And all that jazz… –


Over the past few days, Georgian politics, usually bordering on the absurd, have taken a decisive plunge into the abyss of the surreal. Members of the ruling party alludes to a conspiracy (perhaps led by the United States?) to bring their mentor and patron, Mr. Ivanishvili, back into politics, and the country back into war with Russia. This outlandish allegation was apparently based solely on certain delays in settling Mr Ivanishvili’s private payments to a Swiss bank and difficulty moving prized works of art through Europe. The United States Ambassador Found This “confusing” and, frankly, we would have used the words “delusional nonsense”, if it hadn’t been for this wise remark from a certain Irakli Kobakhidze to an incredulous journalist: “you don’t understand? It’s ideal. It was the kind of problem, where it is better that no one understands. It gave us pause. Indeed, why scrutinize the smokescreen, when real problems arise? This is the dispatch, with bi-weekly updates from Georgia.

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LAND SUPPORT While we were looking elsewhere, Russian businessman David Khidasheli grabbed a huge chunk of public forests in the mountainous region of Racha in western Georgia – almost 105 hectares to be precise – with a lease of 49 years to set up the hunting grounds. Environmental NGOs are crying foul — both by domestic law and Georgia’s international commitments, this was unconscionable, says Green Alternative, a watchdog. But to verify, they asked for official documents, which was apparently refused by the Ministry of Environment and Agriculture. A flagrant violation of freedom of information laws, say the lawyers, who plan to take the case to court. A rich man lobbying for good deals? Perhaps. But it gets juicier: Not only is Mr. Khidasheli a former deputy deputy chairman of Russia’s sanctioned group ‘SISTEMA’, he was also behind the infamous “Affair of the cartographers”, in which the ruling party imprisoned two officials on absurd charges and used the nationalist wave of “Georgia land sales” as an electoral tool. The former head of SISTEMA, billionaire Vladimir Yevtushenkov was recently checked in in a seemingly compromising conversation with Ivanishvili. Khidasheli is therefore the man close to Ivanishvili in more ways than one. Perhaps this is where you need to look to unpack the ministry’s sudden penchant for contract secrecy?

FAMILY AFFAIRS What is the relationship between the sanctity of the family and support for Ukraine? I’m sure you could make a few suggestions, but we’re betting on you not guessing how exactly this question refracts through Georgia’s broken political mirror. May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), and on this day in 2013, Tbilisi saw the first major pogrom of the gathering of civil society by the clergy. To further deny the ground to militants, next year, in 2014, the Georgian Orthodox Church instituted the “Day of Family Strength and Respect for Parents” will fall on the same date. Since then, the wave of violence has been in the air every May 17. This time, the Government of Canada announced its traditional “Family Day” gathering, but added a new twist: the day, the patriarchy said, “is also dedicated to peace in Georgia, but also in Ukraine. and around the world.” Talking about mere LGBTQ rights in this context is unpatriotic, surely?! But regardless of the Church’s underhanded tactics, Georgians seem to be moving away from clerical toxicity: the new study commissioned by the UNDP found that hostility to LGBTQ rights programs, including their right to assemble, has dropped by around 20% since 2016 (though still remaining in the top 40%).

LETTER IN THE BOTTLE It is done! Georgia has responded to the European Union 2000s questionnaire. Should Georgians sit and bite their nails until June 24-25, when the EU Council must decide whether or not to grant the bid?! Not so, say some experts, who argue that the Georgian government – and its civil society – should actively lobby for a statement of support from the European Parliament (which Ukraine and Moldova have already achieved) , and put pressure on the European Commission to achieve the desired result. . Whether this is possible or not, while the government persists in its paranoia (see opening paragraph) and civil society has credible concerns about the government’s commitment to fundamental principles of human rights and of the rule of law, is an open question. All we can hope for is that Brussels will be lenient and not leave Georgia out in the cold in times of war. But honestly, based on the facts, could we blame them if they did?

CRUELTY After much humiliation and mockery about his state of health, the government conceded to a transfer of Mikheil Saakashvili, who suffers from multiple ailments, to a civilian hospital for examinations and possible treatment. Life has a cruel way of setting the record straight, and Saakashvili, whose administration is rightly accused of critical failures in law enforcement and justice, has become an iconic victim of the continued abuse of justice for political purposes. In particular, coming to the defense of Saakashvili’s rights has become the third rail of the Georgian administration: the ruling party abolished the service of the state inspector and accused the Ombudsman of prejudice against the so-called “war party” after doing their duty to defend the rights of detainee Saakashvili. Could the transfer herald heightened government sensitivity, if not to Saakashvili’s fate, but at least to the impact of his potential demise on Georgia’s EU bid? We wouldn’t hold our breath.

Please read our dispatch every Tuesday and Thursday, we welcome your feedback and comments!

On this note: Dear Steve, as you can see, we didn’t use our usual “full lid” closure. We are fully aware that this is not part of “generally recognized colloquial English”.. But it’s a nod to a CJ Cregg, whose legacy of witty, acerbic, yet human tone we seek to embrace.

Oh, and yes, the Georgian Telegraph, you’re still stealing. Stop that.

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