Georgia https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/18606/all cached version 09/02/2019 01:09:14 en No good choices in Georgia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/wojciech-wojtasiewicz/no-good-choices-in-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">Georgia’s presidential election has demonstrated, once again, that the country’s two dominant political platforms have little to offer regular citizens.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-39929493.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-39929493.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>(c) Kommersant Photo Agency/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>After presidental elections on 28 November, Salome Zurabishvili became the fifth president of Georgia. The independent candidate, who was backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, received the support of nearly 60% of the electorate in the second round of voting.</p><p dir="ltr">This high a margin of victory for Zurabishvili was no doubt a surprise for Georgia’s opposition. Grigol Vashadze, the opposition candidate in the second round, has declared that he doesn’t accept the election results. He stated that the election results had been falsified, with the Georgian government bribing a huge portion of the voters.</p><h2>Salome the winner</h2><p dir="ltr">According to Georgia’s <a href="http://agenda.ge/en/news/2018/2523">Central Election Commission</a>, 59.52% of the Georgian electorate voted for Salome Zurabishvili, and 40.48% for Grigol Vashadze. Turnout in the second round was close to 10% higher than in the first round of voting, and came to 56,23 %.</p><p dir="ltr">After voting finished, the two main television stations — Imedi (pro-government) and Rustavi 2 (pro-opposition) — issued their exit polls, which indicated victory for Salome Zurabishvili. Commenting on them, Vashadze said that he would wait for the official voting results. However, former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who remains a driving force in Georgia’s United National Movement despite living outside of the country for the past five years, <a href="https://www.kyivpost.com/world/saakashvili-urges-his-supporters-in-georgia-to-protest-on-december-2.html">called</a> on Georgians to come out onto the streets in protest against electoral falsifications. Saakashvili claimed that the government had bought voters, and had permitted beatings and persecution of opposition activists. Initially, Grigol Vashadze distanced himself from Saakashvili’s words, stating that he would make a decision concerning his next steps the following day, after consultations with his supporters.</p><p dir="ltr">It might have seemed as if Vashaze, the candidate of the United Opposition - United National Movement, would concede his loss and choose the so-called “opposition long march” scenario, i.e. peaceful preparations for parliamentary elections in 2020. Yet the next day, Vashadze <a href="http://oc-media.org/opposition-refuses-to-concede-calls-for-protests-and-snap-elections/">announced</a> that he didn’t recognise the results of the presidential election, which, in his assessment, had been subject to falsifications. Additionally, Vashadze demanded that early parliamentary elections be called, and declared that a huge demonstration would take place in Tbilisi on Sunday against election falsification.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Georgian Dream’s leader Bidzina Ivanishvili thanked his supporters for backing Zurabishvili. The winner herself addressed her opponents with a conciliatory message, emphasising that Georgia is a small country whose society must be united. Zurabishvili was congratulated by the outgoing president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, who at the same time <a href="http://agenda.ge/en/news/2018/2526">expressed his concern</a> with what he saw as a considerable lowering of democratic standards during the presidential elections. Margvelashvili stressed that this is a bad direction on Georgia’s democratic path. </p><p>Similar tones were struck by the OSCE international observation mission to the elections in Georgia, which wrote in its <a href="https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/georgia/404642?download=true">initial published report</a> that candidates were able to conduct a campaign in a competitive and unrestricted manner, yet underscored that it was also incredibly polarised, full of aggression and attacks on opponents, as well as uneven — the government deployed “administrative resources” in its support of Zurabishvili.</p><h2>Saakashvili must go</h2><p dir="ltr">The reasons for such an unexpectedly high margin of victory for Salome Zurabishvili over Grigol Vashadze are several.</p><p dir="ltr">What won, first of all, was that a large portion of Georgian citizens still fear a UNM return to power. This anxiety was effectively fueled by Georgian Dream, who reminded the public of the persecution of the opposition, violations of human rights and other abuses under Mikheil Saakashvili’s governments. Secondly, the ruling party tried to force public sector workers to vote for Zurabishvili, threatening them with the loss of their jobs if they didn’t. Moreover, cases of voters being paid off were noted. It was reported that around 20-30 lari was paid for a vote for Zurabishvili. Finally, the government administration was utilised in support of the favored candidate. Such practices also took place under the United National Movement.</p><p dir="ltr">Additionally, before the second round of voting, Georgian Dream <a href="http://oc-media.org/pm-promises-to-write-off-1-5-billion-in-debts-for-600-000-georgians/">promised</a> to annul debts of up 2,000 lari for roughly 600,000 Georgians, who were unable to pay off their bank loans. In Georgia, many people <a href="http://georgiatoday.ge/news/6880/In-Debt-%26-Broke-in-Georgia">live in punishing debt</a>. These are often loans for food, clothing and other products of primary need. The necessity of taking them is the result of many Georgians’ low incomes, or lack thereof. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the party’s billionaire backer, announced that he would finance this gift out of his own assets, through the Cartu foundation.</p><p dir="ltr">Former president Saakashvili also contributed to his party’s defeat. Instead of laying low and ceding the stage to his candidate, Saakashvili displayed excessive activity in the media several days before the second round of voting, threatening to bring his supporters onto the streets in the case of a loss for Vashadze. This may have aroused concerns in his opponents that a Vashadze victory would lead to a “destabilisation of the situation” in the country, and raise the threat of a new revolution — a repeat of the scenario from 2003. Indeed, this concern was amplified by the message of Georgian Dream, whose leaders warned against the opposition’s political disorderliness.</p><p dir="ltr">However, Salome Zurabishvili’s victory isn’t a stunning success for Georgian Dream. The true barometer of social moods were the results of the firsts round of voting, in which Zurabishvili received only one percent more votes than Vashadze. Many Georgian citizens are tired of Georgian Dream governments and their failure to fulfill campaign promises concerning economic and social issues. The ruling party is going to have to fundamentally reshape their politics, if it wants to &nbsp;remain at the nation’s helm after 2020.</p><p dir="ltr">If the opposition wants to achieve success two years from now, it will have to get rid of Mikheil Saakashvili. Misha’s negative political legacy is incredibly repellent to a vast majority of Georgians. The single reason that some of them voted for Zurabishvili, despite their dissatisfaction with Georgian Dream, was to prevent Saakashvili’s return to Georgia. In the case of a Vashadze victory, Saakashvili would have been pardoned by the new president. Saakashvili himself declared that he has no desire to fulfill any official functions in the country, but there were few who believe his assurances. Beyond that, no formal titles would be necessary for him to wield true power. He could govern Georgia from the back seat, just like Bidzina Ivanishvili.</p><p>The majority of Georgian citizens have sincerely had enough of both political camps. In recent weeks, there have been <a href="http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/4272_november_15_2018/4272_tea1.html">media reports</a> about plans for the establishment of a new political party, called Law and Justice. One of its future leaders is rumoured to be Aleko Elisashvili, the centrist and independent candidate for mayor of Tbilisi during the 2017 city election. Elisashvili took second place in the elections, with 17.5% of the vote. The new energy could certainly bring the burst of fresh air into Georgian politics that so many await.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tako-svanidze/georgia-growing-cultural-divide">Georgia’s growing cultural divide: a sign of far-right populism?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/bidzinas-back">Bidzina’s back</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/mayor-or-manager-tbilisi-chooses-its-kingpin">Mayor or manager? Tbilisi chooses its kingpin</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check">Georgia’s new constitution keeps real change in check</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays">In Georgia, labour exploitation still pays</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tornike-zurabashvili/waiting-for-misha-s-second-coming">Waiting for Misha’s second coming</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Wojciech Wojtasiewicz Georgia Wed, 05 Dec 2018 13:37:30 +0000 Wojciech Wojtasiewicz 120863 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s growing cultural divide: a sign of far-right populism? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tako-svanidze/georgia-growing-cultural-divide <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>One year on since Georgia’s far right publicly announced themselves, how has their agenda developed?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Bassiani-15.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Bassiani-15.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>11 May 2018: Georgian police detain people during clashes in front of the Bassiani nightclub, Tbilisi. Photo: Mari Nikuradze / OC Media. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Over the past year, the small country of Georgia has made <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-far-right-against-club-goers/29224427.html">international headlines</a> thanks to public clashes between liberals and radical far-right groups, exposing a cultural division between these two rival groups in Georgian society. One considers itself liberal and progressive, symbolised by young people with tattoos, piercings and colourful hair, and the other is considered conservative, religious, nationalist and often homophobic.</p><p dir="ltr">Disputes between conservative Georgians – the majority in this post-Soviet country – and those who support freedom of choice and diversity have continued since Georgia broke from the Soviet Union, where religious and sexual diversity were tabooed. This heritage still influences values and behaviour in the country. In the 2014 <a href="http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSDocumentationWV6.jsp">World Value Survey</a>, Georgia was ranked one of the most homophobic countries in the world – with some 86.6% of those surveyed unhappy with the idea of having a gay or lesbian neighbour. </p><p dir="ltr">Further developments over the past two months have shaken the government and led to changes in the cabinet. In May, Georgian police <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgian-police-raid-on-clubs-triggers-protests-in-capital/29223031.html">organised heavy-handed raids against two of Tbilisi’s most prominent nightclubs</a>. In response, young people took to the streets of the capital to protest the abuse of power by police, calling for freedom of expression and entertainment, as well as an ease on the country’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/the-struggle-for-humane-drug-policy-in-georgia%20">strict drug policy</a>. The situation intensified two days later when Tbilisi’s clubbers continued their protest, only for ultra-nationalist groups Georgian March and Georgian Idea to gather nearby and hold a counter-rally against young people with “coloured hair and piercings”. Finally, Georgia’s Interior Minister visited the demonstration and asked the young people to disperse due to the “high threat from another group” who tried to break through the police cordon and enter the crowd of “liberal protesters”, as local media dubbed them. </p><p dir="ltr">Though the rally finished peacefully, several days later, on 17 May, ultra-nationalist and traditionalist groups, as well as the Georgian Orthodox Church “celebrated victory” by marching on Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli avenue for “Family Purity Day”. A holiday set up by Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II in May 2014, “Family Purity Day” is meant as a counter-event to International Day against Homophobia. Yet more demonstrations followed, with the Orthodox Church <a href="http://oc-media.org/georgian-orthodox-church-calls-for-boycott-of-rustavi-2/">calling for a boycott of television channel Rustavi 2</a> for blasphemy in relation to two recent broadcasts by the opposition-led station. The first programme alleged that the Georgian Patriarchate failed to make public a letter of support for Georgia sent by the World Patriarch during the 2008 war with Russia; the second involved the <a href="https://www.myvideo.ge/v/3597631">broadcast of a controversial painting “Virgin Mary with a Toy Pistol”</a> by a TV anchor known for his criticism of the church. Indeed, this painting was used to argue against a <a href="http://parliament.ge/en/saparlamento-saqmianoba/komitetebi/adamianis-uflebata-dacvisa-da-samoqalaqo-integraciis-komiteti/axali-ambebi-adamianis/sofo-kiladze-agmashfota-bolo-periodshi-ganvitarebulma-movlenebma-rodesac-martlmadidebluri-siwmindeebis-gamoxatva-arasatanado-formit-moxda.page">draft-law</a> initiated by an Alliance of Patriots of Georgia MP that would allow courts to ban distribution of artworks that insulted “religious feelings”.</p><p dir="ltr">All these events have show how the “cultural divide” in Georgia has intensified in recent years – and how Georgian far-right groups are playing a significant role in creating this divide. </p><h2 dir="ltr">14 July: When the “Georgian March” announced itself</h2><p dir="ltr">The public conflict between radical conservatives and liberals in Georgia traces its recent history to 14 July 2017, when hundreds of Georgians <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-tbilisi-rally/28618102.html">marched down a central Tbilisi street</a>, where Turkish and Middle Eastern restaurants are located, and called for an end to the “uncontrolled migration of Muslims” into Georgia. </p><p dir="ltr">Holding crosses, icons and flags, participants of the rally demanded the deportation of illegal immigrants and asked the government to tighten up the country’s immigration legislation. <a href="http://oc-media.org/who-was-in-and-who-was-out-in-tbilisis-far-right-march-of-georgians-analysis/">Various ultranationalist groups chanted</a> and carried placards with slogans such as “We will clear our streets of foreign criminals!”, “What is Georgian is for Georgia Alone”, “Go back to where you belong!” One of the leaders of the rally shouted through a megaphone that illegal immigrants had “turned Tbilisi into one big brothel!” Some bystanders urged tourists coming from the far-right marchers’ “target countries” to leave the area and find shelter in shops and cafes.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC_0030.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC_0030.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March of Georgians, 14 July 2017. Photo: Luka Pertaia / OC Media. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This was a important moment for Georgian far-right groups – for both their apparent unification and entrance into the public sphere. It was the first organised, large-scale demonstration held by far right groups in Tbilisi – and it was the debut for small ultra-nationalist groups who united and made the transition from online activities to offline street demonstrations.</p><p dir="ltr">Not everyone in Tbilisi accepted the rally. More liberal residents found it to difficult to hide their anger and embarrassment as they watched the march. Some of them attacked the march’s Facebook page, calling the participants “bigots” and “Nazis”. No to Phobia, a coalition of civil society groups and thinks-tanks, released a statement describing the rally as a deliberate attempt to fan the flames of xenophobia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Today, dozens of small far-right, ultranationalist groups exist in Georgia, but three of them – Georgian March, Georgian Idea and Georgian Power – are the most well known</p><p dir="ltr">Political groups like European Georgia, a party run by ex-ruling United National Movement politicians, have since campaigned against far-right nationalism, seeing their manifestations as part of a Russian conspiracy. A week later, European Georgia held counter-rally titled “No to Russian Fascism”. The demonstrators protested against “Russian occupation, violence, hate speech, racism, and xenophobia”. They said that tactics designed by Russian “soft power” promoting xenophobia and persecution of certain groups were unacceptable.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Who are influential far-right groups in Georgia?</h2><p dir="ltr">Today, dozens of small far-right, ultranationalist groups exist in Georgia, but three of them – Georgian March, Georgian Idea and Georgian Power – are the most well known.</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pg/qartulimarshi/about/?ref=page_internal">Georgian March</a> was established in 2017, and has made itself widely known due to its loud demonstrations and a series of incidents. This organisation is led by Sandro Bregadze, a former Deputy State Minister for Diaspora Issues, Lado Sadghobelashvili, a leader of the Homeland, Language, Religion movement and Gio Korkotashvili, founder of Civil Solidarity. Ideologically, Georgian March is similar to European far-right groups. Its positions includes radical anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, protecting “family purity” and opposing the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/the-struggle-for-humane-drug-policy-in-georgia%20">liberalisation of drug policies</a> in Georgia. </p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.facebook.com/GeoAltRight/">Georgian Power</a> is one of the ultranationalist groups active on Facebook – the group is made up of young people in their teens or twenties. The group was founded in 2015 and announced itself on the far-right scene by attacking a vegan cafe in Tbilisi in 2016. The story went viral and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/31/georgian-vegan-cafe-attacked-by-sausage-wielding-nationalists">spread widely through international media outlets</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">On its Facebook page, Georgian Power promotes anti-LGBT and anti-feminist narratives, expressing aggression toward civil rights activists, whose quotes, removed from context and shared with images, spark misogynistic and homophobic discussions. The group used to have its base at a military-themed bar in downtown Tbilisi until it closed in 2016.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 11.53.58.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 11.53.58.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In this screenshot from Georgian Power’s Facebook channel, the admins riff on an alt-right meme, claiming that if a user sends it to 10 friends, they’ll find love for the end of the year. </span></span></span>The far-right political union known as <a href="https://www.facebook.com/%E1%83%A5%E1%83%90%E1%83%A0%E1%83%97%E1%83%A3%E1%83%9A%E1%83%98-%E1%83%98%E1%83%93%E1%83%94%E1%83%90-1442080826006745/">Georgian Idea</a> is distinguished by its activities among the right-wing radical movements in Georgia. The organisation was founded by a former convict, Levan Chachua, in 2012. Chachua had previously been a member of the Orthodox Parents' Union (OPU), an umbrella group for parents and priests, notorious for its aggressive, often violent demonstrations against minorities. Chachua claimed that the OPU had “the blessing of the spiritual leader” in reference to the Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II.</p><p dir="ltr">Members of Georgian Idea claim that the majority of Georgians don’t believe the “propaganda spun by liberals”. The organisation has already held several large-scale protests since its creation five years ago, including protest rallies against an electronic music festival held in Georgia’s coastal city Anaklia. The ultra-conservative protesters claim that the festival morally corrupts society.</p><p dir="ltr">If years ago, activities of Georgian radical far-right groups were fragmented, today this pattern has changed. The ultras have become more organised, openly demonstrating their dominance over vulnerable groups, as well as posing a threat of violence to people “outside of the mainstream”. </p><h2 dir="ltr">How Georgia’s far right are evolving</h2><p dir="ltr">Today, Georgia’s far right have decided to level up and try their hand at national politics. In April, Sandro Bregadze, one of the leaders of Georgian March, <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/can-a-reclining-georgian-nationalist-fake-his-way-to-the-top">announced</a> that he would participate in Georgia’s upcoming presidential election in October with a Marie Le Pen-style campaign. </p><p dir="ltr">“First and foremost we will stop illegal migration to the country and improve the demographic situation,” Bregadze said on his Facebook account. “In addition, the propaganda of homosexuality and immorality should be prohibited and the role of the Church in the development of the country should be increased. We should declare military political neutrality as the basis for restoring Georgia's territorial integrity.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC_0344.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/DSC_0344.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Georgian far right hold a counter-demonstration on 14 May 2018. Photo: Mari Nikuradze / OC Media. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>However, Tbilisi-based commentators aren’t convinced that far-right groups will win much in the way of votes at the election. “Georgian far-right groups can create an illusion that they have many followers, but in fact, most of them are trolls or wasted supporters,” says Dali Kurdadze, a researcher at Myth Detector Project for Media Development Foundation (MDF). Kurdadze believes that a far-right candidate has a small chance of winning in Georgia’s presidential elections later this year due to the far right’s instability and internal distrust.</p><p dir="ltr">“I cannot say that at this stage they can have a great impact or influence on important political processes,” Kurdadze tells me. “Their actions are often destructive, they are spreading information which later turns out to be a lie and disinformation. People don’t trust them anymore. Hopefully, the calls for violence are still unacceptable to Georgian society. However, young people can be a vulnerable group, because they often do not know what they are doing and are easy to influence.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Their actions are often destructive, they are spreading information which later turns out to be a lie and disinformation. People don’t trust them anymore”</p><p dir="ltr">Journalist Onnik James Krikorian, a consultant for the OSCE and resident of Tbilisi for several years, believes that the far-right are definitely becoming more visible, vocal and active – just as throughout Europe as well as the United States. “As for the potential threat it poses,” Krikorian comments, “it’s worth noting that far-right political parties are making some progress electorally in places and Georgia is not immune from populism either. This in itself is not illegal, of course, but the effect it can have on society and social cohesion is very definitely one of concern.”</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps one of the impacts caused by Bregadze’s decision will be the formation of new splinter groups. After Bregadze made his decision to run public, Gia Korkotashvili, Georgian March’s most high profile member, left the group. Korkotashvili said that he didn’t plan to become involved in politics, but would keep friendly relations with other activists. Instead, he would like to establish a “Popular Patrol” to watch out places where “foreign nationals spread drug addiction, prostitution, paedophilia and other crime”. The patrols will be equipped with video cameras to record “offences” before calling the police. So far, Korkotashvili’s idea is yet to be implemented. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Increasing hate</h2><p dir="ltr">Hate speech, xenophobia, homophobia against LGBT persons, which are the main focus of far-right groups’ messaging, continue to be widespread problems in Georgia. According to the<a href="https://www.coe.int/t/dghl/monitoring/ecri/country-by-country/georgia/GEO-CbC-V-2016-002-ENG.pdf"> latest report</a> by the Council of Europe’s anti-discrimination body, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), despite certain progress, far-right activity and ultra-nationalism are still problematic issues for the country and its government to cope with.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2012, the Georgian government amended the Criminal Code to introduce racial, religious, national, ethnic, homophobic or transphobic intolerance as aggravating circumstances in criminal offences. Since then, Georgia regularly reports hate crime data to different international organisations. </p><p dir="ltr">According to OSCE<a href="http://hatecrime.osce.org/georgia"> data</a> provided by Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, the number of crimes committed on a hate speech basis has gradually increased since 2012. While 13 cases of hate crime were recorded in 2012, and there is no available data for 2013, in 2014 there were 19 crimes, 2015 – 20, 2016 - 44 crimes. Moreover, the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs <a href="http://police.ge/ge/shinagan-saqmeta-saministrom-2018-tsels-sidzulvilis-motivit-chadenili-danashaulis-braldebit-53-piri-daakava/11660">recently released</a> a report claiming 53 people were arrested for hate crimes in 2018, including racism and xenophobia, bias against Muslims and different sexual orientations.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where do Georgian ultras find their supporters?</h2><p dir="ltr">Facebook is the <a href="https://chai-khana.org/en/georgian-ultranationalist">main environment where far-right groups recruit their followers</a> and distribute their messages mostly composed of fake news from different online media outlets, including Russian, far-right European and American media sources. Their targets of abuse are mostly foreigners, Muslims and LGBT community, as well as NGOs and western organisations. </p><p dir="ltr">Georgia doesn’t have any research or statistics about ultra-nationalist groups and their activities, but some commentators claim that there are now about 20 active far-right groups on Facebook. Most of their users and followers are young people. To show that they have many followers, sometimes far-right groups create fake accounts, which actively share, comment and engage in the promotion of ultras ideas. </p><p dir="ltr">According to Dali Kurdadze, although Georgia’s far right use social media to communicate and spread their propaganda, they are also covered by some Georgian online outlets – mostly tabloids focused on gossip and catchy headlines. “Unfortunately, this coverage has boosted their popularity and they are visible in social media newsfeeds more often because these media outlets talk about them.”</p><p dir="ltr">Regarding national media channels, ultra-nationalists catch their attention only when there is a major event to cover.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Ties with Russia</h2><p dir="ltr">Georgian far-right groups deny connections with Russia, but some experts highlight their use of talking points similar to those of Russian groups, calling them channels of Russian “conservative soft power”. Indeed, parallels exist between the values and ideas of Georgian far-right nationalist groups and the type of social conservativism promoted in Russia, including Euroscepticism, homophobia and support for the role of the church in daily and political life.</p><p dir="ltr">“For civil society it is very hard to reveal direct connections between Russia and far-right groups in Georgia, because this doesn’t happen openly,” says Dali Kurdadze. “But if you follow and study Georgian ultra-nationalist messages and their targets, it coincides with Russian technique of disinformation and propaganda.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“If you follow and study Georgian ultra-nationalist messages and their targets, it coincides with Russian technique of disinformation and propaganda”</p><p dir="ltr">Giorgi Goguadze, Deputy Director at Georgian Center for Security and Development (GCSD), highlights that if you compare far-right agenda and narratives, they are almost identical with Russian. For example, both Georgian and Russian far-right groups demonise migrants, different religious and sexual orientation groups, and call for the protection of tradition, religious values and national identity, as well as often using hate speech.</p><p dir="ltr">“Russian interest is behind the ultra-nationalist groups both in Georgia and in Europe,” says Goguadze. “Supporting and empowering far-right groups is the Kremlin’s way of destabilising, spreading chaos and revising human rights and western values. In Georgia, Russian propaganda matches far-right groups’ rhetoric that getting closer to the Euro-Atlantic family will cause cultural erosion of the nation. A lot of myths are created malignance of West and in contrast showing how generous ‘coreligionist’ Russia is.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Goguadze, the rising xenophobic, homophobic and anti-immigration rhetoric in Georgia “pours water on Russia’s mill”, which tries to move Georgia out from of the west’s orbit, where the country has been heading since gaining independence from the Soviet Union. </p><p dir="ltr">Georgia faces many obstacles to overcome before becoming further integrated into European structures. In conditions where European Union countries are increasingly struggling with the prospect of standing up for an inclusive and tolerant society, the rise of ultra-nationalist rhetoric and campaigning in Georgia negatively impacts the country’s pro-European pathway and drags it closer to Russia.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/inga-popovaite/georgian-muslims-are-strangers-in-their-own-country">Georgian Muslims are strangers in their own country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/a-war-for-hearts-and-minds">A war for hearts and minds: how Georgian civil society is putting Abkhazia and South Ossetia back on the agenda</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/the-struggle-for-humane-drug-policy-in-georgia%20">The struggle for humane drug policy in Georgia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/neither-here-nor-there-georgian-refugees-from-abkhazia">Neither here, nor there: Georgian refugees from Abkhazia </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jason-strakes/georgia-s-russian-cipher">Georgia’s Russian cipher </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory"> Terms and conditions apply: Georgia and Ukraine’s visa-free victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety">Georgia’s politics of piety</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tako Svanidze Georgia Mon, 16 Jul 2018 09:39:21 +0000 Tako Svanidze 118877 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A war for hearts and minds: how Georgian civil society is putting Abkhazia and South Ossetia back on the agenda https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/a-war-for-hearts-and-minds <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Almost 10 years on from the 2008 war, Georgian civil society – both informal and formal – is increasingly engaging in the country’s breakaway territories. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/konflikt-tleet-idet-voyna-za-umy" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ на трассе 2_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest against Russian occupation of South Ossetia. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>There are no longer any military clashes along the demarcation lines between Georgia and Abkhazia and South Ossetia – there are now more or less established processes for crossing them, although <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/102574/eng">dozens of people are arrested on them every year</a>. Georgia’s internal problems have relegated these conflicts to the back burner. The Abkhazian issue is now 25 years old; the South Ossetian – 10 years. But when Abkhazian border guards shot and killed Giga Otkhozoriya, a citizen of Georgia, at the Khurcha-Nabakevi checkpoint in May 2016, the incident opened old wounds.</p><p dir="ltr">According to eyewitnesses, an argument developed between the 30-year old refugee from Abkhazia and the border patrol. As a result, a guard started chasing Otkhozoriya and started shooting at him by the time he was on the Georgian-controlled side of the border. The guard’s name is known, but for two years now the Georgian government has been unable to negotiate the handover of Rashid Kandji-Ogly, despite the issue having been frequently discussed in Gali, on the Abkhazian side of the unrecognised border, and during discussions in Geneva. Thus, Kandji-Ogly was eventually tried in Georgia in absentia and condemned to 14 years in prison. The Georgian authorities have also issued an international arrest warrant through Interpol. The Abkhazian de facto government initially claimed that Kandji-Ogly was being held under house arrest, but the case against him was closed in April 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">A similar tragedy took place two years later, but in another breakaway republic. In February 2018, police in the border district of Akhalgori in South Ossetia (where the district is known as Leningor) arrested Archil Tatunashvili, a Georgian citizen, for spying. He was taken to Tskhinvali (Tskhinval in South Ossetia), and a day later the authorities announced that he had died in custody. The dead man’s body was not immediately released to the Georgian authorities, and the cause of his death has never been established. The South Ossetians claim that he died of acute heart failure, but the Georgians claimed that he had been tortured and brought an in absentia charge against two South Ossetian police officers.</p><p dir="ltr">In amidst these tragedies, civil society groups are trying to put Georgia’s relationship with South Ossetia and Abkhazia at the top of the agenda.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Citizen patrols</h2><p dir="ltr">Several times a week, a dozen activists from the Georgian Strength in Unity movement drive along the country’s main motorway, displaying photos of Tatunashvili and Otkhozoriya. At the point in the road where the demarcation line with South Ossetia is just 400 metres away, they line up along the hard shoulder and unfurl Georgian flags and posters reading, “I remember August 2008” and “Russian Occupiers”, while trucks and cars honk their horns in support.</p><p dir="ltr">After last July, when South Ossetian border guards once again moved the demarcation line in the village of Berusheti in the Gori district, taking about 10 hectares away from the local residents and leaving part of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline on the South Ossetian side, Georgian activists decided to start monitoring the situation along the whole border.</p><p dir="ltr">The de facto authorities in Tskhinvali denied seizing the land, insisting that the border signs had been installed according to the official map and that they had notified the Georgians and the OSCE about it in advance.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Граница_с_Южной_Осетией_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Граница_с_Южной_Осетией_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The border with South Ossetia. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The patrols will be constant – this isn’t a one-off or one-week action”, David Katsarava, a well known sportsman who heads both Georgia’s National Rafting Federation and the Strength in Unity initiative said at the time. “The aim is to find Russian border guards and groups of engineers before something happens, so we can inform the international public”. As for concerns voiced in Tskhinvali about possible “acts of provocation” on the border, the movement promised that all actions would be agreed with the Interior Ministry.</p><p dir="ltr">The activists have now encountered an extra problem: the regular arrests of Georgian citizens living in the area of the demarcation line. This April, for example, Strength in Unity organised a blockade of Russian trucks and cars with Russian number plates after a local resident, 65-year-old Akakii Misireli was detained in the village of Kere, on the border with South Ossetia. Misireli was handed back to the Georgian police after paying a fine.</p><p dir="ltr">“People in border villages are just scared: they feel like they’re all alone,” Ana Sino, a student and member of Strength in Unity tells me. “‘We’re the little people: the journalists come and go but we have to live here’ – that’s what they think. We want to show and tell them that they are not alone. We come here from Tbilisi every day and talk to them.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Tbilisi, activists have also set up an “anti-occupation taxi” where customers, as well as being taken to wherever they want to go, are told about the August 2008 war. The car is also covered in barbed wire stickers, symbolising the breakaway territories, and passengers can watch videos showing the armed conflict of 2008 and speeches by Vladimir Putin.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Деоккупационное_такси_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Деоккупационное_такси_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An “anti-occupation taxi”. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The Russian threats shown on the videos haven’t gone away,” says Lasha Berulava, an activist and journalist.</p><p dir="ltr">“We want to bring the subject of occupation back into the headlines,” says Ana, “this is a war for hearts and minds.”</p><p dir="ltr">Activists feel that in this war, the Georgian authorities are playing into the hands of the Russian government, parroting its propaganda slogans.</p><p dir="ltr">“Our government doesn’t want to provide the public with information,” Ana tells me. “They don’t want to annoy Russia. ‘We’re just a small country,’ they say. And they don’t want to frighten the public. But people need information.”</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the supposed “normalisation of relations with Russia” announced by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, there has been no breakthrough in the rapprochement between the two countries, and diplomatic relations have still not been re-established. Georgia’s Law on Occupied Territories describes Russia as a country engaged in military occupation, and Russia’s calls to repeal the law are so far unsuccessful.</p><p dir="ltr">Ordinary Georgian citizens aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the idea of rapprochement with Russia, as is clear from recent research by the<a href="http://www.iri.org/"> International Republican Institute (IRI)</a>. In 2012, when Georgian Dream came to power, the idea of a dialogue with Russia had the fully support of 83% of the population and partial support by 11%, but this year, full support had dropped to 46% and disapproval had risen to 12%. The number of respondents who didn’t know if they supported dialogue had also increased in number, to 30% of the population.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Let’s talk</h2><p dir="ltr">Georgian civil society, as well as several politicians, are worried about Russian propaganda being spread through media and social networks. In 2016, for example, the Georgian government approved a broadcast license for Russian international channel<a href="https://www.broadbandtvnews.com/2018/04/10/ntv-plus-expand-to-georgia-as-ott-service-booms/"> NTV-PLUS</a> to operate in the country. Two years on, though, the licence was revoked after protests from opposition and civil society campaigners.</p><p dir="ltr">In Zugdidi, on the Georgian border with Abkhazia, people feel the increase in Russian propaganda very keenly. “We have Russian TV channels, and even my mother watches them,” cries Maya Pipiya, a journalist and presenter at the Atinati radio station, which promotes peace in the Zugdidi and Abkhazia. “The propaganda is directed at convincing us that Russia is our guarantor of security, although I can barely remember any stage when even good relations with Russia brought us any notable successes.”</p><p dir="ltr">On Atinati, Maya presents a Russian-language radio programme called “Points of Contact”, in which she talks about areas for concern for people on both sides of the demarcation lines. For example, farming problems – both Zugdidi and Gali depend on agriculture. The programme doesn’t cover hard politics, but engages with social issues and talks about general cultural contexts. The station also works with journalists from Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, who regularly send Pipiya programmes. There are frequent disagreements over language – it’s not easy to find ways to talk about things in a way that is acceptable to listeners on both sides of the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Радио_Атинати_в_студии_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Радио_Атинати_в_студии_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In the studio of Atinati radio station. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Maya has been involved in dialogue issues for a long time. Her first attempt to find common ground took place in 2009, when she created a programme called “Let’s Talk”.</p><p dir="ltr">“I wanted to know about the rising generation – how they think, how they see us. And it turns out that we can talk to one another,” says Maya, who is herself a refugee from Sukhumi. “The more time that passes, the less sensitive the new generation is about the conflict.”</p><p dir="ltr">Before 2008, Zugdidi was just a small town, but now it has the highest number of immigrants after Tbilisi. Many of them still have no home of their own and are still living in collective accommodation built by the state. At the market, there’s brisk trade between Abkhaz and the locals.</p><p dir="ltr">Anna Kochua provides aid to both refugees and other vulnerable groups. “I’m still as close to it all as I was in the first days of the war. I’m not a refugee myself, but I find it difficult to see how displaced people live. Our country has got a lot of things wrong, but Georgia wasn’t a proper country then. During the fighting, the Georgian government was in the hands of bandits,” says Kochua, who was actively involved in Georgian-Abkhazian dialogue in her student years.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The more time passes, the less sensitive the new generation is about the conflict”</p><p dir="ltr">“The Abkhaz who were students back then are now responsible for decision-making in Abkhazia: they work in various ministries and there are ambassadors and people taking part the Geneva talks among them. They are the younger generation – they speak European languages and can express their views very easily and convincingly. I am proud of them and value them: they are people you can talk to, sit down at a table with. But I’d rather not have Russia involved. We have such a lot in common as it is, without Russia,” says Anna.</p><p dir="ltr">“But unfortunately, Russia will always be there – we couldn’t choose our geographic situation,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">Giga Otkhozoriya, who was killed at the Khurcha checkpoint in May 2016, was a classmate of Anna’s at school.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Bedbugs, horses and people</h2><p dir="ltr">“Both here and there – they’re all business people, not a government,” our taxi driver David complains as he drives us along the demarcation line with Abkhazia. David is also a refugee, from the Gali area, and now lives in Zugdidi. His family didn’t manage to get state housing – you need connections to get a flat quickly, he says. He spent 15 years working as a labourer on building sites in Moscow, but when he came back home, to his family, he got work as a taxi driver to make ends meet.</p><p dir="ltr">“But now there’s a bridge – (Eduard) Shevardnadze built it after the war,” David tells us, referring to Georgia’s second president. The bridge spans the Inguri River on the way to Pakhulani, the village where one of the checkpoints is between Abkhazia and the area under Georgian rule. “There used to be a pedestrian rope bridge – it was used by refugees. A lot of looting went on – people had gold and money in their pockets and they would take it. Our lot as well as the Abkhazians.</p><p dir="ltr">“I remember lots of good times, but you never forget the bad ones,” adds David, who also crossed that bridge.</p><p dir="ltr">David’s eldest daughter died in the war. There was no money for medicines – and no medicines either, for that matter. He now has just two sons, one aged 24, the other 19.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1Хурча_закрытый_переход_где_убили_Отхозория_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1Хурча_закрытый_переход_где_убили_Отхозория_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The closed border crossing where Gigu Otkhozoria was killed. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“My son is training as a professional soldier,” he tells us. “What can you do? Say there’s a war between Abkhazia and Georgia, anything could happen, a military man is better prepared. You need to know everything, if you want to go on living,” says the taxi driver.</p><p dir="ltr">We drive past a tea processing factory, in ruins since the 1990s. The economic situation was so bad then that it was taken down for its metal parts and building materials. There are hardly any tea plantations left in the region. They grow walnuts here now instead.</p><p dir="ltr">“There’s no work now,” says Tinatin Rogava, a young woman from the border village of Rukhi. “They planted nut trees instead of tea. But the nuts won’t grow, because of the beatles. We should have stuck with the tea. Life’s very hard.”</p><p dir="ltr">This is then second year that Tinatin’s family, her parents and brothers, who live in the neighbouring village of Rikhi, have had no harvest, income or work. Neither the Zugdidi nor the Gali district has been able to rid itself of the<a href="https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=https://taraklop.ru/klopy/mramornyj-klop/&amp;prev=search"> marble bug</a>, an infestation of which wipes out the citrus and hazelnut harvests. The bug is becoming a problem on a national scale, discussed at Georgian-Abkhazian meetings in Gali.</p><p dir="ltr">And bugs are not the only issue discussed in Gali. A few months ago, one of the main talking points was the release of Archiko and Paata Rogava, father and son. In early 2017, 59-year-old Archiko and 25-year-old Paatа were detained by Russian border guards beside the Inguri River, where they were searching for their lost horse.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Арчико_и_Паата_Рогава_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Арчико_и_Паата_Рогава_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Archiko and Paata Rogava. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The horse, the reason for the ten-month detention of Paata and eight-month detention of his father, is hidden in the walnut grove beside the Rogavas’ house. Their plot is the last one before the border with Abkhazia. The only thing stopping the horse escaping is a wide stream, which it can easily cross in dry weather. But now the horse’s legs are hobbled and it tramps disgruntedly on the spot.</p><p dir="ltr">The men were accused of crossing the border illegally. But the Rogavas claimed that it was not they, but the guards, who crossed the border. Paata also told the court that he was beaten and had dogs set on him during the arrest. But the Abkhazian Security Service claimed that he had “physically insulted” a guard.</p><p dir="ltr">Sitting round the big table in their modest, but hospitable home, Archiko and Paata tell us about their imprisonment. They don’t speak Russian well, so Tinatin helps with the interpreting.</p><p dir="ltr">“We had very good relations with the prison staff,” says Archiko. “The guards were all Abhaz, so there were no problems with them. They believed us when we said we hadn’t crossed the border. But the Russians didn’t believe us. I met an Abkhazian guy who had fought in 2008. He didn’t say anything bad about us. Now people in Abkhazia are saying that the war was all the fault of Shevardnadze and Gorbachev.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Abkhazians can’t do anything when there is Russia over there,” Tinatin adds.</p><p dir="ltr">“If Putin doesn’t get out of Abkhazia, there’ll soon be a war, and Abkhazia will be on our side,” says her father.</p><p dir="ltr">To release her father and brother, Tinatin planned an action on the Inguri River bridge linking Abkhazia to the area ruled by Georgia. The Rogava family organised four protests – a chain of people closed the bridge to traffic and lay down on the roadway. At the last protest, Tinatin’s sister Daredjan was arrested for resisting a police officer by knocking his cap off. Daredjan didn’t have the money to pay the fine of 250 Lari, so she spent several days in detention.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Тинатин_Рогава_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Тинатин_Рогава_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tinatin Rogava. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“We did it all ourselves,” Tinatin says. “No one helps.” The men were released when the family paid a 100,000 rouble fine: all their friends and relatives helped collect the money.</p><p dir="ltr">“Because my father and brother are good people. Everybody knows and respects them. And they’re still the same,” she tells us.</p><p dir="ltr">“Now they are heroes!” I say.</p><p dir="ltr">“Well, I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t use the word ‘hero’. But fame hasn’t gone to their heads,” says Tinatin modestly.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Taking responsibility</h2><p dir="ltr">The cafe-bar beside the Khurcha-Nabakevi checkpoint is empty. The road to Abkazia is blocked by a metal mesh fence, although the buildings on the other side are visible despite the mesh and thick vegetation.</p><p dir="ltr">Irina, who works in a café in the village centre, tells me that everything has been “calm and boring” since the Abkhaz side closed the checkpoint in March 2017. Another one further down the Inguri, between the villages of Orsantiya and Otobaya, was also closed at the same time.</p><p dir="ltr">These checkpoints used to be used by the residents of Abkhazian border villages. Children crossed them to go to school; adults to buy groceries and other essentials, as well as accessing medical services. Now they have to make a 10km detour via the Inguri Bridge for everything.</p><p dir="ltr">The closure of three out of four of the checkpoints on the demarcation line between Abkhazia and Georgia was one of the election promises made by Abkhazia’s president Raul Khajimba in 2014. Residents in the Gali district protested, but the Abkhazian government claimed that the protesters were people involved in “illegal business activities” and “smugglers”, and that the checkpoints had been closed at the request of the “overwhelming majority” of the population.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Ануна_Букия_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Ануна_Букия_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="333" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anuna Bukiya. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>So hundreds of people – both Gali district residents and ethnic Georgians – are now forced to cross the border by illegal means. Many of them don’t have the right papers, including Abkhazian passports, as they don’t want to lose their Georgian citizenship. Others are refugees who still have houses and agricultural land on the Abkhazian side.</p><p dir="ltr">An elderly woman leaning on sticks struggles at a barbed wire barrier; a few men help her through, pick her up in their arms and run. A young lad rolls up his trousers, a girl climbs on his back and the two wade across the river. Men and women run, one by one, across an open space towards a strip of wood – the Abkhazian border guards send a rocket flare into the sky. These are all shots from<a href="http://net.adjara.com/Movie/main?id=22652&amp;lang=0"> “I Swam across the Inguri”</a>, a documentary made by Anuna Bukiya about this unofficial to-ing and fro-ing across the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr">The filmmaker made this journey herself, from Georgia to Abkhazia: Bukiya wanted to go to Sukhumi to have a look at her house, which she was forced to leave at the age of four. She had a shock at the sight of her childhood home, she tells me – she was overcome by all sorts of emotions. And making the film was really important – an expression of her civil rights, a kind of activism.</p><p dir="ltr">“I wanted people from both sides to see what was actually going on,” says Anuna. She feels that people who have been involved in the peace process for so long, on both the Georgian and Abkhazian sides, have monopolised the right to information about the conflict and don’t talk about the real problems at the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr">The most difficult thing for Bukiya was to show her documentary on TV – she was worried about how it would be received, and what effect this would have on the people whose story it was.</p><p dir="ltr">“I realised that I needed to take responsibility for it. Otherwise things would just go on as they had done over the last 25 years,” she says. “Because nothing can get any worse than it has been and still is. The worst thing is just waiting for something unfathomable to happen, be it war or peace.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">25 years of being apart</h2><p dir="ltr">“The fact that Georgian and Abkhaz society has been living apart for too long is a very big problem,” Olesya Vartanyan, an analyst at the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Crisis_Group"> International Crisis Group’s</a> Tbilisi office tells me. In 2008, Vartanyan covered the conflict from Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, and her reports were published by the international press. But then she dropped journalism for peacemaking. “I’m more comfortable with myself in this role,” she says. “I can do something to change things.”.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Vartanyan, the subject of the unrecognised territories is no longer a priority for Georgia. It only makes the headlines when a serious incident occurs, such as the killings of Giga Otkhozoriya and Archil Tatunashvili. And peacemaking efforts on the Georgian side are not always welcome in Abkhazia: it was not particularly happy, for example, when in spring 2017 the EU lifted visa formalities for Georgian citizens travelling to Europe.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is definitely a new attempt by Tbilisi to entice our citizens into Georgia,” announced the Abkhazian government at the time, “and like all previous attempts it is doomed to failure. If Georgia’s leaders are genuinely concerned about Abkhazian citizens’ freedom of movement, they should abandon their policy of isolating our citizens, who are denied entry to EU countries thanks to Tbilisi’s stance.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Мост_через_Ингури_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Мост_через_Ингури_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bridge across the Inguri. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“In Tbilisi, there’s not always an idea of what is actually going on in the breakaway regions,” says Olesya Vartanyan. “For example, how much they need what is being offered here, and whether this is creating excuses that might be used by local nationalists to, for instance, close the border or put pressure on the people who are beginning to cooperate with the Georgian side.” This, Vartanyan considers, is the fundamental issue in relations between Georgia and the breakaway territories.</p><p dir="ltr">“These communities live their separate lives, and have no contact with one another,” is Vartanyan’s analysis of the situation. “After 25 years, that’s where we are.”</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/georgia/249-abkhazia-and-south-ossetia-time-talk-trade">A recent International Crisis Group</a> report states that although no political compromise is in sight, informal trade between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia is growing. And discussion of mutually beneficial commerce “might open up long since blocked channels of communication” between the two sides.</p><p dir="ltr">In April, the then acting Georgian PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili announced a new initiative – “A Step towards a Better Future” – designed to improve the humanitarian and socio-economic situation of people in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. The Tbilisi government declared that it wanted to reduce all procedures involving trade along the demarcation lines to a minimum, as well as opening education to people both within Georgia and outside its borders and giving them access to the benefits that Georgian citizens have received thanks to close relations with the EU.</p><p dir="ltr">In Sukhumi and Tskhinvali this peace initiative has been dismissed as a “PR offensive” and “a semblance of friendship”.</p><p dir="ltr">“The only step towards a better future would be for Georgia to recognise the independence of the Republic of Abkhazia and enter a real intergovernmental dialogue between our countries for the sake of stability and the prosperity of future generations,” says Abkhazia’s de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs Daur Kove. “There is no alternative to this process.”</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, in the Georgian border village of Rukhi, the shopping centre and market built in 2016 for traders from Abkhazia both stand deserted.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This text is part of the Unrecognised Stories project, supported by crowdfunding platform <a href="https://www.pressstart.org/funding_sessions/10">PressStart</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/neither-here-nor-there-georgian-refugees-from-abkhazia">Neither here, nor there: Georgian refugees from Abkhazia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/turkeys-fight-against-gulen-in-south-caucasus">Turkey’s fight against Gülen in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jason-strakes/georgia-s-russian-cipher">Georgia’s Russian cipher </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Georgia Caucasus Tue, 03 Jul 2018 08:14:22 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 118657 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Bidzina’s back https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/bidzinas-back <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The return of Georgia’s richest man to open participation in this South Caucasus state's political life is designed to smooth over problems in the ruling party. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/vtoroe-prishestvie-ivanishvili" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1024px-Bidzina_Ivanishvili_Senate_of_Poland.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/1024px-Bidzina_Ivanishvili_Senate_of_Poland.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bidzina Ivanishvili. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: The Polish Senate / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>When Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, first came to power, he promised to leave it as soon as possible. For many years, the billionaire, who made his money in Russia, was involved in charity at home. He paid the wages of Georgia’s intelligentsia. He built roads and churches. He financed the most successful, in his words, police reform in Georgia in recent history. And he did all this without the Georgian public ever knowing what he looked like. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2011, when Ivanishvili declared his decision to put an end to the rule of president Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgian journalists found it hard to find his photograph in their archives. Perhaps this anonymity contributed to a perception of Ivanishvili’s emergence as a sign from above – at least by a part of Georgian society who were tired of the social and economic problems they had faced under Saakashvili. </p><p dir="ltr">In 2013, Ivanishvili handed his post of prime minister to a successor before returning to a reclusive life in his home village. He concentrated on his interest in ancient trees, which he began buying up all over western Georgia to plant in <a href="http://oc-media.org/ivanishvilis-tree-collecting-hobby/">his arboretum on the Black Sea</a>. Indeed, this is how the transport of giant trees from one part of the country to another became a new genre of Georgian politics. The opposition has, on several occasions, published documents that explained how the logistics behind Ivanishvili’s new hobby has been paid for out of state funds. The authorities, however, continue to refute these accusations. </p><p dir="ltr">Before departing his post, Ivanishvili told the public the only reason he’d return to Georgian politics, comparing this scenario to the “Second Coming”: “This will only happen if Georgia will be gripped by some kind of disaster.” But though Ivanishvili has now become chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, he’s yet to make any official statements. Instead, against the background of a new scandal, it has fallen to the leaders of Georgian Dream, which Ivanishvili originally founded, to explain Ivanishvili’s return. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Inauspicious beginnings</h2><p dir="ltr">It was Georgian Dream member Gedevan Popkhadze who started it. Angry at the election of journalist Niniya Kakabadze to the advisory board of Georgian Public Broadcaster, the MP <a href="https://1tv.ge/en/news/mp-gedevan-popkhadze-quits-parliamentary-majority/">promised to leave the parliamentary majority</a> and ruling party. Popkhadze accused his party colleagues of supporting a person who had insulted Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilya the Second. “To make a decision like this on Passion Week is like spitting on the soul of all Orthodox believers,” Popkhadze said in early April. </p><p dir="ltr">Here, Popkhadze was referring to the fact that in 2016 Niniya Kakabadze made a reference on social media to visiting the Patriarch’s home when she was a child. “A soulless bourgeois,” this is what Kakabadze called Ilya the Second, much to the consternation of part of the Georgian public. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Kazbegi_Posters.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Kazbegi_Posters.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Election posters of the "Georgian Dream" party in the village of Kazbegi, 2012. Photo CC-by-2.0: Maxence / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Popkhadze’s departure has caused further arguments within the ruling party, which has, for the first time, separated into two camps – while one group condemned Popkhadze for his attitude to fellow party members, others expressed their solidarity with him. For example, Irakly Kobakhidze, speaker of the Georgian parliament, said that Popkhadze was manipulating society’s religious feeling – though Kobakhidze also said that this would be the end of the story. This, however, didn’t scare Popkhadze or his allies, who then began talking about trying to change the speaker in parliament. </p><p dir="ltr">This open conflict has divided Georgian Dream into what analysts call two teams – one allied to Kobakhidze, and another allied to the current prime minister Georgy Kvirikashvili. Indeed, Kvirikashvili has been the chairman of Georgian Dream prior to Ivanishvili’s return.</p><h2 dir="ltr">New tendencies</h2><p dir="ltr">Ivanishvili’s return was preceded by Freedom House’s <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2018/georgia">new report on Georgia</a>, which states that the ex-prime minister was significantly influencing political life, despite the fact he didn’t hold any offices in government. </p><p dir="ltr">Unsurprisingly, the Georgian government hasn’t taken Freedom House’s report well. Kvirikashvili, for example, stated that “since 2012, when Georgian Dream came to power, there have been several prime ministers, but a new tendency is clear – a completely new level of democracy.”</p><p dir="ltr">“One of the most active non-governmental sectors, a completely different level of media freedom, an excellent situation with human rights,” this is how Kvirikashvili reported on Georgia’s progress since 2012, calling Freedom House’s assessments non-objective and recommending FH researchers to “have a serious think”. </p><p dir="ltr">The fact that intensifying international criticism and accusations of pulling strings from behind the scenes had brought Ivanishvili into the open was noted by Georgian analysts. But there’s no clear answer why Ivanishvili has returned now, a few months before the presidential elections. After all, the opposition has made these kind of criticisms since Ivanishvili resigned as prime minister. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Constitutional change</h2><p dir="ltr">This autumn, Georgia will elect a president for the final time – constitutional amendments mean that, in the future, presidents will be appointed. Ivanishvili himself supported the current president Georgy Margvelashvili, but Margvelashvili, it seems, didn’t deserve this trust, instantly distancing himself from Ivanishvili. </p><p dir="ltr">After his political collapse in Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili, Ivanishvili’s principle opponent, has begun more actively participating in Georgian political life. Though Saakashvili was beaten by the billionaire, Georgia’s ex-president (who is wanted on criminal charges in his home country) continues to criticise the government on air at the opposition TV channel Rustavi-2. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the past six years, few leaders have emerged in the country – the battle for power is still being waged by the same old faces</p><p dir="ltr">And although the majority of people have had enough of Saakashvili’s style of rule after nine years of it, it’s obvious that Ivanishvili is annoyed by his criticism. After all, it was the conflict with Saakashvili in 2012 that forced Ivanishvili to leave his comfort zone and become involved in public life (which, according to his admission, he hates).</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps Ivanishvili couldn’t find a leader in his movement capable of resisting Saakashvili. In the past six years, few leaders have emerged in the country – the battle for power is still being waged by the same old faces. </p><p dir="ltr">But how relevant is Georgia’s ex-president for the average voter? Given the socio-economic problems most people face on a daily basis, the priority is no longer demolishing power structures, unlike 2012. Back then, many people associated the name Ivanishvili with prosperity. Instead, perhaps the time has come when Georgians will have to vote for concrete things that they want to see from their government, rather than a <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/big-trouble-in-little-georgia">“messiah” or “charismatic leader”</a> as usual. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/making-do-with-crew">Making do with the crew</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/neither-here-nor-there-georgian-refugees-from-abkhazia">Neither here, nor there: Georgian refugees from Abkhazia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst">Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Marta Ardashelia Georgia Tue, 08 May 2018 19:50:04 +0000 Marta Ardashelia 117727 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The struggle for humane drug policy in Georgia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/the-struggle-for-humane-drug-policy-in-georgia%20 <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Decriminalising drugs has become a central demand of Georgian political parties, but the fight for decriminalisation has divided Georgian society. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marta-ardashelia/dekriminalisaziya-po-gruzinski" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_by_levan_kherkheulidze_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_by_levan_kherkheulidze_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>January 26: protest action “All for one”.</span></span></span>“Are you kidding?!” this is how Iraklii, 25, struggles to process my confession that I’ve never tried marijuana in my life. He looks me up and down before saying he can’t understand how this is possible. Then he shows me his Instagram feed with a picture of a homemade bong in the gents’ toilet. “Look! Literally 15 minutes before our meeting! If we’d met half an hour earlier,” he said regretfully, “I would’ve definitely offered you a toke.”</p><p dir="ltr">Iraklii and I are chatting in a former Soviet garment factory in Tbilisi, a beloved haunt of local hipsters and tourists. By the looks of it, the security of this modish establishment, which now comprises several bars, cafés, coworking spaces and a hostel, turns a blind eye to the goings-on in the toilets, ensuring its place in the good books of the young people who fill it to the brim every evening.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Towards decriminalisation</h2><p dir="ltr">On 5 March, the Georgian parliament once again postponed consideration of an amendments package aimed at improving “drug policy legislation”. Deputies are expected to take a more liberal approach to this issue. The need for change stems from the decriminalisation of the personal use of marijuana by Georgia’s Constitutional Court in November 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">The court made the ruling following relentless pressure from Georgia’s libertarian Girchi party and the White Noise activist movement. Having joined forces, Girchi and White Noise were able to cement public opinion around the idea that the country’s current drug policy is repressive. That the issue <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamar-papalashvili/fighting-back-against-georgia-s-war-on-drugs">impinges on the lives of thousands of young people</a> has been amply demonstrated by regular protests demanding a review of the legislation. The most recent large-scale demonstration took place in December 2017. In addition to rallies in Tbilisi, people took to the streets in Georgia’s other major cities – Batumi, Kutaisi and Zugdidi.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">For Georgians, the topic of drug decriminalisation has become a kind of litmus test</p><p dir="ltr">To get a sense of the acuteness of Georgia’s drugs problem, we need only take a look at <a href="https://www.unodc.org/wdr2017/index.html">official data</a> released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime: in 2017, Georgia was ranked third among 101 countries where two percent of the 16-64 population use hard drugs. Official statistics on the use of soft drugs in Georgia do not exist.</p><p dir="ltr">Unspoken decriminalisation is one of the reasons why the former garment factory I visited above has become so widely popular. Girchi leader Zurab Japaridze is convinced that this sort of business model will become the key to the future economic success of the former Soviet republic.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Zurab_Djafaridze_Girchi_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Zurab_Djafaridze_Girchi_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zurab Japaridze.</span></span></span>The New Political Center–Girchi party was founded in 2015 by a group of politicians who quit the ranks of United National Movement, the former ruling party of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili. Girchi supporters espouse ultra-liberal views. In addition to drug legalisation, Girchi advocates the abolition of compulsory military service and minimal government intervention in the economy.</p><p dir="ltr">If the government plucked up the courage and legalised soft drugs, Japaridze believes, the Georgian economy would double in size. He argues, furthermore, that decriminalisation would attract floods of tourists to the country, creating 70,000 new jobs and catalysing the development of new infrastructure including hotels and hostels.</p><p dir="ltr">Japaridze and Girchi are not alone in their advocacy of a humane drug policy. The White Noise movement has been actively campaigning for decriminalisation for four years, but, emboldened by the Constitutional Court’s ruling, its supporters now want to achieve full legalisation. The movement comprises Georgian progressives: musicians, writers, artists, students with an active civic stance, and so on.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Drugs as a pretext for prosecution</h2><p dir="ltr">In 2016, 33 non-governmental organisations joined forces to found Georgia’s <a href="https://emc.org.ge/ka/topic?topic=9">National Drug Policy Platform</a>, with White Noise playing a leading role in the process. Later, in April 2017, representatives from the movement appealed to parliament with a legislative initiative to reform the country’s drug policy, its main objectives including the decriminalisation of all drug consumption and the regulation of the process of screening citizens for substance intoxication.</p><p dir="ltr">Human rights activists believe that the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamar-papalashvili/fighting-back-against-georgia-s-war-on-drugs">police abuse screening procedures and exploit them as a means of intimidating citizens</a>. All the players in the reform process, including the <a href="https://sova.news/2018/01/22/mvd-o-narkopolitike-gumannost-zhestkij-podhod/">leadership of Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs</a>, agree with this assessment. The campaign’s supporters are also demanding that an unambiguous legal distinction is made between users and dealers.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_mindia_gabadze_3_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_mindia_gabadze_3_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>On the posters: “There will be no decriminalization - there will be no peace.” Photo: Mindia Gabadze. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>But White Noise leader David Subeliani fears that, instead of green-lighting the package of reforms they’ve put forward, parliament will instead approve some sort of half-baked measure: “Georgian Dream is playing with loaded dice,” he says. “Nobody’s telling us anything – what information we have regarding the work being done on the bill comes from our own sources, and it’s all on the level of rumour. What we do know is that active negotiations are currently under way between the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament, and that everything will be decided only afterwards. I’d hypothesise that Georgia won’t be able to take the bold step we were hoping for. This law won’t set the tone for the region in terms of liberality. These are tentative attempts, nothing more. The authorities simply don’t want to deprive themselves of their main instrument of exerting pressure on the populace.”</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“If you brought a couple of pills into the country with you, you’d be looking at six years of jail time for a small dose” </p><p dir="ltr">The White Noise campaign is three-pronged. The current debate concerns permissible doses. White Noise activists insist on daily doses while the authorities, for their part, are determined to allow only testing on single occasions. The second issue is the harshness of sentencing. The activists are seeking the abolition of life sentences for dealing narcotics. According to White Noise data, four individuals are currently serving life for drug use in Georgian prisons. As per current legislation, possession of narcotic substances is punishable by anything between eight years behind bars to life imprisonment, depending on the quantity of drugs involved. “If you brought a couple of pills into the country with you, you’d be looking at six years of jail time for a small dose,” explains Subeliani. “We, on the other hand, were insisting on two and a half years.”</p><p dir="ltr">But the most crucial issue of all, in the eyes of the activist, is that of compulsory medical treatment – something he says is being discussed at a serious level.</p><p dir="ltr">“What if I don’t consider myself sick?” he asks.</p><h2 dir="ltr">In search of the golden mean</h2><p dir="ltr">The drug policy question has divided the Georgian public. Some demand full legalisation while others, conversely, speak out in favour of uncompromising prohibition and compulsory treatment of drug addicts. Between these two opposing camps stands Akaki Zoidze, chair of the Georgian parliament’s Health Care and Social Issues Committee; the onus is on him to devise a law that would satisfy all sides.</p><p dir="ltr">In an interview with me, Zoidze asserts unequivocally that “Georgia is not currently prepared for full legalisation. There’s no prevention, no one talks to schoolchildren about the dangers posed by drugs. On the contrary, active propaganda campaigns extol the benefits of marijuana – we see content of this ilk on various TV channels. I won’t ever tire of stressing that all drugs adversely affect people’s health. There’s no need to go to extremes!”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_akaki_zoidze_photo_1tvge_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_akaki_zoidze_photo_1tvge_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Akaki Zoidze.</span></span></span>Nevertheless, Zoidze supports the National Platform in stressing that it is first and foremost imperative to differentiate between drug dealers and their victims. Precisely therein, he believes, lies the solution to the problem. Zoidze is also of the opinion that existing drug trade suppression strategies are ineffective. After all, it is users rather than dealers who languish in Georgian prisons. The state has pledged to use the new legislation to attend to addicts’ needs rather than to punish them. Social reintegration will be promoted in accordance with the Portuguese model, with plans for the creation of addict assistance commissions currently underway. In contrast to Portugal, however, the Georgian commissions will include clerics instead of lawyers.</p><p dir="ltr">Those most likely to be entrusted with the reintegration of “prodigal children” make no bones about their approach to the problem. The Georgian Orthodox Church has adopted an unyielding stance, refusing so much as to entertain the prospect of legalisation. Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II has <a href="http://netgazeti.ge/news/244750/">affirmed</a> that, given the country’s demographic crisis, it is essential to proceed with particular circumspection and choose a multidimensional approach. The patriarch has also called for the construction of rehabilitation centres and for the inculcation of negative public views, especially among young people, towards this “grave affliction”.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“We cannot open what would essentially be ‘camps’ for drug addicts, forcibly confining them there and coercively treating them”</p><p dir="ltr">According to one theory, it was primarily the issue of compulsory medical treatment that ensured that the bill has repeatedly returned for revision by various parliamentary committees. This theory, however, was rejected by Akaki Zoidze. The deputy has openly opposed the compulsory treatment strategy during committee hearings. “We cannot open what would essentially be ‘camps’ for drug addicts, forcibly confining them there and coercively treating them. That would be unacceptable, and it would represent another extreme. Our goal,” says Zoidze, “is the golden mean.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_by_shako_asilashvili_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_by_shako_asilashvili_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>January 26: protest action “All for one”.</span></span></span>Girchi activists, meanwhile, are convinced that deputies suspended work on the bill under pressure from the Patriarchate. Girchi leader Zurab Japaridze isn’t ruling out the possibility that certain senior members of the ruling Georgian Dream party may simply yield to the clergy’s desire to make their own amendments to the bill – and all the more so because both the president and the chair of the Georgian parliament came out in support of the church’s statement.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The Bakhala affair</h2><p dir="ltr">Getting high is virtually the sole source of fun for villagers and small-town residents who subsist without work and have no prospects for the future. Despite prohibition, many people cultivate cannabis at home. And the regions are competing for the “best variety” title.</p><p dir="ltr">The police have exploited this fact for blackmail purposes over the course of many years. The case of Demur Sturua, for instance, remains unsolved even today. In August 2016, Sturua, a 22-year-old resident of the Samtredia district in west Georgia, took his own life after penning a farewell letter to his mother. Sturua wrote in the letter that he had been pressured into collaboration by a police officer who’d threatened to put him behind bars for growing marijuana if he failed to do so.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Demir_Sturua.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A casualty of Georgia’s punitive drugs policy: 22-year old Demur Sturua from Samtredia, western Georgia. Image still via Maestro TV / Youtube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Last year, the arrest of two rappers from the Birja Mafia group precipitated thousands of spontaneous protest rallies. The rappers were arrested for possession of drugs. As it turned out later, however, the real cause of the law enforcers’ wrath was a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f43OZYftbns">music video</a> featuring a cop in a dog collar: the drugs had simply been planted on the musicians. In the end, Birja Mafia got seriously lucky: the Georgian rapper Bera, son of former Georgian Prime Minister and Georgian Dream leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, intervened in their case, prompting the court to release them on bail.</p><p dir="ltr">Revealing, too, is the case of actor Georgi Giorganashvili, also known as Bakhala. On 28 January, Giorganashvili was sentenced to a minimum of eight years’ imprisonment by Tbilisi City Court. The actor was found guilty of acquiring and possessing particularly large quantities of narcotic substances – namely, 0.3726 grams of buprenorphine ("subutex").</p><p dir="ltr">The defendant, one of the most popular Georgian actors of modern times, insists he’s innocent, claiming that, once again, the drugs were planted on him by police. Various public figures and NGOs have penned an open letter to the authorities, demanding that Bakhala be released.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“Drugs and psychedelia” </h2><p dir="ltr">The frenzied nature of the debates around the drug policy question means that measured voices are often drowned out. But the work of singer Erekle Deisadze, a White Noise activist, has really got people speaking out (and dancing) in defence of their truth.</p><p dir="ltr">In a track called <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ln6FhGCp18">“Khalkuri”</a>, Deisadze takes the motifs of leading Georgian composer Giya Kancheli and gives them an electronic makeover while chanting the praises of “drugs and psychedelia”. The accompanying music video, which appeared on YouTube six weeks ago, has received over 600,000 views – not bad by the standards of Georgian internet. That said, local radio stations still haven’t ventured to give the track any airplay.</p><p dir="ltr"><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2Ln6FhGCp18?rel=0" height="259" width="460"></iframe>The vast majority of experts surveyed on the matter agree that the state machine, powerless to implement effective prevention strategies, finds it more straightforward simply to punish drug users. But in the minds of majority, Georgia is the birthplace of winemaking, and Georgians are capable of making high-flown toasts at the dinner table for whole days on end.</p><p dir="ltr">For many decades, the ability to down glass after glass of red wine was regarded in these parts as a man’s greatest selling point. As the years have gone by, though, Georgia’s dinner-table traditions – and the cult of the tamara – have begun to die away. For Georgians, the topic of drug decriminalisation has become a kind of litmus test. It would appear that traditionally-minded strata of Georgian society are not yet ready to make the switch from wine to marijuana.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tamar-papalashvili/fighting-back-against-georgia-s-war-on-drugs">Fighting back against Georgia’s war on drugs</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sasha-gubskaya/let-them-pray-for-death">Let them pray for death: Belarus’ war on drugs</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-lebedev/kicking-habits-kicking-back">Kicking habits, kicking back</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Marta Ardashelia Georgia Tue, 27 Mar 2018 20:34:41 +0000 Marta Ardashelia 116888 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Afgan Mukhtarli: behind bars, but not forgotten https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey/afgan-mukhtarli-not-forgotten <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Runey_Mike_opEd.jpg" alt="" width="80" />Last year, this fearless journalist was abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and wound up in an Azerbaijani jail cell. We need more like him.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afgan Mukhtarli in Tbilisi. Image via Kavkazskiye Novosti / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Afgan Mukhtarli and I first met in early 2015, at Prospero’s cafe in central Tbilisi. We were both recent arrivals to Georgia: I was here because an upstart Azerbaijani media outlet had failed to attract a more qualified candidate, and Afgan because his investigative reporting — particularly on the corruption of the country’s military and its ruling Aliyev family — had forced him to flee neighbouring Azerbaijan to end the government’s harassment of him and his family.</p><p dir="ltr">However, it didn’t stop. Family members who remained in Azerbaijan were still threatened, still followed, and still harassed. Neither did Afgan, who kept reporting, supporting struggling members of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Tbilisi’s then-thriving Azerbaijani exile community</a>, and kept protesting. Then in May of last year, the Azerbaijani government escalated their war on Afgan by having him abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and whisked away to a prison in Baku. Earlier this month, he was <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30793">sentenced to six years in prison</a>.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where silence is golden</h2><p dir="ltr">The Azerbaijani state’s attacks on its discontents are always deeply personal. One journalist saw her brother, a rural day labourer whom she credibly believed had never read a word she’d written, sent to prison for a year on fabricated drug charges. Afgan was no exception. He had volunteered to fight in the Nagorno Karabakh War as a young man, and it clearly bothered him that the same state he had once risked his life for was now doing its utmost to destroy him and his family.</p><p dir="ltr">Afgan’s legendary stubbornness served him well as an investigative reporter, but it also roused the ire of certain parts of the Georgian state. There was no protest he wouldn’t attend — there is a picture, lost somewhere deep in Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm, of Afgan protesting the sentence of youth activist Qiyas Ibragimov with a group of Georgian street punks half his age - and both the Georgian police and the quasi-official security contractors hired by SOCAR, the Azerbaijani took notice.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Why, in a country as rich in oil and natural gas as Azerbaijan, are its people still reliant on dangerous gas stoves or&nbsp;burning hazelnuts&nbsp;to keep warm?</p><p dir="ltr">In the same cafe where Afgan and I first met, less than a year and a half later, Afgan’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva would be interviewed about <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">how the Georgian state abducted Mukhtarli</a> and arranged for him to be “caught” by Azerbaijani border guards while smuggling over $10,000 across the border, in the middle of the night and without his passport. Six months and multiple indignities passed before Afgan was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of smuggling and illegal border crossing. His lawyers are appealing, but much damage has already been done.</p><p dir="ltr">He has been denied proper medical care for his type two diabetes while in custody, and the Azerbaijani court declined to permit him to travel to the funeral for his sister, niece, and nephew in the town of Zaqatala, <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=79314">who died in their sleep</a> after wind extinguished the flame of the gas heater the family used in lieu of central heating.</p><p dir="ltr">Due to the government’s decision to try him in a court in Balakan, six hours by car northwest of Baku, for no apparent reason other than to inconvenience his lawyers and discourage journalists from attending the trial, the funeral was less than an hour’s drive away. </p><p dir="ltr">The sad and tragic death of his relatives was one of the grim outcomes of entrenched elite corruption that Mukhtarli sought to expose as a journalist. Why, in a country as rich in oil and natural gas as Azerbaijan, are its people still reliant on dangerous gas stoves or <a href="https://www.azernews.az/lifestyle/122005.html">burning hazelnuts</a> to keep warm?</p><h2 dir="ltr">A state of impunity</h2><p dir="ltr">In most countries, the sentencing of a journalist — or anyone, regardless of occupation — on such absurd charges would be a major story in and of itself. In Azerbaijan it barely counts as news.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2017 alone, a photojournalist and blogger was sentenced <a href="https://www.civilrightsdefenders.org/sv/news/journalist-mehman-huseynov-sentenced-to-two-years-on-fabricated-charges/">to two years</a> for slander for accurately describing his torture by Baku police, and another received <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/304334/">seven years</a> for extortion for reporting on police-protected brothels. Another managed <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303722/">to lose all his teeth</a> during a month-long stint for failing to obey police instructions, and three months into pretrial detention over a Facebook post, <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/22657/">yet another inexplicably hung himself</a> in his cell. </p><p dir="ltr">If we were to start counting beyond the legal system, we would note <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/25504/">the case of Ilqar Valiyev</a>, who was abducted and tortured by Azerbaijani servicemen near the line of contact with the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. They had assumed he was an Armenian spy. Valiyev is now in a third country, but he escaped Azerbaijan via Georgia, where Mukhtarli helped him get medical care.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/images-cms-image-000031350.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/images-cms-image-000031350.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journalist Ilqar Valiyev. Source: meydan.tv</span></span></span>Although his case has caught by far the most international attention, Mukhtarli’s kidnapping is part of a trend of closer ties between two South Caucasus countries that are often held up as the poster children for everything that can go right and wrong in “European integration”. Georgia celebrated its long-awaited goal of visa-free travel to the EU last March, while Azerbaijan’s year was marred by the <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/">Azerbaijani Laundromat</a> revelations and the delay of the signing of a new partnership agreement with the EU. From Brussels or Berlin, one could be forgiven for believing the two post-Soviet states were moving in opposite directions.</p><p dir="ltr">It isn’t the case. A recent <a href="https://puerrtto.livejournal.com/979192.html">blog post</a> by Alexander Lapshin, an Israeli-Russian travel writer who ran afoul of the Azerbaijani authorities about evidence submitted during his prosecution, revealed that Georgia responded to a request for information on his entry and exit from the country with a wealth of supplementary information. This ranged from property Lapshin owned in Batumi to data on those who happened to cross the Armenian border shortly before or after him in late 2016. As most other countries ignored Azerbaijan’s requests — even a friendly state would probably question why the request was not sent via Interpol — it raised questions about what prompted Georgia’s enthusiasm.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">On a macroeconomic level, Azerbaijan is the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Georgia</p><p dir="ltr">On a macroeconomic level, Azerbaijan is the <a href="http://www.geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&amp;p_id=2231&amp;lang=eng">biggest source of foreign direct investment in Georgia</a>, investing more than twice as much as any European state, and as of this year, its <a href="http://georgiatoday.ge/news/8714/Georgia-Not-To-Purchase-Gas-from-Russia-in-2018">sole supplier of natural gas</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">In a deal that raised eyebrows internationally and sparked protests among the domestic opposition, last January the Georgian government and Russia’s Gazprom renegotiated how Gazprom pays Georgia for use of its pipeline for transferring natural gas to Armenia. In the past, Gazprom compensated Georgia with an in-kind payment of 10% of the gas that entered its territory, but the new arrangement <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-russia-gas-agreement-armenia/28256580.html">stated</a> Georgia would receive cash instead. Neither side has revealed the final terms. As the price is likely tied to the heavily subsidised prices Gazprom charges Armenia, it’s hardly likely the deal was favourable to Georgia.</p><p dir="ltr">In April, then-Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/caucasus-report-georgia-gas-agreement-azerbaijan-gazprom/28439726.html">announced another deal</a> with Azerbaijan’s SOCAR to increase Azerbaijani gas sales to Georgia to replace the lost Russian gas. As with the Gazprom deal, the financial terms were not disclosed, and the result was Azerbaijan now provides 99% of Georgia’s natural gas. Less than two months later, Afgan Mukhtarli would disappear from the streets of Tbilisi.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where guests are sacred</h2><p dir="ltr">News of Afgan’s arrest spread quickly across social media, leading to <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40606599">on-air protests by journalists</a> and demands for accountability from ordinary Georgians, many of whom saw their government’s complicity in Mukhtarli’s disappearance <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/georgia-fears-reputation-for-hospitality-at-risk-over-azerbaijani-journalists-kidnapping">as a betrayal of deeply-held beliefs</a> about hospitality and protection of guests. “What if they kill him? What are we going to tell his wife? This is medieval! What kind of Georgian would give his guest, no matter who he is, to an enemy?” said Tbilisi shopkeeper Meda Aslamazishvili to <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/georgia-fears-reputation-for-hospitality-at-risk-over-azerbaijani-journalists-kidnapping">Eurasianet’s Giorgi Lomsadze</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the furore, Georgia’s official investigation never got off the ground. <a href="http://rustavi2.ge/en/news/78347">Local investigative journalists</a> and <a href="https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/curious-case-afgan-mukhtarli">members of the OCCRP network</a> quickly discovered that both the security cameras in central Tbilisi and along the Azerbaijani border that would have recorded either Mukhtarli’s abduction or attempt to cross illegally had been either deactivated or their footage deleted.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Mustafayeva's personal archive. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">It has been months since the Georgian government has offered any updates, and fearing for her own safety, Mukhtarli’s wife Leyla Mustafeyeva <a href="https://eurasianet.org/node/85541">took her daughter and fled to Germany</a>. In doing so, she became the latest Azerbaijani dissident or journalist to be forced out of Georgia in the last eighteen months.</p><p dir="ltr">Beginning in late 2016, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-georgia-election/ruling-party-in-georgia-decisively-wins-parliament-vote-idUSKCN1272AT">shortly before elections</a> that granted the ruling Georgian Dream party a constitutional supermajority, several exiled Azerbaijanis who had filed routine paperwork renewing their residence permits received letters from the Georgian government informing them they would not be renewed on national security grounds. None of them could realistically expect to return to Azerbaijan without facing immediate arrest, and most had no choice by to try their luck at asylum in the European Union.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Georgia, which had long tolerated a sizable Azerbaijani expatriate community of dissidents, has unsubtly been pushing them to leave</p><p dir="ltr">Some were lucky enough to have behind-the-scenes help from a friendly embassy, and others, such as composer and intellectual Elmir Mirzoyev, resigned themselves <a href="http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/ein-gefluechteter-komponist-berichtet-aus-dem-leben-eines-lagerinsassen/14690850.html">to the realities of a refugee camp</a> and the risk of refusal and deportation. Georgia, which had long tolerated a sizable Azerbaijani expatriate community of dissidents, intellectuals, and journalists, was unsubtly pushing them to leave.</p><p dir="ltr">Some who noticed the refusal letters did not seem to be based on Georgian law opted to try to fight the government for permission to stay. One such couple was Afgan Mukhtarli and Lelya Mustafayeva.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A time to shout</h2><p dir="ltr">Mukhtarli’s sentencing is not the end of the story. His lawyers are appealing, and the case is ripe for the European Court of Human Rights. The Georgian officials who signed off on Mukhtarli’s kidnapping will know that when his term is over — either in six years, or possibly earlier, given Ilham Aliyev’s practice of showing clemency with mass pardons during Nowruz, the Azerbaijani New Year — the notoriously feisty journalist will have a story to tell.</p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan has long escaped significant international pressure for its human rights abuses, both in part due to its relatively low international profile and a moderately successful campaign to buy some of the west’s <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2015/06/22/profile-of-an-undercover-lobbyist-for-azerbaijan.en.html">less scrupulous academics</a> and <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/azerbaijans-high-profile-beneficiaries">public figures</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-33484359.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-33484359.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijani opposition supporters hold Azerbaijani flag and EU flags during a protest against corruption and political repression at Mahsul Stadium, Baku, October 2017. Photo (c): Aziz Karimov/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">But rights advocates are not without leverage — Azerbaijan has still not managed to secure all necessary financing for the Southern Gas Corridor, and the European Investment Bank recently <a href="https://euobserver.com/tickers/140259">delayed a final decision</a> on a €1.5 billion loan for “due diligence” issues after months of campaigning by environmental groups. </p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan’s longstanding refusal to comply with a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights and <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-threatened-with-expulsion-from-council-of-europe">release opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov</a> has finally escalated to the point where it is <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-threatened-with-expulsion-from-council-of-europe">risking expulsion or suspension</a> from the Council of Europe. Baku could opt to quit the Council and leave Mammadov in prison, but in doing so would sacrifice much of the international support it would need to see the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic reintegrated into Azerbaijan.</p><p dir="ltr">One day Afgan will be free and resume his quest, to <a href="https://www.civilrightsdefenders.org/news/statements/journalists-conviction-a-black-eye-for-azerbaijan-and-georgia/">paraphrase his words on the day of his sentencing</a>, to have the last word until the end of his life. It is a dark time for journalism and human rights across the world, but rather than despair, it is the responsibility of those who are free to keep working, writing, arguing, and being the inconvenient citizens that refuse to leave the corrupt and powerful be.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan">Walking free in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat">Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mike Runey Human rights Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Mon, 29 Jan 2018 12:50:00 +0000 Mike Runey 115876 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia: Strasbourg’s scrutiny of the misuse of power https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/philip-leach/georgia-strasbourgs-scrutiny-of-the-misuse-of-power <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new European Court of Human Rights ruling on the misuse of power in Georgia creates an important precedent in cases of political persecution. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_4_7580243807.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_4_7580243807.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>European Court of Human Rights. Photo(c): Winfried Rothermel/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>These are unsettling times for the human rights system which covers the whole European continent — 47 states from Ireland to Russia, from Norway to Turkey. Hostile politicians and commentators are wont to rail against judges sitting on the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights, arguing that they unjustifiably extend their purview into sovereign, domestic affairs. The Court’s position as the legitimate apex of human rights adjudication is now further under threat by the rise of European populism and the far right, as well as the fallout from Brexit. The deluge of cases from Turkey after mass arrests following the failed coup in 2016, the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, and Russia’s unprecedented 2015 law that allows its Constitutional Court to <a href="https://www.ejiltalk.org/russia-defies-strasbourg-is-contagion-spreading/">pick and choose which European Court judgments</a> to implement, have put further strain on the Court. </p><p>Human rights are under serious challenge too in the European Union. Given, the executive’s exertion of control of the Constitutional Tribunal at the behest of the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland, and the machinations of Viktor Orbán’s illiberal regime in<strong> </strong>Hungary (characterised as <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3009280">“rule of law backsliding” and creeping autocracy within the EU</a>), as we scan the European horizon these days is it right to ask if the very principle of the rule of law is under threat?</p> <p>Last week’s <a href="https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{">judgment</a> from the Strasbourg Court’s Grand Chamber concerning the circumstances of the criminal prosecution of Ivane Merabishvili, the former Minister of Interior and Prime Minister of Georgia, represents a significant moment and, indeed, test for democracy and the rule of law in Georgia.</p> <p>Merabishvili was a key figure within the United National Movement (UNM), the party led by Mikheil Saakashvili, which won the 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections, following the “Rose Revolution” the previous year. However, after the Georgian Dream Coalition won the 2012 parliamentary elections, a raft of former <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/regis-gente/in-georgia-justice-delayed-is-justice-denied">UNM Ministers and officials were prosecuted</a>. In 2012 and 2013, a series of criminal investigations were opened against Merabishvili concerning his alleged use of a fake passport, for alleged embezzlement and abuse of authority concerning a state programme for job seekers and relating to a private house. This led to his arrest in May 2013 and his pre-trial detention.</p> <p><span class="mag-quote-center">How do you prove that there was an ulterior purpose behind the instigation of criminal proceedings?</span></p><p><em> </em></p><p>Merabishvili sought to challenge the legality of his detention in Strasbourg, but more fundamentally, he argued, in effect that he was the subject of political prosecution, by raising one of the less well-known provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights – Article 18, which prevents governments and state bodies from restricting human rights for hidden, ulterior purposes — in other words, from acting in bad faith. It is a provision which has frequently been raised by petitioners to the European Court, but the Court has only found it to have been breached six times before — in cases against Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Azerbaijan. </p> <p>For example, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, <a href="http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-119382">Yulia Tymoshenko</a>, and a former Ukrainian Minister of Justice, <a href="http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-112013">Yuriy Lutsenko</a>, both successfully complained to Strasbourg about criminal proceedings brought against them. Soon after Viktor Yanukovych’s victory in the 2010 Presidential elections, both were accused of abuse of power and prosecuted in circumstances considered by many observers to be politically motivated. Prominent business figures prosecuted in Russia and Moldova have also shown similar dysfunctionality in their cases, and last year the Azerbaijani human rights activist <a href="https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{">Rasul Jafarov</a> was able to satisfy the European Court that the actual purpose of his criminal prosecution was to silence and punish him for his human rights activities.</p> <p>These cases, however, create a significant practical and legal difficulty — <a href="http://verfassungsblog.de/merabishvili-v-georgia-has-the-mountain-given-birth-to-a-mouse/">how do you prove that there was an ulterior purpose behind the instigation of criminal proceedings</a>? The former majority shareholder in the holding company which owned the NTV television channel in Russia, Vladimir Gusinskiy, was able to point to a document signed by the Russian Minister for Press and Mass Communications which established that the authorities’ intention in prosecuting him in 2000-2001 had actually been to wrestle his media shares away from him, in favour of Gazprom. This led the Court to underline that criminal proceedings cannot be used as&nbsp;part of commercial bargaining strategies. However, in none of the other cases, has a similar “smoking gun” been uncovered – which is of course hardly surprising. In the Jafarov case, and the other Azerbaijani judgment concerning the opposition politician and blogger, <a href="https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{">Ilgar Mammadov</a>, the Court was prepared to base its bad faith finding on wider contextual evidence of ulterior purpose, no doubt reflecting the particularly atrocious human rights record of the Aliyev regime. </p> <p>I<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Ivane_Merabishvili.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Ivane_Merabishvili.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="207" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ivane Merabishvili, Georgian Interior Minister (2004-2012) and Prime Minister (2012). </span></span></span>n Merabishvili’s case, the Court acknowledged the backdrop of bitter political antagonism between the UNM and Georgian Dream, but it did not accept his claim that his pre-trial detention was chiefly aimed at removing him from the political scene. </p><p>Instead, the finding of a violation of Article 18 hinged on an incident in December 2013 when he claimed to have been taken from his Tbilisi prison cell in the middle of the night, and driven to an unknown destination where he was questioned by the Chief Public Prosecutor and the head of the Georgian prison service. They offered Merabishvili a “deal”: to provide financial information about former President Saakashvili, and information about the death of former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, in exchange for a guarantee that he would be released and allowed to leave the country with his family. He refused to comply and was threatened with worsening prison conditions.</p> <p>The government flatly denied that such an incident had ever happened, but having scrutinised the available evidence, the Court found that Merabishvili’s covert removal from his prison cell was proven. It noted that Merabishvili’s account of what happened was detailed, specific and consistent. By contrast, it was critical of how the authorities had investigated his complaint about the incident: the significant delays; the lack of independence; the failure to verify evidence or to obtain certain evidence (such as mobile phone records); and that the prison’s CCTV film had apparently been deleted within 24 hours. </p><p>The Court therefore concluded that, although the investigation of offences had initially been based on reasonable suspicion, as a result of this incident, the predominant purpose of Merabishvili’s detention was found to have changed. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">This is the first ever such finding by the European Court concerning Georgia — and the authorities’ response to it represents an important test for its democratic credentials</p><p>This is the first ever such finding by the European Court concerning Georgia — and the authorities’ response to it represents an important test for its democratic credentials. Could the ruling assist in alleviating the bitter fractiousness which has marred domestic politics after the country’s first peaceful transition of power since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 2012 elections? The judgment does not directly address the question which is now being hotly debated in Georgia — whether Merabishvili should be released from custody. This reflects the principle of subsidiarity: that the European Court’s decisions will not necessarily stipulate particular steps to be taken, but will allow the national authorities to decide how to comply with a judgment. A finding of a violation of Article 18 of the European Convention (the misuse of power) is very rare. It needs to be taken extremely seriously here, given that it relates to the criminal prosecution of a leading political opposition figure. </p> <p>Arguably, the appropriate response would be to instigate a rigorous, independent investigation into Merabishvili’s covert removal, and if necessary, to re-open the proceedings against him, a process which might justify the quashing of his conviction. There are relevant precedents. In Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko’s criminal conviction was quashed by a domestic court, as a result of his Strasbourg ruling, and in September this year, the Council of Europe’s <a href="https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectID=090000168074a3bd">Committee of Ministers called on the Azerbaijani authorities</a> to reopen the proceedings which led to Rasul Jafarov’s 2015 criminal conviction.</p> <p>However, the <a href="https://www.newsgeorgia.ge/tsulukiani-ne-schitaet-merabishvili-politzaklyuchennym-nesmotrya-na-reshenie-strasburgskogo-suda/">initial responses from the Georgian authorities seeking to downplay the decision</a> do not augur well. Georgia’s Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani has been quoted as saying that “the state considers the case to have been decided in its favour”. Georgia’s Minister of Refugee Affairs, Forced Migration and Settlement Sozar Kubary responded: “It is pitiful that we did not manage to convince the judges that Merabishvili’s removal from the prison cell had never happened. But what can we do?” </p> <p>There is little doubt that the international community, including institutions such as the IMF (which has <a href="http://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2016/12/31/Georgia-2013-Article-IV-Consultation-40886">noted</a> the “political tensions” and appears to rely on the government’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law), will continue to watch this case, and its aftermath, carefully, to see whether the Georgian government’s response is commensurate with the rule of law and a stable, functioning democracy. It will be important too within the context of the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, and for the prospects of eventual EU accession. Only last month, the members of that initiative (including Georgia) <a href="http://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/31758/final-statement-st14821en17.pdf">recommitted themselves to strengthening democracy, rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms</a>.</p> <p>More broadly, the Grand Chamber decision in the Merabishvili case sets an important precedent for the whole of Europe, as it revises its case-law to clarify that there will be less of an onus on individuals claiming to be the victims of similar “bad faith” cases in future. No longer will the Strasbourg Court require “incontrovertible and direct proof”. Instead it will apply a more flexible, contextual approach. This is a welcome development which will assist in exposing the misuse of power. As three judges (including the Georgian and Ukrainian judges) argued in their separate (concurring) opinion:</p> <p class="blockquote-new">It is paramount for the Court not to hesitate to consider highly sensitive political contexts. Doing otherwise will endanger democracy and could even be seen as a possible endorsement of the existence and acceptance of political persecution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aage-borchgrevink/international-election-observers">No answers on 2016 attack against international election observers in Georgia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tornike-zurabashvili/waiting-for-misha-s-second-coming">Waiting for Misha’s second coming</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/regis-gente/in-georgia-justice-delayed-is-justice-denied">In Georgia, justice delayed is justice denied</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Philip Leach Georgia Caucasus Tue, 05 Dec 2017 21:22:07 +0000 Philip Leach 115072 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia: another revolution was possible https://www.opendemocracy.net/eric-lee/another-revolution-was-possible <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The turbulent but short-lived history of Georgia's social democratic experiment has much to teach us.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Georgien_Parlament_Unabhängigkeit.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="216" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>26 May 1918: National Council meeting, Tbilisi. Public Domain. </span></span></span>The centenary of the Russian Revolution is re-opening debate about the troubled relationship between socialism and democracy, as historians highlight the crimes committed by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. The land where Stalin was born, Georgia, was also the birthplace of a successful social-democratic experiment that was lauded by international statesmen — but crushed by the Bolsheviks. The Georgians’ brave example deserves to be remembered to show that another revolution was possible.</p><p dir="ltr">In May 1918, six months after the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia, the world’s first democratic socialist republic was created. In Georgia, the Mensheviks, or Social Democrats, found themselves ruling a country whose separation from Russia they had always opposed. But under pressure from the Bolsheviks to their north and the Turks to their south, they had no choice.</p><p dir="ltr">Their leader was Noe Zhordania. Like Stalin, who was ten years his junior, Zhordania got an unlikely-seeming introduction to revolutionary politics through his education at the Tiflis Theological Seminary. But unlike Stalin, Zhordania spent his formative years abroad, learning about politics and society from leading figures in Europe’s social-democratic and labor parties. When he returned to Georgia, he persuaded the local revolutionaries to embrace a very particular kind of Marxism, one with a strong European and democratic flavor.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Noe_Schordania.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="227" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journalist and politician Noe Zhordania. Public Domain. </span></span></span>Zhordania and his comrades started with a commitment to political freedom and human rights. Many political parties competed for power in Georgia, unlike in Russia where Lenin and the Bolsheviks outlawed opposition parties one by one, including dissident socialists. The Georgian republic upheld freedom of the press, freedom of association and universal suffrage (including for women).&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The Social Democrats’ first priority was agrarian reform. Georgian peasants, like peasants across the former Russian empire, were land-poor. While the Russian Bolsheviks sent heavily armed troops to the countryside to seize food, Georgia’s Social Democrats seized land from wealthy landowners, the czarist state and the church, and gave it to the peasants. As a result, Georgia was never plagued, as Russia was, by endless warfare between country and city. And peasant support for the Social Democrats never wavered. The man behind the reform was Noe Khomeriki, who served as the country’s minister of agriculture.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In the cities, the Georgian government worked closely with labor unions to ensure that workers and their families were fed and cared for. Independent unions with a right to strike thrived, in sharp contrast to Bolshevik Russia where they were merely an appendage of the dictatorial state.</p><p dir="ltr">Consumer and producer cooperatives also prospered. Their rapid growth meant that in some sectors of the economy, they were overtaking traditional private businesses. Many Georgians saw cooperative enterprises as the building blocks of a new society.</p><p dir="ltr">In free elections held in 1919, the Social Democrats commanded overwhelming support. But one group never accepted the legitimacy of the young republic: the Georgian Bolsheviks. These members of Lenin’s Russian Communist Party worked tirelessly over three years to bring about the violent overthrow of the elected government in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“In comparison with the hell which Soviet Russia represents, Georgia appeared as a paradise”</p><p dir="ltr">There were two failed coup attempts. The second was followed by a peace agreement between Russia’s Soviet government and Georgia, which included a recognition of Georgian independence. The Georgians agreed to legalise the previously underground Communist Party and free jailed Bolsheviks; in return, the Communists agreed to behave themselves.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Security for the Georgian government was provided by a workers’ militia known as the People’s Guard. Its commander was the ruthless Valiko Jugeli, who defended the country’s socialist government against Bolsheviks and other rebels with a fanaticism that was later severely criticised by the Soviet leader Trotsky, among others.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Ministers_of_Georgian_Democratic_republic.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ministers of the Georgian Democratic Republic. Wikipedia / Public Domain. </span></span></span>In September 1920, a delegation of European democratic socialist leaders from the Second International visited Tbilisi. The party of visitors included Britain’s future Labour Party prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald; the most prominent figure was Karl Kautsky, from Germany.</p><p dir="ltr">The best-known Marxist of the day, Kautsky was known as the “pope of socialism.” He stayed on in Georgia for several weeks and wrote a short book about what he learned there. He called the Georgian Democratic Republic “the antithesis to Bolshevism,” and the other foreign delegates agreed that Georgia was carrying out an enormously significant experiment in democratic socialism.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">It was not to last. In February 1921, the Russian Army invaded. Georgia did not fall easily, as Armenia and Azerbaijan had done. Weeks of bloody fighting followed before Tbilisi fell, and the Georgian government, with Zhordania still at its head, retreated to the port city of Batumi. There, on the shores of the Black Sea, the Georgian Constituent Assembly met for the last time and finalised the drafting of the country’s Constitution. It was a remarkable document, but it described a state that would never come into being.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Even with the evacuation of the Social Democratic leaders onto Allied ships for a life in exile, the Georgian struggle was not over. Three years later, Georgians rose up in a popular uprising in a desperate attempt to end Soviet Russian rule. And it nearly worked. Some leading Social Democrats, including Khomeriki, author of the agrarian reform, and Jugeli, commander of the People’s Guard, returned from exile to lead the rebellion. But they were captured and executed, and the rebellion was drowned in blood.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If you want to know what democratic socialism looks like, study the Georgian experiment. That was democratic socialism</p><p dir="ltr">Leading the local Bolsheviks in their suppression of the rebels was a young Lavrenty Beria, the man who later became notorious as the ruthless head of Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD.</p><p dir="ltr">Exile abroad was not necessarily a safer option for the Georgian leaders. Noe Ramishvili, who had briefly served as head of the Georgian government, was murdered by a Soviet agent in France in 1930. But Zhordania survived. His exile in France lasted for more than three decades. He died in January 1953, aged 84 — just a few weeks before the death of his former revolutionary comrade and later adversary, Stalin.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Soviet rule in Georgia survived them both by a few decades, with the country finally declaring independence again in 1991. When it did so, the 1921 Constitution was revived, the anniversary of the May 1918 declaration of independence was proclaimed a national holiday, and the red flag of the Georgian Mensheviks flew once again over the capital city of Tbilisi.</p><p dir="ltr">With the end of the Soviet Union, the Russians resumed their traditional, hostile role, supporting separatist movements in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, leading to a full scale war in 2008. When the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, asked President Vladimir Putin what he was hoping to achieve by Russia’s attack on Georgia, Mr. Putin said he was “going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” referring to Georgia’s president. It was something one could easily imagine Stalin saying about Zhordania.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/1280px-GruzinskajaSSR_1939.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Map of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, 1931-1943. Wikipedia / Public Domain.</span></span></span>Georgia’s great experiment in democratic socialism had been crushed, but the Social Democrats’ key argument — that an impoverished, backward society cannot skip historical stages and proceed straight to pure socialism — was borne out. The Bolsheviks in their rush to create a Communist utopia imposed on millions the very opposite, and not only in Russia, but in China, North Korea, Cambodia and elsewhere. During their brief stint in power, the Georgian Social Democrats showed that a patient series of transformations was a far more promising preparation for an eventual transition to a socialist society. Above all, Georgia’s agrarian reform program offered a humane alternative to the Russian approach of forced collectivisation.</p><p dir="ltr">“In comparison with the hell which Soviet Russia represents,” wrote Kautsky, “Georgia appeared as a paradise.”</p><p dir="ltr">The society that the Georgian Social Democrats created was an inspiration to socialists at the time. As the years passed, however, and Soviet rule seemed to become permanent, their achievements seemed forgotten for decades. Yet the dream of a more equal, fair and free society persisted — and found advocates in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Prague Spring of 1968 in Czechoslovakia, and in the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s.</p><p dir="ltr">That dream lives on as people look for alternatives to capitalism, while rejecting Stalinism. To paraphrase what Friedrich Engels said about the Paris Commune, if you want to know what democratic socialism looks like, study the Georgian experiment. That was democratic socialism.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>How did 1917 change the west? Read Sam Greene's <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sam-greene/how-did-1917-change-the-west">reflections</a> on the stories the US and UK have been telling themselves about Russia.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr"><em><em>Eric Lee is the author of <a href="https://www.zedbooks.net/shop/book/the-experiment/">The Experiment: Georgia's Forgotten Revolution 1918-1921</a> (Zed).</em></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays">In Georgia, labour exploitation still pays</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/mayor-or-manager-tbilisi-chooses-its-kingpin">Mayor or manager? Tbilisi chooses its kingpin</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jason-strakes/georgia-s-russian-cipher">Georgia’s Russian cipher </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst">Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Eric Lee Georgia Mon, 27 Nov 2017 06:18:40 +0000 Eric Lee 114805 at https://www.opendemocracy.net No answers on 2016 attack against international election observers in Georgia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aage-borchgrevink/international-election-observers <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An incident involving international election observers during Georgia's 2016 parliamentary election raised questions that the official investigation is still yet to answer.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Jikhashkari_incident.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>October 2016: Scenes of disturbance at a polling station in Jikhashkari village in the southern district of Marneuli. Image: Luka Pertaia / Netgazeti. </span></span></span>Just before midnight on 8 October 2016, the day of the parliamentary elections, a group of men stormed into a polling station in Jikhashkari, a village in Western Georgia. The station was closed for the counting of votes, but the attackers were able to get past the police guards and into the polling station. There were at least four police officers present in and around the station, while other units were nearby.</p> <p>The attackers threw ballots and papers around, disregarding the protests of the polling station commission. They disrupted the vote tabulation, in a manner that resulted in the annulment of the elections at that precinct, and acted in an intimidating and threatening manner. Then they turned their attention on <a href="http://iphronline.org/investigate-georgia-attack-international-election-observers-20161221.html">three international election observers</a> who were present.</p> <p>We’ve had the privilege of working closely with Georgian civil society organisations for the last 15 years. While these years have been marked by disturbing and dramatic events, such as the war in August 2008, there has also been progress in some important areas, such as freedom of expression and access to effective courts of law.</p> <p>While relations with neighbouring Russia remain strained, relations with Europe have improved to the extent that Georgians <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory">now travel visa free</a> to the EU. There are many reasons for these developments, but key has been the willingness of the people to participate in public affairs and express their opinions through elections that have generally become more free and fair over the last 15 years.</p> <p>In the Caucasus region, free and fair elections do not come about by themselves. They are hard-fought achievements. Georgian civil society and key human rights institutions have worked with Parliament, the Central Electoral Commission and the media to protect the right to vote. In this, they have been supported by international election observers.</p> <p>In 2016 the Norwegian Helsinki Committee together with the European Platform for Democratic Elections, International Partnership for Human Rights and the International Electoral Studies’ Center observed the parliamentary elections. We focused on regions that had previously experienced irregularities and violence in connection with elections. Three of our teams went to Western Georgia.</p> <p>Specifically we chose to observe in the district (#66) where Sandra Roelofs ran as the candidate of the United National Movement (UNM), the main opposition party. Ms. Roelofs is married to Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s former president who fled the country after facing charges relating to corruption and abuse of power.</p> <p>It seemed to us that this seat was a prestigious prize and that the local authorities perhaps would like to avoid a second round of voting, which would indicate the Ms. Roelofs, Mr. Saakashvili and the UNM still have support. After tip off’s about possible trouble in Jikhashkari, one of our teams went there to observe the count. At one point during the count, the sizeable pile of ballots for Ms. Roelofs suggested that the ruling party candidate would not gain an outright victory in the first round at that precinct. Just afterwards a number of election commission members left the premises, and the attackers entered.</p> <p>Election observation is an important democratic institution that is protected by Georgian law and international organizations that count Georgia as a member. Yet the police in Jikhashkari <a href="http://iphronline.org/investigate-georgia-attack-international-election-observers-20161221.html">did not intervene</a> when our three observers were attacked. Two of the observers had their mobile phones taken (they had filmed the altercation in the polling station), two were physically attacked and one female observer from Russia sustained light injuries.</p> <p>The incident was covered in Georgian media. Various Georgian and international bodies protested. The authorities opened a criminal investigation and an administrative inquiry into the conduct of the police. The NHC followed the processes, wrote letters and had meetings with the Ministry of Internal Affairs on many levels and the Office of the Prosecutor. Our aim was to ensure that case was properly investigated.&nbsp;</p> <p>A year later, and on the eve of local elections, it is perhaps useful to sum up how the incident was dealt with. The administrative case <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/67373/eng">launched</a> by the General Inspectorate of Georgia’s Interior Ministry resulted in the reprimanding of two officers who were found to have neglected their duties. In two separate cases in May and June, two men were convicted of attacking our observers and given conditional sentences.</p> <p lang="en-US">Throughout the year, Georgian authorities answered all our queries promptly and convincingly declared that such an incident should not happen again and that election observers should feel safe in Georgia. The administrative actions taken against the two policemen and the conviction of two of the attackers are evidence that the justice and police authorities recognised that a crime had taken place and that actions were taken to punish some of those who were responsible.&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet we are also left with a number of unanswered questions. It is difficult to understand why the identity of the other attackers have not been established. Jikhashkari is a small village, yet even the policeman present during the attack was unable to identify any of the other attackers. There is no explanation as to why why the police failed to contact reinforcements stationed on the outskirts of the village. Individuals who witnesses reported to have been part of the group of attackers were apparently not questioned during the investigation.</p> <p>There is no mentioning of a motive for the attack. Local witnesses, interviewed by us, claimed that the commission members were warned about the attack beforehand, but instead of locking the doors, they left the building. They believe that the commission members and the police colluded with the attackers, in the sense that they did not intervene to stop the attack, and that there may have been an order to disrupt the vote count in Jikhashkari and annul the results there.&nbsp;</p> <p>The incident in Polling Station 79 does not appear to have been linked by the investigators to the identical attack on the other polling station (108) in the village, which took place at the same time and presumably involved the same group of perpetrators. Indeed even the cases against the two individuals who were charged with attacking Polling Station 79 and our observers, were investigated and tried separately.</p> <p>Our feeling is that Georgian police and justice authorities have refrained from a full-fledged investigation into the aims and organisation of the attack, and settled for a “compromise solution” where a few individuals are punished, administratively and by the courts. We are left wondering: If it was a premeditated attack, as circumstances seem to suggest, who planned and ordered it?&nbsp;</p> <p>We will anyway return as election observers in order to strengthen democratic institutions and cooperate with Georgia’s vibrant civil society. We trust that Georgian authorities will do their utmost to protect the institution of international observers in the future. In many respects Georgia is way ahead of the neighbuoring states with regard to human rights and democratic standards.&nbsp;</p> <p lang="en-US">Still, the lesson from Jikhashkari seems to be that some of the practices from previous Georgian regimes have survived despite the many improvements that have taken place.</p><p lang="en-US">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/mayor-or-manager-tbilisi-chooses-its-kingpin">Mayor or manager? Tbilisi chooses its kingpin</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anne-rennschmid/is-election-observing-in-central-asia-lost-cause">Is election observing in Central Asia a lost cause?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/big-trouble-in-little-georgia">Big trouble in little Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/aage-borchgrevink-simon-papuashvili/ending-impunity-in-europe">Ending impunity in Europe?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Simon Papuashvili Aage Borchgrevink Georgia Fri, 20 Oct 2017 05:33:06 +0000 Aage Borchgrevink and Simon Papuashvili 114105 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A response to “Georgian land, Georgian freedom” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/response-to-georgian-land-georgian-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We recently published an article arguing in favour of Georgia’s proposed ban on selling agricultural land to foreign buyers. A foreign landowner with several years’ experience in the country’s agricultural sector uses his right of response to argue against the move.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/GrapeHarvest_Georgia.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/GrapeHarvest_Georgia.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The grape harvest in Kakheti, a region of eastern Georgia famous for its winemaking. Photo CC-by-2.0: Joe Colne / Flickr. Some rights reserve.</span></span></span></p><p>In <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgian-land-georgian-freedom" target="_blank">this article on Georgia’s proposed ban on selling agricultural land to foreign buyers</a>, Sopo Japaridze makes a number of excellent points: in policy, the needs of Georgia’s rural population should have priority. They make up more than 40% of Georgia’s population, yet are often neglected. She also makes the sensible point that Georgia imports far too much food (though it is unlikely to be quite the 80% that she cites). However, the proposed solution —&nbsp;banning foreign land ownership — is unlikely to be the solution for either of these problems.</p><p>Right now, the main problem in Georgia is that most land is not actually being farmed. By some estimates, as much as 50% of Georgia’s arable land lies fallow, being used for grazing at best. Foreign investors can contribute to putting this land to use by bringing skills, capitals, and access to international markets. These investors can also bring employment, and can help to revive agriculture, through some anchor investments. Foreign investments have already led to employment, to increased standards, and have helped to export Georgian products to Germany, Japan and other destinations. It might have been useful to highlight this dimension, given the current discussion.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The main problem in Georgia is that most land is not actually farmed. Foreign investors can help put this land to use</p><p>It is also sensible to keep focusing on exports. First, Georgia needs export revenue, to buy the things it does not produce. While manufacturing jobs are desirable, they cannot be conjured out of nothing. Next to tourism and hydropower, agriculture offers a sensible source of revenue. </p><p>Export requires high standards, which are in demand in Georgia, too. Currently, many farmers over-use pesticides and herbicides, and while most Georgian produce looks wholesome and tastes delicious, a chunk of it is not particularly safe. One case in point is the recent US health warning about <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/lead/georgian-spices.pdf" target="_blank">high levels of lead in Georgian spices.</a> That is just the tip of what unfortunately is a far-from-healthy iceberg. Exporters, particularly those to Western European markets, are held to high standards, with regards to residues. They are, incidentally, also held to standards with regards to labour safety. </p><p>Thus, working to export standards can bring the quality and productivity that likely will contribute to reducing imports, too. In Georgian agriculture, we have a long way to go before we reach a zero-sum game of either exports or imports. </p><p>To be sure, not all investment (foreign or Georgian) is great, getting the details of regulation right is difficult. The details are complex. I do wish that future articles on this issue take account of that complexity, and contribute to a nuanced discussion. </p><p>In Georgia, and all across the former Soviet Union, there is much misery today, because of hot-headed decisions that were taken on impulse, in the past. The right answers often are not in extremes (“any investor in!”; “all investors out!”), but in identifying sensible trade-offs. Journalism contributes to developing such policies when it highlights the complex mechanics that are at play, and illuminates the unintended consequences that could result from courses of action that appear superficially attractive, while leading us down some unhappy paths. </p><p><em>Hans Gutbrod has been working in and on the Caucasus region since 1999. He is also active in agriculture, and believes in its potential in Georgia, if the right decisions are taken. </em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“<a href="https://medium.com/@hansgutbrod/ban-on-foreign-ag-ownership-in-georgia-why-leases-are-not-the-solution-6abdb72706e1" target="_blank">Ban on foreign ag-ownership in Georgia — why leases are not the solution</a>”, Hans Gutbrod for <em>Medium</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgian-land-georgian-freedom">Georgian land, Georgian freedom</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Hans Gutbrod Georgia Caucasus Tue, 17 Oct 2017 22:32:50 +0000 Hans Gutbrod 114047 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/Screen%20Shot%202017-10-13%20at%2010.jpg" alt="Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 10.jpg" width="80" />My husband was kidnapped on the streets of Tbilisi and ended up in an Azerbaijani jail cell. Four months on, I’ve got no answers — only more questions.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Author's personal archive. </span></span></span>Four months have now passed since my husband, the Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">abducted from Tbilisi</a> and illegally delivered into the hands of the Azerbaijani government. Initially, this case was investigated by Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs. Now it is under the purview of the Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia. But despite the efforts of these two state agencies, the Georgian authorities have still not released any finding related to my husband’s abduction. I’m not sure they ever seriously intended to.</p><p dir="ltr">Afgan fled to Georgia in January 2015 as a result of prosecution against him. In late 2014, he conducted a series of investigations into <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/3626/">high-level corruption in the Azerbaijani army</a> and other state agencies. When Afgan moved to Georgia, he started to investigate the investments of Azerbaijan’s ruling family, the Aliyevs, in Georgia — he was the first Azerbaijani journalist to do so. As Afgan revealed, the first family of Azerbaijan, namely <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/politics/8759/">Ilham Aliyev’s daughters Arzu and Leyla Aliyeva</a> have<a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/society/9330/"> a stake</a> in Georgia’s banking sector. The family also own tourism and cargo companies operating in Georgia. My husband’s last article was about politically motivated abductions that he faced four months after publication.</p><p dir="ltr">Recently, we met with some investigators in the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office regarding Afgan’s abduction case. The investigators said that they have sent CCTV videos for forensic examination in order to identify car license plate numbers involved in the abduction — several videos are of low quality and were recorded from a distance. I told the investigators that they don’t need to make their job too difficult.</p><p dir="ltr">As Afgan has <a href="http://1tv.ge/en/news/view/163596.html">said</a>, several Georgian-speaking men wearing Georgian police uniforms detained him on Niaghvari Street in central Tbilisi, beat him in a car on adjoining Ukleba Street in front of a small grocery shop, then turned the car back to Niaghvari Street, drove up to Daniel Chonqadze Street and took him through Shio Chitadze street where Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Italian Embassy are situated. These ministry and embassy buildings both have high resolution cameras. Investigators can easily see the license plate numbers of the cars from these videos. The investigation has to look into the car which transported Afgan to Chitadze Street.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">I believe that the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office is prolonging these procedures on purpose. They are working slowly, and this is to the advantage of the Azerbaijani Prosecutors’ Office</span></p><p dir="ltr">I believe that the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office is prolonging these procedures on purpose. They are working slowly, and this is to the advantage of the Azerbaijani Prosecutors’ Office, which continues to press trumped-up charges against Afgan. The current investigation in Azerbaijan claims that Afgan, currently in jail in Baku, crossed the Azerbaijani border illegally, smuggled €10,000 and attacked an Azerbaijani border service official. Here, Georgia is caught between two dilemmas. The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office cannot “prove” whether Afgan Mukhtarli crossed the border illegally or was abducted. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">When the investigation was under the control of the Georgian police, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that CCTV under the control of the police were switched off during the hours when abduction happened. The police had already <a href="http://iphronline.org/repression-beyond-borders-exiled-azerbaijanis-georgia.html">intruded and doctored CCTV videos from private businesses</a>, as the Rustavi 2 television channel has reported. </p><p dir="ltr">Ten days after the allegation about the involvement of Georgian police officers in Afgan Mukhtarli’s abduction, the First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Besik Amiranashvili, who heads up the Georgian police, was <a href="http://rustavi2.ge/en/news/77651">dismissed</a> from his post without any explanation. Then, later, the Head of Georgia’s Border Police and Chief of Georgian Counter Intelligence Agency were<a href="http://agenda.ge/news/83856/eng"> dismissed</a> from their posts temporarily. Georgia’s Interior Minister <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/83856/eng">stressed</a> this step was taken to “exclude any questions in the case”. However, we still haven’t been able to find answers to our questions.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/images-cms-image-000033736_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afghan Mukhtarli has been charged with smuggling in Baku after being kidnapped in Tbilisi. Image: <a href=www.meydan.tv>MeydanTV</a>.</span></span></span>Dismissing these officials on its own does not make any sense. Afgan claims that he was forced to cross the border checkpoint without his passport. Actually, the border police officials who allowed it should have been immediately involved in the investigation, interrogated and necessary measures implemented. But this didn’t happen.</p><p dir="ltr">Before 22 July, when the Georgian Chief Prosecutor’s Office took the case under investigation, we had already submitted photographs of the people who had followed Afgan prior to his abduction, but the police did not identify these people. They only surfaced after we published their photos on social media.</p><p dir="ltr">Georgian police investigators informed us that the recording mechanism of the border checkpoint CCTV did not work during the hours when the abduction happened. Then, after four months, the videos from border check point somehow “surfaced”. The Prosecutor’s Office stated (but did not show us) that they have the relevant border checkpoint videos in their possession and that there is no evidence of violence and abduction.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Whatever happened to us has already happened. But what will happen to the Georgian people?</p><p dir="ltr">Regarding the videos of the unknown people who surveilled Afgan and his friend Dashqin Aghalarli, an Azerbaijani opposition activist in exile in Tbilisi, investigators from the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office said that about four months had passed and they can not obtain videos from private businesses as they have been deleted.</p><p dir="ltr">The criminal case on Afgan’s abduction was launched after I made a complaint to the Georgian police in reference to Article 143.1 (Illegal limitation of freedom) of the Criminal Code of Georgia. We demand that Articles 143.2, 143.3, 143.4 also be added into the criminal case: the crime has been committed by taking the victim abroad with a prior agreement by a group using violence. This is about more than just the illegal deprivation of freedom.</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mULfXgJWJgE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><p dir="ltr"><br />Neither Afgan, nor myself have yet been granted official victim status. Legally, this means that no one has suffered, and the abduction is not a serious crime. Georgian investigators claim there is not enough evidence to add the above articles to the criminal case. And unless these articles are added to the criminal case materials, none of us can be granted victim status. Neither I, nor my legal counsel have yet been able to read the criminal case materials relating to Afgan’s abduction in full.</p><p dir="ltr">The surveillance of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Azerbaijani dissidents living in Georgia</a> continues even after Afgan’s abduction — indeed, <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/azerbaijan-muxtarli-wife-mustafayeva-flees-georgia/28789847.html" target="_blank">I have now left Georgia due to concerns for my safety</a>. On 29 June, in a Tbilisi café, an unknown man placed a laptop bag on the sofa as soon as I left my seat to visit the bathroom. The video that we watched in the Prosecutor’s Office showed that this man approached the table, put the bag on the sofa and left the place. It is obvious that he put the bag on the sofa by purpose.</p><p dir="ltr">But the investigators started to defend this individual, saying that he is a solid person, a professor who speaks multiple languages. I found it interesting that this “polyglot professor” was walking around Tbilisi with an empty bag and, when I asked him “Whose bag is this?”, could not find any language to respond. He just explained me with gestures that the bag belonged him, grabbed the bag from my hands and moved away extremely quickly.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/20156047_1794766803871955_5385920858339400145_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>22 July, 2017: Leyla Mustafayeva and others protest the detentions of Azerbaijani journalists in Tbilisi. Source: Facebook. </span></span></span>I checked the above bag when I took it in my hands and it was empty. I suspected that there could have been a listening device inside — why else would someone have placed the bag near a table where complete strangers were sitting? He placed the bag on the sofa so professionally that Dashqin Aghalarli, Afgan’s friend who was also sitting at the table, didn’t notice him — he was busy on his mobile phone.</p><p dir="ltr">Surveillance intensified after Azerbaijani’s Ministry of Interior Affairs <a href="http://en.axar.az/news/society/196126.html">visited</a> Georgia in early August. We delivered the photos and videos of the men whom we suspected of following us again when I was out walking with Dashqin Aghalarli and my four–year-old daughter. We wrote to the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office regarding this surveillance on 7 August, 2017. Two months on, they have not yet identified them.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Who ordered Afgan’s abduction? Why were the CCTVs under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Interior Affairs switched off during the hours when abduction took place? Why has nobody been detained in this case yet?</p><p dir="ltr">As to the people who followed Afghan, Dashqin, I and Rahim Shaliyev, one of the witnesses who saw Afgan last, on 19 September <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1859508930731075&amp;set=a.108657322482920.16377.100000159571507&amp;type=3">I published their photographs on Facebook</a> in order to identify them. These men then surfaced as a result. Before then, the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office had no information about them. We provided the Georgian investigators with their names.</p><p dir="ltr">The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office does not have Afgan’s testimony. They claim they have applied to Azerbaijani Chief Prosecutor’s Office to interrogate him. However, no response has been received, investigators claim. This month, when the OSCE Media Representative Harlem Desir visited Georgia, the First Vice-Speaker of Georgia Tamar Chugoshvili <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/ge/politika/455547-eutho-s-tsarmomadgeneli-mediis-thavisuflebis-sakithkhebshi-thamar-chugoshvilthan-shekhvedrisas-afgan-mukhtharlis-saqmith-dainteresda.html">stated </a>that the results of the investigation into the abduction also depend on the Prosecutor’s Office of Azerbaijan. However, the Georgian side has not carried out a proper investigation. The abduction happened on Georgian territory. Afgan claims that the group of people who abducted him were reporting to someone occasionally in Georgian. These people beat and tortured him by putting a bag on his head. They wore Georgian police uniforms. Who ordered Afgan’s abduction? Why were the CCTVs under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Interior Affairs switched off during the hours when abduction took place? Why has nobody been detained in this case yet?</p><p dir="ltr">As it happens, Azerbaijan’s Channel One and Elman Nasirov, an Azerbaijani MP, have answered some of these questions, <a href="http://dfwatch.net/azerbaijani-mp-georgian-intel-abduction-48710">saying</a> that Afgan Mukhtarli was brought to Azerbaijan as a result of a joint operation of the special forces of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The Georgian State Security Service <a href="http://ssg.gov.ge/en/news/248/saxelmtsifo-usafrtxoebis-samsaxuris-gancxadeba">denies</a> this. </p><p dir="ltr">Afgan’s abduction has led to grave consequences for Georgia. There is now a <a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2017-0267+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN">Resolution of the European Parliament</a> on this case, a <a href="https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/06/271551.htm">statement of the US Department of State</a> and statements by other European institutions. Indeed, the resolution of the<a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&amp;reference=P8-RC-2017-0414&amp;format=XML&amp;language=EN"> European Parliament</a> says that the Georgian authorities have to clarify beyond doubt all suspicion regarding the involvement of Georgian state agents in the forced disappearance of Afghan. Any illegal act committed in order to maintain a good relationship with Azerbaijan or violate the rights of a foreign citizen means that Georgia’s current government is ready to violate the rule of law in the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-tyrants-reach-knows-no-borders/2017/09/28/b95f9946-a2e9-11e7-b14f-f41773cd5a14_story.html?utm_term=.42a83d94afe2">interest of a tyrant</a>. Whatever happened to us has already happened. But what will happen to the Georgian people?</p><p dir="ltr">The more this investigation is slowed down, the more suspicion arises regarding the involvement of Georgian officials in the abduction of Afgan Mukhtarli, who today sits in pre-trial detention in Azerbaijan.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">Azerbaijani journalist kidnapped across Georgia-Azerbaijan border</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/rebecca-vincent/meet-ilgar-mammadov-azerbaijan-s-prison-president">Release Ilgar Mammadov</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat">Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/casey-michel/eurasia-incredible-spin-men-press">The rearguard battle against Eurasia’s incredible spin-men</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Leyla Mustafayeva Human rights Georgia Azerbaijan Fri, 13 Oct 2017 09:15:35 +0000 Leyla Mustafayeva 113986 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgian land, Georgian freedom https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgian-land-georgian-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A proposed amendment to Georgia’s constitution would ban the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens. Is it a necessary evil, or a hollow gesture?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgia_Cow_Bagrati.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgia_Cow_Bagrati.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A cow rests in view of Bagrati Cathedral outside the city of Kutaisi, western Georgia. Photo CC-by-00: Candoyi / Pixabay. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Constitutional reform is afoot in Georgia. Many observers worry that new amendments to the electoral system may help <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/84666" target="_blank">entrench the parliamentary majority of the ruling party</a> Georgian Dream, which claimed victory at the ballot boxes last October. This week, the Georgian parliament started discussing a <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30176" target="_blank">new amendment restricting the sale of agricultural land to foreign citizens</a>. It’s a move that has raised less of a stir&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;but nonetheless could have important repercussions.&nbsp;</p><h2>Free Georgia, free land&nbsp;</h2><p>Following the collapse of the USSR, most people in Georgia received small plots of land from the government of first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The state granted individuals exclusive usage of these modest plots, though it was not until 1996 that Eduard Shevardnadze’s government conferred ownership on their users. Nevertheless, land records remaind patchy, and disputes were not uncommon.</p><p>Along came the reformist government of Mikheil Saakashvili, which in 2007 instituted a digital record of land ownership, helping to streamline the sale of these small plots; the Georgian Dream government has gone further, utilising <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83286" target="_blank">potentially risky blockchain technology</a> to develop a land register.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Banning sales of agricultural land to foreigners may be an easy populist vote-winner, but it still has an internal logic</p><p>Today, Georgian politicians tend to tread delicately around the question of land ownership. This is in part due to popular memories of the Soviet Union’s catastrophic experiments in state-owned collectivised land, and partly due to the capacity of the issue to feed into inter-ethnic disputes. In this context, Georgian Dream’s decision to raise the issue anew was a bold one&nbsp;<span>–&nbsp;</span>but not without precedent. Fears of foreign ownership of land and displacement by a foreign workforce may feed into rising xenophobic discourse, but there’s an internal logic to them.&nbsp;</p><p>Much like other proposed amendments, the proposal to ban sales of agricultural land to foreign owners seems partly an easy populist move bound to appease certain sections of the electorate. Parliamentary chairman Irakli Kobakhidze <a href="http://parliament.ge/en/parlamentarebi/chairman/chairmannews/irakli-kobaxidzem-konstituciuri-kanonis-proeqti-mecnierebs-gaacno.page" target="_blank">admitted just that</a>, noting that Georgian society “had a particularly emotional attitude to the issue, so it served as an important driver for the decision.” Of course, such a popular gesture by Georgian Dream comes at just the right moment, given <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/mayor-or-manager-tbilisi-chooses-its-kingpin" target="_blank">impending local government elections</a>.</p><h2>Singapore of the South Caucasus&nbsp;</h2><p>The amendment in question is a mechanism that can at least delay the fire sale of valuable land to which many developing countries have been subjected. After all, there are certainly examples of foreign attempts to monopolise sectors of Georgian agriculture.&nbsp;</p><p>One colourful but <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2001/02/26/opinion/as-in-the-hazelnut-caper-these-folks-dont-listen.html" target="_blank">mostly unknown incident</a> occurred during Eduard Shevardnadze’s rule (1995-2003), and involved Aslan Abashidze, maverick ruler of the autonomous region of Adjara in southwestern Georgia. Abashidze, who ruled the balmy Black Sea region as a virtual fiefdom, was in constant opposition to the central authorities in Tbilisi until he was ousted by Saakashvili in 2004 and fled to Russia. Hillary Clinton’s brothers, Hugh and Tony Rodham, were introduced to Abashidze where they made a deal to corner the hazelnut processing business in 1999. The Rodhams were about to strike a deal worth $118m, which was <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1999/sep/17/news/mn-11267" target="_blank">stopped providentially</a> by Bill and Hillary&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;Shevardnadze was seen as an ally of the US, while the unruly Aslan was his enemy.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Saakashvili_Mural_234.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Saakashvili_Mural_234.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Saakashvili’s supply-side: headaches and high hopes. Photo CC-BY-2.0: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>A more recent example of a foreign companies having free reign on Georgian soil involves the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, whose owners include BP, Stratoil and the Azerbaijani state gas company SOCAR. In the course of its construction, farmers who surrendered land to the pipeline’s eight kilometre corridor <a href="http://www.greenalt.org/webmill/data/file/publications/btc_dev_model.pdf" target="_blank">received little to no compensation</a>, losing access to water and seeing their land polluted, especially in the vicinity of Borjomi. This deal was made by Shevardnadze, and the pipeline was constructed under Saakashvili, <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/recaps/articles/eav080604.shtml" target="_blank">who had some surprisingly tough words against BP</a> in 2004: “We won't be bullied, here in Washington [BP] are pressuring us... We are not a banana republic, and we still have issues with BP.”&nbsp;</p><p>While there were some initiatives to inject funds into small agrobusinesses (such as a <a href="http://www.saakashviliarchive.info/en/PressOffice/News/?p=7194&amp;i=3" target="_blank">2011 voucher scheme</a>), Saakashvili’s plan for economic development mostly&nbsp;<a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hcMZCAAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA132&amp;dq=rural+life+saakashvili&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiMntjbxbTWAhXoJcAKHW-5BVEQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&amp;q=rural%20life%20saakashvili&amp;f=false" target="_blank">saw little role for rural life apart</a> from attracting tourism. His rule also saw a <a href="http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2473_october_28_2011/2473_salome.html" target="_blank">failed hybrid corn fiasco</a> where seeds were <a href="http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2323_march_24_2011/2323_econ_one.html" target="_blank">sold to farmers</a> for purportedly “high yield” harvests, ending abruptly when the harvests failed and the farmers had to challenge the government in court to avoid paying.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Despite Georgia’s focus on exporting specialised agricultural products, the fact remains that the country imports around 80% of its food</span></p><p>The opposition under Saakashvili consistently pointed out the government’s neglect of the countryside. Many of the United National Movement’s policies were inspired by the East Asian Tigers, embracing high industrialisation in lieu of agriculture, mixed with a heady blend of American libertarian supply-side ideology. The result was a mass import of foodstuffs with which local agricultural producers simply could not compete. The only role left for many plots was subsistence farming.&nbsp;</p><p>Today, Georgia may be gaining a reputation for its wine industry, but alongside this new taste for specialised agricultural products, the fact remains <a href="http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Europe/documents/Publications/AI_briefs/Georgia_ai_en.pdf" target="_blank">around 80% of Georgia’s food requirements are met with imports</a>&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;mostly from Russia, Turkey and the EU.&nbsp;</p><h2>Theft or investment?&nbsp;</h2><p>Since Georgian Dream came to power in 2012, the state has given the Ministry of Agriculture a new lease of life, assigning it concrete programs to encourage agricultural development.</p><p>While these new agricultural initiatives may leave much to be desired, they are still unprecedented for post-Soviet Georgia. The ministry has subordinated institutions that co-finance small and medium loans to farmers by covering high interest rates of the banks, providing agricultural training and expertise, encouraging building and expanding of processing plants. They also offer support for agricultural cooperatives, market Georgian agricultural products abroad (especially wine), develop new systems of irrigation, promote agro-insurance, and try to resurrect Georgia’s tradition of tea production.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Telavi_Market_24.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Telavi_Market_24.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Morning market in Telavi, Kakheti province, eastern Georgia, 2013. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Carsten ten Brink / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Nevertheless, the size of Georgia’s small, fragmented land plots makes it difficult to develop farming on a large enough scale to drive down prices and increase overall yield. As it stands, 73% of land ownership is below a hectare, in a country where 43% of land is designated as agricultural.&nbsp;</p><p>Representatives of Georgia’s libertarian right, such as the UNM member of parliament Zurab Chiaberashvili, have argued that this fragmented land ownership is a perfect reason for a complete free-for-all in Georgia’s market for agricultural land, regardless of the buyers’ origin. As Chiaberashvili stated in a panel discussion at Tbilisi’s Ilia State University, unless these areas of land are amalgamated into larger plots, large-scale agriculture can never develop. Other parliamentarians have even argued that Georgia shouldn’t develop its agriculture sector at all, as urbanisation is linked to higher incomes and foreign direct investment.&nbsp;</p><h2>Networked Georgia&nbsp;</h2><p>Other parliamentarians and businessmen stress that Georgia <a href="https://www.investingeorgia.org/en/keysectors/regional-logistics-hub" target="_blank">must instead concentrate on its new role as a “transport hub”</a> for trading goods between Europe and Asia. Georgia’s proximity to the “<a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83121" target="_blank">new silk road</a>” is a motivating factor. The move would also be an attractive prospect for investors from China, Iran and Turkey&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;countries which unlike Georgia do not enjoy an association agreement with the EU. Here’s the crux: with their products registered as Georgian exports, foreign businesses will now be able to capitalise on the European markets they could otherwise only access with difficulty.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, Georgian Dream’s projects to support agricultural development are also tailored to this new reality&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;they are oriented to develop exports to EU markets. The EU Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) have strict and expensive standards that have to be applied in agriculture and animal husbandry in order to enter the EU market.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“It is a shame that Georgian khachapuri is now produced with imported wheat, and that Georgian cheese is produced with imported powdered milk”</p><p>Crucially, the Georgian Dream government has taken no concrete steps to reduce cheap food imports, instead further encouraging the hyper-liberalisation of trade. Even the responsible EU attaché, Juan Echanove, <a href="http://www.georgianjournal.ge/business/30764-does-georgian-meat-have-a-future-at-the-european-market.html" target="_blank">advised correctly</a> that the “priority for Georgia should be to replace imports. It is a shame that khachapuri is produced with imported wheat, it is a shame that your cheese is made from imported powdered milk. Think about it.” Echanove <a href="https://www.georgianjournal.ge/georgian-review/30883-juan-echanove-there-is-a-future-of-georgian-products-in-europe.html" target="_blank">stressed</a> that he believed Georgia was more than capable of exporting competitive agricultural products to Europe, and meeting its domestic food requirements.</p><p>The summary of the <a href="http://www.moa.gov.ge/Ge/Public/Annual/10/" target="_blank">Ministry of Agriculture’s 2016 report</a> boasts of increases in exports, thus lowering our trade deficit. Imports have only slightly declined, reflecting their continuing importance in domestic consumption. Of course, those products developed for export are hardly daily fare for most Georgians&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;expensive wines, spirits, and mineral water.&nbsp;</p><p>Dependence on imports for staple foods is especially dangerous given that the lari frequently devalues in relation to the dollar, thus increasing food prices. Although a <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/71026/eng" target="_blank">new law on “lari-isation”</a> is supposed to bring some relief, Georgian families find it increasingly difficult to meet their increasing loan payments with their meagre household incomes. This <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1512188716000105" target="_blank">increasing vulnerability</a> drives families to take out even more loans.&nbsp;</p><h2>Credit on the cheap&nbsp;</h2><p>While the libertarian <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check" target="_blank">Liberty Act, which could be enshrined in the constitution</a>, forbids government debt to be more than 60% of GDP, many Georgian households now have loans that are 200% more than their disposable income.</p><p>According to the&nbsp;<a href="http://data.imf.org/?sk=E5DCAB7E-A5CA-4892-A6EA-598B5463A34C&amp;sId=1460043522778" target="_blank">IMF’s 2016 financial assessment survey</a>, 717 of every 1,000 Georgians borrow money to meet basic needs. This was <a href="http://georgiatoday.ge/news/6880/In-Debt-%26-Broke-in-Georgia" target="_blank">shockingly the second highest in the world</a> (though by my calculations in 2016, it was the fourth most). The net profits of one of the country’s largest banks, TBC Bank, over the first quarter of 2017 alone <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/brief-georgias-tbc-bank-groups-q1-net-pr-idUSL8N1IO3JL?feedType=RSS&amp;virtualBrandChannel=11563&amp;c=15111507804719012357&amp;mkt=en-us" target="_blank">have increased by 64.5% y/y</a>, which amounts to $40.25 m. The exorbitant interest rates charged by Georgian banks are justified by the argument that “Georgians are high risk,” though it has been consistently shown that repayment is actually very high.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Given low wages and high prices,&nbsp;the only option for many people is to either leave the country or take out loans at exorbitant interest rates</p><p>By statistical sleight of hand, rates of employment are inflated by the authorities. Given the low wages (<a href="http://geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&amp;p_id=149&amp;lang=eng" target="_blank">according to official statistics</a>, the mean monthly wage was 990 lari (£295); the median is not calculated), high prices and high dollarisation, the only option for many people is to either leave the country or take out loans. The countryside is hit hardest; waged work is hard to find and most people have small plots of land with extremely basic farming tools. An estimated 43% of Georgia’s total workforce is <a href="http://www.moa.gov.ge/Ge/Public/Annual/10/" target="_blank">engaged in some form of agriculture</a>, but 97% of those people are described as self-employed. The category of self-employment is also a <a href="http://geostat.ge/cms/site_images/_files/english/methodology/labour%20force%20statistics%20Eng.pdf" target="_blank">dubious classification</a>&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;it could include anyone selling a few eggs on the side of a country road.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgian_Lari_Banknotes.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Georgian_Lari_Banknotes.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A block of Georgian 20 Lari banknotes, ready to be put into circulation – and ready for easy credit. Photo CC: Videoblocks. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In my opinion, encouraging further commodification of land in this situation is highly irresponsible. The desperation in our countryside, the lack of jobs, low financial literacy, the high cost of healthcare and high dependence on loans guarantees that Georgian citizens will sell land cheaply and quickly.</p><p>With that in mind, a constitutional amendment is a necessary but insufficient step to protect Georgia’s farmers. Land cooperatives, once proposed by Georgian Dream, could help circumvent the problem of fragmented smallholdings. Logistical problems like the efficient collecting of produce by distributors should also be a central concern. Most importantly, the underlying logic of export orientation needs to be completely overhauled and replaced with a food security program. In addition, many rural households <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235218072_The_Role_of_Social_Capital_in_Rural_Community_Development_of_Georgia" target="_blank">depend on collective land</a> like forests (which make up 40% of Georgia’s total land area) in order to survive. Any sound agricultural policy has to take accessibility to these traditionally communal lands into account.</p><p>By substituting imports, Georgian Dream could actually decrease poverty and develop a domestic market for agricultural goods, safeguarding Georgia from the global and local market volatilities that affect our currency. It could also protect Georgians from the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/sep/15/europes-food-apartheid-are-brands-in-the-east-lower-quality-than-in-the-west" target="_blank">inferior quality food</a> that big multinational corporations have been found selling in Eastern Europe under the guise of their western counterparts. In many countries, the agricultural resources for self-sufficiency simply don’t exist. But Georgia is exceptional in this regard. </p><p>After all, we should remember that if food insecurity is man-made, this means it can be unmade too.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Read this <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/response-to-georgian-land-georgian-freedom">response</a> from Hans Gutbrod, a businessman and executive director of Transparify based in Georgia.&nbsp;</em></p><p><em><br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check">Georgia’s new constitution keeps real change in check</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays">In Georgia, labour exploitation still pays</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">Kakha Bendukidze and Georgia’s failed experiment</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sopiko Japaridze Rights for all Georgia Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:30:54 +0000 Sopiko Japaridze 113488 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s highlanders against hydropower https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/hydropower-project-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the Georgian government moves ahead with its plans for increasing the country’s hydropower capacity, local communities are being sidelined in the process of compensation payments.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33107055270_a7149bc31e_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Locals working on their land to produce their food, Svaneti. (c) Bankwatch. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Earlier this summer, I visited Georgia’s Svaneti region together with colleagues from <a href="https://bankwatch.org">Bankwatch</a>. Svaneti, located high in the Caucasian mountains, borders the breakaway territory of Abkhazia, and is home to some of the most pristine rivers in the Caucasus. As a team of civil society members, we travelled there to talk with local people and analyse the quality of consultations over future development projects on their lands.</p><p dir="ltr">Together with the surrounding forests, Svaneti’s Nenskra and Nakra rivers have existed in a symbiotic bond with local communities for centuries. This strong interdependence between people and nature is visible everywhere in Svaneti — a constant reminder of the important role that local communities must play in designing infrastructure projects.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet in recent years, Svaneti has been transformed into a battleground between communities and the Georgian government with its plans for building large hydro power plants. The threat has united Svan people who are struggling to conserve what is left of their cultural heritage and the biodiversity of the region.</p><h2>Public funding</h2><p dir="ltr">The Georgian government’s ambition to build<a href="https://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/hydropower-development-georgia"> dozens of new hydro power plants</a> (HPPs) in the Svaneti region has caught the attention of international financiers. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have all expressed interest in financing the planned 280MW Nenskra HPP, the most advanced project in the government’s pipeline. Up to 75% of the project costs <a href="https://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/nenskra-hydropower-plant-georgia">could come from international public sources</a> and with the <a href="http://www.ebrd.com/work-with-us/projects/esia/nenskra-hpp-portage.html">loan approval date</a> coming up on 15 November for the EBRD, there is little time to act.</p><p dir="ltr">But while the dam is supposed to ensure energy security for Georgia during winter and eliminate imports from Turkey, locals and activists are opposing the project, which they view as a threat to Svan culture, the biodiversity of the region and the safety of local communities given the area’s seismic instability.</p><p dir="ltr">Seeing the awe-inspiring Svaneti region, the forests and rivers that will vanish for the Nenskra HPP, it is easy to understand these concerns, the anger and the feeling of hopelessness that locals express. Capturing water from these two serene rivers, the impacts of the project would stretch for dozens of kilometres, from the transmission lines to the power house, the site of the dam and over and across the mountains along the future water intake tunnel from the Nakra river. If the dam plans are implemented, it will get Nakra river down to 10% of its current flow and Nenskra to 5%. The project will affect numerous pasture lands and summer grazing areas for animals and its reservoir will flood hectares of forest.