Post-Soviet Georgian films sometimes draw criticism for being overwhelmingly dark and depressing. But lately, local politics started strangely imitating the country’s cinematic themes. Just like in those movies, all you can see on the contemporary political scene is violence, hopelessness, darkness, darkness, darkness, and then suddenly BOOM! – dancing, desperate dancing.
That dance has been getting more intense these days: it appears that slowly but skillfully, Georgia is rehearsing for a grand ball that awaits us in less than a year.
Here in Nini and Dispatch, to dance our readers to the end of the Georgian election campaign… or, at least, through its spectacular beginnings.
Georgian political life often feels like a neverending election campaign. So, one must look carefully for signs to identify when the campaign starts. This time, the harbingers were hard to miss: women decided to sway the voters into the turbulence of next year’s general elections.
First, a video of dancing President Salome Zurabishvili went viral. The footage shows the president, apparently in a close friends-and-family setting, masterfully swinging to the a cappella tunes of national folk music. Swaying through a tight and crowded room, Zurabishvili seems quite relaxed: she might be well aware that the moves that would once have subjected her to cringes will now only boost her growing popularity. And that popularity is something to capitalize on – many expect her not to settle for retirement after her term expires next year and to try her luck in the parliamentary elections, too.
Dancing along with her is her brother, Otar Zurabishvili. Mr. Zurabishvili, a French-born grey-headed man radiating noble Georgian emigre vibes – just like his sister, has been enjoying quite some publicity lately. Georgian media can’t help but invite him over and ask him whether he is considering going into politics. The man doesn’t rule out the prospect. And why would he: when confused and undecided Georgian voters approach ballot boxes next October to choose between various forms of governance, they might opt for the well-tested one: to be ruled by somebody’s close relative.
It takes one to Dimpitauri
Unlike President Zurabishvili, our next dancer didn’t take anyone with her – not ever her politician husband whose career and campaigns she has actively supported. Tamar Chergoleishvili, founder of online media outlet Tabula and prominent political commentator, recently said she quit journalism to do politics. She will join European Georgia, an opposition party incidentally led by her spouse, Giga Bokeria. Hard to say it was unpredictable – Chergoleishvili’s political engagement has been obvious for a while, and she has a long record of doing campaigning – and quite imaginative ones, to boost. So a step to partisan politics was a small one to make.
What was hard to foresee was the entrance she made. Soon after the big announcement, a clip (boosted on Facebook) showed a lone dancer in a scenic Georgian landscape dancing to the beat of her drums while wearing an androgynous national dance outfit. Quite unlike our previous dancer, this choreography seemed well-rehearsed to deliver the big message. At the end of the part, the dancer proudly takes off her Papakha (traditional warm hat worn in the Caucasus) and reveals both her identity and ambition: “Tamar Chergoleishvili at your service”.
We don’t know what took her to those golden steppes. It may be their beauty or their desolation. But there is something about places like these that attracts Georgians once they feel big shifts in themselves. Take Liza, the main protagonist from Walk, Liza – a new controversial film about the Abkhazia conflict: in the film, Liza is also seen wandering through similar landscapes on her transformative trip from Tbilisi to Enguri bridge, a crossing point to Abkhazia. Some viewers complained, however, that they’d never encountered such landscapes on that particular road. But the inspiration of Chergoileishvili (who is, avowedly, not a big fan of that film) may be coming from somewhere else. After all, retreating to distant fields [a.k.a “ველად გაჭრა”] to find solace from worldly pain has been a popular theme in Georgian epic poetry.
Anyways, part of the public applauded the creative boldness as well as the dashing dance skills of the emerging politician. Others, expectedly, were not ready: Chergoleishvili has been a divisive personality for some time, upsetting rivals both in the opposition and the ruling party alike. Yet whatever one thinks of her ideas, bringing this much enthusiasm into politics cannot be a bad thing. This is particularly true if one looks at the current parliament dominated by dull and obscure personalities with the sole purpose of defending and expanding their fortunes. Yet the clip still left some of us with one concern… or, rather, a small favor to ask: next time someone decides to quit online media and go dancing in remote steppes, please take us with you!
Our take on this new dance trend (and some are already adding more music to that) is in no way meant to be cynical. We remember past campaigns, and we don’t remember them well. Along with the usual intimidation-vote buying-administrative resource classics, every new campaign season has offered us new headaches. Those would include local geography lessons as we’d learn new village names by the campaign violence they hosted, or studying bigger maps whenever we had to follow powerful men on their trips to fancy European labs so they could prove their rivals wrong. That madness is now again expected to repeat itself and grow, so we may indeed need some of that dancing energy to cope.
The campaign season has (unofficially) kicked off, and Civil.ge is ready to keep you posted about every new eccentricity our politicians will be able to come up with. But should our updates be late, you’ll know where to find us: