage of Paolo, this great Georgian destroyed by the communist regime. To tarnish it by robbing him of his oeuvre and assigning it to one Elene Bakradze. But they could not claim victory. Their attempt ended in a fiasco, and the Ministry has put an end to this shameful attempt at plagiarism,” she thundered.

Do you hear, Dear Reader, the tremolo of accusations?! “Certain forces” tarnishing our great men, the Ministry “putting an end” to their shameful machination, enemies everywhere? Words similar to these, those accusatory fingers, pointed in wrath, have sent the Blue Horns – and hundreds of thousands of others – to their demise.

Do we exaggerate? Perhaps in scale. But let us not forget that two civil servants were locked up on fictional charges of “selling sacred land” to the neighboring country not so long ago, with no material proof of their alleged horrible misdeed – placing the ancient David Gareji monastery into the infidels’ hands. The accusation that the Public Defender said was mostly political, to generate momentum ahead of the elections.

Mme Tsulukiani is the longest-serving Minister, who survived all of the Georgian Dream’s cabinets since 2012. She has created that system and is perhaps the most honest in her destructive zeal. She never lost her wicked way. Or did she?

CRUMBLING While the Culture Ministry was busy chasing the shadows of the dead poets, very tangible things entrusted to their care were deteriorating. And we are not talking about some mundane stones – but one of Georgia’s foremost medieval treasures, Gelati Monastery.

Series of botched attempts at fixing the leaky roof, the initial denial of problems pointed out by the experts, their late admission, and rush attempts at restoration – all of these have damaged some of the magnificent medieval frescoes beyond repair, said the National Research Center for Georgian Art History and Heritage Preservation, the top national authority on the subject. Minister Tsulukiani tried to get rid of the hot potato in her usual way – by accusing the Center of “political bias.” But she was (unexpectedly) slapped down by the Georgian Orthodox Church, which commissioned the study. And while you read our detailed explainer here, let’s pause, and take in the pattern.

Disrespect towards and denigration of expertise, slinging mud at those who dare to disagree, and threats to those who dare to stand out and speak up. This is not a bug. This is the trademark feature of the ruling party and the government – and the difference between the two, even if there was some, is rapidly vanishing.

BUT ME NO BUTS Let’s get back to that poll we quoted at the start – commissioned by NDI and fielded by CRRC. The results are stunningly confusing at times: support towards the government is rising, while every fifth Georgian plots emigration. Respondents say unemployment is one of the leading national problems while claiming they personally are doing fine. People are giving higher marks to the government than six months ago but say nobody represents them. And high, very high rates of “don’t know” and “refuse to answer.”

We sense here the growing indifference, which grew out of previous gloom and mixed with fear of crossing the path of the likes of Ms. Tsulukiani, for whom justice is what they say it is. The disappearance of hope, trampling of the will for change. With the main opposition crumbling in the most shameful of manners, who can blame Georgians for political demobilization?

And while the government pats itself on the back for copying some European legislation well onto its ledgers, it also does all to destroy the foundations and institutions of democracy. One is left to wonder whether it just tries to pretend to be the lover scorned, as our new opinion piece argues.

A fitting finale for the story of symbolist poets and of the lovers whose intertwined shadows still irk the authoritarian spirits.


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