The Dispatch

Dispatch – April 28: Handmaid’s Tale

Anyone who compares the current state of Georgia to Orwell’s 1984 is either an optimist or hasn’t read (or seen) The Handmaid’s Tale, another dystopian novel. While we have no shortage of Orwellian doublethink and big brothers these days, recent statements and actions by our pious leaders only show that the Georgian Dream has long since surpassed those fantasies. With each passing day, the party gets more creative and promises new versions of the horror.

Here is Nini and the Dispatch newsletter with updates from Tbilisi as the country prepares for another round of Biblical passions.

Republic of Gilead

Our politicians don’t always have Georgian provinces on their minds, but our towns become the stage to project the sickest ideas when they do. In recent weeks, GD leaders have been traveling the country to review the proposed constitutional laws against “LGBT propaganda,” an ugly event that may well fit into Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate” routine.

Constitutional amendments require public discussion before they are passed, and a popular theory is that one of the main motivations for introducing these laws in the first place was to make these discussions part of the ruling party’s election campaign. So, the few chosen GD lawmakers were sent on the mission, and the further they traveled, the further their imagination went.

Talking of travels, the ruling party has revealed the horrors of “LGBT propaganda” that apparently infiltrates our minds in ever more insidious ways.”Many (western) airlines do not address you as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ anymore when you fly abroad, but as ‘Dear passengers,'” fumed Anri Okhanashvili, head of the parliament’s legal committee, no less. If you didn’t get the drift, Mr. Okhanashvili implied that the ideology that rejects traditional gender roles has already infiltrated air travel.

Finally! We have the answer to why the devout ex-Prime Minister Garibashvili simply had to charter the state aircraft for his boy’s private flight to the United States! When the detractors cried “corruption,” little did they know that the man just wanted to keep his precious child from the putrid influence of the “LGBT propaganda,” which would have fallen on him like an avalanche at the UPenn, where he was heading…

And yes, Okhanashvili’s critics quickly dug up his own “dear colleagues” address to the parliament, but in the MP’s defense, he may have simply been preparing for a women-free parliament: it wasn’t long ago that his party abolished quotas for women.

But fear not: during the public meetings, women – and their reproductive system – were inevitably on the male MPs’ minds. After someone from the audience (inevitably) suggested banning abortion, GD Whip Mamuka Mdinaradze left the issue open while also taking time to recall discussions and “arguments” with the Church about reproductive ethics – including whether unmarried women have the right to bear children through IVF. “It’s a very complex issue, and we need to agree on something, including on abortion,” Mdinaradze said at the end of his monologue. (Faced with the scorn of a large army of women, Mr. Mdinaradze later mansplained that his remarks had been misinterpreted and expressed “absolute support” for all women. Those women can be so hysterical, right, Mr. Mdinaradze?!)

The best dystopian scripts, sadly, came from the audience. While the questions seemed pre-arranged and perfectly synchronized across the provinces (many were indeed repeated, almost word-by-word), the discussions still left room for some individual excellence. For example, one family man suggested forensics (in other words: “gay checks”) to prevent LGBTQ people from entering the civil service). Another family-loving woman shared her anxiety that processors may “pump some perversion” into the brains of their dear children as they are heading to the capital city as students.

And one participant’s instinct to exclude women from any fun went so far that he kept talking about the Bible providing for the Lord’s blessing only to a union of a man and… a man. No, this wasn’t meant as a satire, but neither was it a one-time slip. He repeated the phrase again and again.

Holy War

This circus of intellectual and moral brilliance will head to Tbilisi on Monday, April 29, and mix with more urban, fancy absurdity.

That is when Georgian Dream will hold a big gathering – or call it a counter rally. The ruling party must be hoping to scare off the opponents by flexing its muscles and using the crowd as a shield around the parliament building as it passes the foreign agents bill in the second reading. Or it wants to portray the stage of civic discord about the matter and act as a measured representative of the “majority” in whose name it claims to govern.

Few doubt the party’s ability to deliver on the promise and bring tens of thousands of people to Rustaveli Avenue. Some will be forced to attend or risk losing what little income they earn by working for public agencies or from social welfare. Reports about the whipping up of such workers have been circulating in the media, and it won’t be the first time this has happened, anyway. Others will come because they don’t care, so why not enjoy a day trip to the capital and some networking? And let’s not get stuck in our wishful thinking – many will come because they want to see “others,” those kids with their weird clothes and funny hair burn, to see “others,” those NGO-types with Englishisms peppering their talk, destroyed.

The opponents of the law won’t stay at home either. Starting this Sunday, a series of larger, pre-planned rallies will follow previous, mostly youth-managed protests. On Monday, those against the law would rally in the Vake district, a few kilometers away from Rustaveli Avenue, to avoid a direct confrontation between the two groups. On Tuesday, when the vote is likely, the protesters against the bill plan to return to the parliament building.

Crucified – like my Savior

How are we feeling? Not well. Orthodox Easter, Georgia’s most important and beloved family holiday, is coming up next weekend, and things won’t be the same: the bill has already divided families and driven a wedge between relatives and old friends. The Georgian Patriarchate – polls insist, the most trusted institution in the country – and the clergy openly endorsed the government and its efforts against the gay apocalypse. Whichever way this story ends, the damage is done, and the trust in society is broken beyond repair.

“When I wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, nothing went into it that had not happened in real life, somewhere, at some time,” Margaret Atwood, a famous Canadian author, said in 2020 about one of her best-selling books. When you start reading the book – or watching the series based on it – Atwood’s words may seem impossible. The book describes the fictional Republic of Gilead, a kind of perverse theocracy where women are kidnapped, assigned to powerful families, and repeatedly raped to bear a child for others. And that’s the best these women can hope for – every other prospect is even more grim and horrifying. It’s not until the second half of the book that we learn how this horror came about. It takes only a few pages to tell it, and it sounds frighteningly real – and frighteningly close to what we are seeing and hearing in Georgia now.

And we are not the only ones drawing parallels here. While many like to compare the prospects of the bill’s passage to the current situation in Russia, it could be worse: in a few years, we could end up with some terrifying cocktail of every dictatorship we’ve ever heard of.

The religious allegories are also hard to miss: on April 29, Georgia enters Holy Week. Our current, reborn Republic, which came into existence in 1991, turned 33 this April—the Christic age, as some like to call it. True to form and symbolism, there are scribes and Pharisees, preparing to have that Republic crucified. All will go according to the ceremony, with the government executing while washing its hands, the clergy endorsing, and the crowds watching and cheering.

What remains to be seen is whether the unjustly punished will be able to—or willing to—return amongst us, again.


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