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The Dispatch

Dispatch, July 9: Inhale, Exhale

In Georgia, crazy weeks with crazier endings now appear to be just as normal as unpunished violence against queers, journalists, or government critics. While LGBTQ+ rights never seemed worthy of protection in the country, this year’s disruption of Pride Fest by violent groups marked a turn for the worse. Yet who would be surprised, particularly after a week – or weeks – of nothing being quite right?

Here is Nini, and the Dispatch, on their endless duty of reacting to highly preventable misdeeds.

The usual recap of normalized abnormalities 

Before going to the weekend’s sad highlight, let’s look back at the past week which, just like any other week in our media memory, was already quite eventful and loaded with scandal. 

ETHICS OF PERSONAL & POLITICAL The week started with ex-President Saakashvili’s remote appearance in a court hearing after a long break. The former president’s emaciated look revived concerns about his health condition and triggered another diplomatic scandal with Kyiv, which told the Georgian ambassador to leave and come back with a plan to bring the Ukrainian citizen back. But that scandal was soon overshadowed with Saakashvili himself trying to clarify the thornier elements of his philandering life, only to leave the public with more questions than answers. The supporters of the jailed leader were predictably miffed, watching the procession of endless jokes and speculations about the ailing man, and – fairly – decried them as inappropriate. But in all honesty, the ex-president’s dismally and consistently poor life choices might have something to do with why people hardly focus on the important things about his fate anymore.

THE KING IS NAKED Next to enter the stage from confinement – this time the self-imposed one – was Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s informal ruler. The ruling party founder largely remains out of the public eye, and usually, it is the social media posts of his family members that remind us of his physical (co)existence with various representatives of the animal kingdom. But this recent publicity of his name we owe to his human resources instincts, which have now proven to repeatedly fail. This time, a former head of his Co-Investment Fund – formerly the big man’s protege, whom the country’s pundits predicted a gilded future – was charged with embezzling 8,253.13 bitcoins (currently worth more than $200 mln) from Ivanishvili in 2017. We don’t know what exactly happened there – so far, Ivanishvili’s minions have advanced no grand conspiracy theory, as when Ivanishvili’s other poor personnel choices cost him fortunes with Credit Suisse. And neither do we know who is truly the guilty party in this fancy scandal. What we can predict with reasonable accuracy is who is going to win the Georgian court case.

CHEMICAL BROTHERS The week did not go without perhaps the most powerful Georgian institution, the Georgian Orthodox Church, getting embroiled in a shady controversy of its own. Yet another chemical scandal has rocked the Patriarchate, which apparently finds the medieval charm of poisons irresistible. This time it is Metropolitan Bishop Shio, the Patriarchal Locum Tenens, who might have survived a possible case of heavy metal poisoning. Police only opened a probe into an attempt on Metropolitan’s life after the media broke the rumors. The patriarchate officials confirmed they had suspicions the bishop might have been poisoned but said they had so far refrained from referring the case to authorities, instead trying to figure things out by themselves. The corporation is as a corporation does, of course, but their resources might have been stretched a bit thinly – what with having to condone violence in Church’s name and fussy management of who is supposed to sleep with whom.

The week also saw a continued trend of physical violence against journalists and the government’s political opponents, which, sadly, no longer comes as a surprise.

How to get rid of negative thoughts

All the politically motivated violence and government-led homophobia the country has been seeing over the past weeks weren’t supposed to leave the queer activists calm in their preparations for Pride Fest on July 8 to culminate this year’s Pride Week.

The Pride Week celebrations consisted of closed-door events as doing anything public seemed unsafe since the 2021 July anti-pride violence. But in a country where far-right groups and government officials have been jointly attacking Charles Perrault fairytales and McDonald’s Happy Meals in their obsessive quest to protect children from what they portray as “LGBT propaganda”, even closing events for the public is not sufficient to avoid threats and violence.

Against this backdrop, the public pledge of the Interior Ministry on the eve of the fest that they would protect the celebrations was supposed to be a positive signal. After all, despite standing by during the violence ahead of the planned Pride March in 2021, the police were able to ensure the security of similar closed-door events in the past years. Activists, the foreign ambassadors received assurances and seemed convinced the violent crowds would be unable to reach the festival premises. And they ended up bitterly deceived.

The police forces were indeed deployed near the Lisi Lake, where the event was scheduled, but the numbers, equipment, and – most importantly – their heart was not in it.

Quite a contrast from the times when they were kitted up with body armor, rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons in March to break up the rallies against the Russian-styled “foreign agent laws.” Even less so when they protected the Russian foreign minister’s daughter at her brother’s wedding party in Kakheti.

All the police could offer was to evacuate the festival organizers, claim credit for them being in one piece, and cite the “complex terrain” as an excuse for letting the violent thugs ransack the place.

The festival organizers, however, weren’t having any of their excuses, openly condemning the developments as “a well-planned operation orchestrated jointly by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and “Alt-Info ” against human rights and democracy.” That’s pretty much how many others saw things.

The violent groups, on the other hand, could break into the festival territory, vandalize the equipment, and loot the premises. Epic images emerged of men and women stealing cokes and wine, tearing LGBTQ+ flags, and even leaving the territory with pink yoga mats they grabbed on their way. To conclude their “successful” crusade, the disrupters then moved to the parliament building for a photo-op and slowly dispersed.

And when the rain came pouring down to wash away the shame of that day, some of them still could be seen chatting cheerfully with police officers, apparently not too unhappy with their involvement. Others continued their journey on social media, this time in the shape of memes, epic videos, and jokes. 

Because no matter how bad things are, no matter how worse the situation gets every year, in Georgia, we will always have jokes to survive on.

As for those who don’t get humor – there are plenty of other, less aggressive mechanisms to cope with negative thoughts and find peace of mind. Walk in nature; drink more water; extend your pink (if you must) yoga mat on the floor. Sit down, close your eyes, let your mind flow freely, and inhale….exhale.

Breathe in… Breathe out


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