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If realised, this project will strip over 200 people, some of whom already living in poverty, of their pasture lands and livelihoods</p><p dir="ltr">A biodiversity expertise commissioned by Bankwatch identified several species of wild protected animals in the region including Eurasian lynx, brown bear, Persian leopard, booted eagle among many whose habitats will be disturbed by the future dam. Moreover, the region is experiencing annual mudflows and landslides and is well known for its geological instability, something people fear might be emphasized when the dam is built. Locals have also expressed great concerns over the impact the the dam will have on the humidity levels in the villages, causing numerous health problems as was the case of the Enguri HPP built in the region during soviet times.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/33490337175_aaedf20dee_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/33490337175_aaedf20dee_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hiking trail in Svaneti mountains. Photo: Bankwatch / Flickr. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The project promoter is JSC Nenskra, a Georgian company established by Korean K-Water with a 10% share of a Georgian state owned company. JSC Nenskra has already benefitted from several deals with the Georgian government, among others <a href="https://bankwatch.org/sites/default/files/Nenskra-LALRP-11Sep2017.pdf">receiving forest land for one dollar contracts</a> (see page 20). The locals we spoke to and who have used this land for centuries told us they were not even aware of the deal.</p><h2>Patronising perception of local culture</h2><p dir="ltr">JSC Nenskra has committed to compensating the rightful owners for all pasture land and assets that will be lost due to the project. But during our visit and discussions with affected people, we discovered major flaws in the company’s assessment of the number of people that will be affected, their assets as well as the compensation they are entitled to. The shortcomings, which we have collected in a <a href="https://bankwatch.org/publications/failing-local-communities-land-assessment-and-livelihoods-restoration-plan-nenskra-dam">report</a>, are proof and consequence of a lack of proper consultations with local communities.</p><p dir="ltr">The majority of people living in the two valleys own cattle that graze on summer pastures, lands which are inherited since generations and co-owned by up to five families. Customary law still dominates the region and people share both pasture and other assets such as summer cabins. During our discussions with affected households, we discovered that the project developer failed to map all the rightful users of these lands and assets. Instead, the company included single users in the compensation scheme, thus leaving behind numerous other co-users. This is the case for all the households we interviewed and from the assessment of the project documentation it seems it has been the practice for all the pasture lands that will be lost. In addition, a number of individual owners of land and cabins from the Nakra valley have been completely left out of the compensations scheme.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33107062370_749173de39_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khaishi villagers discussing Nenskra HPP. (c) Bankwatch. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>These systemic gaps in how JSC Nenskra assessed people’s land rights reveals not only the poor quality of public consultations, but also a patronising perception of local culture and livelihoods. Our visits to the region have left no doubt that the company has failed to recognise locals’ dependence on their land and the way their communities are functioning, based on strong internal rules of sharing and inheritance.</p><p dir="ltr">The poor quality of consultations is also reflected in the unjust amounts of compensation. As detailed in our<a href="https://bankwatch.org/publications/failing-local-communities-land-assessment-and-livelihoods-restoration-plan-nenskra-dam"> report</a>, the project documentation does not thoroughly assess the economic situation of affected households. The company’s assessment does not take into consideration the number of cattle that a family owns and which of these families would lose access to pasture and therefore to fodder. It also does not account for the numerous internally displaced people in the communities, or acknowledges the impact of changes in logging activities. In sum, the company has overlooked major aspects of the socio-economic profile of locals which are crucial for a just compensation scheme.</p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, the company is still delaying an assessment of the impacts of facilities associated with the hydropower plant such as transmission lines and a waste disposal site. Needless to say that also the consultations with affected communities has not happened yet.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Many still fear to speak out about the project and have asked for confidentiality during our interviews</p><p dir="ltr">While the project documents made available by JSC Nenskra do not contain information on the location of these associated facilities, cadastral plans obtained from the Georgian authorities show that the location has already been agreed on. Local residents, who have signed letters demanding to be consulted about the locations of these facilities and the compensation they are entitled to, are understandably outraged.</p><p dir="ltr">Many still fear to speak out about the project and have asked for confidentiality during our interviews, afraid there might be repercussions on their families or jobs. A change in the logging licence system from 2015 has restricted the possibility for locals to obtain licences, forcing many into the illegal logging and timber sales business.</p><p dir="ltr">But the threat of losing parts of their identity along with the development of the project drove more than 300 people to sign a <a href="http://greenalt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Collective_letter_2017.pdf">letter </a>this June expressing their opposition to the project and their disappointment with the company’s failure to take account of customary law and local culture. And some are still taking the risk of openly opposing the project — in August, Bankwatch <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx-fjdZ4WfAIMkVTMGNRV3ROT2s/view">witnessed</a> a large group of locals stepping out from the last round of public consultations held by the company.</p><h2>International standards</h2><p dir="ltr">Assessments of expropriation and compensation are not the residents’ own ideas, but international standards that JSC Nenskra has to respect to receive international public finance. Yet countless breaches of these standards are evidence that the Nenskra hydropower project is a serious threat to the local Svan communities.</p><p dir="ltr">If realised, this project will strip over 200 people, some of whom already living in poverty, of their pasture lands and livelihoods. The project must not go ahead until the project company is conducting individual assessments in order to have a full picture of the socio-economic situation and the fair amounts of compensations.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">When banks’ clients lack the capacity and willingness to understand the contexts in which they operate, the irreversible disruption of the fabric of entire communities is inevitable</p><p dir="ltr">Multilateral development banks have so far delayed their approval date for loans for the Nenskra project in light of the numerous environmental and social concerns. With Georgia’s hydropower sector marked by controversies and major errors in the past, international investment ought to tread more carefully with approving any more projects.</p><p dir="ltr">When banks’ clients lack the capacity and willingness to understand the contexts in which they operate, the irreversible disruption of the fabric of entire communities is inevitable. &nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kate-horner-igor-vejnovic/river-defenders-gather-forces-in-georgia">River defenders gather forces in Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/how-can-we-politicise-labour-rights-in-georgia">How can we politicise labour rights in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/left-in-dark-inside-georgia-s-chiatura-mines">Left in the dark: inside Georgia’s Chiatura mines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/nuclear-transboundary-consultations-are-test-for-public-participation-and-">Nuclear transboundary consultations are a test for public participation and transparency across Europe</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/peter-liakhov/armenia-before-goldrush">Armenia: before the goldrush</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladlena-martsynkevych/hatching-discontent-in-ukraine">Hatching discontent in Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ana-Maria Seman Green Eurasia Georgia Caucasus Wed, 20 Sep 2017 20:56:27 +0000 Ana-Maria Seman 113484 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Mayor or manager? Tbilisi chooses its kingpin https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/mayor-or-manager-tbilisi-chooses-its-kingpin <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Here in Tbilisi, we’re preparing for mayoral elections in October. The race will be heated, but can the role actually change anything for the better?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_CityHall_New.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_CityHall_New.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tbilisi’s City Hall, completed 1878, stands on Liberty Square, behind a monument to St George. Photo CC-by-SA-2.0: George Kvizhinadze / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Amid heated discussions about <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/84666" target="_blank">new constitutional reforms</a> initiated by the ruling Georgian Dream government, Georgia is gearing up for local elections this October. The contest is likely to be a fight for survival for the remnants of the United National Movement (UNM), the former ruling party of Mikheil Saakashvili, which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tornike-zurabashvili/waiting-for-misha-s-second-coming" target="_blank">split in two at the start of this year</a>. Some eleven regional district and city heads are to be elected, but the greatest prize will be Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and largest economic hub.</p><p>The talk in Tbilisi is all about the candidates for the city’s next mayor, and what their priorities will be in governing the city (elections for the Sakrebulo, or City Assembly, will also be held in parallel). But for all this excitement, our society hasn’t paid a lot of attention to the political significance of mayor’s role and what powers it has to change anything. What, then, is the measure of a mayor in Georgia today?</p><h2>The lineup</h2><p>Tbilisi’s mayoralty is no stranger to controversy. Tbilisi’s current mayor, Georgian Dream’s Davit Narmania, won his post in August 2014 in a runoff vote against UNM candidate Nika Melia. The contest was marred by the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/regis-gente/in-georgia-justice-delayed-is-justice-denied" target="_blank">controversial arrest</a> in July 2015 of long-time mayor Gigi Ugulava, a close Saakashvili ally who came to power in 2006 (Ugulava was re-elected in Tbilisi’s first ever direct elections for mayor in 2010). Georgian Dream, brainchild of the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, had <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams" target="_blank">come to power in 2012 on a platform of “restoring justice”</a> after the excesses of the late Saakashvili era. </p><p>The 14-month pre-trial of mayor Ugulava, which Georgia’s <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=28576" target="_blank">Constitutional Court ruled as illegal</a>, became a symbol of the ruling party’s fervour in settling old scores with the <a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/22/the-man-without-a-state-misha-saakashvili-georgia-ukraine/" target="_blank">now-stateless Saakashvili</a> and the party he once led, the UNM. Ivanishvili’s campaign to expel UNM as a political force from Georgian public life continues to this day, and the mayoral showdown is just one front.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This mayoral showdown is one front in Ivanishvili’s campaign to expel UNM as a political force from Georgian public life</p><p>While the candidates’ pre-electoral programmes haven’t been fully released, their public statements would have given us a pretty good idea of what little they appear to stand for. </p><p><strong>Elene Khoshtaria</strong> is candidate for the European Georgia party which split from Saakashvili’s UNM, and its principle polemicist in public life. While Khoshtaria’s strived to present herself as a new face in politics, she was once deputy state minister of Euro-Atlantic integration in Saakashvili’s government. Khoshtaria is known for her association with close Saakashvili associate Giga Bokeria, who enjoys a poor reputation in much of Georgian society, and for her founding of GRASS (Georgia’s Reforms Associates), a Tbilisi-based think-tank which has strongly opposed Georgian Dream. These associations will not work to her advantage; she has few chances to win in this race.</p><p>Facing Khoshtaria is <strong>Zaal Udumashvili</strong>, a member of the “loyalist” UNM. Udumashvili is a former news anchor at the Rustavi-2 TV station. In March 2017, a scandal erupted after Georgia’s Supreme Court handed ownership of Rustavi-2 businessman Kibar Khalvashi, who owned the channel from 2004 to 2006. The move was <a href="http://oc-media.org/supreme-court-ruling-on-rustavi-2-raises-fears-over-media-freedom-in-georgia/" target="_blank">seen by several international and local rights groups as political</a>, given Rustavi-2’s critical stance towards the Georgian Dream government. </p><p>Among the government’s diehard supporters, Rustavi-2 is seen as a pro-Saakashvili propaganda outlet. Udumashvili cuts a peculiar figure — despite this backstory, he could be perceived as a “non-political” candidate due to his background in media. With his nomination, UNM is attempting to mobilise support among voters sceptical of more traditional politicians, of whom there is no shortage in Georgia today.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02325727.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02325727.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The favourite? Ruling party Georgian Dream has nominated Kakha Kaladze, former minister of energy, as its candidate for mayor of Tbilisi. Photo (c): Alexander Imedashvili / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The confrontation between Khoshtaria and Udumashvili will easily divide the opposition vote to the advantage of former minister of energy and former football player <strong>Kakha Kaladze</strong>. As Georgian Dream’s candidate for mayor, Kaladze is an influential figure within the party, with many powerful allies. The Georgian Dream candidate has also pledged to end “urban genocide” and continue Narmania’s pledges to <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=51840" target="_blank">tear down some of the capital’s Soviet-era housing stock</a>. His reputation has been tarnished by conflicts of interest during his time in office, but that may not matter — Kaladze will be able to mobilise administrative resources and powerful financial backers to have a real shot of winning this race.</p><p>A recent poll by NDI found that<a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=51341" target="_blank"> a staggering 68% of Georgians don’t actually have a political preference</a> in these upcoming elections. Among those who were sure they’d cast a vote, Kaladze came first with 37%.</p><p>Their next favourite, with 20%, was independent candidate <strong>Aleksandre Elisashvili</strong>. A quasi-charismatic activist with plenty of experience in protests, Elisashvili is mostly endorsed by NGOs and civil society actors from among the urban elite. While he lends a voice to the rudderless sense of anger and disillusionment on Georgia’s streets, it’s hard to discern what his political programme would actually entail. Furthermore, in the shock event of his victory, Elisashvili would find it difficult to cooperate with Tbilisi’s City Assembly, where Georgian Dream will supposedly still enjoy a majority.&nbsp;</p><p>Another “protest candidate” is <strong>Irma Inashvili</strong>, who is <a href="https://codastory.com/disinformation-crisis/traditional-values/clash-of-narratives-a-tale-of-two-georgias" target="_blank">favoured among ultra-nationalists and religious conservative voters</a>. As deputy chairperson of the Georgian parliament, she is known for her aggressive outbursts against both Georgian Dream and the UNM. Inashvili’s divisive language plays on right-wing populist narratives and concerns over a loss of Georgian cultural identity. This is a language with traction on Georgia’s streets, and as such could present a real challenge to other candidates standing “against the political class.”</p><h2>Rearranging the furniture</h2><p>With this lineup in mind, let’s return to my initial question. In modern European societies, a mayor is perceived less as an entrepreneur or a manager and more as a politician, a statesperson with a distinct vision, a philosophy and a strategy for the development of the city. In some cases, the legitimacy and political convictions of the mayor are so strong that often they can afford severe confrontations with the central government. Clearly, this kind of legitimacy and strong political influences are conditioned by high levels of local democracy in some western European societies where the mayor is primarily accountable to the voters rather than the central bureaucratic apparatus. </p><p>In many democratic societies, mayors can even go on to become head of state or government. More remarkably, from a Georgian perspective, a mayor can also become a member of an opposition —&nbsp;something that is practically impossible to come across in post-Soviet countries, where the mayor is a member of the ruling political party and acts as a manager for its behalf, rather than a local politician with a civic vision.</p><p>My city has a rich and colourful history of local rulers, however unaccountable they were. In the middle ages, the city was ruled by elders. Under the Russian Empire it was run by military elites and members of the mostly ethnic Armenian bourgeoisie. Towards the late nineteenth century, members of the Georgian nationalist intelligentsia appeared in the mayor’s office — Dimitri Kipiani, mayor from 1875 to 1878, clashed with the imperial authorities for his promotion of Georgian culture, so was exiled to the North Caucasus where has murdered (and canonised by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2007.)</p><p>We had some troublemakers, too. Benia Chkhikvishvili, mayor during Georgia’s brief period of independence, had led a peasant revolt in Guria, on the shores of the Black Sea, in 1905. He returned to Georgia in 1924 to lead an uprising against the Bolsheviks, who eventually caught and executed him and his comrades.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Georgians’ scepticism towards mayors is such that citizens are more inclined to solve problems by appealing directly to central government</p><p>In Soviet Georgia, Tbilisi was ruled by the head of the so-called city council executive committee. The Soviet-era counterparts of today’s mayors were functionaries who served merely to implement development plans drafted by the republic’s elites — mostly aimed at further urbanising the growing city. Of course, socialist-era mayors were not accountable to capital, but neither were they accountable to Tbilisi’s inhabitants.</p><p>As for post-Soviet Georgia, the mayor’s institution was introduced to the Georgian political life as a part of the European tradition of local administrative and political government. </p><p>These days, Tbilisi’s mayor is perceived in two dimensions. First, a mayor is a party functionary, and to it he owes his legitimacy. While this is a facet of many mature local democracies, the problem is that in post-Soviet Georgia, mayors usually fail identify themselves with the voters and fail to understand problems in a local context. Thus, for most of them, their work and their judgments depend on strategies concentrated in the central government and ruling political elite. Georgians’ well-ripened scepticism and nihilism towards governors and mayors is such that citizens are more inclined to solve their problems by communicating directly with central government.&nbsp;</p><p>Another dimension is that a mayor is increasingly perceived as a large-scale entrepreneur or manager rather than a politician or statesperson. At first glance, this may not be problematic, but the fact of the matter is that a mayor cannot be a good entrepreneur without primarily being a statesperson.</p><h2>Tbilisi, Inc. </h2><p>A managerial, rather than political, mayor is inclined to using practices and mechanisms that were already in place. A useful example would be the failure of mayor Davit Narmania to change the institutional practices by his predecessor, maintaining the same relationship to business interests in a changing environment with evolving residents’ needs. It seems as though Tbilisi has become a kind of corporation where managers promoting the interests of the shareholders (such as big business and the construction sector) come and go. </p><p>A mayor as politician or statesperson is a cardinally different figure, who tries to take newly systemic approaches and strategies for the good of the city — focusing on the interests of public goods rather than private capital. Ideally, such a mayor takes a holistic approach to local problems, and can encourage the direct political participation of its citizens.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Whose_City_Tbilisi.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Whose_City_Tbilisi.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A crowd in a central Tbilisi underpass, 2017. Photo (c): Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Tbilisi’s city council is preparing to draft a general plan for urban development, and resentment is on the rise at <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst" target="_blank">lavish and controversial construction projects of questionable civic value</a>. Only a political mayor can approach urban development in a political sense, fulfilling their obligations to the city’s residents as a social constituency. A managerial mayor merely adjusts the dynamics of urban development to the fleeting interests of investors, often to the disadvantage of local citizens. </p><p>It is certainly possible for a political mayor to be ineffective, but here we are talking about general experience and general practices of European local government — practices which Georgian local government has never meaningfully implemented.</p><h2>Just one of the guys </h2><p>Perhaps this is a bigger malaise. Post-Soviet Georgia appears to lack a fundamental understanding of the political. While it may be the substance and style of our daily lives, politics is just understood as a dirty game. In Athenian democracy, those who didn’t want to actively participate in the political life were seen as disregarding society’s needs, bothered only by their narrow interests. In western European schools of thought, politics is not understood as a dirty game exclusively for professional politicians, but a sphere of public action where citizens and politicians defend common interests in an organised manner.</p><p>Across Europe, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/andries-du-toit/hyper-political-anti-politics" target="_blank">the “anti-political” and the “non-political” has reared its head</a>, to the advantage of managerial neoliberals and right-populists alike. In that sense, perhaps we’re ahead of the curve — in Georgia, the stigmatisation of politics may as well be a tradition of our post-Soviet identity.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Georgia, the stigmatisation of politics may as well be a tradition of our post-Soviet identity</p><p>The choices on offer this October are not appetising. By distancing themselves from politics, these politicians undermine the very fundamentals of a civic state, instead presenting themselves as competent managers. The rest assume the mantle of “anti-political” everymen, an act of resistance which does little to resolve a crisis of democratic legitimacy — a crisis which not only Georgia suffers.</p><p>The mayor of our capital can also be understood in this manner — where taking care of the city is seen as an act of corporate management, not a task of the state. This is a true obstacle for the development of the city as a political, social, economic and cultural space&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;one which we need to reclaim for politics.</p><p><em>A version of this article originally appeared on the blog of the Georgian Public Broadcaster as “<a href="http://1tv.ge/projects/analytics/?page=detail&amp;id=167424" target="_blank">City mayors and their political values</a>.” It was translated from Georgian by Giorgi Kobakhidze and expanded by the author for openDemocracy.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst">Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/for-tbilisi-s-squatters-things-must-change">For Tbilisi’s squatters, things must change</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/manuela-zechner-bue-r-bner-hansen/more-than-welcome-power-of-cities">More than a welcome: the power of cities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/beppe-caccia/european-network-of-rebel-cities">A European network of rebel cities?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/andries-du-toit/hyper-political-anti-politics">Hyper-political anti-politics</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Bakar Berekashvili Cities in motion Georgia Caucasus Thu, 24 Aug 2017 05:41:32 +0000 Bakar Berekashvili 112982 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Neither here, nor there: Georgian refugees from Abkhazia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/neither-here-nor-there-georgian-refugees-from-abkhazia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Twenty five years have passed since the war in Abkhazia, but ethnic Georgian refugees from the breakaway territory remain in limbo. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/pogranichnoe-sostoyaniye">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00025728.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00025728.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>1994. Refugees traverse a ruined bridge over the Inguri River, which separates Abkhazia from Georgia proper. Photo (c): Tutov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In the Soviet period Abkhazia, a balmy region on the Black Sea coast and popular summer destination among the USSR’s elites, enjoyed autonomous status within the Georgian republic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Abkhaz with some Russian support fought a brutal war against the Georgian government in 1992-93. The catastrophe left more than 250,000 Georgians (who had constituted a majority in the region) homeless. In August 2008, Russia recognised the territory as independent&nbsp;<span>–</span><span>&nbsp;the overwhelming majority of states consider it part of Georgia.</span></p><h2>No home away from home </h2><p>The houses in the Georgian village of Orsantia line the road into Abkhazia, a mere 200 metres away past the border crossing point. Of the village’s 3,500 inhabitants, 1,400 are ethnic Georgian refugees from the unrecognised republic, who fled their homes during the conflict. </p><p>The centre of this small settlement consists of a grocery store, a local administrative building and some half-derelict structures, one of which hosts the office of Egrisi. It’s an NGO supporting both the displaced population and Georgians who have managed to remain in Abkhazia to this day (they still form a majority in the region’s southernmost Gali district, bordering Georgian government-controlled territory). Egrisi’s activities range from providing grants to set up bakeries and building greenhouses for local families. </p><p>Until 1992, Egrisi’s head Tsitsino Biblaia lived in the nearby Gali district, where she taught at a school. After the conflict broke out, she was forced to flee to Zugdidi, the capital of Georgia’s Samegrelo province to the west. She tells me how, when the conflict broke out, local officials insisted that nothing was happening and told people not to panic: “I was sitting in the school, filling out my daily journal, and suddenly there was turmoil. People were running around, not knowing where to go. So I ended up with my husband and children, in another town. I still haven’t come to terms with it.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/tbilisi_abkh_IDPS-1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/tbilisi_abkh_IDPS-1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Internally displaced people from Abkhazia in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, 2012. Photo: CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The Georgian Civil War of 1991-93 broke out after Eduard Shevardnadze, former Soviet foreign minister, returned to Tbilisi and came to power. Tense relations between the new president and supporters of his predecessor, the first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, turned into open confrontation. The fighting was accompanied by inter-ethnic conflict in Abkhazia (1992-3) and South Ossetia (1989-92). The civilian population began to leave the conflict zones in huge numbers.&nbsp;</p><p>As a result of the war, both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another former autonomous region within the Georgian SSR, declared their independence. Given that the government in Tbilisi still regards both territories as part of Georgia, official documents refer to the refugees as internally displaced persons (IDPs). </p><p>Most of these IDPs live in areas bordering the two breakaway states: Samegrelo, Imereti and Shida Kartli, or otherwise in Tbilisi. According to Georgia’s Ministry for Refugees and Resettlement, more than 265,000 IDPs (about 6% of the population) are live in a country which has already seen its population drain away due to labour migration to Russia and the EU.</p><h2>A closed border </h2><p>The war was long ago, but the arrangements for the collective resettlement of forced IDPs are still in place. Only a few refugees have been able to start new lives: the vast majority are still dependent on government handouts. Many of them still live in difficult circumstances – <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election" target="_blank">usually in old sanatoriums and holiday camps</a>. In Kutaisi, for example, one building still houses several refugee families, now including children and grandchildren. The rooms are in total disrepair, with cardboard replacing the earlier glass in the windows. </p><p>As the years pass, it is also becoming ever more difficult for the Georgians who were forced out of Abkhazia to visit their relatives and their old homes in the unrecognised republic. In March 2016, the Abkhazian authorities closed two border crossing points on the Inguri River, which serves as the border with the breakaway territory. A year later the same thing happened in the villages of Otobaia and Nabakia, leaving only one central crossing point - across the Inguri River bridge. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Only a few refugees have been able to start new lives: the vast majority are still dependent on government handouts</p><p>Locals say that it now takes at least three hours to cross the border. What’s more, only people who have kept their old Soviet passports with their Abkhazian residence stamps or have a special pass issued by the Abkhazian authorities can cross freely. Anyone without the the right papers has to get an official invitation from their friends or relatives and pay for a visa. Up to March 2017 the whole business was free and took 15 minutes, according to locals. </p><p>Russian citizens don’t need a foreign passport to visit Abkhazia, so Georgian border officials can’t monitor their visits to the unrecognised republic, but under Georgian law they are formally forbidden. To avoid breaking the law on occupied territories (Georgia considers Abkhazia to be under Russian occupation), citizens of CIS and EU countries have to enter it from the Georgian side. Some Russians friends of mine, however, have been refused entry through Georgia and recommended to enter the territory from Russia (in 2014 the intrepid traveller and blogger Aleksandr Lapshin, who has joint Russian and Israeli citizenship, managed to visit Abkhazia this way, <a href="http://puerrtto.livejournal.com/577496.html" target="_blank">although not without problems</a>; he has recently been sentenced by court in Azerbaijan to three years in prison for visiting another self-declared state, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh).</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ingur-Bridge-new-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ingur-Bridge-new-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Today the bridge over the Ingur River has been rebuilt, but the road home is still closed to displaced Georgians. Photo CC-by-2.0: Anya / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In Nabakia today, on the Abkhazian side of the old bridge, fencing mesh has been put up between the concrete piers and the concrete blocks massively reinforced. There are no official border guards on the Georgian side, since Tbilisi doesn’t recognise the bridge as a legal border (though police SWAT teams in full combat gear patrol the area).</p><p>“People from Abkhazia used to be able to come across here without any problems”, 56 year old Tsitsino Biblaia tells me. There were even minibuses going back and forth to the crossing from both sides. As the border officers were Abkhazians, they were more flexible. But then they brought Russians in, and now the controls are much stricter. They don’t take bribes, either, so there’s no more smuggling stuff across.” </p><p>Despite the closure of the crossing points, some Abkhazians still slip across the border to buy their food. There are crowds of them Zugdidi market every morning. Back in the day, the Abkhazians used to be traders themselves, selling nuts and mandarins. Since the authorities in Abkhazia’s de-facto capital of Sukhumi have introduced export duties, so there’s no money in that anymore. </p><h2>Soft power, Georgian-style</h2><p>Many families still live in two houses: according to Biblaia, the elderly generally prefer to stay on the Abkhazian side of the bridge, while the youth prefer the Georgian side. Some refugees who are officially registered as living in one of the border villages actually live in Tbilisi, but receive various social benefits thanks to their refugee status. </p><p>“The state hands out grants for university education, and provides free medical assistance and benefits,” says Bibilaia. It’s an open secret that <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=3795" target="_blank">people living in the unrecognised republic also go to Georgia for their healthcare needs</a>; provision in Abkhazia is not adequate, but to be seen by a Georgian doctor, you’ll need a Georgian passport. Many people try to keep this quiet, she continues, as they might get into trouble at home. At the moment, Ukraine is trying to set up a similar scheme for citizens who continue to live in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Some even prefer not to marry, so as not to lose their refugee status and the benefits it brings”</p><p>Irakli Khubua, who also works for Egrisi, tells me that most refugees still don’t feel at home: “There are mixed marriages, but people still feel like outsiders.” One factor here is the refugees’ densely crowded accommodation and the fact that their status gives them access to extra social welfare payments. In Gori, for example, there are whole neighbourhoods entirely populated by refugees.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Khvamli1_1.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Khvamli1_1.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The derelict Hotel Khvamli in Kutaisi. Once intended to be temporary accommodation for those displaced, it is still inhabited by IDPs - and their children. Photo (c): Mari Nikuradze / openDemocracy. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“Some even prefer not to marry”, says Khubua, “so as not to lose their refugee status and the benefits that come with it.” NGOs are also involved in preserving memories, recording the exact locations the Georgians fled from. In Georgia, the most important element in this process is the Abkhazeti Centre. In conjunction with the Danish Refugee Council and with EU financial support, Abkhazeti has coordinated the construction of homes for refugees since 2016, as part of a state programme for sustainable resettlement. However, says Nino Mindiashvili, who heads the “<a href="https://www.ekhokavkaza.com/a/24529193.html" target="_blank">Ray of Hope</a>” NGO, this kind of aid is often a disincentive to work (provided that employment can be found anyway). “The men have got used to getting handouts; now it’s just the women who work while the men prefer to wait for their benefits cheques,” sighs Nino. </p><h2>Keeping the roots strong </h2><p>One tradition which knows no borders holds that burial rites should take place in a family cemetery. Tsitsino Biblaia, for example, walked 11 km into Abkhazia in secret, in order to bury a family member. “We didn’t all have the necessary documents, so my brother and I carried the zinc coffin, containing all 165 kg of him, along winding forest paths. Once on the other side, Abkhaz villagers – total strangers – came out to help us.” The wish to be buried on one’s forefathers’ land at all costs remains as normal to IDPs as it is bizarre to outsiders.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">For the children of many refugees, Abkhazia has become a foreign country </p><p>Nevertheless, for many children of IDPs, Abkhazia has become a foreign country. Young people who have grown up in Kutaisi or Tbilisi are mainly interested in finding work and somewhere to live. For them Tskhinvali, Ochamchire, or Gali are just names lodged in their memories, toponyms from the land of their ancestors.</p><p>“My great-grandchildren were born here. My granddaughter came here to live when she was three years old,” says Zhuna Biblaia, who also lives in Orsantia. “With each generation, people forget where they came from. Perhaps my great-grandsons will know that their roots are in Abkhazia, but they’ll otherwise be completely integrated in Georgian society.”</p><p>Every day, Zhuna comes to look after her great-grandsons at the two-storey hostel that the authorities have provided for the IDPs. Apart from an Ikea cupboard in the hallway, the atmosphere and decoration reeks of the Soviet era, with carpets hanging on the walls and china figurines on the shelves. The flat is heated by a cast-iron stove; there is one shower per floor, water from a well and some of the neighbouring flats are abandoned, their windows smashed. These refugees have been living here for a quarter century, but don’t want to renovate or redecorate anything themselves.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abkhazia_IDP_2_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abkhazia_IDP_2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An elderly refugee from Abkhazia in the village of Shkra, central Georgia. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“We’re not big spenders and we don’t want any favours from the state, but why won’t it do anything for us?” asks schoolteacher Rimma, another resident of the hostel. “When the state wants to do something, it gets on with it. But they obviously don’t see any need to make this place look decent. They only remember about us on important dates!”</p><p>Rimma fled Abkhazia after she and some others were surrounded by armed Abkhaz soldiers while gathering nuts. One of the nut-pickers tried to run away and when the Abkhazians ran after him, she and her husband escaped. She tells me that she doesn’t hold any grudges: many Abkhaz saved their lives more than once during the conflict. “I’m ready to forgive them: even if they did wrong, I’ll be the first to extend my hand in peace,” she says. Rimma recalls how friends phoned their telephone numbers back in Sukhumi, and strangers picked up the phone: “People would ask the occupants to look after their house, wept and then phoned another number.” </p><p>Ordinary Georgians I spoke to blamed everyone except their own government for what happened back in the early 1990s. For their part, international observers also report that crimes were committed against peaceful civilians by both sides of the conflict. Many people still launch into geopolitical debates: some blame Gorbachev, others Putin. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Why won’t the state do anything for us? They only remember about us on important dates” </p><p>Leah Tchlachidze, who runs the Ergneti Rehabilitation and Development Centre and moved from South Ossetia to Georgia after the five day long Russo-Georgian War in 2008, believes that one of the main reasons for the prolonged conflict has been the Georgian government’s policy towards ethnic minorities. </p><p>“In 1991-2, when President Gamsakhurdia was in power, armed men arrived here from Tbilisi, but the local Georgians asked, ‘Why? We don’t need protecting’”, Tchlachidze tells me. After that war things seemed to quieten down, although there were constant acts of provocation on both sides – we can’t deny we were equally to blame – they fired at us and we fired back. Then in 2008 we had [Mikheil] Saakashvili’s little gamble on a lightning strike.”</p><p>Tsitsino Biblaia, on the other hand, blames Russia for initiating the conflict and maintaining a heightened state of tension: “We’d never had any experience of war, and suddenly here we were, with Georgians fighting against Georgians; Abkhazians against Abkhazians, and everyone against everyone else. It was an internecine war. But the Abkhazians had never had any problems or complaints before. They probably still want independence, but it would be easier for us to come to an agreement with them if the Russian troops left. How can we go back home now? I haven’t even considered it. I’d come back to my old house, and a stranger would be living in it. I couldn’t throw him out – it would take a war to do that”.</p><p>According to Biblaia, her children were very anti-Russian for a long time, blaming them for the whole situation. “I tried to explain to them that I had Russian friends who helped me, and that no single ethnicity should be blamed for the war. Now my son watches Russian films with me, to learn the language.” Tsitsino tells me that she has managed to explain to her children that there is a difference between ordinary Russians, Russian culture and the Russian government: “but Georgians have less and less contact with Russians; all we can remember is the war – especially people like us who lost our homes because of it.”</p><h2>Hope without cause?</h2><p>I have visited Georgia a number of times, and have probably spent a total of over two months there. I’ve mostly hitchhiked from place to place, and Russo-Georgian relations – especially the conflict with Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008 – have inevitably come up in my conversations with drivers. </p><p>Despite the deaths of innocent people at the hands of Russian forces, the break in official diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia and the appearance of the self-proclaimed South Ossetian and Abkhazian republics, I have always found Georgians friendly and well-disposed towards me as a Russian. In most cases they have welcomed an opportunity to speak Russian again, criticising both governments for their military escapades.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03168104.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03168104.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Putin meets de-facto president of Abkhazia Raul Khadjimba. Putin’s visit to the self-declared republic on 8 August this year was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, after which Russia recognised both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Photo (c): Alexey Druzhinin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Perhaps, if the Russian government was a bit more far-sighted, it could turn this mood to its advantage. But today’s Georgians are increasingly looking to the west, what with visa-free travel to the EU and a NATO training centre just outside Tbilisi. </p><p>The position of the IDPs remains, however, unresolved, and they are unlikely to return home in the near future. In the present unstable situation they have few options: they can either sit across the border, yearning to return to their lost homes or move to the capital to earn money and start a new life. While there, they can try to retain their identity as Georgians from Abkhazia. After all, in Georgia, everybody wants to know where your roots lie. </p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oliver-bullough/arda%E2%80%99s-flags-postcard-from-abkhazia">Arda’s flags: a postcard from Abkhazia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/abkhazia-recognising-ruins">Abkhazia: recognising the ruins</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolaus-von-twickel/do-you-speak-mingrelian">Do you speak Mingrelian?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marianna-kotova/meet-women-affected-by-abkhazia-s-abortion-ban">Meet the women affected by Abkhazia’s abortion ban</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dmitry Okrest Georgia Caucasus Abkhazia Thu, 24 Aug 2017 05:39:53 +0000 Dmitry Okrest 112992 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Turkey’s fight against Gülen in the South Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/turkeys-fight-against-gulen-in-south-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Turkish authorities’ fight against real and imagined enemies in the Gülen movement has now reached Azerbaijan and Georgia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28113685_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28113685_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A group of AKP party supporters protest the attempted military coup against the Turkish government, allegedly supported by the cleric Fethullah Gülen and his organisation. Saracahane Park, Istanbul, July 2016. Photo (c) Depo Photos/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The European Parliament has <a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&amp;reference=B8-2017-0414&amp;format=XML&amp;language=EN" target="_blank">passed a resolution</a> expressing “serious concern” on the case of the Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border" target="_blank">abducted from Tbilisi late May</a>, only to appear before a court in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku some days later. But the spotlight has yet to fall on another case in Georgia: Mustafa Emre Çabuk, a Turkish schoolteacher, still sits in Gldani prison in the Georgian capital, where an uncertain fate awaits him.&nbsp;</p><p>Ankara has repeatedly accused Çabuk of “supporting terrorism” in reference to his alleged links with the Hizmet movement associated with Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish Muslim preacher and philanthropist based in the US. Çabuk, who has lived in Georgia for 15 years, is now at imminent risk of extradition to Turkey where, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/25/turkey-emergency-decrees-facilitate-torture" target="_blank">judging by similar cases</a>, he is at risk of being tortured.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Çabuk, who has lived in Georgia for 15 years, now risks of extradition to Turkey where&nbsp;he risks being tortured</p><p>Çabuk first came to Georgia in 2002 to work as a physics teacher at the Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School in Batumi, which was <a href="http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=29836" target="_blank">shut down earlier this year</a> by Georgia’s National Center for Education Quality Enhancement (NCEQE). The Georgian authorities’ decision came shortly after Turkish officials criticised the Gülen-run school, which teaches five to 12-year olds, <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/79721" target="_blank">calling it</a> an institution “serving a terrorist group.”&nbsp;</p><p>The abduction of Mukhtarli shattered <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents" target="_blank">Georgia’s image as a safe haven for dissidents from neighbouring countries</a>, and prompted many Georgians to consider the extent of oil-rich Azerbaijan’s political clout. With Turkey sliding ever further into authoritarianism, is there another headache on the horizon for the Georgian authorities?&nbsp;</p><h2>The price of a good education&nbsp;</h2><p>At the order of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish officials and diplomats have made appeals worldwide calling on governments to close down Gülen schools abroad. The Turkish government insists that this network of schools poses a national security threat, and has classified the Gülen network as a terrorist group.</p><p>FETÖ, as the Turkish government calls the Gülen movement’s “terrorist network”, is accused of plotting last year’s failed coup on 15 July. Calling the events a “a gift from God,” Erdoğan promised that those responsible would “pay a heavy price.” Those who feared the coup would provide a pretext to crack down on all dissident have been proved right. Not only Gülen followers, but Turkish liberals, secular democrats and journalists have been arrested, with many more tortured in detention and fired from their jobs. Over the months following the coup, Turkey has arrested more than 40,000 people and sacked or suspended more than 100,000 in the military, civil service and private sector. Turkish nationals working in Gülen-affiliated schools worldwide now fear repatriation and prefer either to apply for a political asylum in their host country or to try their luck in the EU or USA.&nbsp;</p><p>Çabuk has found himself in a similar situation. In 2007, he started work as director of the Niko Nikoladze High School in Kutaisi, western Georgia. From 2012 until 2016, Çabuk served as deputy general director of all Gülen schools in Georgia.&nbsp;</p><p>“Under his watch, many students from our school were successful after having participated at different national and international scientific Olympiads,” a teacher from the closed Şahin Friendship School recalls. The teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous over fears of retribution, underlines that the schools’ quality of education improved directly after Çabuk’s appointment. The teacher simply couldn’t believe how “an accomplished educator” such as Çabuk “might be labeled as a terrorist.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Cabuk_Protest_Tbilisi_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Cabuk_Protest_Tbilisi_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest in solidarity with Mustafa Çabuk on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi, 7 June 2017. Photo (c): Luka Pertaia / OC Media. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On 24 May, the Georgian authorities launched an extradition procedure against Çabuk at the official request of Turkey. According to information provided by the Turkish prosecutor, Çabuk is wanted for committing a crime as defined by Article 314/2 of Turkey’s Criminal Code: membership of the FETÖ terrorist organisation (recognised as such only by Turkey). Information obtained by openDemocracy shows that he, with the permission of the directors, wanted to sell 60% of shares of the Tbilisi-based Demirel private school to Metropolitan Education and Consultation Services, a company registered in the USA.</p><p>The documentation that supposedly incriminates Çabuk mostly describes the activities of the Gülen movement in Turkey. It does not specify why either&nbsp;Çabuk’s&nbsp;role at the school or his deal with the American company on its behalf constitute a link to terrorist activities and organisations. “Precisely for these reasons, we believe that the charges are entirely unsubstantiated and politically motivated,” concludes Tamta Mikeladze, civil and political rights program director at Tbilisi’s Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre.&nbsp;</p><h2>Settling scores&nbsp;</h2><p>Çabuk was detained shortly after <a href="http://gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&amp;sec_id=463&amp;info_id=61125" target="_blank">Turkish prime minister Binali Yıldırım paid a visit to Tbilisi</a> to meet his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Kvirikashvili in May.</p><p>Georgia’s Minister of Education Aleksandre Jejelava has <a href="http://oc-media.org/gulen-school-manager-arrested-after-turkish-pms-tbilisi-visit/" target="_blank">publicly denied</a> any official request from the Turkish side to detain Çabuk but instead says they are “doing their best to defend students from ideological pressure.” During the press conference with Yıldırım, Prime Minister Kvirikashvili, recalling last year’s failed coup in Turkey, was <a href="http://www.sabah.com.tr/gundem/2017/05/23/basbakan-binali-yildirim-gurcistanda-canli" target="_blank">quoted</a> by the pro-government daily <em>Sabah</em> as saying that, “we have to remove the main sources of terror here [in Georgia]. We have to fight with these sources in the wider region, then we must develop our economic and business partnerships.”&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Çabuk’s case, just like Mukhtarli’s, is yet another test for Georgia’s commitment to democratic values</p><p>On 25 May, Tbilisi City Court sentenced Çabuk to three months’ imprisonment, pending extradition. “He’s been in prison for more than a month, and the charge is both scary and ridiculous," says Çabuk’s wife, Tuğba, who adds she still has faith in Georgia’s commitment to democracy. “Georgia is a country that is at the door of the democratic European Union rather than one where democracy has already seen its end.” She has publicly called for the Georgian government not to bow to pressure from Ankara, and <a href="http://oc-media.org/wife-of-gulen-school-manager-detained-in-tbilisi-asks-for-protection/" target="_blank">has herself requested protection from the Georgian authorities</a>, fearing reprisals.&nbsp;</p><p>The case of Mustafa Çabuk, as well as those of journalists and activists from Azerbaijan, is yet another test for Georgia’s commitment to democratic values. Mikeladze adds that due to political loyalty to neighbouring states, the Georgian government “risks denying the protection of fundamental human rights to foreign citizens desperately in need of them, which in turn harms building a democratic state based on the same principles here at home.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Demirel-College-Tbilisi.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Demirel-College-Tbilisi.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demirel College in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, where Mustafa Çabuk worked as a manager and teacher. Photo CC: WikiMapia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This kind of political bargaining is common between Turkey and South Caucasus states. After all, Gülen schools were welcomed throughout the region from the early 1990s. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Georgia became the first country that welcomed representatives of Gülen’s movement, though the Azerbaijani city of Nakhchivan was the first place outside Turkey to host a Gülen-affiliated school. Until the purge, some 13 Gülen-funded schools and the <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/16113" target="_blank">now nationalised Qafqaz University</a>&nbsp;functioned in Azerbaijan. The movement’s schools now operate in 160 countries worldwide.</p><p>After Turkey’s AKP government restored its power following last year’s coup, Ankara initiated a purge against all Gülen followers in the Caucasus and Central Asia. As a strongly authoritarian state and long-time ally of Turkey, Azerbaijan was only too eager to oblige — Baku’s solution was to nationalise the schools. The <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/majlis-podcast-gulen-schools/27919459.html" target="_blank">attitude of the Central Asian republics</a>, with whom Turkey has maintained strong economic and political ties since their independence, was far from united. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan pushed back against the Turkish demand to pursue Gülenists. Turkmenistan played ball, launching a <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81611" target="_blank">massive crackdown</a> against all followers of Gülen in the country, while Uzbekistan never welcomed the Turkish schools in the first place. Tajikistan closed the last of its Gülen schools in 2015, though that could be explained as part of a wider campaign against all Islamic groups in the country.</p><h2>Pressure points&nbsp;</h2><p>What power, exactly, does Ankara have over Georgia? As Giorgi Badridze, senior fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS) puts it, Turkey is one of Georgia’s most important strategic partners. “In a world where our largest neighbour, Russia, puts us under constant military and economic pressure, Turkey plays a vital role both politically and economically. This doesn’t mean that Georgia should disregard the rule of law for the sake of good relations, but if Turkey’s official request is found to be lawful and within the framework of bilateral agreements, then it can’t be ignored.”&nbsp;</p><p>It seems clear that Ankara has already put enormous pressure on Tbilisi to close Gülenist schools and deport Turks working at them. Azerbaijani journalist Mahir Zeynalov, chief editor of the <em>Globe Post</em> who was deported from Turkey for a tweet critical of Erdoğan in 2014, echoes Badridze’s view. Zeynalov stresses that it’s difficult for Georgia to ignore demands from Turkey, its largest friendly neighbour and the country’s <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/georgia/" target="_blank">second largest trading partner after the EU</a>. Turkish money has flowed into a series of infrastructure projects in Georgia, and is particularly influential in the western province of Ajara.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It’s difficult for Georgia to ignore demands from Turkey, its largest friendly neighbour and the country’s&nbsp;second largest trading partner after the EU</p><p>The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association has <a href="https://www.gyla.ge/index.php/en/post/saqartvelom-mustafa-emre-chabuqi-turqets-ar-unda-gadasces#sthash.ay7nSJb0.dpbs" target="_blank">monitored Çabuk’s case</a> and believes that the court ruling for a provisional arrest falls short of the standards established under the Georgian legislation and the European Convention. The prosecutor declared that Çabuk could otherwise flee the country and continue his “criminal activities”, but did not give any grounds for these fears.</p><p>“The court’s decision is not well-founded,” says Vakhtang Kvizhinadze, Çabuk’s lawyer, adding that his appeal against it was in vain. The decision was kept in force despite the fact that Çabuk has lived in Georgia for years and has a residency permit. “Mustafa did not evade any of his obligations before the court,” Kvizhinadze says.&nbsp;</p><p>According to his wife, when the police came to arrest Çabuk on the morning of 24 May, they informed him that the Georgian authorities had no problem with him, but that his arrest was requested by Turkey. “We didn’t even go to Turkey for 17 months, but now my husband is blamed for terrorist activities and a coup attempt,” sighs Tuğba Çabuk.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02993589.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02993589.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Good neighbours on the Black Sea. Batumi, capital of Georgia’s autonomous region of Ajara, which is heavily dependent on Turkish investment. As one of Georgia’s largest trading partners, Turkey is involved in several large infrastructure projects, from airports to dams and railways. Photo (c): Alexander Chichurin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Georgian legislation allows the courts to imprison somebody wanted by foreign law enforcement agencies, but only as a last resort and never as a punitive method. Çabuk could have been released on bail after handing over his passport and a cash payment of bail of GEL 10,000 (£3,248). When he tried, the court refused.