A wedding that wasn’t – Tbilisi’s flag sellers with killer business instincts
Hello again from Georgia, the country that knows neither rest nor weekends. A string of unfortunate events hits again, and cold rains aren’t going anywhere, leaving us all with a feeling of tense and uneasy anticipation that one gets before sneezing. Yet you never know what sneezing brings – a sense of relief or the outset of a long debilitating illness?
Here is Nini with this week’s Dispatch, and, well, here we go again.
There is no better place to celebrate your wedding than Georgia – a sunny, hospitable country with great cuisine, the best wine, and cheerful, feast-loving people. But those who plan their celebrations must also be aware of local traditions. And one of these sacred wedding traditions is that the party must always end in a good [feast-]fight (because wine is often too good). You can trust me – I, too, was there once, at one of such big wedding parties, watching my loved ones beaten up and dragged down the stairs by a drunken crowd for no apparent reason. But that was many years ago. People have since grown up, revisited their traditions, and while wedding fights are still fought, now they are fought for apparent reasons. And the apparent reason this weekend was the continued struggle of a small country not to be turned into one big restaurant.
Emotions were already running high in Tbilisi when reports started coming that Ekaterina Vinokurova (née Lavrova), the daughter of Sergey Lavrov, top Russian diplomat and one of the orchestrators of the Kremlin-unleashed horror in Ukraine, was attending a wedding in Georgia. It was a tense May 19 evening – a rally at the airport to give a frosty welcome to the first arriving Russian plane in four years had just ended, and the discontent against the recent re-establishment of direct flights with Russia had moved downtown to Rustaveli Avenue. The disruptive rain showers did nothing to improve the overall mood: the day also fell on the tragic anniversary of the murder of Giga Otkhozoria, a Georgian shot dead seven years ago at the crossing point by an Abkhaz serviceman who is yet to be brought to justice. The ominous symbolism that Georgians so love to hate was already there. A wedding ceremony to signify a forced marriage with the imperial neighbor was the last straw.
Yet, it did not escalate all at once. Social media reports took time to verify. By the next morning, it was more or less clear that the brother of Lavrov’s son-in-law was indeed celebrating his wedding at a prominent resort in the Kakheti region. Images of fun reportedly coming from the party started making rounds on social media, evoking the familiar sense of a much-hated imperial image of Georgia as one huge Khinkali p(a)lace. Soon, crowds headed to Kakheti to protest on-site, only to be – predictably – stopped by the police eagerly defending the scene. Detentions followed. And just when the fury was about to peak, President Salome Zurabishvili took it upon herself to save the day, breaking the good news that the crisis had been averted: the partiers had left the country, and the wedding would not be taking place anymore.
Slowly, official confirmations started coming that Lavrov’s daughter was indeed among the guests before the backlash finally forced her (reportedly) out of the country. The ruling party’s excuses ranged from the fact that Lavrova had adopted her husband’s surname and was now Vinokurova, making her harder detectible for authorities – to usual references to Georgia’s literary traditions about the sanctity of hospitality and immunity of guests regardless of their backgrounds (those rebellious literary traditions might be less relevant for current context though).
Georgian Dream leaders also recalled that Mika Vinokurov, the groom and Lavrova’s brother-in-law, had Ukraine-friendly and anti-war posts on his Facebook, in futile and insincere attempts to defend the ceremony. Well, this is where they truly mishandled the situation – had they checked Vinokurov’s social media earlier, who knows, he might have been denied entry like some other Kremlin critics before him, sparing the government all this headache. They will definitely check better next time! As for the critics, they will be taking the wedding cancellation as another one-time victory, while the general resistance – and rallies – against the intensifying detente with Moscow are set to continue.
Flagsellers from Tbilisi
Always take a raincoat with you when leaving a house in Tbilisi. In a city of many unpredictabilities, you never know when it is going to rain or when the hell will break loose about yet another absurd development… and there you go again, trampling the good-old protest site without any idea how things are going to unfold this time. But if you still prefer to leave your house unprepared and thus have to endure adverse weather conditions on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi’s flag-selling ladies got you covered: raincoats to protect from rain, whistles to protect from bad government, and flags to defend from water cannons and maybe impress right people in Brussels, making them more inclined to grant your country the EU candidate status. All in exchange of some pocket money.
Anything you need is there, delivered to your place by women who figured out the least harmful way to profit from Georgia’s political chaos and now carry their business – and the country’s geopolitics – on their carts. All you need is some cash. Can’t afford the raincoat? Then better find yourself a cover, or simply don’t mind the rain: if it can get your hair wet, then it might as well be ruining someone else’s unwelcome wedding party.