The Dispatch

Dispatch – April 8: Eternal Recurrence

Powerful men, left to their own devices, eventually run out of creativity, and go round and round in circles, forcing the rest of us to relive the same absurdity infinitely. That is how Georgia came to face the second round of the foreign agents’ bill. Life here these days feels like a copy-paste of last spring’s events, with social media flooded with the same old arguments. But one thing might be different. If last year’s initial announcement of the bill sounded like a harbinger of the impending apocalypse, for some of us the re-announcement might even feel like a consolation. This second attempt comes weeks and days after the ruling party tried to target smaller, more helpless groups with no less sick policies. And they seemed to be getting away with it perfectly, until… until they did something to make the whole country angry again.

Here is Nini and the Dispatch newsletter to spread the toxic levels of optimism while still expecting the worst


First, they came for the gays. In March, the ruling party announced a bill against “LGBT propaganda,” targeting the queer community but also seeking to frame the opposition, whose support was needed for the law’s adoption. The opposition responded by confronting the party on “real issues” such as rising prices or emigration. The strategy to evade imposed gay-bashing mudwrestle proved more or less effective.

Yet, real issues are for those who are in touch with reality – which apparently was not the case for one group of opposition MPs. And so, last Monday, the country woke up to a very tasteless April Fool’s joke. A bunch of men from the Georgian Dream and the opposition Girchi party (the one in parliament) had struck a rare deal, finally overcoming polarization to get rid of that biggest threat for the nation – women in politics. Except the joke was on us: the two parties agreed that 27 women in the 150-member parliament was too many and rushed through legislation to prematurely abolish the 1-in-4 women quota for the party lists, which was meant to be in place for the 2020-2032 elections. In return, Girchi, a longtime hard-headed opponent of quotas, pledged to help GD elect the chairman of the Central Election Commission by supplying the opposition vote.

A fair trade? That depends on how you see fairness – or how you feel about being traded like that. Georgia, which relies heavily on women’s labor – both physical and intellectual, paid and unpaid – still suffers from gender stereotypes and discrimination. To overcome this, and as a measure to lift the alarmingly low share of female members in political bodies, quotas have gained widespread support from activists and political groups. Proponents believe that the crucial work the women MPs are doing in the current parliament only proves their point. Others have opposed the quotas, believing they are ineffective in addressing the fundamental problem, still allow men to control party lists, and only reinforce gender stereotypes.

I’m Just Ken

Yet the scary and dark way in which the deal was done felt humiliating and degrading even to women who are usually skeptical of quotas. The behind-the-scenes deal felt like a preview of how easily and carelessly these men can strip any disadvantaged group of their other remaining rights. GD lawmakers— both men and women — rushed to defend the deal, arguing that the quotas have achieved their aim — women no longer face barriers to political power, they said, and can compete fairly on merit, professionalism, and qualification.

Well, at least they were not wrong about blaming it on women being bad at competing: no female MP could stand a chance in the toxic masculinity contest that soon erupted in the parliament. As the debate over quotas heated up, one of the Girchi MPs compared the prospect of a women-dominated legislature to “a harem.” Ruling party MP Beka Odisharia pushed his fantasy a step further, explaining the protest of women MPs by “unlaid woman syndrome.”

MP Odisharia is not alone in his psychoanalysis, which is almost as vulgar as him riding a fake-vintage white car on a Tbilisi bus-lane. The very same MP women, who, if we trust the ruling party gonzos, apparently are thriving and face no barriers – are no strangers to misogyny and sexual innuendos. Wasn’t it Georgian Dream MP Irakli Beraia, not long ago, who was remarking about a “tongue that traveled far and wide” of one of his female colleagues? At least he got his just reward: on April 5, MP Beraia was appointed head of Georgia’s intelligence service, a fair promotion for someone with extensive expertise in what has long been known to be the pet area of Tbilisi’s security services: the personal lives of others and in particular – of women politicians.

No Means No

What the ruling party forgot, however, is that fewer women in power means fewer reminders that No Means No.

Ignoring last year’s turmoil, Georgian Dream gleefully reintroduced the foreign agents’ bill with minor cosmetic changes, leaving everyone puzzled over the motives. Some attribute the move to foreign (Moscow’s) pressure to sabotage Georgia’s EU prospects. Others think GD hopes to finally succeed in portraying NGOs as Western stooges and delegitimize any potential criticism of the fairness of the October elections. It may also be that the GD, unwilling to implement key reforms demanded by the EU, such as in the notoriously corrupt judiciary, would rather abandon the EU integration path altogether. There are theories that GD may have felt threatened by the sense of unity from the recent historic football victory and felt compelled to bring back hatred and division.

It is hard to isolate the true motive, just as it is no simple task to predict whether their efforts will succeed this time. But whatever they are doing, they are doing it out of utter desperation.

In a public scene as unpredictable as Georgia, it can seem like self-sabotage for a party projected to win the election to take such risks during the campaign. Unless, of course, those projections are wrong, GD actually fears losing, and we all need to adjust our analysis. By proactively and unilaterally pushing polarizing policies in (much vaunted) peacetime, the ruling party further risks losing its status as a ‘guarantor of stability.’ The “Russian law” is also making a comeback just as Georgia prepares to commemorate the country’s fight for freedom and independence, just as patriotic passions run high.

Even Mikheil Tsagareli, Georgia’s usually reserved star astrologer (pun intended), couldn’t hide his disappointment: Why would anyone want to touch the public nerve like this amid a full eclipse in Aries, the sign ruled by Mars, the planet of war and aggression, he was heard ranting on TV

“Under peaceful conditions, the warlike man attacks himself” –

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Yes, the bill may have surfaced out of utter desperation, but why discount sheer stupidity? Isn’t the whole Georgian Dream lineup just hanging on a thread of the whim of the lone billionaire? Maybe he got bored. Maybe he had a bad digestion day. Or maybe his pet baobabs were giving out sad vibes, and he had a craving for an adrenaline rush. Rich people do stupid things out of boredom all the time. But not all of them own entire countries to take with them to the bottom of their delusion.

A country is not a corporation. It’s not even a zoo. Steering it, governing it, and dealing with all its complexities requires immense intellectual resources found in the best minds of society, which are used for collective deliberation and reflection. Those resources are depleted if you exclude half of that society on the basis of gender and continue to alienate others who dare to disagree with your whims.

And while bidding on the brain fog of delusional autocrats in times of trouble may sound like unreasonable optimism, all we have left is to take our chances…

Women, gays watching as the Georgian Dream re-introduces the foreign agent bill and ends up angering everyone. Film: Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig, 2023


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