</p><p>“Unless Mustafa can get refugee status or citizenship, then yes, he might be extradited," underlines Kvizhinadze. “Failing that, Tbilisi could always press Ankara to guarantee that Çabuk’s human rights will be respected in Turkey.”&nbsp;</p><p>Sozar Subari, Georgia's Minister for IDPs, accommodation and refugees, stated on 7 June that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dnIJC04nkw" target="_blank">Çabuk cannot immediately be deported to Turkey simply upon Ankara’s say so</a>, and that a number of documents would be required before extradition was possible. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has started a <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur56/6372/2017/en/" target="_blank">campaign in Çabuk’s defence</a>.</p><p>Under Article 28 of the Law of Georgia on International Cooperation in Criminal Matters, Georgia has the right to refuse an extradition if the crime concerned has been fully or partially committed on the country’s territory, as was Çabuk’s alleged crime concerning the Demirel school. Article 35 of the Treaty between Georgia and Turkey on mutual legal assistance in civil, trade and criminal matters states much the same.&nbsp;</p><p>“I’m not sure how eager the Georgian government is to hand Çabuk over to the Turkish authorities, particularly given how the Mukhtarli scandal damaged Georgia's international reputation,” says Badridze, who hopes that the court’s final decision will be guided by legal considerations and not by politics.&nbsp;</p><h2>Déjà vu in Baku&nbsp;</h2><p>Çabuk’s colleague Taci Şentürk, a manager at the Turkish Istek school in Baku, was detained on 7 June. Once he was able to call his family, Şentürk told his spouse Fatma that he was to be sent to Turkey. He proposed that his family come to the airport to meet for the last time. “The policemen did not let my husband give one last kiss to our kids, nor could our lawyer meet him," Fatma Şentürk told me, adding that the only reason they were given was the sudden invalidation of Taci’s passport. The Şentürks’ residency permit in Azerbaijan was due to expire on 7 September this year.&nbsp;</p><p>There is no official information as to why Taci’s passport was invalidated, despite his having the right of residency in Azerbaijan. The question must now be raised how Taci Şentürk was supposed to have entered Turkey without a valid travel document.&nbsp;</p><p>Just 20 minutes before takeoff, Fatma says, a representative of the UN office in Baku arrived and demanded that Taci Şentürk be removed from the plane on the grounds that he and his family were now under the protection of UNHCR’s Baku Office. But after Şentürk was taken off the plane, the representative did not accompany him home. “Police were waiting for him at the airport terminal, and returned him to their organised crime department,” adds Fatma. “Despite my insistence that Taci might be sent to Turkey, the UN delegation couldn’t do anything,” says Fatma Şentürk. Her husband was eventually sent to Turkey on 8 June. Şentürk is now being interrogated in Turkey’s directorate for combatting smuggling and organised crime in Konya.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/TaciSenturk1-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/TaciSenturk1-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Taci Şentürk. A Turkish teacher working in Azerbaijan’s capital, Şentürk’s deportation to was stopped at the last minute by UN officials, though it is believed he has been extradited to Turkey regardless. Photo courtesy of the Stockholm Centre for Freedom. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Fatma Şentürk now wants to leave Azerbaijan as she no longer feels safe there. “Even with the UN protection letter, our safety is not guaranteed,” she adds. “Taci always believed that the Azerbaijanis were our brothers and so would not betray us, but it happened. Even our Azerbaijani lawyer refused to take on the case, saying it was politically-motivated and so might endanger his security too.”&nbsp;</p><p>Independent lawyer Samed Rahimli, who will bring Taci Şentürk’s case to the European Court of Human Rights, says that Şentürk’s case is remarkable — he was extradited to Turkey without any legal procedure. “UN protection was completely ignored by the Azerbaijani authorities,” says Rahimli.</p><p>Şentürk is not the first Turkish national who was deported from Azerbaijan in this manner. On 6 June, Muharrem Menekşe, a member of the Gülen movement, was sent to Istanbul without any legal grounds. Menekşe had lived in Baku since the early 1990s, where he ran a small business.&nbsp;</p><p>Rahimli adds that there was no official charge or formal process from the Turkish authorities in either case: “Ankara just gave the order, and Azerbaijan executed it.” A similar fate befell the Azerbaijani opposition journalist <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/24/turkey/azerbaijan-journalist-deported-imprisoned" target="_blank">Rauf Mirgadirov, who was deported to Azerbaijan from Turkey</a>, where he lived and worked, in 2014.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">There was no formal charge from the Turkish authorities in either the&nbsp;Şentürk or&nbsp;Menekşe’s deportation: Ankara just gave the order, and Azerbaijan executed it.</p><p>“Erdogan and Aliyev have long rode roughshod over the laws because of their own interests,” says Ulvi Hasanli, a board member of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">N!DA youth movement</a>. “There may be other cases of which we are unaware.” That Ankara and Baku are so prepared to trade favours shows a convergence of regime interests rather than strictly national ones. But it was not always so. Erdoğan’s deteriorating international image as well as his vow to getting rid of his archenemy Gülen has made Azerbaijan and Turkey even closer allies in fighting dissent.&nbsp;</p><p>In Azerbaijan, few people appear to care about Taci Şentürk’s fate. When I approached Baku residents, almost none of them knew of Taci Şentürk. Most were surprised to hear about the deportation of a Turkish national; as Azerbaijanis and Turks share many cultural ties, mistreating a Turkish citizen could be considered shameful by Azerbaijanis. </p><p>The ruling on whether Çabuk will receive political asylum in Georgia will be made on Friday — the extradition process has been put on hold while his asylum application is being considered. The ultimate decision on whether he will be deported to Turkey to face (in)justice will be made in a final trial to be held after 24 August, after his three months’ detention comes to an end.</p><p>Between 2007 and 2016, Ankara made almost <a href="http://greece.greekreporter.com/2017/01/31/turkish-propaganda-targets-greece-eu-for-not-responding-to-extradition-requests/" target="_blank">399 extradition requests</a> to western European countries, though only 11 have been granted (including nine by EU Member States). These include requests for the extradition of 59 participants in the coup attempt of 15 July. Germany has refused to expel 22 individuals linked with Gülen. In Greece, civil society protest over Turkey’s extradition bid request led to a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/26/greek-court-turns-down-extradition-request-eight-turkish-officers-ankara-failed-coup" target="_blank">Supreme Court ruling against it</a>.</p><p>Wealthy and influential western European countries can afford to reject extradition requests made by the Turkish government. But Azerbaijan and Georgia probably cannot. Neither wants to harm their relationship with Turkey, which is an important corridor to the west and regional counterbalance against Russia. Ankara’s hunt for Gülen may prove a test of how the two states can defend their sovereignty. That is, if they’re interested.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">Azerbaijani journalist kidnapped across Georgia-Azerbaijan border</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/zeynep-gambetti/failed-coup-attempt-in-turkey-victory-of-democracy">Failed coup attempt in Turkey: the victory of democracy?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cihan-tugal/turkey-coup-aftermath-between-neo-fascism-and-bonapartism">Turkey coup aftermath: between neo-fascism and Bonapartism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia North-Africa West-Asia oD Russia Turkey Lamiya Adilgizi Uncivil society Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Thu, 06 Jul 2017 08:21:50 +0000 Lamiya Adilgizi 112122 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Do you speak Mingrelian? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolaus-von-twickel/do-you-speak-mingrelian <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A major language in western Georgia could struggle for survival&nbsp;<span style="color: #222222; font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 16px;">–</span>&nbsp;because it’s not considered one.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/dadianipalace_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/dadianipalace_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dadiani Palace in Zugdidi, residence of the last princes of Samegrelo (Mingrelia). Photo CC-by-NC-2.0: Silber_Mel / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>When you raise a glass with Edemi Izoria, you can practice the fine art of toasting in Georgian or Russian, but he will be most pleased if you add his native language, Mingrelian.</p><p>Izoria, a short man with a white beard, is in many ways a typical host in Zugdidi, the quiet plains town that serves as the administrative centre of Samegrelo. After sitting down on his vine-covered veranda, it only takes a few minutes and he will convince his guest this western province of Georgia is not merely the cradle of Georgian civilisation, but of mankind as a whole. And while his wife will serve local delicacies like lamb stewed with tarragon and <em>ghomi</em>, steaming white polenta with chunks of cheese in it, the retired doctor will expand his theory that the ancient Egyptians spoke a proto-Mingrelian language when devising their hieroglyphs.</p><p>But Izoria is atypical in that he actually speaks up for Mingrelian, having established a small regional advocacy group called “Aia”. During an hour-long interview earlier this month, he argued that the ongoing “Georgianisation” of his homeland needs to stop. “We need Mingrelian in kindergartens and schools. Not as a subject but as language of instruction,” he says.</p><p>Mingrelian is a strange phenomenon, not only for linguists. Despite the fact that the language is probably spoken by probably more than 300,000 people, mostly in Samegrelo and the neighbouring breakaway state of Abkhazia, it remains to this day a largely unwritten language and enjoys practically no institutional protection in education or culture. It is hard to think of another language in Europe that has so many speakers and so little status.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Linguists point out that Mingrelian and Georgian parted ways in the eighth century BC – more than 2,700 years ago&nbsp;</p><p>For centuries, speakers of Mingrelian have used their language as a vernacular for home and village, while Georgian was reserved for cultural purposes like reading, writing and praying. Georgian governments, both Soviet and post-Soviet, have taken pains to stress that Mingrelian-speakers are part of an indivisible Georgian nation.&nbsp;</p><p>An explanation often heard among Georgian officials and intellectuals is that Mingrelian is a “dialect” – because it doesn’t possess a literature or writing system. While it is universally accepted that Mingrelian is part of the Kartvelian language group, which apart from Georgian includes Laz (spoken in northeastern Turkey) and the more distantly related Svan language, linguists point out that Mingrelian and Georgian parted ways in the eighth century BC – more than 2,700 years ago.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Izoria_Book.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Izoria_Book.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Edemi Izoria, a Mingrelian-language activist, displays one of his books on the local idiom. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Mingrelian certainly sounds different from Georgian — and speakers like to boast that it is richer or “purer” than its larger neighbour (Georgian has an estimated four million native speakers). For instance, the verb “to pluck” (from a piece of bread) has at least four variants, <em>tskitskonua</em> meaning “to pluck off lightly”, <em>ts’k’its’k’onua</em> “to nip off squeamishly while eating”, <em>zgizgonua</em> “to pluck off bigger pieces” and <em>zhgizhgonua</em> “to tear off brutally”.</p><p>But despite this precision, the use of Mingrelian appears to be declining. While there are no reliable figures available, teachers and parents in both Zugdidi and Senaki, the biggest Mingrelian-speaking cities, say that children no longer speak the language when they enter school. Nato Inalishvili, who teaches Georgian at Senaki’s fourth school, says that just 20% of first graders are currently fluent in Mingrelian. And Izoria, the activist from Zugdidi, admits that even his own grandchildren have “tragically” failed to learn the language.</p><p>When asked why, locals point to a lack of prestige. “People are ashamed of speaking Mingrelian, they are even ashamed of sounding Mingrelian,” sighs Zviad Pachkoria, a truck driver turned activist from Senaki. </p><p>This problem is not new. Back in the mid-nineteenth century, Niko Dadiani, a local nobleman, <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09668136.2014.906934?scroll=top&amp;needAccess=true&amp;journalCode=ceas20" target="_blank">wrote to his Bishop</a> that Mingrelian was a “despicable worm language” and that “even the peasants call Mingrelians worms”. </p><p>But it is hard to tackle, because Mingrelians have almost developed a habit of becoming great Georgians. The most famous example is Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the country’s first president after the Soviet break-up in 1991.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">“People are ashamed of speaking Mingrelian, they are even ashamed of sounding Mingrelian”</span></p><p>Although Gamsakhurdia was of Mingrelian descent, he hardly spoke the language. His nationalist slogan “Georgia for the Georgians” triggered ethnic strife and ultimately led to war with separatists, backed by Russia, in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As a result, Georgia lost control of both territories, which to this day remain largely unrecognised Russian protectorates.</p><p>Because of the situation in Abkhazia, promoting Mingrelian as a separate language has become intrinsically linked to separatism in Georgia. Most of the roughly 200,000 Georgians that were expelled or fled the Black Sea region in the early 1990s were Mingrelian speakers, and up to 60,000 remain in the southernmost Gali region.</p><p>The Abkhaz authorities there produce a newspaper in Mingrelian, Abkhaz and Russian. This small bimonthly, <em>Gal</em>, has been published on and off since the 1990s and may never had much impact on public opinion. But as of spring 2017, there are plans to make the new channel Gal TV <a href="https://www.ekhokavkaza.com/a/28491752.html" target="_blank">broadcast in Mingrelian</a>&nbsp;(link in Russian).</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/gal-gazette.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/gal-gazette.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The “Gal” newspaper is published in the breakaway territory of Abkhazia, in the Abkhaz, Mingrelian, and Russian languages. It is partly due to these initiatives by the separatist authorities that many Georgians view Mingrelian language activism with suspicion. Photo courtesy of Iko / LiveJournal. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The first attempts to produce a standardised written Mingrelian came in the 1860s, when the Russian Empire had conquered the region and Tsarist scholars analysed local languages. Attempts to create a writing system, initially on the basis of Cyrillic, soon triggered heavy opposition from Georgian elites, who suspected the Russians of carrying out politics of “divide and rule”.</p><p>Then in the 1930s, authorities in Soviet Georgia experimented with a Mingrelian script based on the Georgian alphabet. The experiment, known as the “<a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09668136.2014.906934" target="_blank">Mingrelian Question</a>”, foundered after Lavrenti Beria won the upper hand in a political struggle. After becoming leader of the Communist Party Georgian branch in 1931, Beria, who was himself of Mingrelian origin, decided that it was better not to lobby for what would easily be seen as his own nationality.</p><p>That script was revived in the 1990s, when feeble attempts were made to publish Mingrelian texts.</p><p>Georgian suspicions that Moscow harbours plans to weaken their country by dividing up its titular ethnic group into smaller components were seemingly confirmed in 2010, when the <a href="http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/new_site/perepis2010/croc/Documents/Vol4/pub-04-02.pdf" target="_blank">Russian census listed Mingrelians as separate from Georgians</a> (along with Svans, Adjarians, Ingiloys [Georgians from north-western Azerbaijan - ed.] and Laz).&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Even in Russia, most Mingrelian speakers reject the notion of an ethnic identity distinct from Georgian&nbsp;</p><p>But the fact that almost 158,000 respondents stated that they were Georgians, while just 600 (less than 0.4%) identified themselves as Mingrelians (45 as Svans), shows that even in Russia, most Mingrelian speakers reject the notion of an ethnic identity distinct from Georgian.</p><p>While this shows that Mingrelian nationalism or even separatism is extremely weak, the Georgian government does not seem ready to change its official stance, which prevents Mingrelian and the <a href="http://dfwatch.net/support-and-resistance-for-svan-language-activism-38834" target="_blank">neighbouring Svans, whose spoken language is even more distinct from standard Georgian</a>, from receiving any significant assistance from state institutions.</p><p>Ketevan Jakeli, an adviser on minority issues to Georgian education minister Alexandre Jejelava, was adamant that while the government was doing everything necessary to protect national minorities, there was no way that speakers of Mingrelian and Svan should be included in these efforts. “These are not ethnic minorities. Therefore, they cannot fall under the provisions of the <a href="http://www.coe.int/en/web/european-charter-regional-or-minority-languages" target="_blank">European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages</a>,” Jakeli tells me at the education and science ministry in Tbilisi.</p><p>The Charter aims to protect minorities from discrimination and requires states to actively promote minority languages. It was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1998, one year before Georgia signed up to the European human rights watchdog. Yet Tbilisi has not ratified the Charter, which would give rights to 15 languages, including Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian.</p><p>Giorgi Bobghiashvili, a project coordinator at the European Centre for Minority Issues, a German think tank, says that attempts to achieve ratification were stymied in 2013, when Patriarch Ilia II, spiritual leader of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety" target="_blank">Georgia’s immensely influential Orthodox Church</a>, issued a <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25908" target="_blank">statement</a> saying that the Charter was “unacceptable, because it will strengthen separatist movements and create new grave problems for the country.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zugdidi_Globe_Monument.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zugdidi_Globe_Monument.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="287" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>According to the Rosetta Project, some 457 or 9% of all living languages now have fewer than ten speakers. Language death appears to be accelerating - which will pass away in the South Caucasus? Globe statue in Zugdidi, Mingrelia, Republic of Georgia. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Orientalising / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>When asked how Mingrelian and Svan could be protected, Jakelia, the Education Ministry adviser, warns against promoting these idioms formally in schools. “[In order to do so], you would have to tell these people that they are not Georgians. I do not advise you to do that,” she says. Jakelia was adamant that the only agency that could give such support was the ministry of culture. However the ministry’s spokeswoman Tiko Janjghava tells me that her colleagues did not have any such plans right now, referring all questions back to the education ministry.</p><p>When institutional support is lacking, perhaps modern technology can provide the answer. Although the internet often catalyses the usage of larger languages at the cost of smaller ones, it has also enabled Mingrelian speakers to publish more material than probably ever before in the language’s 2,700 year old history. The <a href="https://xmf.wikipedia.org/wiki/%25E1%2583%25A1%25E1%2583%259E%25E1%2583%2594%25E1%2583%25AA%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%259A%25E1%2583%25A3%25E1%2583%25A0%25E1%2583%2598:%25E1%2583%25A1%25E1%2583%25A2%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%25A2%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%25A1%25E1%2583%25A2%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%2599%25E1%2583%2590" target="_blank">Mingrelian Wikipedia</a> had more than 10,100 articles in mid-June. More and more Mingrelian posts are being published on Facebook.</p><p>However, there are shortcomings. Nona Kobalia, a journalist who writes a blog in Mingrelian on the website of Zugdidi’s Odishi radio and TV station, describes the Mingrelian Wikipedia as “terrible”. She complains of basic mistakes in vocabulary, syntax and grammar. “Some of it is so bad that it would be better had it been written in Georgian,” she concludes.</p><p>Kobalia added that the language urgently needs a state commission to standardise both spelling and lexicon. She believes that “currently there is absolutely nobody who cares about [Mingrelian].”</p><p>Nevertheless, the younger generation keeps publishing Mingrelian online. The Facebook group “<a href="https://www.facebook.com/megrelianlanguage" target="_blank">Megrelian language</a>” has garnered 24,000 likes since its inception in 2010. Mingrelian poems and songs by Gali-born performer Temur Eliava and Vienna-based jazz singer Teona Mosia have garnered tens of thousands of views on Facebook and YouTube. The Mingrelian learners’ group “<a href="https://www.facebook.com/%25E1%2583%25AD%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%25A0%25E1%2583%2592%25E1%2583%2590-%25E1%2583%25AD%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%25A0%25E1%2583%2592%25E1%2583%2590-1646339432318899/%2520" target="_blank">Charga-Charga</a>” has 14,000 likes.&nbsp;</p><p>A like may not be much, but it is a start. And with an <a href="http://rosettaproject.org/blog/02013/mar/28/new-estimates-on-rate-of-language-loss/" target="_blank">accelerating rate of global language loss</a>, Georgians may need to reconsider institutional intransigence towards such an important part of their national heritage — whether they consider Mingrelian a dialect or a language.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety">Georgia’s politics of piety</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/zugdidi-will-i-ever-go-back">Zugdidi: Will I ever go back? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-turkova/words-and-war-russian-and-ukrainian-linguists-struggle-to-find-common-groun">Words and war: Russian and Ukrainian linguists struggle to find common ground</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/many-languages-native-to-britain">The many languages native to Britain</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Nikolaus von Twickel Georgia Education Caucasus Mon, 26 Jun 2017 08:19:32 +0000 Nikolaus von Twickel 111810 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s Russian cipher https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/jason-strakes/georgia-s-russian-cipher <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What can the politics of ethnic Russians in Georgia tell us about the country’s attempt to build a truly civic national identity?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rus_Geo_Friendship.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rus_Geo_Friendship.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Georgian-Russian friendship monument before the Jvari Pass. It was constructed in 1983, to commemorate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Georgievsk, whereby the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti became a protectorate of the Russian Empire (and was eventually annexed in 1801). Photo (c): Maxim Edwards</span></span></span>Georgia’s most recent <a href="http://www.geostat.ge/cms/site_images/_files/english/population/Census_release_ENG_2016.pdf" target="_blank">population census</a> released in April 2016 reports that ethnic Russians constitute the third largest national minority behind Azerbaijanis and Armenians, totaling 26,500 persons. Yet Russians appear to occupy a peculiar place in the imaginary of Georgia’s ethnic and religious diversity. Given the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 and Moscow’s support for breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that’s no surprise. Ethnic Russians have lived on Georgian territory for centuries — but do they have a place in Georgian society beyond agents of geopolitical intrigue? Can they ever hope to?</p><p>This results from two major population movements: the arrival of banished sectarian groups such as Dukhobors and Molokans to the South Caucasus, as well as Cossack military settlers in the 19th century. Later years saw the mass migration of workers to supply the steel-producing industries in cities such as Rustavi in the 1940s and 1950s. At least in theory, this community’s needs and interests continue to be represented by approximately 25 NGOs—the most prominent of which include “Yaroslavna” Union of Russian Women of Georgia, Union of Russian Youth of Georgia, International Cultural-Educational Union "<a href="http://russianclub.ge/" target="_blank">Russian Klub</a>” (whose director Nikolai Sventitski also manages Tbilisi's Griboedov State Drama Theatre), and Center for Legal Protection of Russian Compatriots in Georgia—which are distributed nationally and headed by the umbrella “Otchizna” (Fatherland) Union of Russian Compatriots of Georgia and its longtime president, Valery Svarchuk.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The situation of ethnic Russians is relevant given that Georgia is the only former Soviet republic — including even Ukraine — to sever diplomatic relations with Moscow</p><p>Many senior community leaders also hold dual Russian and Georgian citizenship, which though technically illegal, is generally tolerated by authorities. While as in the case of other minorities their numbers have <a href="http://dfwatch.net/ethnic-and-religious-minorities-affected-by-population-decline-census-42339" target="_blank">declined drastically</a> (by at least 60%) since independence, the situation of ethnic Russians is relevant given that Georgia is the only former Soviet republic — including even post-Euromaidan Ukraine — to sever diplomatic relations with Moscow following the 2008 South Ossetia War. <br /><br />Tbilisi has also <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2010/09/27/130156334/georgia-to-change-official-language-to-english" target="_blank">replaced Russian with English</a> as the second official language and initiated projects such as the Museum of Soviet Occupation and the <a href="http://thegeorgiantruthcommission.org/en/home/" target="_blank">Georgian Truth Commission</a> to reassess the history of interactions between Georgian and Russian societies during the past decade. What impact, if any, have these conditions had on that proportion of citizenry that self-identify as Russian or continue to embrace Russian language and traditions?&nbsp;</p><h2>Whose side are you on?</h2><p>Some in Georgia's prevailing political and intellectual elites seem to deny the existence of ethnic Russians altogether. A recent <a href="http://www.cascade-caucasus.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/CASCADE_Paper_Eka_Metreveli.pdf" target="_blank">article</a> authored by Eka Metreveli, director of the Georgian Foundation for International and Strategic Studies (GFSIS), states emphatically that “Technically speaking, Russia is not a kin-state to any minority residing on Georgia’s territory”. In June 2015, staff of the United National Movement’s Batumi office [the ruling party of former president Mikheil Saakashvili - ed.] posted a Facebook <a href="https://www.facebook.com/batumiunm/videos/vb.213553582113457/638606599608151/?type=2&amp;theater" target="_blank">video</a> of a public procession organized by the local multiethnic cultural center Friendship House in recognition of Russia Day, a holiday celebrated by the diaspora in many countries, with the ominous line: “Russian march and shouting in the streets of Batumi”, as if it were led by an infiltration force, rather than fellow Georgian citizens.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Acknowledging Georgia’s Russians is fraught given the “compatriots policy” used by Moscow to justify intervention in defense of its kin</p><p>On the one hand, these denials may simply reflect political expedience. Acknowledging the presence of naturalised or native-born ethnic Russians in Georgia might risk lending credence to the “<a href="https://www.cna.org/cna_files/pdf/DOP-2015-U-011689-1Rev.pdf" target="_blank">compatriots policy</a>” introduced by the Russian government in recent years to justify intervention in defense of its kin — ambiguously defined by ethnicity, citizenship or language — in the near abroad. The Kremlin has employed this to literal effect in its annexation of Crimea and sponsorship of the insurgency in (and invasion of) eastern Ukraine. Yet, these attitudes are not limited to Georgian public figures. They also extend to foreign scholars who are often invested ideologically in advancing the cause of western integration in the South Caucasus region.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/DontBuyRussian_Tbilisi.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/DontBuyRussian_Tbilisi.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Don’t buy Russian [products]!” reads this sticker near Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue. Photo (c): Maxim Edwards</span></span></span>For instance, at a workshop on Georgian politics I attended at Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies (UCRS) in December 2015, a prominent young specialist, whose dissertation research examined language education policies implemented by Mikheil Saakashvili’s government in the country’s Armenian and Azerbaijani-populated regions from 2004-2012, was visibly bewildered by the suggestion that NGOs representing ethnic Russians were present in Georgia, let alone of any significance.</p><p>This reaction might also be attributed to the saturation of discourses that accompanied the civil integration reforms pursued by Saakashvili’s UNM during its near decade in power. These discourses suggested that, given the inherently European foundations of Georgian society and culture, it was Russian manipulation rather than Georgian ethno-nationalism that fueled the civil conflicts and secessionist wars of the early 1990s, while Soviet legacies and Russian influence are responsible for all instances of intolerance, xenophobia and extremism in contemporary Georgia.</p><p>This dismissive pattern can be further traced to the earlier generation of government-affiliated think tank products on the question of “Russian soft power” in Georgia, long before it became de rigeur in national security circles in the wake of the 2014 Ukraine crisis. For example, a <a href="http://www.d999110.u-telcom.net/pdf/publications/SOFT-POWER-EN.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> published in 2010 by the Tbilisi-based International Center for Geopolitical Studies (ICGS) cites the 2009 annual speech on diaspora affairs by Valery Svarchuk, president of the “Otchizna” NGO. Here, Svarchuk addressed the negative impact of the suspension of diplomatic relations (which disrupted voluntary resettlement and cut off financial support previously received from the Embassy of the Russian Federation) and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/education/2010/oct/12/georgia-teaches-english-over-russian" target="_blank">de-Russification trends in the public education system</a> on Georgia’s ethnic Russian community, characterising “some of these organisations” as “trying to portray a distorted picture of the actual situation, often repeating the Kremlin rhetoric”. Thus, no distinction is made between criticism by minorities of policies that affect them, and promoting the interests of a hostile foreign power.</p><h2>Our friends from the north</h2><p>In the post-Saakashvili era, a similar logic has been applied to a series of interest groups such as Eurasia Institute, Irakli II Society, <a href="http://pravfond.ge/?p=2373" target="_blank">Earth is Our Home</a>, the coalition Eurasian Choice, and Georgian Peace Committee, the majority of which were registered in the years following the 2008 war, that advocate reconciliation or restoration of fraternal ties with Moscow. </p><p>A cottage industry of articles by foreign commentators, opposition-affiliated journalists and political analysts have identified these organisations (in defiance of readily available evidence) as <a href="http://www.the-american-interest.com/2014/05/19/georgias-fifth-column-stirs/" target="_blank">sudden and unambiguous creations of the Russian intelligence services</a> deployed in Georgia to conduct “information campaigns”, or <a href="https://www.cacianalyst.org/publications/field-reports/item/13243-rujssia-enchances-soft-power-georgia-local-ngos.html" target="_blank">attribute their origins to the ascendance of Georgian Dream party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili in the 2012 parliamentary election</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">These groups broadly share an antagonism towards the radical westernisation policies pursued since the 2003 Rose Revolution</p><p>Yet, a common theme that runs throughout the platforms of these groups is their antagonism towards the radical westernisation policies pursued since the 2003 Rose Revolution, which have sought to rapidly transform the country's social, cultural and economic landscape in the image of foreign patrons—a vision not shared by all members of Georgian society. </p><p>In addition, some of these advocacy groups interact with long-established communal organisations that represent the interests of citizens whose preferences and perspectives have been marginalised by Georgian state forces in previous years. For instance: Earth is Our Home, whose chairman Elguja Khodeli gained infamy in local media for <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/11362/eng" target="_blank">wrapping himself in a Russian flag</a> at a demonstration during the Crimea events, was actually founded as a youth and lawyers' advocacy group in March 2003, and includes representatives of the Russian, Jewish and Azerbaijani communities. Among the activities of Earth is Our Home have been artistic performances to <a href="http://novost.ge/2013/06/07/в-тбилиси-отметили-день-рождения-пушк/" target="_blank">commemorate the birthday of Alexander Pushkin</a> at his monument in central Tbilisi, <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTsGE5HqPvA" target="_blank">cooperating with the local “Prima” music school</a> to promote the study of Russian folklore, and <a href="http://nor.ge/?p=7379" target="_blank">roundtables with educators</a> on prospects for restoration of Russian language sectors in Georgian schools.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Church_Russian.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Church_Russian.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Russian Orthodox church of St John the Theologian, completed in 1901. Located in the Vere district of Tbilisi, it stands beside the historic Georgian Orthodox Lurji Monastery. Photo (c): Maxim Edwards.</span></span></span>These activities suggest that rather than being sinister appendages of the Kremlin apparat, such actors occupy the same social space as other obscure, underfunded NGOs that perform little-recognised cultural, educational, and humanitarian functions. </p><p>These are exemplified by <a href="http://www.ellada-russia.ru/news/62-ГРЕЦИЯ/article/2287" target="_blank">Russian and Greek language courses </a>and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ArmenianLand/posts/440063206086632" target="_blank">documentary film showings on the 1915 Armenian Genocide</a> jointly organised by the Irakli II Society, Union of Greek Communities of Georgia and Assembly of Armenians of Tbilisi (which also participates in Eurasian Choice), and <a href="http://pravfond.ru/?module=news&amp;action=view&amp;id=3690" target="_blank">charity events</a> for International Children’s Day, <a href="https://www.ekhokavkaza.com/a/27065254.html" target="_blank">Week of Russian Language in Georgia</a> and <a href="http://pravfond.ge/?p=2395" target="_blank">lectures on disease management and health care provision in the regions</a> co-sponsored by Earth is Our Home, “Yaroslavna”, Union of Russian Youth, Center for Legal Protection of Russian Compatriots and even the “Diabetikon” Union of Diabetes Sufferers.&nbsp;</p><p>It would be a mistake to directly conflate this crop of “pro-Russian” NGOs which received disproportionate media attention in 2014 and 2015 with Georgia’s ethnic Russian community organisations as a whole. Those interactions which do occur appear to have been by virtue of their both civil society actors that disagree with anti-Russian elites, not because they are necessarily identical.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It would be a mistake to conflate this crop of “pro-Russian” NGOs which received disproportionate media attention with all of Georgia’s ethnic Russian community organisations&nbsp;</p><p>In contrast, Georgia’s “patriotic” activist NGOs such as Free Zone (<em>Tavisupali Zona</em>), established in 2013 by former UNM MP Koba Khabazi to agitate against the Georgian Dream government (which it regards as a “Russian collaborationist regime”), have relied upon tactics of physical confrontation and vandalism directed toward any targets it identifies as “pro-Russian”, which would seem to deviate from the European norms of tolerance and inclusion professed by their founders. In May 2015, in response to a rumour spread via social networks alleging plans by the Moscow-based Night Wolves motorcycle club to attend the Day of Victory over Fascism ceremonies in Tbilisi's Vake Park, Free Zone members engaged in a weekend-long campaign of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOSR3zqJyCg" target="_blank">tampering with vehicles owned by Russian tourists</a>, staged scuffles with Georgian diasporans and motorcyclists visiting from Russia in Tbilisi and Gori, and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/mtrebi/videos/vb.154288191385287/490623334418436/?type=2&amp;theater" target="_blank">harassment</a> of individuals wearing the Ribbon of St George under the pretense promoted by allied press outlets that it was “<a href="http://www.fmabkhazia.com/news/13345-georgievskis-lenti-zeimis-thu-okupaciisa-da-shovinizmis-simbolo.html?fb_comment_id=938609452826055_1124556277564704" target="_blank">invented by Vladimir Putin in 2006 and has nothing to do with World War II</a>”. </p><p>Its true historical significance is however more complex, as it was first introduced by Catherine the Great in the 18th century and banned by the Bolsheviks, later being rehabilitated by Josef Stalin for use in Soviet World War II medals. Representatives of the ethnic Russian community who traditionally attend the event were reportedly informed of these intended actions in advance, and requested that members of Earth is Our Home serve as bodyguards in ensuing clashes between Free Zone and youths from their organisations.</p><h2>The endless search for the fifth column</h2><p>An incident in September 2015 at the privately-funded Intellect Russian language school in Tbilisi, which was attached to the former military hospital of the Russian Armed Forces and also serves the families of Ukrainian, Armenian and other minorities, further demonstrates these contradictions. In a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/144509882399925/videos/430469697137274/" target="_blank">video filmed by Free Zone</a> and posted on their official website, members are shown entering the premises and confronting the principal Orest Peschanenko regarding <a href="http://www.newsgeorgia.ge/russkaya-shkola-v-tbilisi-razyasnila-otkuda-vzyalis-skandalnye-atlasy/" target="_blank">geography atlases</a> purchased by parents of students from the Moscow-based Ventana-Graf publishing house, which contain maps that portray Crimea as a subject of the Russian Federation and Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent republics. </p><p>Despite the principal’s explanation that the wrong items had been delivered due to a supplier error and were withdrawn pending a refund of fees, after tearing of pages and repeated accusations of treason and “GRU agent” he contacted the police, eventually (possibly out of fear) giving permission to destroy the books, which were shredded and placed in a pile in the school parking lot. Ironically, earlier analyses that identify claims of “persecution” of Russian language in Georgia as Kremlin propaganda tout the Saakashvili government's positive role in helping the Intellect school to remain operational after diplomatic relations were suspended in 2008.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Embassy_Tbilisi_RU.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Embassy_Tbilisi_RU.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“This is my land! The Caucasus hates you!” Graffiti on the gates of the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi, two months after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. Photo CC-by-SA-2.0: Gavin / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>A particularly virulent strain of doublethink is presented by the “information warfare” portal InformNapalm operated by Ukrainian and Georgian partisans in the Donbas conflict, who have <a href="http://euromaidanpress.com/2017/03/28/ukrainian-mosaic-five-unique-ethnic-groups/" target="_blank">also written for Euromaidan Press</a>, which purports to champion minority rights. </p><p>An “<a href="https://informnapalm.org/en/georgian-clogging/#comments" target="_blank">intelligence report</a>” released prior to the 2016 parliamentary election openly denigrates officially recognised Russian diaspora organisations as conspirators with a variety of nefarious Kremlin-backed forces, oblivious to their difficult status as dual citizens. It casts aspersions on Nikolai Sventitski (<a href="http://m.eurasianet.org/departments/insightb/articles/eav043009.shtml" target="_blank">who has for many years publicly declared that Russians are fully integrated into Georgian society</a>) and the nationally-renowned Griboedov Theatre as a “so-called center of the Russian culture in Tbilisi [sic]”, labels Union of Russian Youth, Center for Legal Protection and “Yaroslavna” directors&nbsp;Alexander Beshentsev and Alla Bezhentseva “a kind of family projects [sic] financed by the official Moscow”, asserts that “local Russian organisations have completely disregarded the civil society sector of Georgia and are reluctant to participate in public life”, (although they are in fact of popular origin) while curiously acknowledging that “the majority of them are residents and citizens of Georgia.”</p><p>This once again denies the hostility toward ethnic Russian and Russophone minorities&nbsp;<span>– an important feature&nbsp;</span><span>of extremist political movements in Georgia's post-independence history. Today, mainstream Georgian academics themselves acknowledge this&nbsp;</span><span>perception of national minorities as a fifth column of Russian “occupiers”, and that ethnic Russians were themselves included in that equation.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Perhaps this story reveals that Georgia’s civic nationalism project pursued after the Saakashvili era remains unifinished</p><p>It seems that Russian ethnic and cultural associations occupy a highly ambiguous position within Georgia's volatile transitional climate. This position is reflected in the equally inconsistent reactions of societal elites: from dismissing community concerns about the impact of hostilities with their kin state as willful distortion, to negating their status as a diaspora altogether. Consequently, Georgia’s Russian communal organisations become implicated by societal elites in the policies of the Russian government in unresolved regional conflicts. </p><p>The curious case of Georgia’s ethnic Russians could indicate a deeper malaise. Perhaps their story is that the civic nationalism project pursued by various governments in post-Saakashvili Georgia is essentially incomplete. But more worrying still, perhaps it brings to light an enduring separation between Georgia’s ideological, technocratic leadership and the popular terrain that they seek to transform.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/who-do-i-call-if-i-want-to-speak-to-pro-russian-forces-in-georgia">Who do I call if I want to speak to &quot;pro-Russian forces&quot; in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/bakar-berekashvili/georgia%27s-puzzled-transition">Georgia&#039;s puzzled transition</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/victory-day-in-tbilisi">Victory Day in Tbilisi</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety">Georgia’s politics of piety</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Jason Strakes Georgia Caucasus Wed, 21 Jun 2017 10:43:16 +0000 Jason Strakes 111801 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Terms and conditions apply: Georgia and Ukraine’s visa-free victory https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The EU’s extension of visa-free regimes eastwards is more about managing migration flows than European values. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory-deutsch" target="_blank">Deutsch</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31476696.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-31476696.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="331" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Without visas!” reads this poster in Kyiv, celebrating Ukraine’s visa-free regime with the European Union, which comes into force this month. Photo (c) Serg Glovny/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>After a rollercoaster ride of seemingly endless delays, foot-dragging and dashed hopes, visa-free travel to the EU has finally become a reality for Georgian and Ukrainian citizens.&nbsp;</p><p>A political climate hostile to immigration among EU states turned the rather technical procedure of lifting restrictions on short-term visas into a highly politicised ordeal. Concerns over the supposed threat of increased irregular migration and <a href="http://www.tagesspiegel.de/weltspiegel/georgische-diebesbanden-in-deutschland-sippenhaft-fuer-ein-ganzes-land/13799998.html" target="_blank">organised crime</a> based largely on anecdotal evidence were used as an excuse by certain EU member states to stall the process and push through a much harsher visa suspension mechanism for all third countries that enjoy visa-free travel to the EU. As part of its strategy of externalising migration controls to third countries, the EU can now swiftly reinstate visa requirements if third countries fail to, for example, accept rejected asylum seekers or effectively prevent the transit of irregular migrants.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">A political climate hostile to immigration among EU states turned the rather technical procedure of lifting restrictions on short-term visas into a highly politicised ordeal</p><p>Despite these concessions, Georgia and Ukraine have undoubtedly scored a significant symbolic victory. After all, it was Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the EU Association Agreement that acted as the initial catalyst for the Euromaidan protests. While the visa waiver for citizens of these post-Soviet states represents a welcome opening in Europe’s “soft” paper curtain with its eastern neighbours, there is little impetus for states in the region to continue European integration or uphold human rights given the EU’s preoccupation with protecting its external borders from migrants and asylum seekers.&nbsp;</p><p>Delivering on visa liberalisation may be a short-term win for the current governments in Georgia and Ukraine. But this new relationship can neither ensure public support for the EU, nor prevent democratic backsliding in the future.&nbsp;</p><h2>Visa as humiliation&nbsp;</h2><p>Visas are the subject of endless online and offline discussions for citizens of post-Soviet countries that happen to be beyond the EU’s pale of free movement. Although there is officially a common visa policy among Schengen states, there are also discrepancies between these formal rules and informal practices at various EU embassies. This has generated much confusion and uncertainty among applicants.</p><p>Obtaining that coveted multi-entry Schengen visa became a competitive sport for many independent travellers, with people posting tips and exchanging advice on how to deal with different EU embassies on social media and dedicated travel forums. From Belarus to Kazakhstan, <a href="https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/%25D1%2588%25D0%25B5%25D0%25BD%25D0%25B3%25D0%25B5%25D0%25BD/" target="_blank">young people posting grinning selfies of themselves next to Schengen visas in their passports</a> is a testament to the extent to which visas have become fetishised objects in their own right.&nbsp;</p><p>To add insult to injury, Ukrainians in particular were subject to <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/international/2011/07/110721_ukraine_eu_visas.shtml" target="_blank">regulations</a> that required them to check-in in person at EU embassies and get their passports stamped upon returning from their trip abroad. Back in 2011, there were multiple reports of consulates forcing Ukrainian citizens to <a href="http://dengi.ua/news/84505_Posolstva_stran_ES_trebuyut_u_ukraincev_ostavlyat_zalog_i_otmechatsya_posle_priezda_.html" target="_blank">leave behind deposits</a> (in the form of personal documents or money) to ensure they would not overstay their visas. These measures, which were <a href="http://dengi.ua/news/84505_Posolstva_stran_ES_trebuyut_u_ukraincev_ostavlyat_zalog_i_otmechatsya_posle_priezda_.html" target="_blank">condemned</a> by Ukrainian civil society organisations such as Europe Without Barriers, made obtaining a Schengen visa a thoroughly humiliating, time-consuming and frustrating procedure, particularly for young, independent travellers and those with limited financial means.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RT_Ukraine_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RT_Ukraine_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“The Old World at the end of the tunnel: what the visa-free regime with the EU will give Ukraine." RT Russian article on Ukraine’s new visa regime. Source: RT.</span></span></span>As hard as Kremlin-sponsored media are trying to <a href="https://russian.rt.com/ussr/article/375889-ukraina-es-bezvizovyi-rezhim" target="_blank">downplay visa liberalisation</a> as a minor accomplishment that will supposedly only benefit the country’s wealthy, globalised elites, the mere fact that an entire restrictive and complex bureaucracy will practically disappear is by itself a momentous occasion for Ukrainians and Georgians. While EU border guards will retain the right to refuse entry to visa-free travelers who fail to present evidence of an intent to return, experience shows that these regulations are only sporadically enforced.</p><p>Since the entry into force of the Moldova-EU visa-free travel agreement, for example, less than two percent of Moldovan travellers were <a href="https://republic.ru/posts/83200?utm_source=slon.ru&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=morning" target="_blank">denied entry to the EU</a> and just 0.23% of Georgian visitors were <a href="https://republic.ru/posts/83200?utm_source=slon.ru&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=morning" target="_blank">turned around at the border</a> since visa liberalisation became a reality for Georgia. The Russian government, which itself has engaged in visa liberalisation talks with the EU in the past, is very much aware of how coveted visa-free travel is for many of its citizens. The lifting of visa restrictions is undoubtedly a PR victory for pro-European forces in Georgia and Ukraine — at least in the short term.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Visa liberalisation is undoubtedly a cause for celebration for regular Georgians and Ukrainians. But their respective governments should not expect to indefinitely ride on the coattails of this success&nbsp;</p><p>The road to visa liberalisation for Georgia and Ukraine was arduous and plagued by delays as the EU appeared to shift the goalposts for finalising the deal on multiple occasions. Whereas Moldova was granted visa liberalisation on schedule based on broad support at the EU level, visa liberalisation negotiations with Georgia and Ukraine were hampered by hardening stances on immigration and mobility on the part of many EU member states in the context of the so-called refugee crisis.&nbsp;</p><p>In fact, resistance on the part of some of the most influential EU member states such as France, Germany and the Netherlands <a href="http://www.intellinews.com/colchis-visa-myopia-and-the-death-of-euro-atlantic-conditionality-99769/" target="_blank">threatened to sabotage the entire process</a>, sapping the patience of Georgian and Ukrainian officials and weakening public trust in the prospect of imminent visa liberalisation. Unsubstantiated arguments about the dangers of an influx of irregular migration and criminality was used as justification for stalling negotiations in the same way as France, Germany and Netherlands had stalled visa liberalisation for the Western Balkans several years prior on the basis of the high number of asylum claims emanating from the region.</p><h2>The limits of conditionality&nbsp;</h2><p>As with Western Balkan countries, the EU developed detailed visa liberalisation road maps for Ukraine and Georgia. These required the implementation of a broad package of reforms on external security, migration governance, defence of fundamental rights and the fight against corruption. These prerequisites for visa free-travel fit into a broader logic of conditionality whereby the prospect of the lifting of visas should be used as an incentive for upholding democratic norms and the rule of law.</p><p>While at least rhetorically, the EU has tied visa liberalisation to respect for democracy and human rights, the main emphasis of the required reforms is harmonisation with the EU on security and migration control. Thus, as part of the EU’s push to externalise immigration control to neighboring countries, Georgia and Ukraine were <a href="http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/GA/TXT/?uri=uriserv:l14163" target="_blank">forced to sign readmission agreements</a>. These agreements oblige them to readmit not only their own citizens, but also third-country nationals — a potential burden in the case of an uptick in the irregular transit of persons across their territories.&nbsp;</p><p>The EU also used the opportunity of visa liberalisation negotiations with Georgia and Ukraine to revise existing regulations by pushing through a much stricter visa waiver suspension mechanism that now applies to all existing visa liberalisation agreements. This would allow for visa-free travel to be <a href="http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/02/27-revision-visa-waiver-suspension-mechanism/" target="_blank">frozen on short notice</a> upon the recommendation of the Commission or an EU member state. This threat acts as a negative incentive for Georgia and Ukraine to stringently police irregular migration and uphold strict border controls. The negotiation procedures have clearly demonstrated that for the EU conditionality is first and foremost about cooperation on migration enforcement and border protection.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02521366.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02521366.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A resident of Luhansk presents a Ukrainian passport at a polling station during elections for members of the People’s Council of the self-declared republic in November 2014. Photo (c): Valery Melnikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The symbolic value of visa liberalisation as a tangible benefit of European integration has meant that Georgian and Ukrainian officials were extremely motivated to fulfill the technical requirements for joining the visa-free club. Once the goal has been reached, however, governments have little incentive to actively pursue reforms and further integration.</p><p>As the first Eastern Partnership country to successfully obtain visa-free travel to Europe, Moldova is both a poster child and a warning for visa-free candidates. For Georgia and Ukraine, Moldova acts as an example of the extent to which the prospect of visa-free travel can act as an incentive for people living in breakaway republics and occupied territories to apply for passports of the respective internationally recognised governments. Indeed, Tbilisi had hoped that visa liberalisation could make Georgian passports a more attractive prospect for residents of breakaway Abkhazia (officials in Sukhumi <a href="http://dfwatch.net/abkhazia-suspicious-of-georgias-offer-of-visa-free-travel-to-europe-47535" target="_blank">turned up their noses</a>). </p><p>There are precedents, however. Throughout the year after Moldova’s visa-free regime with the EU entered force, some 27,000 citizens of Transnistria applied for new biometric Moldovan passports. Time will tell whether residents of Russian-occupied Crimea are also as enthusiastic (unless they have officially renounced their Ukrainian citizenship, they are also free to apply).</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Visa liberalisation is neither a guarantee of further European integration, nor a vaccine against authoritarianism</p><p>But while both Georgia and Ukraine have reaffirmed their commitment to allow people living in breakaway regions to obtain biometric passports, it is questionable to what degree the utilitarian benefit of visa-free travel to Europe will lead to a change in allegiances among populations living in unrecognised republics. Set against the background of a smoothly functioning visa-free agreement with the EU, Moldova has concurrently witnessed a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/alexandr-voronovici/moldova%2527s-ambiguous-european-integration" target="_blank">rise in Euroscepticism</a> and anti-western attitudes amid democratic backsliding in the country. Visa liberalisation is therefore neither a guarantee of further European integration, nor a vaccine against authoritarianism.</p><p>Ukraine and Georgia may have successfully fulfilled all the technical requirements for visa liberalisation. But concerns remain about the extent to which these reforms will be structural rather than superficial. In Ukraine, for example, it took several attempts and strong pressure from civil society, the EU and President Poroshenko for the parliament to finally pass (albeit through gritted teeth) a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denys-gorbach/that-obscure-object-of-desire-reforms-labour-code-and-progressive-agenda-in-" target="_blank">watered down anti-discrimination amendment</a> to the country’s Labour Code explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/1gDtqHlK-7A" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>December 2015: Buildings across Georgia are lit up with the European Union flag as the government pushes for visa-free. Source: Youtube.</em></p><p>While these perfunctory changes to legislation were enough for the EU to give Ukraine the final green light for visa liberalisation, they will do little to actually protect LGBT rights. In fact, ever since it became clear that the visa-free liberalisation was irreversible, rumours have been circulating that these amendments <a href="https://www.ukrinform.ru/rubric-politycs/2200472-skandalnye-popravki-v-trudovoj-kodeks-ne-budut-progolosovany-gerasenko.html" target="_blank">could be reversed</a>. Anti-corruption campaigners and human rights activists in Ukraine are <a href="http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/ukraine-is-in-the-middle-of-counterrevolution-again-is-anyone-paying-attention" target="_blank">already raising their voices</a> about an ongoing effort by some members of the Ukrainian government to undo or sabotage ongoing reforms with the passing of a <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/controversial-new-amendment-puts-corruption-fighters-under-pressure-in-ukraine/a-38245936" target="_blank">new amendment imposing a heavy administrative burden</a> on NGOs combined with attempts to undermine the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU).</p><p>After delivering on the promise of visa-free travel, Ukrainian and Georgian governments lose an important incentive to deepen reforms, uphold the rule of law and protect human rights. Indeed, we have seen this pattern in the Western Balkans. Here, governments have backpedalled on promises to uphold democratic values with recent <a href="http://balkanist.net/op-ed-europe-should-brace-itself-new-autocracy/" target="_blank">crackdowns on the media in Serbia</a> and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/27/macedonia-protesters-storm-parliament-and-attack-mps" target="_blank">violence erupting in the Macedonian parliament</a> to impede the peaceful transition of power.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Embroiled in its own political crisis, the EU remains dangerously aloof and has failed to forcefully condemn anti-democratic developments in partner states</p><p>Embroiled in its own political crisis, the EU remains dangerously aloof and has failed to forcefully condemn anti-democratic developments in partner states. Instead, the EU appears to be primarily preoccupied with cracking down on irregular migration, keeping the number of asylum applicants low and the rate of return high — all with the help of neighbouring countries. In its drive to limit migration at all costs, the EU has recently signed an agreement with Belarus to “manage migration flows” (a thinly veiled euphemism for keeping out migrants and refugees). This is despite the Lukashenka regime’s abysmal human rights record and its policy of cooperating with repressive regimes in the post-Soviet space on the extradition of political dissidents and asylum seekers.</p><p>As long as countries like Georgia and Ukraine cooperate on migration, the EU will likely look the other way when it comes to democratic norms and human rights. The recent <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border" target="_blank">illegal extradition of an Azeri dissident from Georgia to Azerbaijan</a>, allegedly by Azerbaijan's security services, is a worrying example of the type of human rights abuses that could increase in number in the absence of diplomatic pressure from the EU.</p><p>Moreover, the flagrant violations of international law with regards to asylum seekers on the part of EU member states such as Poland and Hungary further erodes the credibility of the EU’s willingness to protect fundamental human rights — both internally and abroad.&nbsp;</p><h2>Workers need not apply?</h2><p>While the current euphoria over visa-free travel to the EU will continue into the summer, the question of labour migration to the EU remains the awkward elephant in the room.</p><p>Indeed, the EU remains unwilling to expand legal migration channels to the EU, but access to the European labour market remains a priority of job-seekers from Georgia and Ukraine. A former member of Saakashvili’s government has already called on Ukrainian and Georgian officials to actively push for <a href="http://projects.platfor.ma/kapanadze-sergi/" target="_blank">privileged access to the European labour market</a>. Poland, for example, already has simplified employment procedures for citizens from Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. With over 1.3 million Ukrainian citizens currently working on its territory, <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-06/million-migrants-fleeing-putin-score-a-policy-jackpot-for-poland" target="_blank">Poland is increasingly dependent on migrant labour from the east</a> despite the current government’s xenophobic hostility towards refugees and non-white migrants. It is possible that other EU states, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, will follow suit and provide bilateral access to their labour markets in the future.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center" style="font-size: 1.2em;">Given the lack of opportunities in Georgia and Ukraine, pushing for access to the EU labour market will remain an uphill battle in a Europe less interested in promoting labour mobility</span></p><p>Visa liberalisation is undoubtedly a cause for celebration for regular Georgians and Ukrainians. But their respective governments should not expect to <a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/03/28/georgia-eu-visa-liberalisation-albania/" target="_blank">indefinitely ride on the coattails of this success</a>. Governments should aim to keep citizens updated about the nature of visa-free programmes; data last year revealed that <a href="http://crrc-caucasus.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/the-georgian-publics-awareness-of-visa.html" target="_blank">many Georgians remained poorly informed</a>. </p><p>Given the continued lack of economic opportunities in Georgia and Ukraine, pushing for access to the European labour market will remain an uphill battle in the context of an EU that is increasingly less interested in promoting labour mobility. Furthermore, when migration control objectives take precedence over human rights considerations and democratic values (as is currently the case when looking at the EU’s external policies), there is a real danger of post-Soviet states walking back on their commitments to meaningful democratic reforms.&nbsp;</p><p>Ultimately, using Georgia and Ukraine as buffer zones against irregular migration not only jeopardises these countries’ futures, but undermines the credibility and legitimacy of the EU as a political actor.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kaja-puto/second-hand-europe-ukrainian-immigrants-in-poland">Second-hand Europe: Ukrainian immigrants in Poland</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/christina-lomidze/georgian-migrant-mothers-never-to-return-home">Georgian migrant mothers: never to return home?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-ilya-budraitskis/dreams-of-europe-refugees-and-xenophobia-in-russia-and-ukra">Dreams of Europe: refugees and xenophobia in Russia and Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denys-gorbach-oles-petik/fear-and-loathing-in-ukraine-european-kind-of-protest">Fear and loathing in Ukraine: a very “European” protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia Can Europe make it? oD Russia Yan Matusevich Migration matters Ukraine Georgia Fri, 02 Jun 2017 14:47:19 +0000 Yan Matusevich 111343 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Georgia has long been an oasis for dissidents from neighbouring Azerbaijan. But with Baku investing in its western neighbour at record levels, are they still safe?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Jamal_Ali_5.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Jamal_Ali_5.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Jamal Ali, Azerbaijani rapper and journalist. Photo/Image Still via MeydanTV / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“I felt like trash,” says Jamal Ali. Last month Ali, a rapper and producer for Azerbaijani independent media outlet <a href="http://meydan.tv/en" target="_blank">MeydanTV</a>, was denied entry to Georgia. He flew back to Berlin, perplexed.&nbsp;</p><p>MeydanTV has few friends in authoritarian Azerbaijan, where many of its writers and editors have been harassed and imprisoned by the authorities. Ali is just one example: after performing at an opposition rally in 2012, he was sent to prison for ten days, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/18/tortured-singer-flees-azerbaijan-eurovision" target="_blank">where he was tortured</a>. Upon release, Ali fled to Germany. He’s lived there ever since, while his family remain in Azerbaijan, where they face <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81886" target="_blank">reprisals from the authorities</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Ali’s experience at the Georgian border was unexpected — several of his colleagues live and work in the Georgian capital. In fact, over the past two decades, Tbilisi has become something of an oasis for Azerbaijani activists and independent journalists seeking safety. And after Ali’s run-in with the Georgian authorities, they’ve started to wonder whether the stakes are getting higher.&nbsp;</p><h2>An oasis no more?&nbsp;</h2><p>Azerbaijani dissidents suspect that Ali’s detention at Tbilisi airport was orchestrated by the Azerbaijani authorities, though they probably expected a little more from their Georgian partners. </p><p>In an <a href="https://haqqin.az/news/99120" target="_blank">article published recently by pro-regime website Haqqin.az</a>, Eynulla Fatullayev, a former prisoner of conscience turned pro-government journalist, criticised the Georgian authorities for not extraditing Ali back to Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital. Fatullayev also condemned Georgia for creating the conditions for an “anti-Azerbaijani nucleus" to flourish in the heart of Tbilisi. Azerbaijani oppositionists, he concluded, were uniting in Georgia to overthrow his country’s ruling government.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 13.50.09.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Eynulla Fatullaev's accusatory text identifies leading exiles as members of a shadowy "anti-Azerbaijani cell" abroad. Source: Haqqin.az. </span></span></span>Given Azerbaijan’s autocratic neighbourhood — the country borders Iran, Russia and Armenia (with which Baku is still technically at war) — Georgia is the obvious destination for people in Ali’s situation. Azerbaijanis enjoy visa-free travel to Georgia. They’re even able to stay there for 12 months. Economic and cultural links between the two South Caucasus states are booming, and the journey between Baku and Tbilisi isn’t so arduous.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, Georgia has a long history of openness towards Azerbaijanis who are unwelcome at home. It was in Tbilisi, not Baku, where Azerbaijani dissident intellectuals declared the independence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic on 28 May 1918.&nbsp;</p><p>After the Soviet Union collapsed and the Caucasus region descended into conflict, Tbilisi again became an oasis for Azerbaijani dissidents, who fled to Georgia in two waves as an authoritarian regime took power in Baku. The first came after October 2003, when Ilham Aliyev followed his late father Heydar in becoming president, following an election <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/azerbaijan/13467" target="_blank">widely regarded as fraudulent</a>.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2014_Tbilisi,_Popiersie_Heydəra_Əliyeva_(01).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2014_Tbilisi,_Popiersie_Heydəra_Əliyeva_(01).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A bust of Heydar Aliyev, former leader of Azerbaijan (and father of ruling president Ilham Aliyev) near Old Tbilisi. Photo CC-by-SA-4.0: Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The aftermath of this sham vote saw a wave of politically-motivated arrests, further prompting Azerbaijanis to flee west — they assumed they could breathe more easily in a place like Georgia. This coincided with Georgia’s democratic reforms after the Rose Revolution of 2003, which saw pro-western, reformist president Mikheil Saakashvili come to power. Saakashvili’s rebranding of Georgia appealed to desperate Azerbaijani dissidents, and young intellectuals such as novelist Seymur Baycan, journalist Gunel Movlud and composer Elmir Mirzoyev packed their bags and relocated there.</p><p>The second wave started in March 2013, a month which saw an intense crackdown on dissent in Azerbaijan. Repressions began after the non-parliamentary opposition held rallies in January and March under the slogan “Stop Killing Our Soldiers”, in reference to the non-combat deaths of Azerbaijani conscripts. The rally reflected the pent-up rage of ordinary people, and grew into the largest such event since 2005, when thousands of people took to the streets to protest rigged parliamentary elections. After these scenes, the authorities soon banned all opposition rallies.&nbsp;</p><p>In response, Azerbaijan’s authorities detained dozens of young activists, including members of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">N!DA movement</a>. Again, some of them headed to Georgia, and to safety.</p><h2>Freedom is back in fashion</h2><p>Most agree that the unprecedented pressure from the Azerbaijani government on dissidents in Georgia began in late 2014. This was likely the result of an influx of oil money, prompting the overconfident authorities in Azerbaijan to behave more boldly. Efgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist who has taken refuge in Georgia, points to the close strategic relationship developed between Ilham Aliyev and Mikheil Saakashvili.</p><p>During the last six months of Saakashvili’s presidency, Azerbaijan’s Milli Shura (National Council of Democratic Forces) called for a summit in Tbilisi, which Saakashvili later banned, with the cryptic <a href="http://az.azvision.az/Milli_Shura_ermeni_otelinde_-9444-xeber.html" target="_blank">justification</a> that “political stability in Azerbaijan necessitates the political stability of Georgia.”</p><p>After Saakashvili’s defeat in 2012, the opposition Georgian Dream (GD) formed a coalition government. Azerbaijani dissidents felt more secure in moving to Georgia, given that some of GD’s coalition partners were sympathetic to the plight of activists from Azerbaijan’s beleaguered opposition.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18396229 (1)_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijan's oil and gas fields are powering the country's authoritarian regime — and its reach abroad. (c) Sergei Grits / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>These hopes, however, were unfounded. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire mastermind behind the Georgian Dream coalition (and accused by some of a pro-Russian orientation), pushed reform plans to one side. Although ahead of its neighbours, the state of democracy and human rights deteriorated under Ivanishvili, and the flourishing economy came first. Naturally, Azerbaijan, with its extensive oil and gas resources, became Georgia’s most important partner.</p><h2>Neither out of sight, nor out of mind</h2><p>Ali isn’t the only Azerbaijani dissident who has faced difficulties in Georgia. Gulnur Kazimova, a former journalist for Radio Liberty (which was blocked by court order in Azerbaijan earlier this month), <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/06/exiled-from-azerbaijan-just-for-being-a-journalist/" target="_blank">had to flee the city of Ganja with her husband and children</a> in December 2014 after receiving a tip-off that the police were coming to arrest her.</p><p>It’s now three years since Gulnur relocated to Tbilisi, over which time she’s changed flats 11 times after warnings from Tbilisi’s Human Rights House that she and her family were under threat. “After each and every move, we would run into the same security concerns. We were mostly worried for our children,” Kazimova tells me. “Though we later understood that running away was not a solution and that we have to try and not live in fear.” Kazimova has returned to journalism, and now writes about the problems ethnic Azerbaijanis face in Georgia.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Embassy_Tbilisi.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Azerbaijan_Embassy_Tbilisi.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Embassy of Azerbaijan in Tbilisi, Georgia. Image still via AZERTAC / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Even in Tbilisi, she faces problems. But here it’s the Georgian police who won’t leave Kazimova alone. The most disturbing incident came last May, when a black Toyota car followed Kazimova along a street in Old Tbilisi. Its occupant was photographing Kazimova and her husband.&nbsp;</p><p>“The surveillance was so obvious that my husband and I took a photo of the car and went straight to the police,” Kazimova says, adding that she knows the Azerbaijani authorities will not relent in their pursuit. The Georgian police launched an investigation into the incident, which lasted for three months.&nbsp;</p><p>Although the results of the investigation did not confirm targeted surveillance of Kazimova and her family, she did mention that a policeman at Tbilisi’s Ortachala police station told her that she wasn’t being followed by SOCAR employees or the Azerbaijani authorities, but “by Georgia’s intelligence service.”&nbsp;</p><h2>The pipelines that bind us</h2><p>Baku has one major lever of influence over Georgia. It’s called SOCAR, the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic.</p><p>Last year, SOCAR increased natural gas supplies to Georgia by 50m cubic metres, in order to further “mutually beneficial cooperation in the future." This April, a new agreement was signed between Tbilisi and Baku that will allow for a supply of 2,347 billion cubic metres of Azeri gas to Georgia. This figure constitutes almost 90% of the 2,457 billion cubic metres of natural gas imported to Georgia in total.</p><p>This new agreement automatically precludes any potential deal with Gazprom, which is considered by the Georgian opposition and civil society as a threat to the nation’s energy security in the region. According to Georgia’s minister of energy Kakha Kaladze, much of the country’s electricity demand from April onwards is to be provided for with Azerbaijani gas.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Georgia needs Azerbaijani gas, and Azerbaijan needs Georgia as a conduit for exporting fossil fuels to the west</p><p>SOCAR first came to the Georgian market as SOCAR Georgian Petroleum in 2006. From 2007 onwards, SOCAR started to import gas to Georgia and dealt with Georgia’s gas distribution networks by establishing another subsidiary, called SOCAR Georgia Gas. It later constructed a Black Sea terminal and in May 2008 opened a new export terminal on the coast at Kulevi. In other words, SOCAR has established its business in three separate areas and in recent years, SOCAR has even become the largest single taxpayer in Georgia.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgia needs Azerbaijani gas, and Azerbaijan needs Georgia as a conduit for exporting fossil fuels to the west. Georgia is Azerbaijan’s closest link to international markets, such as Turkey and the EU. As economist Ilham Shaban puts it: “Azerbaijan is very interested in gaining a strategic foothold in Georgia, for its own economic well-being.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-3806582.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-3806582.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="316" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Workers lay a section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline in 2006. Photo (c): ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>But SOCAR is more than an energy giant, it’s also a philanthropist, increasing the country’s prestige among the country’s ethnic Azerbaijanis, one of the country’s major minority groups, and Georgians alike. “All of these processes are controlled by the Georgian government," says Zohrab Ismail, an Azerbaijani economist, adding that Tbilisi is eager to win the good graces of foreign investors.&nbsp;</p><p>This seems to be having a chilling effect on the welcome Georgia has extended to Azerbaijani dissidents in the past. For instance, though the Georgian state did not offer any explanation on the refusal to admit Jamal Ali, it is assumed that his entrance to Georgia was denied due to his professional activities — particularly his latest critical report on how Azerbaijan’s national oil company SOCAR supplied free gas to the churches of Tbilisi.&nbsp;</p><h2>Gas and hot air</h2><p>Dashgin Agalarli is sure that the Georgian authorities are in close collaboration with Azerbaijan’s intelligence services. An opposition activist and member of Azerbaijan’s Musavat party, Agalarli is wanted at home and was jailed in Georgia for six months (although the Georgian Dream coalition government never extradited him back to Baku.)</p><p>Agalarli was arrested by Interpol while crossing the border from Turkey to Georgia, after an Azerbaijani court found him guilty of tax evasion and issued a call for his arrest on 31 October. Apart from a handful of Middle Eastern countries, Georgia was the only country Agalarli could reach without needing a visa.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgian authorities have refused to grant Agalarli residency, and on 21 March <a href="https://www.meydantv.org/en/site/politics/22827/" target="_blank">told him to leave the country within a month</a>. Although Agalarli is challenging the ruling and still remains in Tbilisi, the outlook remains uncertain. “Unless something changes, he’ll most probably be deported,” says Efgan Mukhtarli, another Azeri journalist who has taken shelter in Georgia. The court decision, Mukhtarli adds, was clearly “politically rather than legally motivated.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">So far, no Georgian government official has explained exactly what danger Agalarli and Mustafayeva pose to the country’s national security</span></p><p>Mukhtarli suggests that if Agalarli is extradited to Baku, he could face the same fate as Mehman Qalandarov, an Azerbaijani blogger who was <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/22657/" target="_blank">found dead in his prison cell</a> on 28 April. Qalandarov, who was in a pre-trial detention in Baku, had fled to Tbilisi in the summer of 2016 and helped organise various protests in Georgia against the Aliyev regime. He returned to Baku because of financial difficulties. “One political dissident who had a Tbilisi past is already dead,” Mukhtarli warns, worrying that anybody listed in the Haqqin.az article written by Fatullayev could be in the same boat.&nbsp;</p><p>The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has <a href="https://haqqin.az/news/99162" target="_blank">commented</a> on the claims made in the Haqqin.az article, promising to “study the issue closely” and stressing the close strategic partnership between Baku and Tbilisi. “This is the first time the Georgian government has officially expressed their views about our presence here,” says Mukhtarli. He adds that in previous years, Tbilisi was cautious and preferred communicating with the Azerbaijani dissident community via various non-governmental organisations.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Agalarli_Meydan_TV.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Agalarli_Meydan_TV.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dashgin Agalarli, an Azerbaijani oppositionist who has been threatened with expulsion from Georgia. Photo courtesy of MeydanTV. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Natia Tavberidze, the coordinator of Human Rights House in Tbilisi, doesn’t believe that the situation is “critical”. She says her organisation continues to support Azerbaijani activists in exile, and has had no run-ins with Georgian officialdom so far.&nbsp;</p><p>Mukhtarli’s wife, Leyla Mustafayeva, a journalist, is also “alarmed”. In September 2016, Mustafayeva’s application for residence in Georgia was turned down. She told me that five days before the official rejection, she was called in to the Georgian interior ministry’s department of terrorism and anti-corruption for questioning. “My residence permission request lay on the table with some handwritten notes in Georgian added to it. I was asked about the reason of my arrival and my activities in Georgia,” recalls Mustafayeva, adding that her official rejection letter stated that she “pose[d] a danger to the state security and public safety of Georgia.”&nbsp;</p><p>“The way my spouse was recently questioned in Azerbaijan once again confirmed my suspicions that personal information about human rights activists and journalists is being transferred to the Azerbaijani authorities,” Agalarli says.&nbsp;</p><p>So far, no Georgian government official has explained exactly what danger Agalarli and Mustafayeva pose to the country’s national security. Both deny carrying out any terrorist activities or attempting to topple any government. “For the second time in our lives, we’re under government pressure. I just can’t understand it,” sighs Agalarli, adding that he regrets seeing Georgia as a safe haven. In Mustafayeva’s words, it feels worse than being jailed.&nbsp;</p><h2>Awkward guests&nbsp;</h2><p>Although Georgia has a visa-free regime with Azerbaijan, administrative registration and residency potentially pose hurdles for those seeking to put down roots in Tbilisi. Enrolling children into a Georgian school, or applying for a visa for a third country, require a residence permit. But some are able to settle, if not always thrive, in Georgia.&nbsp;</p><p>According to Tbilisi-based Azerbaijani lawyer Emin Aslan, it’s usually not too difficult to get an official residence permit. “Though those who publicly oppose the Azerbaijani government in opposition rallies outside the embassy might run into some problems on Baku’s request,” says Aslan, adding that harassment of activists likely increases as a result of such campaigns.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">If things heat up in Tbilisi, Azerbaijani dissidents could pack their bags again, using Georgia as a transit point to move to a third country</p><p>Indeed, the Azerbaijani government does not want to see its neighbour to the west become a hub for its critics. Likewise, the Georgian Dream government wants to keep the good graces of its regional partner and key energy supplier. And perhaps the Georgian authorities, dealing with their own problems of inequality and poverty, want to avoid having more residents to provide for — especially those who may prove a political nuisance.</p><p>If things heat up in Tbilisi, Azerbaijani dissidents could pack their bags again, using Georgia as a transit point to move to a third country — most likely the Czech Republic or Germany, which both host established communities of Azerbaijani dissidents.&nbsp;</p><p>Sergey Rumyantsev, a <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/author/sergey-rumyantsev" target="_blank">sociologist and expert on Azerbaijani politics</a> based in Berlin, is sure that Baku will keep putting pressure on the Georgian government in the months to come. “Georgian efforts to get rid of their annoying new visitors could be undertaken very delicately, but they’ll still serve the purpose of decreasing the opposition to the Aliyev regime in Georgia,” he concludes. However, Rumyantsev adds that the US embassy and EU probably play a role here, mitigating pressure on Azerbaijani dissidents by calling on Tbilisi to honour its lofty democratic values.&nbsp;</p><p>After his close shave, Jamal Ali worries that Tbilisi may be betraying those values. As each year passes, the Aliyev regime becomes more vicious in its crackdown on dissidents in Azerbaijan. And given the geopolitical realities of the South Caucasus, there’s no way out for them except via Georgia.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains">How Azerbaijan is losing its brains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/long-live-azerbaijani-diaspora">Long live the Azerbaijani diaspora!</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline">Principles down the pipeline</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Lamiya Adilgizi Migration matters Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Wed, 24 May 2017 11:25:15 +0000 Lamiya Adilgizi 111119 at https://www.opendemocracy.net საქართველოს ახალი კონსტიტუცია აკავებს ნამდვილ ცვლილებას https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopo-japaridze/sakartvelos-akhali-konstitucia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/FullSizeRender.jpg" alt="" width="80" />საქართველოს კონსტიტუციაში ლიბერტარიანული პრინციპების განმტკიცებით, მმართველ პარტიას სურს შეინარჩუნოს მცირე მთავრობა და კიდევ უფრო მცირე სივრცე თანასწორობის პოლიტიკისთვის. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check" target="_blank">English</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/29726110661_9b8d7217f4_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/29726110661_9b8d7217f4_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>რუსთავში. CC-BY-NC-ND მარკო ფიბერ / Flickr.</span></span></span></p><p>გასულ კვირას, <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/ge/politika/430665-tsinastsari-informaciith-sakonstitucio-cvlilebebis-sakhalkho-sayovelthao-gankhilva-5-maiss-quthaisidan-daitsyeba.html?ar=A" target="_blank">საქართველოში დაიწყო საჯარო განხილვები</a> მმართველი კოალიციის მიერ შემოთავაზებული საკონსტიტუციო ცვლილებების შესახებ. წინა წლიდან, მას შემდეგ, რაც ქართულმა ოცნებამ საკონსტიტუციო უმრავლესობა მოიპოვა, ის ემზადება ქვეყნის კონსტიტუციის შესაცვლელად. </p><p>ქართული ოცნების პირველ ნაბიჯს წარმოადგენდა <a href="http://www.parliament.ge/en/saparlamento-saqmianoba/plenaruli-sxdomebi/plenaruli-sxdomebi_news/parlamentma-saxelmwifo-sakonstitucio-komisiis-sheqmnas-mxari-dauchira.page" target="_blank">საკონსტიტუციო რეფორმის კომისიის</a> შექმნა, რათა შემუშავებულიყო ცვლილებების პროექტი, რომელიც შემდგომ საჯარო განხილვების და ორი საპარლამენტო კენჭისყრის საგანი გახდებოდა. საწყისშივე, კომისიას მწვავედ აფერხებდა აზრთა მკვეთრი სხვადასხვაობა ქართულ ოცნებასა და ოპოზიციურ ჯგუფებს შორის - <a href="civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30041" target="_blank">არაერთმა წევრმა დატოვა კომისია და მას ბოიკოტი გამოუცხადა</a>. საპასუხოდ, ოპოზიციამ უკმაყოფილება გამოთქვა კომისიის გეგმასთან დაკავშირებით, რომლის თანახმად პარლამენტში არჩევის წესი პროპორციული და მაჟორიტარული სისტემებიდან მხოლოდ პროპორციულით განისაზღვრება, შენარჩუნდება 5%-იანი ბარიერი და გაუქმდება პრეზიდენტის არჩევის პირდაპირი წესი. ოპოზიციის მიხედვით, <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83171" target="_blank">მმართველი პარტია გამოიყენებს ამ ცვლილებებს ხელისუფლებაში ყოფნის გასახანგრძლივებლად</a>. </p><p>თუმცა, ოპოზიციას ჯერ არ გამოუთქვამს აზრი საქართველოს კონსტიტუციის 94-ე მუხლის შესახებ. ეს მუხლი უკრძალავს პარლამენტს გადასახადების გაზრდას სპეციალური რეფერენდუმის ჩატარების გარეშე. რეფერენდუმის ჩატარების უფლება კი მხოლოდ მთავრობას აქვს. ეს მუხლი საქართველოს „ეკონომიკური თავისუფლების აქტის“ ნაწილია. თავისუფლების აქტი ყოფილმა პრეზიდენტმა <a href="http://www.parliament.ge/en/media/axali-ambebi/speech-of-the-president-of-georgia-mikheil-saakashvili-on-the-plenary-sitting-of-parliament-21685.page" target="_blank">მიხეილ სააკაშვილმა 2010 წელს მიიღო</a>, რათა საბიუჯეტო შემოსავლების წყაროების შეზღუდვით, მკვეთრად დაესუსტებინა მომდევნო მთავრობები და კომპანიების თუ ბაზრის „თავისუფლების“ სახელით, ჩაეკეტა პროგრესული საგადასახადო სისტემის პერსპექტივა. ამგვარად, ლიბერტარიანული იდეოლოგია გამაგრდა ქვეყნის კონსტიტუციაში, რაც ავნებს იმედდაკარგულ ქართველ მშრომელებს.</p><h2>სამსახურის წართმევა გადასახადების ამკრებთათვის</h2><p>2003 წლიდან, სააკაშვილის „ვარდების რევოლუციის“ შემდეგ, საქართველოს საგადასახადო სისტემა შეიცვალა და მსოფლიოში ერთ-ერთ ყველაზე მარტივ და რეგრესულ სისტემად იქცა. <a href="http://www.transparency.ge/sites/default/files/post_attachments/Taxation%20in%20Georgia%20_ENG_final_0.pdf" target="_blank">გადასახადების მხოლოდ ექვსი ტიპი მოქმედებს</a>: 20%-ანი საშემოსავლო გადასახადი; მოგების გადასახადი (რომელიც უკვე გაუქმდა - კომპანია არ იხდის გადასახადს ხელახალი ინვესტიციის შემთხვევაში); სააქციზო გადასახადი რამდენიმე შერჩეულ პროდუქტზე; 18%-ანი დღგ გადასახადი; გადასახადი იმპორტზე, რომელიც 0%-დან 12%-მდე მერყეობს და ქონების გადასახადი 1%-მდე. არ არსებობს პროგრესული გადასახადები, გადასახადი მემკვიდრეობაზე ან სოციალური დაცვის გადასახადები.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/800px-2OP_42.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/800px-2OP_42.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="341" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>ვარდების რევოლუცია, 2003 წელს. CC A-SA 3.0: Wikimedia Commons.</span></span></span></p><p>2010 წელს, პრეზიდენტმა <a href="https://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2010-10-20/constitutional-reform-georgia-changing-to-stay-same" target="_blank">სააკაშვილმა სასწრაფოდ გაატარა საკონსტიტუციო ცვლილებები</a>, რომელთა მეშვეობითაც შეზღუდა პრეზიდენტის უფლებამოსილებები და გადაანაწილა ძალაუფლება მინისტრთა კაბინეტის სასარგებლოდ. ამავდროულად, საჯარო თუ პირადი კონსულტაციების გარეშე, სააკაშვილმა შეიტანა მუხლი და თანმდევი ორგანული კანონი -ე.წ. „თავისუფლების აქტი“ - რომელიც კრძალავს გადასახადების გაზრდას. </p><p>ამას საერთაშორისო სავალუტო ფონდიც (სსფ) კი შეეწინააღმდეგა, ხოლო საერთაშორისო მრჩეველებმა დიდი ძალისხმევის ფასად, მიაღწიეს შეღავათს, რომელიც ნებას რთავს მთავრობას გაზარდოს გადასახადები სამ წლამდე ვადით განსაკუთრებულ შემთხვევბში. როგორც სააკაშვილი და კახა ბენდუქიძე - საქართველოს საბაზრო რეფორმების მთავარი არქიტექტორი - წერენ თავიანთ სტატიაში „<a href="https://books.google.ge/books?id=xa5oDQAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA149&amp;lpg=PA149&amp;dq=georgia+the+most+radical+catch+up&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=P2o0f83wcJ&amp;sig=yryZEjxcabBtp5efpVVcO9VlAA4&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwjM_tur19PTAhXGWxQKHbK2Ab8Q6AEIJTAA#v=onepage&amp;q=georgia%20the%20most%20radical%20catch%20up&amp;f=false" target="_blank">საქართველო: წარმატების მომტანი ყველაზე რადიკალური რეფორმები</a>“: იდეა მდგომარეობდა ისეთი შეზღუდვის შექმნაში, რომელიც უზრუნველყოფდა მთავრობის მიერ წინა პერიოდში გატარებული რეფორმების შეუქცევადობას და საფუძველს ჩაუყრიდა ეკონომიკური თავისულების პრინციპების ხელშეუხებლობას.“</p><p class="mag-quote-center">94-ე მუხლი გამორიცხავს ერთ-ერთ ყველაზე მნიშვნელოვან საკითხს საქართველოს საჯარო და პოლიტიკური დღის წესრიგიდან</p><p>შესაბამისად, 94-მუხლი ზღუდავს <a href="http://gov.ge/files/34_32576_148262_GEORGIAADOPTSTHEECONOMICLIBERTYACT.pdf" target="_blank">მთავრობის ხარჯებს</a> 30%-მდე მ.შ.პ.-სთან მიმართებაში, ვალს 60%-მდე და საბიუჯეტო დეფიციტის განაკვეთს 3%-მდე. რეფერენდუმის კითხვა შეიძლება შეეხებოდეს მხოლოდ საშემოსავლო გადასახადის ზრდას მთელი მოსახლეობისთვის. კითხვას პროგრესულ გადასახადებთან დაკავშირებით ორგანული კანონი კრძალავს. </p><p>ერთი თვის წინ, საკონსტიტუციო რეფორმების პროცესში, პარლამენტის სოციალ-დემოკრატიულმა ფრაქციამ <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30050" target="_blank">დღის წესრიგში დააყენა</a> 94-ე მუხლის ამოღების საკითხი. </p><p>ეს სხვა საპარლამენტო ჯგუფებისგან ყოველგვარი მხარდაჭერის გარეშე გააკეთეს. ნაცვლად ამისა, 24 სხვა საჯარო ორგანიზაციასთან - მათ შორის საქართველოს პროფესიული კავშირების საკმაოდ მსხვილ კონფედერაციასთან - ერთად, მათ ხელი მოაწერეს წერილს ამ მუხლის ამოღების მოთხოვნით. თავის მხრივ, საკონსტიტუციო რეფორმების კომისიამ, რომელიც ძირითადად განიხილავს პარტიული მონაწილეობის, ქართული ენის შენარჩუნების და ქორწინების კაცისა და ქალის კავშირად განსაზღვრის საკითხებს, საბოლოო კენჭისყრაზე უმრავლესობით მისცა ხმა თავისუფლების აქტის შენარჩუნებას.</p><p>თავისუფლების აქტი სპობს ინკლუზიური, ჯანმრთელი და მდგრადი ეკონომიკის შენების შესაძლებლობას. ის აზიანებს ბიუჯეტს როგორც შემოსავლების წყაროების შემცირებით, ასევე ხარჯების შეზღუდვით. </p><p>ბოლო წლის განმავლობაში, ქუჩის დახლებით და მასობრვი აგიტაციით, საქართველოს კონსერვატიული ჯგუფები ითხოვდნენ ქორწინების მნიშვნელობის მკაცრ განსაზღვრას. გასაკვირი არ არის, რომ დასავლურმა მედიამ ძირითადი ყურადღება სწორედ „ქორწინების საკითხზე“ გაამახვილა და სრულიად უგულვებელყო კონსტიტუციის სხვა მავნე ასპექტები.</p><p>მართლაც, კომისიის გადაწყვეტილება მიგვანიშნებს უპირობო ერთგულებაზე თავისუფალი ბაზრის იდეოლოგიისადმი, რომელიც ახლა კონსტიტუციაში მყარდება. ვინაიდან კომისიამ დაასრულა მუშაობა, ცვლილებების პროექტზე დაიწყება საჯარო განხილვები, რის შემდეგაც პარლამენტი კენჭს უყრის პროექტს გაზაფხულის და შემოდგომის სესიებზე. </p><h2>ზანტი ლიბერტარიანელები</h2><p>თავისუფლების აქტი სრულიად არადემოკრატიულია. ის უზღუდავს ხალხის წარმომადგენლობით ორგანოს, პარლამენტს, დაბეგვრის უფლებამოსილებას და მხოლოდ მთავრობას ანიჭებს გადასახადებთან დაკავშირებით რეფერენდუმის ჩატარების უფლებას. სხვა საკითხებზე რეფერენდუმის ჩატარება 200&nbsp;000 ხელმოწერით არის შესაძლებელი. შესაბამისად, ის გამორიცხავს ერთ-ერთ ყველაზე მნიშვნელოვან საკითხს საქართველოს საჯარო და პოლიტიკური დღის წესრიგიდან. </p><p class="mag-quote-center"><a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=22963" target="_blank">თავისუფლების აქტი</a> სპობს ინკლუზიური, ჯანმრთელი და მდგრადი ეკონომიკის შენების შესაძლებლობას</p><p> საქართველოს ამჟამინდელი ბიუჯეტი უმეტესწილად შედგება დ.ღ.გ. და საშემოსავლო გადასახადებისგან, რომლებსაც ქვეყნის ყველაზე ღარიბი მოქალაქეები უზრუნველყოფენ. არ არსებობს საშუალო კლასი, რომელიც გადაიხდიდა ქვეყნის ფუნქციონირების საფასურს. </p><p>მაშინ, როდესაც შრომითი უფლებები გაუარესება საპროტესტო ტალღებს იწვევს, ახალი საკონსტიტუციო ცვლილებები, ისევე როგორც თავდაპირველი კონსტიტუცია თავისუფალი ბაზრის მომხრე ლიბერალების ოცნებად იქცევა.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rustavi_-03_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rustavi_-03_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="319" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>საპროთესთო აქციები რუსთაველზე, უმუშევრობი წინაღმდეგ აზოტის ქარხანაში. თებერვალში 1. ფოტო: OC Media. </span></span></span></p><p>არის გარკვეულად პროგრესული, თუმცა უმეტესწილად ზედაპირული შემოთავაზებებიც. მაგალითად, უფლება ინტერნეტზე. მაგრამ, საქართველოს მოსახლეობის მზარდი მოთხოვნილებების გათვალისწინებით, იქნება ეს სოციალური მომსახურება თუ უკეთესი განათლება შრომის ბაზარზე თვითრეალიზაციისთვის, საჭიროა პროაქტიური მთავრობა, რომელსაც შეეძლება ხელის შეწყობა. თავისუფლების აქტი ზღუდავს სოციალური კეთილდღეობის განვითარებას - შემოსავალი გადასახადებისგან, რაც საჭიროა გრძელვადიანი და ძლიერი სოციალური მომსახურების შენარჩუნებისთვის, შეზღუდული იქნება სანამ არ შეიცვლება საგადასახადო სისტემა. შესაბამისად, თავისუფლების აქტი ძალაში ტოვებს წინა მთავრობის ლიბერტარიანულ იდეოლოგიას, მიუხედავად იმისა, რომ სააკაშვილის მთავრობა ხალხმა 2012 წელს გადაირჩია. </p><p>თუ ამ მუხლის კონსტიტუციიდან ამოღება არ მოხდება ახლავე, ახლო მომავალში მისი ამოღების შანსი არ მოგვეცემა - ამჟამინდელი პოლარიზაციის პირობებში, ცვლილებებზე თანახმა საკონსტიტუციო უმრავლესობის მოპოვება თითქმის შეუძლებელი იქნება. ეს დაღუპავს ქვეყანას და აიძულებს იმ ეკონომიკური პოლიტიკის გაგრძელებას, რომელმაც გააღატაკა და გაავალიანა ქართველები და უკეთესი ცხოვრების ერთადერთ იმედად ქვეყნიდან წასვლა დაუტოვა.</p><p>დასავლურ სახელმწიფოებს დემოკრატიული ინსტიტუტები და სოციალური კეთილდღეობა ერთ დღეში არ აუშენებიათ - ხალხი საუკუნეების განმავლობაში იბრძოდა თავიანთი უფლებებისთვის. საქართველოშიც არის მოძრაობა, რომელიც სოციალურ და ეკონომიკურ უფლებებზე ამახვილებს ყურადღებას. მართლაც, კომისიისადმი ღია წერილის ხელმომწერი 24 ორგანიზაცია გაერთიანდა და მომდევნო თვის განმავლობაში საქართველოს მასსტაბით საჯარო განხილვებში ამ საკითხის აქტუალიზაციაზე იმუშავებს. თუმცა, დრო, რომელიც ხალხის გათვითცნობიერებას და თავისუფლების აქტის წინააღმდეგ მობილიზაციას დასჭირდება იქნება ხანგრძლივი და სირთულეებით სავსე - და თუ 94-ე მუხლი ძალაში დარჩება, უკვე დაგვიანებული იქნება.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia oDR ქართული სოფო ჯაფარიძე Georgia Caucasus Mon, 08 May 2017 10:37:55 +0000 სოფო ჯაფარიძე 110690 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s new constitution keeps real change in check https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgia-s-new-constitution-keeps-real-change-in-check <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/FullSizeRender.jpg" alt="FullSizeRender.jpg" width="80" />By reinforcing libertarian principles in Georgia’s constitution, the ruling party aims to keep government small — and the space for egalitarian politics even smaller.&nbsp;<strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopo-japaridze/sakartvelos-akhali-konstitucia" target="_blank">ქართული</a></em></strong></p><p></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/29726110661_9b8d7217f4_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rustavi, Georgia. BY-NC-ND Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Today, public hearings <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/ge/politika/430665-tsinastsari-informaciith-sakonstitucio-cvlilebebis-sakhalkho-sayovelthao-gankhilva-5-maiss-quthaisidan-daitsyeba.html?ar=A">begin across Georgia</a> on constitutional amendments proposed by the ruling coalition. Ever since receiving a constitutional majority in parliament last year, Georgian Dream has prepared to change the country’s constitution.</p><p dir="ltr">Georgian Dream’s first step was to set up a <a href="http://www.parliament.ge/en/saparlamento-saqmianoba/plenaruli-sxdomebi/plenaruli-sxdomebi_news/parlamentma-saxelmwifo-sakonstitucio-komisiis-sheqmnas-mxari-dauchira.page">Constitutional Reform Commission</a> to develop draft constitutional amendments, which would later be subject to public debate and two parliamentary votes. The commission has been plagued by severe differences between Georgian Dream and opposition groups from the very start —<a href="http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30041"> many have left and boycotted the commission</a>. In response, the opposition has voiced concerns over the commission’s plans to make the current mix of proportional and majoritarian systems into a strictly proportional one, keep the 5% parliamentary entry threshold for political parties and abolish direct elections of the president, stating the ruling party will <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83171">use these new changes to stay in power permanently</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">However, opposition groups are yet to comment on Paragraph 94 of Georgia’s constitution. This particular paragraph forbids the raising of taxes by parliament without holding a special referendum, which can only be initiated by the government. This paragraph is part of Georgia’s “Liberty Act”, which former president Mikheil Saakashvili <a href="http://www.parliament.ge/en/media/axali-ambebi/speech-of-the-president-of-georgia-mikheil-saakashvili-on-the-plenary-sitting-of-parliament-21685.page">pushed through in 2010</a> in order to severely weaken future governments by limiting their sources for budget revenues and strangle the prospect of progressive taxation in the name of “freedom” for enterprise and market. In doing so, it entrenches libertarian ideology in the country’s constitution, to the detriment of desperate, working Georgians.</p><h2>Putting the taxmen out of a job</h2><p dir="ltr">After Saakashvili’s “Rose Revolution” began in 2003, Georgia’s tax system was reformed to be one of the simplest — and most regressive — tax systems in the world. There are only<a href="http://www.transparency.ge/sites/default/files/post_attachments/Taxation%20in%20Georgia%20_ENG_final_0.pdf"> six types of taxes</a>: a 20% flat income tax, a profit tax (which is now abolished if the company reinvests, then the pay no taxes), an excise tax on a few selected goods, VAT at 18%, an import tax that ranges from 0% to 12% and a property tax which is up to 1%. There is no progressive taxation, no inheritance tax and there are no social security taxes.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/800px-2OP_42.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="341" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Georgia's 2003 "Rose Revolution" was <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment>supposed to usher in a "mental revolution"</a> to the country. CC A-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2010, Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili <a href="https://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2010-10-20/constitutional-reform-georgia-changing-to-stay-same">rushed through amendments</a> to the constitution restricting the powers of the president and rebalancing power in favour of the cabinet of ministers. At the same time, Saakashvili included a paragraph and an accompanying organic law that would restrict tax-raising powers, the so-called “Liberty Act”, without much in the way of public or private consultation.</p><p dir="ltr">Even the IMF was against it, and international advisors forced a provision in the bill allowing the government to temporarily increase taxes for up to three years in case of emergencies. As Saakashvili and Kakha Bendukidze, the&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">mastermind of Georgia’s free-market reforms</a>, co-wrote in their article&nbsp;<a href="https://books.google.ge/books?id=xa5oDQAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PA149&amp;lpg=PA149&amp;dq=georgia+the+most+radical+catch+up&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=P2o0f83wcJ&amp;sig=yryZEjxcabBtp5efpVVcO9VlAA4&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwjM_tur19PTAhXGWxQKHbK2Ab8Q6AEIJTAA#v=onepage&amp;q=georgia%20the%20most%20radical%20catch%20up&amp;f=false">“Georgia: The Most Radical Catch-Up Reforms”</a>: “The idea was to design a straitjacket for the irreversibility of reforms carried out by the government during the previous period and to create the basis for the inviolability of the principles of economic freedom.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Paragraph 94 effectively removes one of the most important topics of debate out of Georgia’s public and political sphere&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Paragraph 94 thus&nbsp;<a href="http://gov.ge/files/34_32576_148262_GEORGIAADOPTSTHEECONOMICLIBERTYACT.pdf">caps government expenditures</a> to GDP ratio at 30%, the debt to GDP ratio at 60%, and the budget deficit to GDP ratio at 3%. A referendum on this issue can only pose the question of raising flat taxes for all Georgian citizens — the organic law forbids a referendum on progressive taxation. &nbsp;</p><h2>Go liberate yourself</h2><p dir="ltr">Last month, as part of the constitutional reform process started by Georgian Dream, the Social-Democrat parliamentary faction <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30050">initiated</a> the removal of Paragraph 94. </p><p dir="ltr">They did so with virtually no support from other parliamentary groups. Instead, they co-signed a letter demanding its removal with 24 other public organisations, including the sizeable Georgian Trade Union Confederation. In turn, the Constitutional Reform Commission, which has focused on deliberating procedures of political party participation, safeguarding the Georgian language and defining marriage as between a man and a woman, overwhelmingly voted against removing the Liberty Act during the final vote on the draft amendments.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The Liberty Act is detrimental to building an inclusive, healthy and sustainable economy. It cripples the budget both in income sources and a cap on expenditures</p><p dir="ltr">Over the past year, Georgia’s conservative groups have demanded strict definition of marriage, with stalls in the streets and massive canvassing to promote a traditional and heterosexual definition of marriage. Not surprisingly, western media has largely concentrated on the “marriage question”, completely ignoring other detrimental aspects of the constitution amendments. </p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, the commission’s decision signals the high level of commitment to free market ideology that is being reified in Georgia’s constitution. And since the commission has voted, they will now hold brief discussions over the new draft for the <a href="http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30072">benefit of the public</a> before parliament votes in the spring and again in the fall sessions.</p><h2>The lingering libertarians</h2><p dir="ltr">The <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=22963">Liberty Act</a> is thoroughly undemocratic. It restricts taxation by the people’s representative body, the parliament, and ensures that the referendum necessary to increase taxes can only be initiated by the government (rather than 200,000 signatures, as is the case for any other referendum). It thus effectively removes one of the most important topics of debate out of Georgia’s public and political sphere.</p><p dir="ltr">The Liberty Act is detrimental to building an inclusive, healthy and sustainable economy. It cripples the budget both in income sources and a cap on expenditures. Indeed, Georgia’s current budget is mostly made up of VAT and income taxes supplied by Georgia’s poorest citizens (as statistics I obtained from Georgia’s Revenue Service show) — there is no significant middle class who can pay for the country to function.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Rustavi_-03_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="319" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protests in the city of Rustavi, western Georgia, against layoffs at the nearby Azoti plant, 1 February.</span></span></span>As deteriorating labour rights <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays">have sparked protests across Georgia</a>, new amendments, much like the original constitution, are a dream for liberal free-marketeers.</p><p dir="ltr">There are some forward-thinking, though mostly cosmetic, proposals too, such as enshrining the <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/en/story/119510-right-to-access-to-internet-to-be-included-in-new-constitution-of-georgia">right to internet use</a>. But given the growing needs of Georgia’s population, whether in terms of social services or better education for the job market, they require a proactive government which can provide assistance. But the act restricts the development of social welfare provision — tax revenues to sustain long term and robust social services are limited without changing existing tax scales. The Liberty Act thus permits the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">previous government’s libertarian ideology</a> to remain in force, despite Georgia’s electorate voting the Saakashvili government out of power in 2012.</p><p dir="ltr">If this paragraph is not taken out of Georgia’s constitution now, there will be no other chance of removing it in the foreseeable future — obtaining a constitutional majority willing to agree on changes will be almost impossible in the current conditions of polarisation. This will doom the country to continuing economic policies that have impoverished and indebted Georgians, whose only hope of a better life is to leave the country.</p><p dir="ltr">Western states didn’t build democratic institutions and social welfare provision in a day — for decades, if not centuries, people fought for their rights and won. And in Georgia, there is a <a href="http://oc-media.org/are-georgias-disparate-left-wing-protesters-consolidating-into-a-coherent-political-force/">budding movement</a> that focuses on economic and social rights. Indeed, the 24 organisations behind the open letter to the constitutional commission have formed a coalition, and will spend the next month raising this issue at the public consultations over the amendments across Georgia. Yet the time it will take to educate and mobilise the population against the Liberty Act will be long and tortuous — and if Paragraph 94 remains in place, it’ll be too late.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays">In Georgia, labour exploitation still pays</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/kakha-bendukidze-and-georgia%E2%80%99s-failed-experiment">Kakha Bendukidze and Georgia’s failed experiment</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/bakar-berekashvili/georgia%27s-puzzled-transition">Georgia&#039;s puzzled transition</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/how-can-we-politicise-labour-rights-in-georgia">How can we politicise labour rights in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/left-in-dark-inside-georgia-s-chiatura-mines">Left in the dark: inside Georgia’s Chiatura mines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tornike-zurabashvili/waiting-for-misha-s-second-coming">Waiting for Misha’s second coming</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst">Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sopiko Japaridze Rights for all Georgia Caucasus Fri, 05 May 2017 13:47:49 +0000 Sopiko Japaridze 110614 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In Georgia, labour exploitation still pays https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/in-georgia-labour-exploitation-still-pays <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In striving for a “business-friendly environment”, the Georgian government is further eroding labour rights. Workers have taken to the streets in response.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rustavi_-03.02-650x488.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rustavi_-03.02-650x488.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protests in the city of Rustavi, western Georgia, against layoffs at the nearby Azoti plant, 1 February.</span></span></span></p><p>At the beginning of this month, the Georgian Public Broadcaster announced a plan to reorganise itself; the plan was consumer-oriented and would mean cuts in the broadcaster’s staff. Job cuts have also been announced in a number of other public sector institutions. On top of this, the government is displaying complete apathy towards ill-treatment and forceful dismissals of employees in the private sector.&nbsp;</p><p>To present itself at the vanguard of creating a “business-friendly environment”, the Georgian government sees no problem with soaring unemployment rates or causing employment to be even more conducive to labour exploitation. But for the people currently <a href="http://oc-media.org/biblus-employees-complain-of-exploitation/" target="_blank">demonstrating</a> on the streets, it is unacceptable that plans for growth and development come at the expense of public sector employment and workers’ rights.&nbsp;</p><p>In 1989, the public sector accounted for the lion’s share of total employment in the Soviet Union, exceeding 90% in some republics. The shift to a market economy resulted in a radical change in the employment structure in all post-Soviet republics. But the percentage of Georgia’s workforce employed in the public sector has <a href="http://www.geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&amp;p_id=146&amp;lang=eng" target="_blank">continued to fall</a> long after this transition, from 20% to 15% in the last decade. To avoid public discontent from this, the previous ruling party often responded by announcing impressive economic growth figures, neglecting the fact that this rapid growth has not been accompanied by a reduction in poverty or a tangible decrease in unemployment. What is more, due to low levels of formal employment, successive governments have neglected that the private sector is extremely conducive to the exploitation of workers, underemployment, low pay, and dangerous labour conditions.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In striving for a “business-friendly environment”, the Georgian government sees no problem with soaring unemployment rates and worsening conditions at work</p><p>Members of the OECD, a developed countries’ club, have an average public sector employment rate of 21%, which not only guarantees strong and effective government institutions, but also allows states to moderate the excesses of the markets. Cutting public sector jobs was not the most convincing development plan for the protesters gathered in front of the Georgian Public Broadcaster on 9 February, as it represented the commodification of yet another public good, while imperilling the job security of many.</p><p>The people demonstrating on the streets are very conscious that the government, politicians, and sometimes even the mainstream media, are guilty. Guilty of wrongly juxtaposing jobless economic growth and welfare, and for imposing a choice between the two. Worst of all, the government is evading its responsibility to reduce unemployment, to combat deteriorating living standards for those who are employed, and is choosing a very exclusionary path to economic development instead.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rustaveli-feb7.-650x366.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rustaveli-feb7.-650x366.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Labour protests on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue, 7 February. </span></span></span></p><p>Over the past few months, the state has dismissed thousands of public employees. On 30 January, it was announced that the Ministry of Defence alone was firing 2,250 employees. This was followed by news that the Georgian Public Broadcaster is employing an unnecessarily high number of people. Additionally, rumours are circulating that some of the 13,000 public sector jobs at Georgian Railway are under threat. The bottom line is that in an attempt to foster economic development, new political decisions are being made to shrink the public sector. This represents a very detrimental turn for those who believed the government would follow its <a href="https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/linked-documents/cps-geo-2014-2018-sd-01.pdf" target="_blank">Georgia 2020</a> development strategy of ensuring inclusive growth and developing human capital.</p><p>In 2013–2015, the government introduced amendments to Georgia’s labour code and developed guarantees to advance workers’ protection in the country. For example, workplace inspections for occupational health and safety violations reemerged, after being totally abolished in 2006 under the previous ruling party. A labour dispute mediation mechanism was set up, as well as “tripartite negotiation formats”, which allow the authorities, employees, and employers, to engage in dialogue. Additionally, independent workers’ organisations have emerged, to defend labour rights within the most hazardous employment sectors.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">To equate any regulations with corruption is a fundamentally political stance. In reality, defending labour conditions does not necessarily come at the expense of good governance</p><p>Even though the current government has set up new welfare mechanisms, the overall development trajectory hasn’t changed much. The state still provides inadequate social guarantees and does not listen to demands by grassroots protesters, which have been visible and vocal since 2012 compared to previous periods.&nbsp;</p><p>For several days, news that the public sector would be shrinking further has been paralleled by videos spreading on social media in which young employees from several stores (the supermarket chain Fresco and bookstore chain Biblus) talk about the grave labour conditions, poor pay, and ill-treatment from employers that they face. In response, the Minister of Labour, Health, and Social Affairs reduced the protests to being single cases of labour disputes between particular employees and employers, denying the importance or necessity of a government response.&nbsp;</p><p>What’s worse, the government has not commented on the dismissal of 350 employees from the Rustavi Azoti plant, even when on 2 February, a day after the dismissals, protesting workers, students, and trade unions invaded the company’s administration building. For over 10 days people were demonstrating on the streets of either Rustavi or Tbilisi on a daily basis, demanding state intervention.</p><p>While many on the right of the political divide argue that a bigger and more capable state will only breed corruption, they fail to acknowledge that their argument, equating regulations with corruption, is political in nature. In reality, defending labour conditions does not necessarily come at the expense of good governance.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rustaveli_-feb-7.-650x366.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Rustaveli_-feb-7.-650x366.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Labour protests on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue, 7 February.</span></span></span></p><p>In Soviet times, trade unions were not trusted, as they were seen as a tentacle of the party. Since then, as industrial production fell, agriculture became a field fully occupied by self-employed smallholder farmers, and the service sector did not develop enough for any prospects for unionisation, unions have remained weak. What’s more, it is of the absolute disdain to anyone currently fighting for labour rights that the majority of industrial companies still have functioning ‘yellow trade unions’, which are controlled by the the companies themselves and are never loyal to workers’ interests. Despite the weakness of the unions, for the crowd gathered on the streets, it has become clear that it is necessary to persist with organised resistance against major employers and become more and more vocal in demands for a bigger and more capable state.&nbsp;</p><p>Since 2005, transportation, industrial production, and natural resource extraction enterprises have been revitalised in the country, and service jobs are becoming more prevalent. It is therefore rather alarming that the government remains inactive while employers violate domestic law, attack workers’ unions, and use oppressive methods to crush protests. If the government also attempts to shrink the public sector further, employment will become more conducive to exploitation than ever before.<br /><br /><em>This article originally appeared on&nbsp;<a href="http://oc-media.org/">OC Media</a>. Follow the OC Media team for in-depth stories from both sides of the Caucasus.&nbsp;</em>&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/how-can-we-politicise-labour-rights-in-georgia">How can we politicise labour rights in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/life-slows-down-in-chiatura">Life slows down in Chiatura</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tornike-zurabashvili/waiting-for-misha-s-second-coming">Waiting for Misha’s second coming</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tatuli Chubabria Justice Human rights Georgia Economy Caucasus Tue, 21 Feb 2017 11:39:51 +0000 Tatuli Chubabria 108952 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Waiting for Misha’s second coming https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tornike-zurabashvili/waiting-for-misha-s-second-coming <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Tornike_0.jpg" alt="" width="80" />On Saakashvili’s watch, Georgia’s UNM has finally split. What does that mean for the country’s opposition?</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00314610.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00314610.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="233" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mikheil Saakashvili in his presidential heyday, Tbilisi, 2008. (c) David Khizanishvili / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Last Friday, as Americans gathered at the National Mall to watch president Donald Trump’s inauguration speech, Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia and maverick mayor of Odessa, gave a rousing speech of his own.</p><p>Addressing the crowd of 7,000 delegates at the United National Movement’s (UNM) party convention in Tbilisi, Georgia by conference call from Washington D.C., Saakashvili spoke at length on Georgian “exceptionalism” and “the beginning of a new great era.” He berated the “pseudo-liberals” and “elite groups” just hours before Trump would disparage the “establishment” and lay out his “new vision” for “making America great again”. The speeches echoed each other; slogans for a new right-populist era.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Since the primaries, Saakashvili, knowing which way the wind blows, started boasting of his “20 years of friendship” with the president. He decorated Trump with the Order of Excellence during his visit to Georgia in 2012. “New America was built by [Trump]” declared Saakashvili in 2012, during the meeting. “You’re a big man outside this area, believe me”, <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=24684" target="_blank">responded The Donald</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Trump and Saakashvili’s speeches echoed each other, but Georgia’s former president had less reason to be festive</p><p>Despite similarities in rhetoric, Saakashvili had less reason to be festive. After all, this wasn’t a celebration of his electoral breakthrough; UNM, Georgia’s ruling party in 2004-2012, won just 27% of the vote in the 2016 parliamentary elections, securing 27 mandates out of 150. Nor was this speech his confirmation as party chairman; after losing Georgian citizenship in late 2015, Saakashvili was deprived of the right to officially chair a political party in Georgia. Since then, he’s been UNM’s figurehead-in-absentia, while simultaneously building&nbsp;<a href="http://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-saakashvili-new-political-party/28110449.html" target="_blank">a new force in Ukraine’s parliamentary opposition</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Instead, Saakashvili’s conference call came slightly over a week after several party heavyweights, including Davit Bakradze, Giga Bokeria and <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/regis-gente/in-georgia-justice-delayed-is-justice-denied" target="_blank">recently freed former Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava</a>, as well as the majority of UNM lawmakers quit the party. They announced the start of a new political movement under the name of the European Georgia, reducing UNM’s parliamentary representation to only six MPs. That was a near thing, too – had lawmaker Azer Suleymanov not decided to remain with the pro-Misha faction at the last moment, the UNM couldn’t have formed a parliamentary faction at all.</p><p>This wasn’t the first time the UNM has lost members of parliament; almost 20 lawmakers left in 2012; more defected in 2015 and 2016.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Despite its seeming insignificance, the UNM convention will inevitably affect the overall state of Georgian democracy. Not only did Saakashvili formalise his victory in the four-month-long tensions with UNM’s Tbilisi-based leadership, he also secured the allegiance of the party’s grassroots, and hence, a free hand to run party affairs with a less compromising pool of leaders, signaling the beginning of the party’s transformation to a more vocal, protest-oriented movement.</p><h2>No calm after the storm<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>Despite some allegations of unlawful campaigning and several cases of violence, Georgia’s 2016 parliamentary contest was mostly peaceful, competitive and well-administered. Fundamental freedoms were generally observed; contestants were able to campaign freely and voters could choose from a wide range of competitors.</p><p>Its consequences, however, are worrying. The hopes for a multi-party parliament have been effectively dashed. The incumbent Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia garnered 49% of votes in the nationwide party-list contest and won the absolute majority of single-seat electoral districts, claiming a constitutional majority of 113 seats in the parliament (GDDG is represented by 115 MPs), a considerable step backwards from the diversity and balance of the previous configuration in parliament. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Saakashvili called for a radical opposition to the Georgian Dream government; UNM’s Tbilisi-based leadership favoured a more modest, procedural approach</p><p>The Alliance of Patriots, the Georgian replica of contemporary European right-wing populist parties, has cleared the five percent threshold and obtained six parliamentary mandates, leaving much older and more experienced liberal “third parties” far behind the electoral bar and prompting a fundamental reshuffle on the oppositional spectrum.</p><p>Soon after the elections, Irakli Alasania, leader of the Free Democrats, announced that he would be "temporarily quitting” politics, followed by Davit Usupashvili, the leader of the Republican Party and the former Parliamentary Chairman, who announced that he would be parting ways with the Republicans and starting a new oppositional political force. Operatic bass turned politician Paata Burchuladze, whose State for the People party was considered as a possible third party challenger to the UNM-GDDG duo, won just three and a half percent of the vote, before also leaving politics.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Troubles emerged in the UNM as well. While Saakashvili called for the results to be boycotted, the Tbilisi-based party leadership preferred to enter the parliament and the majoritarian runoffs.</p><h2>A populist victory for the UNM?<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>UNM’s poor performance in the second round of elections has reignited internal party disputes. Disagreements have emerged on a range of issues, from filling the vacant seat of party chairperson to the date and the scale of the 2017 party convention.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The underlying reason for the dispute was much deeper; the conflict between Saakashvili and the Tbilisi-based leaders (Davit Bakradze, Giga Bokeria and Gigi Ugulava) concerned the role of Mikheil Saakashvili in the party and its future strategy. This conflict dates back to late 2013, when Saakashvili left the country for the United States and then for Ukraine, where he served as the governor of Odessa region from May 2015 to November 2016.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Lacking a clear frontrunner, UNM’s Tbilisi-based leadership opted to delegate executive functions to collective party organs, gradually decreasing Saakashvili’s impact on UNM’s everyday decision-making. They also decided to employ a more modest, procedural means for fighting the ruling party, which Saakashvili strongly opposed.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Fieber_Bakradze_Tbilisi.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Fieber_Bakradze_Tbilisi.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Electoral flyers for Davit Bakradze, the UNM’s candidate in 2013’s presidential elections. Saakashvili (in graffiti form) looks up from below. CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>By contrast, Saakashvili favoured radical measures reminiscent of <em>Kmara!</em> (Enough), a UNM-affiliated youth group known for its frequent street rallies prior to the 2003 Rose Revolution. This was seen in his aggressive rhetoric before the parliamentary elections, his vows to return to Georgia after the elections, even though he is wanted on multiple charges, and his preference for boycotting the runoff polls. Despite disagreement, Saakashvili chose to avoid open confrontation with the Bakradze-Bokeria-Ugulava group before the parliamentary elections.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The runoff polls presented him with an opportunity, and Saakashvili cleverly played on the resentment of UNM voters, accusing “the party bureaucracy” of failing to “defend the votes”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>UNM’s decision on November 30 to conduct the convention with 7,000 delegates, as Saakashvili wanted, did not end the crisis. The sides continued trading accusations. The conflict was particularly felt in social networks, where Saakashvili-sympathisers challenged their numerically fewer opponents, accusing them of trying to distance the party from Mikheil Saakashvili and its grassroots.</p><p>As UNM approached the convention, Saakashvili’s rhetoric shifted to the right. He spoke of returning the party to “the people” and transforming UNM from “an instrument of certain political groups” to the “party of the broad public” (<a href="https://www.facebook.com/notes/mikheil-saakashvili/გადაჯგუფება-ნიშნავს-განახლებას-მეტ-ჩართულობას-და-ყველაფრისთვის-თავისი-სახელის-და/1336510426379335" target="_blank">link in Georgian</a>). On 12 January, commenting on the departure of some of the party leaders, he went so far as to say that “in the future, [we must] adopt a law that would allow the voters to recall MPs if they deceive them.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>The cost of a schism</h2><p>UNM’s split will inevitably have an impact on the overall state of Georgian democracy. With the absence of a resilient and integral parliamentary counterweight, the GD-DG government might be tempted to abuse its constitutional majority and leave Georgia’s nascent institutional democracy in a highly vulnerable state. Georgians are watching with interest after GD-DG announced constitutional reforms.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Moreover, Mikheil Saakashvili’s victory in the UNM party dispute reflects how Georgia’s messianic, highly personalised political culture is strengthening. It seems that for many UNM activists and voters, Saakashvili remains the party’s uncontested leader, whose return to power is highly sought. <br /><span class="mag-quote-center">A fractured UNM could be another obstacle to opposing the Georgian Dream government; newly buoyed by reelection and planning constitutional reform</span></p><p>Saakashvili’s post-election rhetoric is worrying as well; it signals the UNM’s possible transformation into a radical, protest-oriented movement, the leader of which, is ready to extract electoral gains through a populist agenda. With the exception of Nika Melia, there are few political heavyweights among the pro-Saakashvili parliamentarians. Saakashvili is the only name likely to draw a crowd. Indeed, that may be the idea.</p><p>The two groups has already incurred the electoral cost of their division. In the National Democratic Institute’s <a href="http://dfwatch.net/georgias-ruling-party-bounces-in-first-post-election-poll-47348" target="_blank">latest opinion poll</a>, fielded in November and released in January, at the height of the dispute, only ten percent (down from 15% in June) named UNM as “the party closest” to them, compared to GD-DG’s 40% (up from 19% in June).<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>This will come back to bite European Georgia, whose constituency has never been as stable as that of Mikheil Saakashvili. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-pomerantsev/polyphonic-president" target="_blank">Saakashvili’s image</a> as a politician who “gets things done” draws strong loyalty in traditional UNM strongholds in the regions of Georgia. That Saakashvili-sympathisers dominated the party’s regional leaders and grassroots activists, while his critics mostly comprised the Tbilisi-based leadership, speaks to a possible rural-urban divide between UNM and European Georgia supporters.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Presidential_Palace_Saakashvili.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Presidential_Palace_Saakashvili.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="273" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Georgia’s presidential palace by night, as seen from Old Tbilisi. CC-by-SA-2.0: Jagermesh / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></span></p><p>Not only has the split reduced and fragmented the pool of stable UNM supporters, it has also pushed away the potential voters. The defeat of liberal third parties in Georgia’s parliamentary elections should have opened up the space for widening the party’s electoral base, but the dispute produced the opposite; GD-DG support has consolidated, while UNM’s dwindled.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Whether European Georgia can establish itself as a credible political party remains to be seen. The group has a good starting position as it holds the status of parliamentary minority and commands two parliamentary factions, as well as several leading party officials. It also embraces political newcomers, a much-needed break from the negative associations that have haunted UNM for the last few electoral cycles. They are also outspoken on the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/georgia-through-glass-darkly" target="_blank">negative legacies</a> of Saakashvili’s time in office, giving them a shot at winning the non-UNM oppositional vote.</p><p>But despite their tactical and rhetorical differences, and their different appraisals of Saakashvili’s rule, the two groups stand on a broadly similar ideological platform. On the economy, both favour small government and lower taxes. On social issues, both are moderately liberal. On foreign policy, both are pro-EU and NATO membership and hawkish on Russia. European Georgia has filed for observer status of the European People’s Party, just like the UNM.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>As European Georgia and what remains of the UNM redefine their new images, they will have to distance from each other meaningfully (more so the Ugulava-Bokeria-Bakradze group) as they get closer to the Municipal Elections in October, 2017.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>And all the while, Georgian politics remains caught in its cycle of saviours, and of schisms.</p><p><strong><em>Over 25 years have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Find out more about where Georgia and its neighbours could be headed in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus" target="_blank">Georgi Derluguian’s essay on the state of the south Caucasus</a>.</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/making-do-with-crew">Making do with the crew</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety">Georgia’s politics of piety</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tornike Zurabashvili Georgia Thu, 26 Jan 2017 12:51:56 +0000 Tornike Zurabashvili 108374 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fighting back against Georgia’s war on drugs https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamar-papalashvili/fighting-back-against-georgia-s-war-on-drugs <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Georgia’s draconian laws against narcotics are in the spotlight, as activists take to the streets and demand an end to the criminalisation of drug users.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Mammadov_Drugs_Tbilisi_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Mammadov_Drugs_Tbilisi_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="276" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A protest held by the White Noise Movement in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, 10 December 2016. Photo courtesy of Guram Muradov and photoessay.ge. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>There are angry crowds in Tbilisi again. On International Human Rights Day (10 December), protesters gathered outside Georgia’s parliament building to call on the government to “decriminalise!”. The event <a href="http://dfwatch.net/protest-for-drug-liberalization-leads-to-detentions-in-tbilisi-46879">ended in a confrontation with the police</a>, as protesters obstructed the main road. Nobody doubts that protests will continue; Georgia is fighting a war on drugs, and activists of the White Noise Movement are on the front line.&nbsp;</p> <p>The decriminalisation of marijuana, among other illicit drugs, has been a real issue in Georgian politics since 2011. The country has a particularly repressive no-tolerance policy towards all drug users, which has endured (with a few changes) since the Soviet period.</p><p>While Georgia’s anti-drug activists seek the decriminalisation of all narcotics, marijuana is a particularly good example of the brutality and pointlessness of Tbilisi’s no-tolerance policy. After all, across the world, governments are beginning to legalise it. In Georgia, its users are hit with a prison sentence.</p> <p>It’s hit the headlines, too. On 8 August, Demur Sturua, a 22-year old man from the western Samtredia region, committed suicide. In his last letter, Sturua accused local police inspector Godzeri Tevzadze of threatening him with arrest if he did not reveal who was growing marijuana in the local area. Sturua had received a suspended sentence for theft and, terrified that he might actually be sentenced for it if he did not cooperate, took his own life. Soon afterwards, activists clashed with police in Samtredia, accusing Georgia’s drug policy of <a href="http://dfwatch.net/protesters-blame-georgias-drug-policy-for-young-mans-suicide-44759">driving Sturua to suicide</a>. A criminal case has been opened, and continues to this day.
&nbsp;</p> <p>Last year witnessed the death of another victim. On 17 June 2015, <a href="http://www.humanrights.ge/index.php?a=main&amp;pid=18330&amp;lang=eng">Levan Abzianidze</a>, a taxi driver from Kutaisi, was detained and taken to a police station to undergo drug tests. He was unable to provide a urine sample on demand, but police took no chances. They made him take one diuretic pill, and then another, to speed up the process. Abzianidze’s test was negative. The 56-year old man, who had suffered health problems, died before he reached home. Police deny that they gave him any medication, and this criminal case is also ongoing.</p> <p>It’s common practice for Georgia’s police to stop young men at random, forcing them to provide urine samples and undergo drug tests. There needn’t be any grounds for suspicion. Abzianidze and Sturua are just two victims’ stories — there are many more.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Civilisation is in the eye of the beholder</strong></h2> <p>Today, many developed, democratic countries realise that a no-tolerance policy towards drugs doesn’t work. In November 2016, the Global Commission on Drug Policy <a href="http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/GCDP-Report-2016-ENGLISH.pdf">released a report</a> entitled “A New Approach to Decriminalisation”. Its authors note that “a punitive approach to drug control fundamentally undermines the relationship between the individual and the state, with so many of its citizens in breach of illogical drug laws.”
</p> <p>Nevertheless, a majority of states still insist on pursuing less realistic objectives laid out in international agreements on drugs. They yearn for a “world free of drugs” and a “world free of drug abuse”. Such goals are not only naive — they’re dangerous. &nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Stricter prohibitions have had virtually no impact on drug consumption: from 2006 to 2013, the estimated number of drug users has increased by nearly 20%<span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p>They’re naive because stricter prohibitions have had virtually no impact on drug consumption: from 2006 to 2013, the estimated number of drug users has increased by nearly 20%, to some 246m people worldwide. They’re dangerous because they fuel a level of mass incarceration and use of punishment contrary to international law, driving the spread of infectious diseases and contributing to the violation of human rights of drug users. Prohibitionism has indirectly led to the deaths of nearly 200,000 people worldwide every year from drug use. “National governments should urgently free themselves from the constraints of this anarchic system of prohibition,” the report concludes.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Demir_Sturua.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Demir_Sturua.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A casualty of Georgia’s punitive drugs policy: 22-year old Demur Sturua from Samtredia, western Georgia. Image still via Maestro TV / Youtube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p>The acquisition or use of small doses of drugs, including marijuana, is punishable under current Georgian law as an administrative offence. This carries a fine of up to 500 lari (£149). Possession of drugs with intent to sell carries criminal liability, as does possession or use if you’re caught twice in a 12-month period. 
&nbsp;</p> <p>Girchi, a new political party founded in 2015, has consistently fought against Georgia’s draconian anti-drug laws. This struggle forms one part of its broader libertarian platform. Party chairman Zurab Japaridze told me that police make around 50,000 people undergo drug tests in Georgia every year. Given that testing one litre of urine costs around 6,000 lari (£1,800), this means that the state is spending 15-18 million lari annually on the process. To put it into perspective, Japaridze tells me, annual funding for the presidential administration stands at around nine million lari (£2.7m).&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It’s widely believed that Georgia’s Interior Ministry is deliberately stalling any moves towards decriminalising drugs</p> <p>It should be mentioned that 70% of drug tests show a negative result, and the remaining 30% of positive results can often be dubious. But the government continues to spend away,
and Girchi’s party chairman believes that if marijuana is legalised, Georgia’s economy could grow by around three billion lari, and the budget by one billion.
“This money could then be spent on educational campaigns against drug use in schools and improving medical care and rehabilitation for drug addicts,” says Japaridze. 
<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <h2><strong>Fierce opposition</strong><strong>&nbsp;</strong></h2> <p>Many Georgian politicians, representatives of NGOs and experts in drug policy are opposed to jail sentences for drug use. In October 2015, Georgia’s constitutional court ruled against imprisonment for the acquisition or possession of over 70 grams of marijuana for personal use.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the legislation remains unchanged. It’s widely believed that Georgia’s Interior Ministry is deliberately stalling any moves towards decriminalising marijuana and other drugs. This resistance is connected with the agency’s working practices: it’s often much easier to send a criminal to jail for drug use than it is to actually investigate the crime. It’s a tradition stretching back to Soviet times.</p> <p>In fact, many practices of Georgia’s repressive anti-drugs policy have practically gone unchanged since then. The chaos and corruption of Eduard Shevardnadze’s rule (1995-2003), the no-tolerance policy of Mikheil Saakashvili (2004-2013), nor the pale imitation of humanitarianism under today’s ruling Georgian Dream coalition have improved the condition of drug users. Perhaps the only recent positive development is that hospitals are no longer required to contact the police if they receive a patient suffering from an overdose.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, by arresting a drug user, Georgian law enforcement may find a “bigger fish”. They force the user to become an informant, and they then identify other users and dealers. As Demur Sturua’s case shows, this practice costs lives — some people simply refuse to play along. The interior ministry stresses that Georgia is not ready for radical reforms. But the law enforcement agencies give the impression that they’re the ones unwilling to change. David Subeliani, one of the leaders of the <a href="http://wnm.ge/index.php">White Noise movement</a>, which seeks decriminalisation of all drugs, tells me that the Interior Ministry doesn’t want to lose its influence over drug policy. 
</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/vemxroba_dekriminalizacia.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/vemxroba_dekriminalizacia.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Embrace decriminalisation!” reads this poster outside Georgia’s parliament building. Image courtesy of the White Noise Movement / Facebook.</span></span></span></p> <p>White Noise, which organised the 10 December protests in Tbilisi, opposes what it describes as Georgia’s inhumane policy towards drug users. Founded in 2015, it participates in the Georgian national platform for drug politics, along with 33 NGOs which also oppose the state’s punitive approach.&nbsp;</p> <p>“As a result of criminalising all drug use — including users and cultivators of marijuana — the number of recorded and solved crimes rise,” explains Subeliani. “Thanks to fines and procedural expenses, there’s more money in their budget.” In a sense, Subeliani believes that rank and file police officers are themselves victims of the state’s harsh anti-narcotics policy.</p> <h2>Facing stigma</h2> <p>In 2016 alone, 1,700 people have been arrested in Georgia for drug use. Doctor Zurab Sikharulidze of the Uranti addiction treatment centre in Tbilisi believes that a punitive narcotics policy permits further methods of social and political control. “Parliament should change the law for the common good, but deputies are afraid of taking on any responsibility for doing so,” Dr Sikharulidz tells me. 
&nbsp;</p> <p>The Georgian government isn’t above using drug addicts in the pre-electoral period to guarantee itself a few extra votes. This usually concerns drug users on probation, the vast majority of whom are unemployed. They’re also deprived of several important rights, such as driving a car or being able to leave the country. Highly stigmatised in Georgian society, drug users are even refused entry to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/for-tbilisi-s-squatters-things-must-change">shelters for the homeless</a>. Young people who are imprisoned for drug use rarely leave jail with a good chance at earning a living — they’re not good boys or good girls any longer.
&nbsp;</p> <p>Opponents of decriminalisation have their own mantra — they claim about future generations and the quality of the national gene pool. But their concern has resulted in the rising use of over-the-counter narcotics from pharmacies, or dangerous synthetic drugs.
“Our society is trapped in a vicious circle,” sighs Dr Sikharulidze. “A repressive drugs policy leads to further use in pharmaceutical or synthetic drugs, which leads to further imprisonments, which in turn justify a repressive drugs policy”. “We have to face up to the fact that we have drug users, much like we have alcoholics or compulsive gamblers. These people have a problem, and they need our help, not punishment,” he continues.&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Repression and fear can always achieve immediate results. But in the long term, such policies are utterly pointless&nbsp;</p> <p>Girchi chairman Zurab Japaridze adds that, alongside increased abuse of pharmaceutical drugs, other negative effects of a punitive drugs policy are sexually transmitted diseases and Hepatitis C. Many drug addicts are afraid to buy fresh needles, as they may be detained outside pharmacies by the police. This encourages the repeated use and share of the same needles. The current government is very proud of its programme to eliminate Hepatitis C. Yet this too is undermined by its punitive drugs policy — for 70% of people being treated are intravenous drug users.&nbsp;</p> <p>David Subeliani raises one very sad statistic: over the past two years, the number of drug users in Georgia who suffer from serious addiction has risen from 45,000 to 50,000. It’s clear that the authorities do not want to look facts in the face.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Japardize_Marijuana.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Japardize_Marijuana.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="293" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Japaridze and his colleagues from Girchi announce their ultimatum to the Georgian authorities on marijuana legalisation. Image still via Girchi / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />In those countries which have decriminalised drug use, not only have the number of addicts declined — so has the number of HIV-positive people. 
Portugal decriminalised the personal possession of all drugs in 2001, although it remains an administrative offence to own more than a ten-day supply of any narcotic. Following this policy’s introduction, the number of annual drug-related crimes fell from around 14,000 in 2000 to around 5,000-5,500 in years since.&nbsp;</p> <p>After decriminalisation of cannabis possession in Jamaica in 2015, the number of arrests for crimes linked to the drug fell by approximately 1,000 every month. According to some forecasts, around 15,000 fewer criminal cases will burden the police and justice system.
Research also shows that decriminalisation of cannabis in Australia has shown a significant effect on decreasing recidivism among drug users.
In December 2013, the US state of Colorado legalised the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes. According to the state authorities, the number of violent crimes in 2014 decreased by two percent, and the number of burglaries by 9.5%, compared to 2013.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Japaridze and colleagues announce that if no steps are taken towards its legalisation, they’ll plant marijuana in their party offices&nbsp;</p> <p>Research published in <em>Scientific Reports</em> journal <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311234/" target="_blank">shows</a> that the risk of death from regular use of marijuana is 114 times lower than comparable levels of alcohol use, and around 20 times lower than smoking tobacco. A punitive drugs policy can also lead to corruption, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry. A punitive drugs policy aids the rise of drug-related crime. And a punitive drug policy has shown itself to be just as ineffective and unjustifiable as the death sentence. As the Global Commission on Drug Policy’s report concludes, millions of people across the world use drugs without posing a threat to anybody else. The evidence against punitive drug policies is overwhelming, and there must be no penalties for low-level drug possession and consumption.</p> <p>After Girchi’s unsuccessful attempt to push a bill through parliament that would abolish imprisonment for drug use and reduce penalties for purchasing, possessing or processing marijuana in small quantities, the party took matters into their own hands. Zurab Japaridze and his colleagues have announced that if no steps are taken towards its legalisation, they will plant marijuana in their party offices on 31 December.</p> <p>“We are aware that this violates the law, but this is our fight for political liberties,” Japaradize told <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/en/story/114615-girchi-to-plant-marijuana-in-office-headquarters-on-new-years-eve"><em>Tabula</em></a>. “The authorities haven’t given us another choice.”
 For this act, they could face a prison sentence of six to 12 years. Such are today’s realities.&nbsp;</p> <p>Repression and fear can always achieve immediate results. But in the long term, such policies are utterly pointless. I very much hope that Georgia’s leaders find the will to overcome their retrograde approach to drug use — making the lives of thousands of people safer and more dignified.</p> <p><em>Translated from Russian by Maxim Edwards.<br /><br />Editor’s note: this article has been revised after consultation with the White Noise Movement&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/for-tbilisi-s-squatters-things-must-change">For Tbilisi’s squatters, things must change</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst">Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/isabelle-magkoeva/we-ll-be-living-with-this-for-long-time">We’ll be living with this for a long time</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-akhmedova/snap-goes-crocodile">Snap goes the Crocodile</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tamar Papalashvili Human rights Health Georgia Caucasus Thu, 15 Dec 2016 12:59:52 +0000 Tamar Papalashvili 107700 at https://www.opendemocracy.net For Tbilisi’s squatters, things must change https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/for-tbilisi-s-squatters-things-must-change <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">Georgia's approach to homelessness is beset by myths and myopia. If the authorities are serious about tackling social exclusion, they have to move on from the carrot and the stick.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aptsiauri-Tbilisi03.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aptsiauri-Tbilisi03.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Georgian state all too often fails to address underlying causes of homelessness. People like these residents of a Tbilisi squat will continue to suffer from social exclusion and marginality. (c) Sopo Aptsiauri. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“I have lived in an abandoned basement, which used to be a mortuary. How can I be scared of prison if I am threatened with imprisonment?” Nata, a widow and a single mother, has been squatting in Tbilisi’s old Cardiological Institute for four years. “They want to believe in your immorality,” she tells me, “but can’t admit your hardship and accept the truth.”</p> <p class="normal">Tbilisi’s Cardiological Institute, a single Soviet building without basic communications, sewage system, thermal insulation or elevator, is one among hundreds of abandoned city buildings which have been used as dwellings in recent years. While the Georgian state has limited its assistance to the people residing in these buildings to providing small amounts of firewood during winter, it has sought to restrict any attempts by Tbilisi’s squatters to improve their living conditions. Crucially, it has penalised them by abolishing subsistence allowances for poor households. The authorities believe the city’s homeless wish to legalise possession of occupied spaces, though squatters, on the whole, do not intend to do so.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">What’s lost here is the understanding that homelessness isn’t just about ownership of space</span></p> <p class="normal">A week before <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/big-trouble-in-little-georgia">Georgia’s parliamentary elections this month</a>, Tbilisi city authorities announced some good news — an <a href="http://liberali.ge/news/view/24703/meria-usakhlkaroebs-shenobashi-eleqtroenergiis-sheyvanas-dahpirda">electricity hook-up for the people squatting in the Cardiological Institute</a>. But whether the authorities try to employ the carrot or the stick, Georgia’s homeless remain unhoused.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">When I interviewed Nata a few months ago, she claimed that squatters would organise and attack the polling stations if the state didn’t find a solution to their housing problem. Their desperation is critical, but rather than perceiving it as a threat to public order, we should be alarmed by the lives of those approaching the fifth winter in a row as homeless.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Treating homelessness or buying off social unrest?</h2> <p class="normal">Since the early 1990s and the 2008 war with Russia, Georgia has had <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees</a>. But there is more to Georgia’s homelessness problem than this.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Special reports by Georgia’s Public Defender, as well as different publications by the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), point out that there are 401 squatted buildings in Tbilisi alone, with around 10,000 homeless families living in them.</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Squat19.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A police officers hears a complaint - the Georgian state isn't always so willing to listen. (c) Sopho Aptsiauri. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In addition, there are thousands of undocumented street dwellers and the so-called “hidden homeless” who are repressed by the state under the presumption (or rather, the myth) that these people are homeless <em>voluntarily</em>. It is also commonly believed that homeless are only a minority group or rural migrants who have a place to live in their home villages.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">By taking only repressive or only palliative measures towards Georgia’s homeless population, the state is, in effect, waging war against its neediest citizens and assisting them only with the purpose of “buying off” social unrest. Meanwhile, homelessness is being continuously reproduced in Tbilisi and elsewhere around Georgia on the structural, institutional or family level. &nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Between rooflessness and inadequate housing</strong></h2> <p class="normal">Generally, homeless and poverty-stricken families in Georgia have two options, neither of them enviable — they can either squat in abandoned buildings or live on the streets. For people with disabilities, the elderly or children from foster care, the only alternative is to be admitted into a medical or residential care institution.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Political discourse rarely takes into account the full range of guarantees concerning housing. For the authorities, homelessness is solely a manifestation of economic poverty or a reflection of Georgia’s low per capita incomes.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">To make matters worse, no statistical data is recorded about Georgia’s homeless, including those sleeping rough&nbsp;</span></p><p class="normal">What’s lost here is the understanding that homelessness isn’t just about ownership of space. In their understanding of housing as solely a material commodity for the homeless, the Georgian authorities overlook other pressing questions. This is their catch-all solution to a range of complex social problems, from political marginality to employment skills and social integration.</p> <p class="normal">Homelessness is a broader problem than many would admit. Crucially, it’s about social exclusion and barriers to access and stigma. Alongside low per capita incomes, this kind of marginality is a determining cause of homelessness, and continues to deny people social protection when they no longer have anywhere to live.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Squat05.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Squat05.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Approaches to homelessness are hindered by a lack of detailed data. (c) Sopo Aptsiauri. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><a href="http://www.feantsa.org/spip.php?article120">The European Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion</a> distinguishes seven theoretical categories of homelessness and housing exclusion.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">“Rooflessness” usually involves exclusion of all three domains (physical, legal and social). Unsurprisingly, it’s the most visible form of homelessness. But people living in insecure or inadequate housing, or who are otherwise socially isolated, tend to be classified as homeless groups. These people go unmentioned in Georgia’s public discussion on homelessness.</p> <p class="normal">To make matters worse, no statistical data is recorded about Georgia’s homeless, including those sleeping rough. As a result, there is no database to document people’s needs.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Splitting social needs from housing needs</h2> <p class="normal">The tendency to separate housing needs from other social factors can have unfortunate effects. Under the current system, special needs exclude people from housing assistance. Evidently, this is what determines homelessness in many cases, or excludes people from adequate housing.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Thus, a homeless person with disabilities can’t be admitted to a night shelter in Georgia on the grounds that the shelter administration can’t provide appropriate care. On the other hand, Georgia’s social assistance mechanisms for people with special needs disregard the need for housing. The latter implies the risk of permanent segregation based on medical and care needs inside respective institutions, and limit these people’s opportunities to graduate from homelessness independently.&nbsp;<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Squat10.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Squat10.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The long way home. (c) Sopho Aptsiauri. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>For example, psycho-social disorders among homeless persons can result in life inside medical institutions for an indefinite period of time. After being discharged from medical institutions, these persons are likely to end up in boarding houses for persons with disabilities or on the streets. As the boarding houses are closed institutions in remote rural or suburban areas, it rarely is a housing alternative.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Housing conditions also determine access to social assistance, and rarely for the better. Living and sleeping rough in Tbilisi, for example, prevents people from being admitted to social assistance programmes. Regardless of being the neediest among poverty-stricken groups, the lack of a fixed dwelling prevents homeless persons from registering for and receiving benefits via Georgia’s state social assistance programs — whether universal or targeted.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Housing services and lack of participatory growth&nbsp;</h2> <p class="normal">It is also a problem that unlike the groups who are excluded from housing assistances, people who “qualify” for housing services are constantly put at the risk of agreeing to graver exclusionary processes being imposed on them. Service beneficiaries are not encouraged towards transforming their disadvantaged positioning, growing and participating in development.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Social programmes aimed at satisfying housing as only a material need (and disregard its social and legal dimensions) are counterproductive, and reduce the chances of transforming people’s housing conditions. These programmes produce services that are one-time or temporal and fail to be transitory assistances, and also bear the risks of entrenching inequalities, generating vulnerabilities, exploitation, marginalisation and under-representation itself.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Aptsiauri-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Aptsiauri-2.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A pensioner sits in a Tbilisi squat, 2016. (c) Sopo Aptsiauri. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In December 2015, the Tbilisi municipality opened a modern<a href="http://www.palitratv.ge/palitranewsnews/67104-rogoria-thavshesafari-romelsac-thbilisis-meria-miusafar-moqalaqeebs-droebith-sthavazobs.html"> </a><a href="http://www.palitratv.ge/palitranewsnews/67104-rogoria-thavshesafari-romelsac-thbilisis-meria-miusafar-moqalaqeebs-droebith-sthavazobs.html">facility for homeless people</a>. At the same time, they demolished<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phsepyM4cxE"> </a><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phsepyM4cxE">state-provisioned tents for the homeless located on Moscow Avenue</a> in a city suburb. Unlike the unlimited and unregulated tent provisioning, Lilo Shelter, located in Didi Lilo district a few kilometres from the capital, represents an institutional housing service to homeless residents for 10 to 18 months.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">By relocating this new shelter away from the urban centre, the authorities prevented the people they were supposed to help from participating in the labour market. Additionally, by providing temporary refuge to individuals only, the Lilo Shelter programme contributes to the separation of families.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">Moreover, beneficiaries are eligible to become full-time residents of the shelter with the obligation to comply with the specific regulations of habitation there. This design discourages many chronic street dwellers from abandoning their livelihood strategies in exchange for temporary housing. Without providing guarantees on transitioning into different housing condition, there is a risk that a record of shelter residence will result in “ghettoisation” for some people, leading to stigmatisation and reducing their chances of graduating from poverty.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><span class="mag-quote-center">Assumptions that the homeless are self-sufficient in escaping their predicament ignore how homelessness is embedded in social and legal processes in Georgia&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="normal">Long-term housing assistance schemes currently operating in Georgia are also blind to the need to eradicate social exclusion. There have been municipal level monetary-assistance programmes that provide allowances to the poorest households in order to rent apartments in Tbilisi (in cases of natural disasters or extreme poverty) and buy them in cases of conflict-related displacement.&nbsp;</p> <p class="normal">But unluckily for the beneficiaries, rent assistance ceases when the financial resources expire, as if they were donations and families were not fully dependent on it. Municipalities have no records of homeless people’s needs or capabilities and can’t claim that the discharge of beneficiaries from the programme happens on the grounds of targeting the neediest or accessing housing condition of its beneficiaries.</p><p class="normal">What is worse, in case of both type of the assistances, the amount of monetary allowances are fixed, small and not determined by the size of the household, or its needs. This is a challenge when the beneficiary is responsible for finding housing on the real estate market where prices change. That is why many of the recipients have ended up satisfying household consumable needs, rather than using the money for housing.</p><p class="normal">Essentially, Georgia’s housing assistance to its homeless population consists of alleviation programmes. These are conceived as temporary measures — the presumption is that beneficiaries’ need for them will diminish over time. But autarky and autonomy are very different things.</p> <p class="normal">The more we assume that homeless persons are self-sufficient in escaping homelessness, the more we will continue to ignore how homelessness is embedded in social and legal processes in Georgia and beyond.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"> “Once the elections are over,” concludes Nata, “politicians hibernate like bears in their dens.” Meanwhile, she and her fellow squatters continue their struggle for recognition.&nbsp;</p><p class="normal"><em>We are grateful to Sopho Aptsiauri for permission to use these images. &nbsp;</em></p><p class="normal"><em>This month, <a href="https://emc.org.ge/">EMC Tbilisi</a>&nbsp;releases its report&nbsp;"Homelessness: an analysis of state policies". Contact the centre or the author for more details.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/ukraine-s-ministry-of-internal-hatred">Ukraine’s ministry of internal hatred</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/islam-tekushev/unlikely-home">An unlikely home</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst">Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tatuli Chubabria Georgia Fri, 21 Oct 2016 16:36:41 +0000 Tatuli Chubabria 106126 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A massive new construction project overlooking Georgia’s capital reveals the true extent of an oligarch’s grip on politics — and Tbilisi’s struggle to become a city for all its people.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00985331.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00985331.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The man in the high castle. Bidzina Ivanishvili’s residence overlooks old Tbilisi. (c) Besik Pipia / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Bidzina Ivanishvili is Georgia’s richest man — and <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/juliaioffe/2012/03/07/nobody-is-bigger-than-bidzina/#1ecfbbb83374">probably its most powerful</a>. Since taking (and leaving) the post of prime minister in 2012-2013, Ivanishvili has remained influential behind the scenes. It’s an accusation the businessman has always denied, stating that he merely enjoys the trust of the public and politicians.</p><p>Ivanishvili, who bankrolled the opposition into power in 2012, has had Georgia’s parliament in his sights for a while. In fact, he wakes up to it every morning — the oligarch resides in a glass mansion overlooking the Georgian capital. The construction of this villa began during the 1990s, under Eduard Shevardnadze. For most people, this was a dark time: one of corruption, crumbling infrastructure and severe shortages. But some people thrived.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Ivanishvili has had Georgia’s parliament in his sights for a while. In fact, he wakes up to it every morning</p><p>In 2003, Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in the Rose Revolution, toppling Shevardnadze’s corrupt government. This caused a problem for the man in the glass house — Ivanishvili’s mansion was not quite legal. The construction permit should never have been issued, as the house is located in a heritage and landscape preservation area. Nevertheless, Ivanishvili found a common language with the new authorities. He became a major sponsor, supporting many infrastructural projects and the reorganisation of the police, among other initiatives. The problem around his glass palace (complete with private zoo and art collection) was soon resolved.&nbsp;</p><p>But Ivanishvili has another. His new glass palace is on another scale, as is the opposition to it. Tbilisi now awaits a new luxury complex, containing a hotel, business centre and conference halls — Panorama.</p><h2>You can vote him in, but you can’t vote him out</h2><p>Tbilisi first learnt about Panorama after Ivanishvili’s resignation in 2013. It’s an elite business centre with conference halls, a seven star hotel and a golf course. Its scale is truly staggering: it’s been described as <a href="http://www.transparency.ge/en/node/4279" target="_blank">the largest real estate development in the country’s history</a>.&nbsp;The chairman of Co-investment Fund board, Irakli Karseladze, stated in May 2016 that the total investment in the fund’s eight projects is approximately $574m. Panorama is the biggest of these.</p><p>The entire complex will have eight floors and sit atop another hill, just behind Bidzina Ivanishvili’s glass palace. Preparatory construction works by Burji, a company owned by Ivanishvili, are now underway. The land slated for development was owned by Finservice, another of Ivanishvili’s companies which specialises in timber export. Finservice later sold the land to Co-Investment Fund, of which Ivanishvili is the biggest shareholder.&nbsp;<br /><br /><iframe frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QT4zIyW2x0M" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>Check out this video of the proposed project.</em><br /> <br />Panorama will do more than overlook Tbilisi. Ivanishvili wants to connect it to the city centre via two cable cars — one to the central Freedom Square, and another to Erekle Square in the oldest part of town. One justification is practical: Panorama would otherwise be accessed only via a narrow mountain road that links Tbilisi to its surrounding villages, which is easily congested. But there’s also money to be made. Both sites for proposed cable car stations belong to Ivanishvili’s Co-Investment Fund.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, Tbilisi’s old city, founded in the fifth century, belongs to a Historic Preservation Zone, which strictly regulates new developments in order to preserve the historic atmosphere. Getting planning permission is usually a long process — unless you’ve got connections. After the Rose Revolution, the land for Bidzina’s palace lost its protected status. It was a way of saying thanks. Yet the site for Panorama is still within this protected zone, where new construction is prohibited by law.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Experts say that Panorama could seriously jeopardise Old Tbilisi’s tentative status as a UNESCO world heritage site</p><p>The Panorama project violates regulations both on historic and natural landscape preservation. Half-hearted attempts to make it comply with the latter are no less damaging — in a pale imitation of the surrounding mountains, the building will resemble a hilltop. The natural beauty it will replace is already being torn up to make room.</p><h2>Moving mountains...</h2><p>Under Saakashvili, plans were developed to reopen an old Soviet cable car system linking Rustaveli Avenue to the Mtatsminda mountain, where Tbilisi’s TV tower stands. The city-side station was planned on the other side of Rustaveli Avenue, on a big square, and the cable car would cross the city’s main avenue. Mass protests under both Saakashvili and Georgian Dream led the city administration to cancel the project. This time, the protests go on — but the authorities aren’t listening.</p><p>Several international organisations working in the field of cultural heritage have signed an <a href="http://www.ertad.org/letters--press-releases.html" target="_blank">open letter</a> against the construction of Panorama. Moreover, experts say that Panorama could seriously <a href="http://jam-news.net/Publication/Get/en-US/156" target="_blank">jeopardise Old Tbilisi’s tentative status as a UNESCO world heritage site</a>. Speaking in a television interview in September 2015, Tbilisi mayor David Narmania insisted that the project will benefit the city, adding that international organisations who protested were simply misinformed.&nbsp;</p><p>These reactions don’t disturb Ivanishvili in the slightest. In a television interview with G-News from July 2015, he promised that the project would benefit the city, stressing that he would never do anything to harm Tbilisi or its heritage and everything is legal. The protesters, he added, were being manipulated by Saakashvili’s party of power, the UNM. In another interview in June, Ivanishvili refused to answer questions regarding Panorama, saying he already commented on it many times, asking the interviewer to move on to the next topic.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Panorama.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_Panorama.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="248" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Visualisation of the Panorama Project, overlooking old Tbilisi and its botanic gardens. Image still via 2030 Official / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Ivanishvili has been cunning and resourceful. The first legal hurdle for Panorama was to overcome the protected status of the land. The proposed construction area was part of a landscape and recreation zone which originally did not allow any construction, but later had its zoning permissions changed to allow for a hotel and artificial gardens. This vote at Tbilisi’s city council (where Georgian Dream held a majority) took place just before New Year’s eve 2014, and went in Ivanishvili’s favour. The Panorama site is now an enclave within the protected area owned by Ivanishvili’s Co-Investment Fund.&nbsp;</p><p>Next came the construction permit. In an attempt to avoid the city municipality (the mayor and the council are directly elected by citizens) and avoid protests in front of the city hall, Panorama was granted an unprecedented status — “category five”, which is assigned to any crucial state infrastructure, such as hydroelectric dams, energy plants, military bases and pipelines. Now, it would seem, luxury hotels also count.&nbsp;</p><p>Category Five projects do not have to seek municipal approval. Instead, they are overseen by Georgia’s ministry for economic and sustainable development. Oversight was thus shifted from the municipal level to the ministerial, hollowing out all public accountability.</p><h2>...and cutting down trees&nbsp;</h2><p>The Panorama site can only be reached by a narrow, winding road in the hills above Tbilisi, which starts in the historic Sololaki neighbourhood. In summer, Tbilisi residents escape the heat of the city and drive up into the mountains. In its generosity, the Tbilisi municipality announced that it would construct a bypass road to ease access to the villages in the hills above the capital.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">At every step, Panorama has evaded legal procedures</p><p>As the city’s current mayor has shown himself incapable of effective management and decision making, he has been appointed a deputy. For a short time, Davit Liluashvili took on this role, and he just happened to work at Co-Investment Fund, the previously mentioned company owned by Ivanishvili which is behind the development of Panorama. (Indeed, both of Georgia’s prime ministers since Ivanishvili’s resignation, Irakli Garibashvili and Giorgi Kvirikashvili, came from Cartu Bank, which was owned by Ivanishvili.)&nbsp;</p><p>It seems that, though the municipality was so weak in the face of Ivanishvili that it could do nothing to address public outrage on Panorama, even Ivanishvili himself did not trust his protégé mayor David Narmania to carry out his instructions.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/betlemi_hill.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/betlemi_hill.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="260" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Old Tbilisi, as viewed from Betlemi Church. The fate of the area’s many historic buildings has become a cause for concern in recent years. CC: Roberto Strauss / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Thus, several hundred trees were cut down, a gas pipeline was moved and the existing road was widened. At the same time, the auction to sell land adjacent to Panorama was announced. Naturally, the Co-Investment Fund was the only bidder.&nbsp;</p><p>Liluashvili mysteriously resigned, the land was purchased, and construction of a new road to the site of Panorama began. The people of Tbilisi, escaping into the hills during those hot summers, still await their promised new road into the mountains.&nbsp;</p><p>Ivanishvili’s philanthropic work is endless, and he has enjoyed a good reputation among the Georgian public (which proved useful when Saakashvili’s regime became increasingly authoritarian). But how long can this reputation last?&nbsp;</p><h2>A new architecture of protest&nbsp;</h2><p>At every step of the way, Panorama has managed to evade legal procedures, despite opposition to it.&nbsp;</p><p>Architects, urban planners and conservationists were outraged by the immense scale of urban intervention the project envisaged. Ivanishvili was unpleasantly surprised, apparently not expecting much resistance given his reputation as a philanthropist.&nbsp;</p><p>Panorama has galvanised many parts of Tbilisi’s civil society. The protest movement <a href="http://www.ertad.org" target="_blank">Ertad </a>(Geo: “together”), founded in 2015 to unite various activist groups, was one outcome. Ertad members include Tbilisi’s Guerilla Gardeners, who fight to preserve urban green spaces. Its members recently organised a hunger strike in front of the city hall to protest cutting down trees for residential development.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PaNoRama.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PaNoRama.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Putting the “no” into Panorama. Activists from Ertad protest outside the State Chancellery in Tbilisi, April 2016. Photo courtesy of ერთად / Ertad.</span></span></span>Another ally is <a href="http://www.iarepekhit.org" target="_blank">Iare Pekhit</a> (“Walk”), an association which promotes Tbilisi as a walkable city, emphasising pedestrians’ rights and holding the Tbilisi “Ugly city” tours, focusing on architecture and the use and misuse of public space.&nbsp;</p><p>There are more groups active in the struggle against Panorama. Hamqari is a Tbilisi-based NGO involved in the protection of Tbilisi’s cultural heritage, while the youth activists at <a href="http://dfwatch.net/the-economy-isnt-everything-say-georgias-green-activists-25422-28089" target="_blank">Green Fist</a> started out protesting the controversial Khudoni hydroelectric dam.</p><p>In total, around 20 organisations organised a march on 7 May to the Panorama site and Ivanishvili’s residence. Two hundred protesters took part. Several activists were arrested, including Nata Peradze from Guerilla Gardeners, and Alexander Elisashvili, city council member and advocate for heritage. The official reason was resisting to police and disturbing public order.&nbsp;</p><p>Although Ertad’s activists lacked experience and effective organisation, their resistance was a promising example of a united protest against such a large project.&nbsp;</p><h2>Leaving a legacy</h2><p>Georgian Dream prevailed at Georgia’s recent parliamentary elections. It was hardly a rousing endorsement, but enough to hold on to power. However, should the party triumph in the second round of elections this month, it will hold enough seats to amend the constitution, cementing its power even further.</p><p>It’s worth noting that Georgian Dream came to power in 2012 on the back of mass dissatisfaction with Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement. Ivanishvili himself promised a level of democracy unprecedented even for Europe.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">The desire of the powerful to make their mark on our city overrides prior promises of democracy and accountability</span></p><p>Saakashvili had aimed to rapidly modernise the country. Architectural projects were the best means to demonstrate progress. As a result, government initiatives didn’t go through public hearings or reviews, while permits were dispensed by officials who frequently ignored planning considerations.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-16974117.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-16974117.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition ousted Mikheil Saakashvili’s UNM government in 2012. The reclusive billionaire then briefly served as prime minister. (c) Shakh Aivazov / PA / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Panorama is in keeping with this tradition. Ivanishvili has decreed that his project is good and necessary for the people of Tbilisi — not that he ever took their opinion seriously. But there is one important difference. While Saakashvili’s many ad-hoc urban innovations were imposed from above, extremely expensive and of unclear purpose, they were at least public buildings. Ivanishvili’s initiative is a privately-owned complex of truly monstrous proportions.</p><p>Whether it’s Ivanishvili or Saakashvili, the attitudes of the powerful to Georgia’s urban space and its responsible use have not fundamentally changed. The right amendment can always be made, the right permit can always be found, the right people can always be convinced to vote the right way. Those with financial or political influence feel that nobody can stop them. Obsessed with their pet projects, the desire of the powerful to make their mark on our city overrides previous promises of democracy and public accountability.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgia is still looking for leaders with more respect for their voters — voters who want to live in cities in which their voice counts.</p><p><span style="color: #434343;"><em>Amid widespread apathy and corruption, Georgia’s democracy faces all too familiar obstacles. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">Read about them here.</a>&nbsp;</em></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anar-valiyev-natalie-koch/sochi-syndrome">The Sochi Syndrome</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/pawel-wargan/tbilisi-moscow-language-of-architecture">Tbilisi, Moscow: the language of architecture</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/george-nonidze/tbilisi-tearing-down-past">Tbilisi: tearing down the past</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/abkhazia-recognising-ruins">Abkhazia: recognising the ruins</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Irakli Zhvania Green Eurasia Politics Georgia Caucasus Thu, 20 Oct 2016 12:30:18 +0000 Irakli Zhvania 106117 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The fate of Georgian dreams https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Amid widespread apathy and corruption, Georgia’s democracy faces all too familiar obstacles.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28843383.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28843383.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supporters of the opposition United National Movement (UNM) rally in Tbilisi on 5 October. (c) Shakh Aivazov / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Georgia has just held parliamentary elections. It was a long campaign — four months of incessant political advertising and argument. This was welcomed by outside observers, a demonstration of the country’s vibrant democracy. But it may also have explained, the low turnout of 51.63%.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgians were exhausted, confused and disillusioned. The campaign, despite its longevity and colourful political spectrum, was uninformative, characterised by vitriol and warnings of future doom, should you vote for the other party. It underlined, like the US election campaign, the growing norm of oligarchic elections dominated by the concerns of “enlightened elites” and the professional obfuscations of PR managers.&nbsp;</p><p>With 48.67% of the total vote, Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia received 44 of the 77 parliamentary seats allocated by proportional representation; the major opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), received 27.11% (27 seats), and the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia-United Opposition, (APG), a strange concoction of six mini-parties, 5.01% (six seats). To date (18 October), Georgian Dream has won 23 of the majoritarian (first past the post) seats in Georgia’s 73 electoral districts. The remaining seats will go to a second round at the end of October. With 67 seats already in the bag, and the likelihood of capturing the majority of the remainder, Georgian Dream will have the ability to introduce constitutional changes (which require 113 votes).</p><h2>Do as I say, not as I do</h2><p>When Ian Kelley, the US ambassador to Georgia, wished for an “election campaign… as good in the United States as it is in Georgia,” he reminded us that mature democracies have serious electoral flaws too. US elections are strongly influenced by moneyed elites, potent lobbies, and politicised courts (such as the US Supreme Court in 2000). Powerful interest groups have intensified the country’s unequal electoral battlefield, and contributed to distrust in the US political system. This should give us pause — the problem is not just about “young democracies” like Georgia which allegedly need external monitoring, but about mature democracies that refuse to be measured by their own standards.</p><p>The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would be unlikely to give US elections a positive assessment. It is time for Georgia to be taken out of the confines of the “post-Soviet space”, which leads to an implicit assumption of electoral inferiority and an expectation of failure. Georgia’s electoral process should be judged alongside democracies elsewhere, which are also characterised by dramatically uneven resources, uninformed electorates, media manipulations, and polarised parties.</p><p>To paraphrase John McCain, “we are all Georgians” now, trying to construct democratic electoral systems in the context of increasingly unequal societies, where political elites deploy ever more sophisticated electoral technologies. In this sense, it’s not just Georgia’s problem – it’s our problem too.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The political fireworks on Georgian TV couldn’t hide the emptiness of this campaign and the failure of Georgia’s parties to represent popular concerns</p><p>Georgian parties exemplify an issue faced by many modern democracies. They remain like the floating island of Jonathan Swift’s Laputa, suspended above the electorate, controlled by squabbling politicians, and deaf to the people’s needs.&nbsp;</p><p>The political fireworks on Georgian TV couldn’t hide the emptiness of this campaign and the failure of Georgia’s parties to represent popular concerns. The political leaders were, perhaps, as nonplussed as the voters, which is why issues like mass unemployment, poverty, housing, the environment (World Health Organisation figures in 2012 showed the capital Tbilisi had the <a href="http://www.vox.com/2016/6/27/12040712/air-pollution-countries" target="_blank">world’s highest per capita death rate from air pollution</a>) and future economic strategy were hardly mentioned.&nbsp;</p><p>The popular verdict was underwhelming. Georgian Dream, the winner, received the endorsement of just one quarter of Georgia’s total electorate. UNM the main opposition party, received the approval of between one seventh and one eighth.</p><h2>Setting low bars</h2><p>The OSCE gave its usual <a href="http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/georgia/273226" target="_blank">cool assessment</a>. The election was “competitive, well-administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected.” This is fine – as far as it goes. Such responses confirm the limited technical goals the OSCE sets itself at election times – a snapshot of electoral rule playing. </p><p>But this was an election which revealed structures and norms which represent major obstacles to an accountable and democratic political culture.. The two major parties represent irreconcilable political styles and visions. The iconoclastic UNM remains a vigorous supporter of more reform as quickly as possible, while Georgian Dream projects incremental change and stability. Both parties pulsate with hatred for one another; personal insults have laid the groundwork for conflict in parliament, characterised by boycotts, walkouts and absent quorums.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28864646_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28864646_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A woman leaves a polling booth in Tbilisi on the eve of parliamentary elections. (c) Sergei Grits / PA / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The venom exchanged by two dominant figures in Georgian politics is a clear example. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the power behind Georgian Dream and UNM’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-pomerantsev/polyphonic-president" target="_blank">former leader Mikheil Saakashvili </a>regularly accuse one another of criminal conspiracies — and it’s clear that there’s no change of heart at the top. The <a href="http://www.rferl.org/a/Georgian_Parliament_Approves_Controversial_Constitutional_Amendment/2191769.html" target="_blank">conversion from a super-presidential to a semi-parliamentary system</a> in 2010 helped diminish the institutional stimulus for charismatic leadership, but it has only moved the Wizards of Oz back behind the curtain, a depressing result of a well-intentioned reform.&nbsp;</p><p>The detachment of these two politically unaccountable figures from their parties and the political system more generally would be a great plus for Georgia’s democratic growth. After all, the informal exercise of power by the unelected and the influential limits democratic rule. It may be, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/big-trouble-in-little-georgia" target="_blank">as some political commentators suggest</a>, that Georgian voters no longer seek political saviours to solve their problems, but Georgia’s elites, it seems, still need them. Both are a serious obstacle to the development of political representatives and parties responsive to electoral demands from below.</p><h2>Bad losers and appalling winners</h2><p>Georgian democracy should not be famed, as Western commentators often do, as something different, a little exotic unexpected, and attached to the world rather than part of it. The adoption of the globally fashionable neo-liberal model, for example, transformed Georgia’s social structures and reshaped the country’s economic and political norms. This has had a dramatic effect on how Georgians view the state and how they vote.&nbsp;</p><p>But Georgia, like all countries, has its specifics. In evaluating Georgian elections (and the workings of its democracy more generally), we cannot omit the role of national minorities, the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety" target="_blank">influence of the church</a>, the evolution of its constitution, or the alternative political cultures of the electorate.</p><p>Since 1990 - the first relatively free election since 1919 - Georgia has had eight parliaments. This October makes it nine. Half of these (in 1991, 2003, and 2008) ended in a coup, a “revolution” or mass protest, and two (2004 and 2012) ended in a democratic change of power. In terms of Georgia’s own electoral past, the 2016 elections (conducted for the first time without a crisis hovering overhead) were stable and well-ordered. Two reforms in 2015 evened out disparities between electoral districts and increased the threshold for election in majoritarian districts from 30% to 50%. This improved electoral equality.&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Recent history shows one-party preeminence in Georgia is deadly, not only to a working democracy, but to the party itself</span></p><p>The elections of 2012 brought about a broad coalition under the umbrella of Georgian Dream, creating a parliament containing multiple interests and multiple parties. No single party had the ability to change the constitution or override the president’s veto. Two parties, the Republicans and Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD), were strong supporters of constitutionalism, the rule of law, and civil rights.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/SAM_3264_1.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/SAM_3264_1.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Symbols of another new Georgia, at the presidential palace in Tbilisi. Photo: Maxim Edwards.</span></span></span>The outcome in 2016 is quite different, generated by low turnout, fractured parties and blocs, and a polarised political atmosphere. Parliament will have three parties — the eclectic Georgian Dream, the alienated UNM, and the nationalist (and even more eclectic) Alliance of Georgian Patriots. As mentioned earlier, it is also very likely that Georgian Dream will be able to rewrite the country’s constitution.</p><p>This is a return to the pre-2012 pattern which has plagued Georgian politics for almost 25 years. One-party dominance is not always bad, but we have to trust the party to observe the rules of parliamentary democracy, both inside and outside the chamber. I am not sure that we can.&nbsp;</p><h2>The cost of power</h2><p>An effective opposition, as Disraeli noted, “offers vengeance to the discontented, and distinction to the ambitious; and employs the energies of aspiring spirits, who otherwise may prove traitors in a division or assassins in a debate.” The history of one-party dominance in Georgia would support every one of these arguments.&nbsp;</p><p>In the Georgian context – and this is a significant difference with most (but not all) European democracies – a marginalised opposition has little opportunity to influence executive power by other means.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Georgia’s political and social institutions are too weak to contain the confluence of government and powerful business networks</p><p>Georgian civil society is relatively weak, the judiciary is prone to side with the executive, and business groups ally with their most powerful political patron: the government. Recent political history supports the proposition that one-party preeminence in Georgia’s parliament is deadly, not only to a working democracy, but to the party itself. Cumulative victories over parliamentary and societal oppositions are in the end defeats – to the legitimacy of the party, to its connections with society, and to its ability to adapt. All Georgia’s dominant parties in power have fallen in disgrace, covered in the calumny of corruption. With a billionaire patronising an even more dominant Georgian Dream, the economic temptations will now be even greater.</p><p>The history of modern Georgian governments is characterised by the concentration of executive power. That is inevitable in all modern democracies, but in Georgia, the convergence of public and private spheres within state structures, the exercise of direct and indirect control on the judiciary through appointments and political pressure, and the undermining of regional autonomy by centrally appointed or manipulated governors – or by ministers with financial control – has been pernicious. Georgia’s political and social institutions, including the media and civil society, do not have the strength to contain the confluence of money with government and powerful business networks.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Our_Georgia_Poster.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Our_Georgia_Poster.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Our Georgia is here!” reads this Georgian Dream campaign billboard, depicting prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. CC: Shuvaev / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Between 2012 and 2016, Georgian Dream broke with this tradition. It benefited from a strong multi-party parliament, a weakened presidency, and the cessation of political pressures to restore breakaway territories (by 2008, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were essentially under Russian political control). Georgian Dream’s raison d’être was a program designed to uproot Saakashvili’s authoritarianism. This liberated the party from the traditional executive focus on central control. But now the question arises: was this an aberration?</p><p>Can Georgian Dream, unchecked by a coalition, by presidential veto, or by its constitutionally minded Republican Party allies resist the temptation to accumulate power, and with it, wealth? Can it cooperate with the National Movement (if Saakashvili no longer leads the pack), and encourage the UNM to become a constructive opposition? Can the new faces in the UNM see the benefit of cooperation?</p><p>If Georgia’s ruling party can do these things, then it may avoid the likely scenario of a frustrated electorate, finding no improvement in its economic well being, searching for a traditional and well-proven Georgian expression of power in the streets. It would be a Georgia that we have seen again and again – a widening chasm between leaders and led that leads in the end to a popular explosion.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/making-do-with-crew">Making do with the crew</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety">Georgia’s politics of piety</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/georgia-through-glass-darkly">Georgia through a glass, darkly</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Stephen F Jones Politics Georgia Caucasus Tue, 18 Oct 2016 15:04:47 +0000 Stephen F Jones 106046 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Making do with the crew https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/making-do-with-crew <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the aftermath of parliamentary elections, can Georgia build a more stable political culture?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28866150.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28866150.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Supporters of the ruling Georgian Dream party take part in a rally in Tbilisi, 8 October. (c) Sergei Grits / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Turnout decided Georgia’s latest election, held on 8 October. More so than usual, this parliamentary election was decided by who came to vote. Little more than 25% of the population has given the incumbent Georgian Dream a massive majority in the parliament. A ruling party that has not collapsed on itself will typically have 20% of the country’s voters firmly booked, those in good part representing the people and families that all things considered would like to keep their jobs under the incumbent government.</p><p>The result of the popular vote is not a resounding public endorsement but most likely it’s a sufficient mandate for Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in the eyes of Bidzina Ivanishvili. It thus suggests that we will get more of what we have seen over the last few months. On balance, this is something that apparently many Georgians and Georgia’s partners can live with, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.</p><p>Yet the Georgian Dream will have its work cut out as it has to lead the country through some tough adjustments in the next years, including a reduction in social spending (the health insurance scheme is largely seen as unsustainable), and possible further pressure on the Georgian Lari. Still, the Georgian Dream starts that hard journey with a comfortable parliamentary majority.</p><h2>What about the UNM?</h2><p>The United National Movement (UNM) ran a great campaign in reaching out to individual voters, and going door-to-door. The results still fell short of expectations, for one external and three internal reasons.</p><p>Externally, the party is under pressure. Some of the UNM leaders remain in jail. Party activists faced various levels of harassment across the country. It seems plausible that key party figures (Zurab Japaridze, Giorgi Vashadze, to mention some) were lured to defect by a combination of incentives.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Georgian Dream leaders will realise that the absence of viable third parties makes their own room of manoeuvre tighter</p><p>The State Security Service remains more active than it should be. This not-so-pretty part of the election environment often gets glossed over by Western analysts that have found it difficult to hide their long-running personal dislike for the UNM. That said, there also are three internal reasons why the UNM fell short.</p><p>Too much of the UNM party rhetoric still conveys anger. The acrimonious style turns off potential voters who worry what will happen when angry people are in charge, and what happens when they get so angry that they turn vicious. The raging tone remains a particular problem for Saakashvili, but also for several other party figures, and for Rustavi 2. If it wants better results, the UNM does need to learn supreme discipline, in going and staying positive, even when goaded. The party has improved significantly, throughout 2016, but not sufficiently.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Where_Misha.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Where_Misha.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="352" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Where now for Mikheil Saakashvili? Despite suggesting a triumphant return across the Black Sea, it seems that Georgia’s former president is destined to remain in Odessa. Photo: Maxim Edwards, Tbilisi</span></span></span>The UNM overall leaned in too much by projecting victory, in the last stages of the campaign. This again worried some potential voters, for reasons of anger management. It also made other potential voters complacent, as a respectable result for the UNM seemed assured. Technically, the party should have consistently framed the election as an ambitious reach target, saying that they still needed as much support as possible, every vote matters, for a strong showing, to play a strong constructive role in Georgia, rather than setting the mark at victory. This may have mobilised voters that ended up staying home.</p><p>After the successful renewal of the UNM party list, Saakashvili misstepped by reframing the elections as a referendum on his return. This redefinition, in the last two weeks, obscured the hard work of the entire party. It sidelined the new team that had spent months campaigning door-to-door, essentially recasting them as accessories to Saakashvili personal journey. Saakashvili rightly recognized that he remained important to many voters, as the getting-things-done guy. </p><p>However, he should have presented himself as an enabler of the team rather than the returning saviour. In the very last days, the UNM appear to have realised this, as party leader Giga Bokeria valiantly pointed out that Saakashvili could not become Prime Minister, since he was not a Georgian citizen, and that the team had much internal capacity. Similarly, Saakashvili just before the election, and on election day itself, backtracked on the promise of return. It was too late. Many voters may have liked to vote fresh faces of the UNM into prominent roles — but were less attracted to a referendum on bringing Misha, unreconstructed, right back in.</p><h2>Where does this leave us?</h2><p>Here is a silver lining that may be worth steering towards.</p><p>A sober analysis in the Georgian Dream may well come to the conclusion that it will be an uphill struggle to win the next parliamentary election. Comfortable as they will be in parliament, nearly three quarters of the population did not vote for them. They pulled out most of the stops, including investing money into Georgian Dream Studios, which must be haemorrhaging a midsize yacht or two of money every month. Bidzina Ivanishvili is unlikely to transform himself into more popularity, as he’s at best an awkward introvert with quirky views that will remain alien to the lives of average voters.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Starting an alternative to the UNM is a fast road to political oblivion and potential ridicule, whatever your talents</p><p>Painting every day betwen November 2003 and October 2012 as a horror was already old this summer, and is unlikely to work at all next time around. After their celebrations are over, Georgian Dream leaders will realise that the absence of viable third parties makes their own room of manoeuvre tighter, and that bludgeoning your only parliamentary minority is fraught with risk. In an optimistic scenario, the Georgian Dream may thus realise that they should govern in ways that allow them to lose the next election.</p><p>Conversely, the UNM could define their result as a success, rather than as a defeat. (In the same way in which the UNM in a magic sleight of hand defined having survived Vladimir Putin’s onslaught as victory in 2008, in spite of Russians driving tanks across large parts of Georgia, ransacking barracks in Gori, sinking ships in Poti, and much more.) They are there for the next round. There are no credible competitors. The overwhelming lesson is that starting an alternative to the UNM is a fast road to political oblivion and potential ridicule, whatever your diplomatic, political or operatic talents. The UNM thus has a strong upside in taking the long view, talking to voters, and mobilising support.</p><p>In that context the UNM’s future does not need to be about “ditching Misha”, as some commentators will be quick to suggest. Parties are not fantasy football teams, in which you combine Lionel Messi with Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer. Yet the UNM will need to define the relationship in ways that are compelling to voters. It has time to do so. The UNM will be lucky if it can retain Giga Bokeria, who did incredibly well in holding the UNM together over the last years, as the key figure in this process.</p><h2>Reckoning on Board</h2><p>My social media feed on this post-election morning has mostly been filled with gloom, about the disappearance of third parties, about a potential super majority, about the Alliance of Patriots, about the eventual developments. There are indeed ways in which things could go wrong. Yet that has always been so, and Georgia is not now set on some fixed downward path.</p><p>From the elections, there are some powerful lessons about the perils of lethargy, and about the need for political discourse to become more practical and less dismissive. There should be a reckoning, in which all sides ask themselves how they contributed to where we are. Many of the lessons are not just for the politicians but applicable more broadly to Georgia’s elite, and Georgia’s foreign friends.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02946584.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02946584.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Two Tbilisi residents walk past an electoral poster for Irakli Alasania’s Free Democrats. (c) RIA Novosti / Levan Avlabreli. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Part of that reckoning, as described above, could be the insight, painful for both main parties, that they are the only ones left on the ship that they will have to captain through Georgia’s choppy geopolitical and economic waters. Once you acknowledge that your nemesis won’t leave board, and is likely to take over the steering wheel after an ocean or two, it may be worth considering redefining the enemy as a political competitor.</p><p>I can already hear the exasperated objections from my Georgian friends across the political spectrum about how impossibly naïve this idea is. Yet it’s this transformation that put many established democracies on their course, and it likely would best serve the parties, and the country. It’s not about pretending to be friends. That won’t happen. But it’s about learning how to pick the right battles, avoid needless escalation, and practice de-escalation where possible — and that more than anything it’s about reassuring people that you are taking them in the right direction.</p><p>That we are only left with two main parties provides a powerful clarification, to the parties, and to Georgia as a whole. It makes clear that we need to shift and evolve political culture, and make the practical adjustments that are needed, across a range of sectors and issues, to make do with the crew that there is. This realisation could be a step forward for Georgian democracy.<br /><br /><em>This article was originally published on <a href="https://medium.com/@hansgutbrod/georgia-post-election-making-do-with-the-crew-90cbcda97f12#.d3egi8zmf" target="_blank">the author’s blog</a>. We are very grateful for his permission to reproduce it here. &nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/big-trouble-in-little-georgia">Big trouble in little Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety">Georgia’s politics of piety</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Hans Gutbrod Politics Georgia Caucasus Mon, 10 Oct 2016 13:36:25 +0000 Hans Gutbrod 105861 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Big trouble in little Georgia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/big-trouble-in-little-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For years, Georgia’s politics has been organised around the “search for a saviour”. But now this search has quietly ended, what is left?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02946587.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Georgia's United National Movement, pictured here, is squaring off against Georgian Dream. (c) Levan Avlabreli / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Parliamentary elections are coming to Georgia. This Saturday, Georgia’s electorate will go to the polls to define the country’s future for the next four years. While Georgian and foreign officials have been mostly positive in their assessments of the election environment (<a href="http://sputnik-georgia.com/politics/20160701/232399251.html ">“the most democratic elections ever”</a>), the tone and content of the election campaign makes it clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with Georgian politics.&nbsp;</p><p>This year, it is the absence of a “Messiah figure” who will “save the country”, as well as the obvious crisis of the country’s political party system. For years, Georgian society <a href="http://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/?fa=64687 ">has been consolidated around the prospect of finding a “saviour”,</a> which, in turn, has undermined the role of parliament, and left the country’s party system underdeveloped. Indeed, Georgia’s voters are used to choosing political figures rather than political blocs.</p><p>Nowadays, when Georgia’s “Messiah era” has come to an end and it is up to political parties to lead the state, the political establishment <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">has nothing new to persuade voters that the old promises are still achievable</a>. The electorate is <a href="https://www.ndi.org/files/Public-Attitude-Findings-English_3.pdf ">confused</a>. And this leads to an election campaign organised around mutual accusations, absurd initiatives, conspiracy theories and dangerous incidents.&nbsp;</p><h2>A short history of Messiahs</h2><p>The unexpected break-up of the Soviet Union left Georgia in dire need of re-shaping its domestic political culture. While there were attempts to make the transition to a “western political system”, political memory, in combination with the political, social and economic instability of the 1990s, led to the formation of a Messiah-centered presidential system.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgian society sought a “firm hand” from within the political establishment who would rescue the state from its deep political, social and economic crisis. In this situation, the main purpose of elections in Georgia was to consolidate society and find the “chosen one” who would oppose the existing repressive regime and rebuild the state.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_00034593.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="351" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tbilisi burns after the overthrow of Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his government in 1992. (c) Igor Mikhalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-independence president, is a classic example. In May 1991, Gamsakhurdia, an ultra-nationalist dissident, was elected by 87% of votes after campaigning on the grand goal of leading the nation. When he failed to meet his promises, Gamsakhurdia was overthrown by militants. The country was on the edge of a full-scaled civil war.</p><p>Soon enough, Georgian society found a new “saviour” — Eduard Shevardnadze, a representative of the Soviet nomenklatura, who was elected in 1992 with 77% of the vote. Later on, in September 1993, when rumors began to emerge that Shevardnadze was planning to leave, protesters gathered outside the parliament, kneeled and begged him to stay in power. Ilia II, Patriarch of All Georgia (and the <a href="http://dfwatch.net/92-of-georgians-trust-patriarch-ilia-ii-56618-19491 ">most trusted person in the country</a>), <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9JgI0dMIpo">personally called Shevardnadze a “nation leader”</a>. He was re-elected in 2000 by 79% of votes.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">For years, Georgian society&nbsp;has been consolidated around the prospect of finding a “saviour”</p><p>Much like his predecessor, however, Shevardnadze was unable to fulfill society’s aspirations and, by the end of 2003, Georgia was on the edge of collapse. State institutions were weak and corrupt. And this was the moment when another “saviour” appeared — Mikhail Saakashvili, who, backed by the US, initiated a new campaign to save Georgia. After pushing Shevardnadze to resign, Saakashvili was elected as president with 96% of the vote. Later on, his political team, the United National Movement, took a constitutional majority in Georgia’s parliament and he became the undisputed leader of the nation.</p><p>Saakashvili’s aggressive rhetoric and authoritarian nature pushed him to resign and set new presidential elections in 2008, which he won with a smaller majority. By 2012, Georgian society had come to a critical point, when United National Movement changed the constitution and turned the state towards a parliamentary system. This reform should have ended the era of Messianism in Georgia, but there were fears that Saakashvili was planning to continue governance by simply switching posts.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/11016301386_6614a6e0c1_z_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgian presidential election, 2013. CC Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Once again, the electorate was looking for another leader to save Georgia’s fragile democracy. Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Georgian tycoon, appeared to be the last Messiah who managed to consolidate society once again, <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/02/world/europe/georgia-elections">defeating Saakashvili’s government in the 2012 parliamentary elections</a>.</p><p>The transformation of Georgia’s political system from presidential to parliamentary model and the defeat of Mikhail Saakashvili’s government <a href="http://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/?fa=64687 ">reflected the end of a long-lasting culture of Messianism</a>. It was time for the political party system to take the lead.</p><h2>Big trouble in little Georgia</h2><p>Assessing the pre-election process in September, US Ambassador to Georgia Ian Kelly noted: <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/65806/eng">“I wish the election campaign to be as good in the United States as it is in Georgia”</a>. Even though local government took the statement as a compliment, the election campaign that can hardly be called a success.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, the campaign started not with political debates or programmes, but a fistfight in Samegrelo. On 22 May, 2016, members of the United National Movement <a href="http://dfwatch.net/bokeria-melia-other-unm-members-attacked-beaten-in-samegrelo-42722 ">were attacked and brutally beaten by unidentified persons in the village of Kortskheli</a> in western Georgia. While the participants were later detained, the UNM accused Georgian Dream of initiating the incident. The ruling party responded <a href="http://kvira.ge/256814 ">by publishing documents that verify close ties between the attackers and the UNM</a>. The investigation is still in progress.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">What remains to be seen is how this crisis will develop and how it will influence the post-election environment. Currently, there is only uncertainty</p><p>At the beginning of August, leaders of Georgia’s Centrist Party, Lado Bedukadze and Nikoloz Khachisvhili, hit the stage b<a href="http://www.tabula.ge/en/story/110780-new-party-in-georgia-promises-russian-pensions-and-military-bases ">y offering “Russian pensions”</a>&nbsp;(i.e. significantly higher payments) as an election promise to every pensioner in Georgia. Moreover, the party’s election campaign video footage <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/en/story/110780-new-party-in-georgia-promises-russian-pensions-and-military-bases ">promised to legalise the future presence of Russian troops in the country</a>. Even though this initiative was absurd and unachievable, it got a wide-range reaction. The party was later <a href="http://www.rferl.org/a/caucasus-report-georgia-party-out-of-elections-after-pro-russia-ad/27931601.html ">expelled from the race</a>.</p><p>An equally absurd initiative was proposed by David Usupashvili, a prominent Georgian politician who recently resigned from the position of parliamentary speaker. Usupashvili, leader of the Republican Party, <a href="http://dfwatch.net/georgia-should-have-a-u-s-military-base-before-it-gets-into-nato-45316">promised to establish an “American base” in Georgia</a> in the run-up to joining NATO. The idea contradicts the foreign policy that the coalition Georgian Dream government has pursued until recently. For years, Georgian Dream, in cooperation with US advisors, <a href="http://izvestia.ru/news/633983 ">has tried to move Georgia-Russia relations out of the US-Russia relations context</a>. The mere possibility that a US base would appear in the South Caucasus would definitely backfire and, of course, escalate the situation in the region.&nbsp;</p><p>By the beginning of September, the election campaign had come to entertain conspiracy theories, after an audio recording that <a href="http://www.interpressnews.ge/en/politicss/81544-recording-of-conversation-between-mikheil-saakashvili-and-national-movement-members-released.html?ar=A ">allegedly reveals Saakashvili’s plan to overturn the election results</a> was leaked to the press. The recording supposedly documents a conversation between the ex-president of Georgia and fellow members of UNM in which they plan for mass riots and political disturbances in the post-election period.&nbsp;</p><p>Moreover, Giga Bokeria, a prominent figures in the UNM and former secretary of the National Security Council, is <a href="http://georgiatoday.ge/news/4748/Audio-Recording-Allegedly-Reveals-Saakashvili%E2%80%99s-Plan-to-Overturn-Election-Results ">allegedly heard to propose a “revolutionary scenario”</a>, which is approved by Saakashvili. The security services have summoned the alleged participants for questioning, and an analysis of the tape’s authenticity is currently taking place.</p><p>The election campaign has now entered the stage of various local confrontations and serious incidents. On 2 October, <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/66611/eng">three members of the youth wing of Georgian Dream were hospitalised</a>&nbsp;after they were physically assaulted allegedly by UNM supporters (again in Samegrelo). The next day, <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/en/story/112755-shots-fired-at-gori-campaign-rally-meeting ">shots were fired at a campaign meeting of Irakli Okruashvili</a>, a past ally of Saakashvili, in Gori. While one of the former defence minister’s security team and a supporter were wounded as a result, Okruashvili claimed that responsibility for the attack lies with local Georgian Dream activists.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_02950795.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>5 October: the scene after a car bomb attack against Givi Targamadze. (c) Alexander Imedashvili / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 5 October, Georgia witnessed a terrorist attack. Givi Targamadze, a leading UNM official and former defense and security committee chairman, <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/en/story/112812-unm-leader-survives-assassination-attempt ">was lucky to survive a car bomb in Tbilisi</a>. UNM leaders indirectly blamed the government. The ruling party immediately struck back. In an urgent address to the nation, prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili promised to punish the initiators, saying that “foreign citizenship” will not protect them. Thus, Kvirikashvili indirectly accused Saakashvili, who accepted Ukrainian citizenship to avoid criminal charges in Georgia, of an attempt to destabilise the state prior to the elections. Saakashvili, of course, then <a href="http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=29491">promised his victorious return from Ukraine</a>&nbsp;after the election.&nbsp;</p><p>The whole election campaign and the events of the past week reveal that there is a big mess in little Georgia. These “Messiah-less” elections make it clear that Georgia’s mainstream political parties <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">have more or less the same “ideology” and the same goals</a>, while parties with opposite approaches lack necessary financial and human resources.&nbsp;</p><p>What remains to be seen is how this crisis will develop and how it will influence the post-election environment. Currently, there is only uncertainty.&nbsp;</p><p><span><em>A quarter century since the collapse of Soviet rule in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">where is the region now and what can come next?</a></em></span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/who-do-i-call-if-i-want-to-speak-to-pro-russian-forces-in-georgia">Who do I call if I want to speak to &quot;pro-Russian forces&quot; in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/how-can-we-politicise-labour-rights-in-georgia">How can we politicise labour rights in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/way-down-in-pankisi">Way down in Pankisi</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/left-in-dark-inside-georgia-s-chiatura-mines">Left in the dark: inside Georgia’s Chiatura mines</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Archil Sikharulidze Politics Georgia Thu, 06 Oct 2016 08:53:31 +0000 Archil Sikharulidze 105803 at https://www.opendemocracy.net On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A quarter century since the collapse of Soviet rule in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, where is the region now and what can come next? <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/25-let-postmoderna-kavkaz">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/8261286339_5d6e853141_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/8261286339_5d6e853141_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Life in Stepantsminda village, Georgia. CC Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The village of Sadakhlo sits at the intersection of borders between Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Lauded in Soviet times as the “point of friendship”, this place now seems more like a latter-day Checkpoint Charlie. On one side stand olive-skinned locals in American-style uniforms with M-16 rifles. They are Georgians. On the other stand similarly olive-skinned men in Soviet-style uniforms with AK-47s. They are Armenians; Armenia houses Russian military bases. The reason is immediately to the east where one finds Azeri soldiers, trained and equipped by their Turkish friends.</p><p>Fire is periodically exchanged between the Armenians and Azeris. The war over the disputed territory of Nagorny-Karabakh has been going on and off since 1991 — with no end in sight. The Georgians, with little sympathy for either side, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/karabakh-view-from-georgia" target="_blank">stay neutral in this conflict</a>. They face their own separatist enclaves in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are protected by Russia. In the twisted geopolitics of the South Caucasus, the Georgian soldiers stood alongside US troops in Afghanistan and earlier in Iraq, where they once even made the second largest contingent — quite a feat for such a small country.</p><p>Here at Sadakhlo, the ironies of postmodernity are all around us. How did we get into this mess?</p><h2>A short history of grand schemes</h2><p>Modernity was the epoch when humans developed an optimistic belief in progressively bettering the world. This was to be achieved through the activist application of collective will and rational plan. Postmodernity then marks the more recent epoch when historical optimism turned to pervasive disillusionment in grand schemes to better humanity. The epochs changed not merely due to artistic fashions or collective psychology. It was rather the unbearable realisation that mechanistic bureaucracy, the very epitome of modernity, had monopolised the pursuit of both rationality and collective will.</p><p>The devastating accusations of official hypocrisy came actually from the New Left, whose various currents advocated the same progressive ideals of modernity, only “with a human face”. The desire to question “authority” started in the youthful dissident protests of 1968 and continued up to the Occupy revolts and the Arab Spring of 2011, yet its peak arrived in 1989-1991 with the wave of protests engulfing communist regimes from East Berlin to Beijing.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">What alternatives could organise human society if the old structures of domination collapse in sudden chaos as in the Soviet bloc?</p><p>These fast-burning revolutions ended mostly in the forgetful embarrassment. Their aftermath left us amidst apathy and doubt, the irrational search for authenticity in fundamentalist nationalism and religion, or the pursuit of self-realisation in the libertarian (and very Russian) fantasies of Ayn Rand. </p><p>In large part this is because the classical modern theories of revolution, be they Marxist or the liberalism of Tocqueville, offered no plausible explanation or blueprint.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Soviet_Armenia_Carpet.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Soviet_Armenia_Carpet.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="330" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Carpet from Soviet Armenia celebrating the achievements of industrialisation, mid-1930s. CC Armenian Ministry of Culture / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>But far from all classical social thought became irrelevant in this newest epoch of bureaucratic capitalism without alternatives. The core theory of Marx will stay relevant as long as there is capitalism. Moreover, Max Weber, the pioneering theorist of bureaucracy, hierarchy, and status groups (i.e. “identities”), offers a good starting point for a more sober understanding of postmodernity.</p><p>The questioning of authority in 1968 and 1989 marked the transition to a novel kind of revolution that might be rightly called Weberian — the broadly citizen efforts to overcome the “iron cage of bureaucracy”. Its early failures then must be re-analysed, with duly substantive rationality, in view of a movement politics that are capable of confronting reigning bureaucracies with something more transformative than symbolic performance.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Things need not necessarily end badly in the Caucasus. Overcoming gloom is an important immediate task precisely because our fears are not unfounded</p><p>This theoretical concern seems the most urgent practical issue on global agenda. What alternatives could organise human society if the old structures of domination collapse in sudden chaos as in the Soviet bloc? Capitalism is losing its dynamism in the successive crises of its own making. The first popular reactions are typically defensive reactionary. Faced with worsening economies and social services, environmental degradation, migration, and wars, people try to preserve what they have and hold dear. Particularist reactions, emphasising the bonds of kinship, shared ethnicity or faith, can escalate nastily. But they cannot effectively address global challenges.</p><p>More encouraging and universalist alternatives have to emerge if we are to preserve the achievements of modernity. It is on this world map that the South Caucasus and its Soviet past are better analysed.</p><h2>Actually existing modernity</h2><p>Our standoff at Sadakhlo perhaps traces its roots to the 1980s, with Mikhail Gorbachev’s well-intentioned bid to “rejuvenate socialist democracy”.</p><p>The Soviet Union was created by a small band of radical internationalist intelligentsia. Among them were many Jews, Russians, Latvians, Tatars, Armenians, and, quite prominently, the Georgians including Stalin. Believing in changing the whole world, the Bolsheviks reconquered the erstwhile territories of the Russian Empire, creating a revolutionary superpower. However, military force alone cannot explain their improbable success. The Bolsheviks carried a hugely modernistic belief in industrial development as the solution to all social and ethnic problems. My colleague Stephen Hanson wryly observed that the Bolsheviks became what Weber himself could not imagine: a charismatic bureaucracy.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The Soviets were themselves prisoners of their superpower pride vested in military-industrial complex and the east European buffer zone</p><p>Once the Leninist charisma wore out in the world of brutally realist geopolitics, what remained was merely a bureaucratic superpower. Where could it steer next? After Stalin’s death in 1953, a spate of Soviet oligarchic reformers, starting with the ruthless pragmatist Lavrenty Beria (incidentally, also a Georgian), sought appeasement with the west and economic reintegration with world capitalism. In short, the Chinese way out of communism epitomised by another such pragmatist: Deng Xiaoping. The difference is, however, that following the Cold War calculus America helped to modernise China against the USSR while rightly fearing that the emergent pan-European alliance of France and Germany with the reformed USSR could undermine the US hegemony.&nbsp;</p><p>The Soviets were themselves prisoners of their superpower pride vested in military-industrial complex and the east European buffer zone. This is what Gorbachev set out to undo, boldly sacrificing first the ballistic missiles and then the cumbersome satellite states.</p><p>Domestically, Gorbachev direly needed to replace the old party stalwarts with younger energetic supporters. Disguised as democratisation and <em>glasnost</em> (public debate), Gorbachev’s domestic campaign in fact revived the old Stalinist practice of purges against “bad” officials. The Party <em>nomenklatura</em> felt at once disoriented because they could not resist the General Secretary in the still totalitarian Soviet institutions. But Gorbachev overplayed his hand in the attempt to consolidate personal power through inviting popular denunciations against all wrongs.&nbsp;<br />&nbsp;<br />Unwittingly, Armenians were the first to expose internal fragilities. Loyally blaming everything on the long-dead Stalin, a group of prominent Armenian intellectuals petitioned Moscow for the transfer to Soviet Armenia of the small borderland province of Karabakh which, though predominantly Armenian, had been placed under Soviet Azerbaijan in 1921. This, they pleaded, would be a small compensation for the unredeemed losses to Armenian nation suffered in the 1915 genocide.&nbsp;</p><p>Against the grandiose tasks of a superpower changing its course, Moscow’s first bewildered reaction was to shrug it off. But the issue rapidly escalated from the Armenian petitions and Azerbaijani counter-petitions to pogroms in Azerbaijani cities in 1988 and the emergence of Armenian guerrilla groups. Two Soviet republics were now at war with each other. The communist bosses on both sides stood accused of impotence, lack of patriotism and corruption. War led to revolutions.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00034593.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00034593.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="351" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tbilisi burns after the overthrow of Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his government in 1992. (c) Igor Mikhalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Gorbachev faced the impossible choice of either resorting to repression on a truly Stalinist scale, which would have ruined his foreign gambits or he could try to throw money at the crisis. But the money wasn’t there anyway. Perestroika was, in the first place, prompted by a budget crisis amidst slowdown in the over-invested Soviet industries and the sudden shortfall in export earnings due to the slump in world oil prices.&nbsp;</p><p>Once taboos were broken in the Karabakh conflict, radical nationalism and violence entered the political repertoire. In Tbilisi, in April 1989, Soviet paratroopers recently withdrawn from Afghanistan were ordered to disperse the round-the-clock nationalist vigil protesting the plight of fellow Georgians under minority rule in Abkhazia, another Soviet ethnic autonomy. The result was massive injuries and twenty fatalities, most of them women. Implausibly, Gorbachev denied prior knowledge of such orders. Overnight, an indignant Georgia became ungovernable. It remained so for almost two decades while losing territory, population and a grievous two-thirds of its economy, the biggest such loss among the post-Soviet countries.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In the aftermath of 1991, power across the South Caucasus first fell to the hands of nationalist intelligentsias, who excelled in radical oratory</p><p>The Soviet state had thus collapsed before 1991 amidst the popular mobilisations for democratisation which turned nationalist and violent in all three countries of the South Caucasus. Why was the collapse so sudden, so ruinous, and lasting? The references to ethnic diversity and historical legacies are standard as they are wrong.</p><p>True, the Caucasus is a linguistic and anthropological wonderland. Flanked by great empires, the Caucasus always stayed an unyielding small rock between the grinding wheels of world history. Ethnic diversity alone, however, is not a fatal predicament. Elsewhere in eastern Europe, between Poland and Lithuania or in the fabled Transylvania, the legacies of ethnic cleansing somehow failed to reignite during the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Their peoples peacefully transitioned into becoming EU citizens. In fact, this might be a clue.</p><h2>From the periphery to the spotlight (and back again)&nbsp;</h2><p>Despite commonly heralded as a “bridge between east and west, north and south”, the Caucasus is relatively small, remote and, except for the oil and gas pipelines contested by Russia, Turkey, and the west, overall peripheral to the world economy. It was the same for Soviet planners, whose major industrial assets (again, except the oilfields of Baku) were located mainly between the Donbass and the Urals. Nonetheless in the USSR, a very big and mostly cold country, the Caucasus held a crucial advantage: its subtropical climate.&nbsp;</p><p>When the busy central planners could not be distracted with such trifles as supplying the sun-starved populations of northern industrial cities with fresh fruit and wine, the enterprising people of the Caucasus filled the market niche. The profits, though very unevenly distributed geographically, brought fabulous wealth to the region. This fed whole hierarchies of corruption as officials at all levels — black marketeers and pure criminals established comfortable monopolies in unsanctioned markets. Moscow, of course, was aware of the corruption, but regarded the Caucasus somewhat like its Sicily: a land of wine, great food, songs and the mafia. </p><p>In their heroic earlier years, the Bolshevik commissars were expected to be more than managers — they were continuously demanded to produce miracles. Willpower, however, works best when it somehow finds the means, and this “somehow” always belonged to the informal understandings shared in the Soviet managerial hierarchy. During the extraordinary years of Stalinist industrialisation, the second world war and post-war recovery the commissars were more than a Weberian rational bureaucracy.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Moscow, of course, was aware of the corruption, but regarded the Caucasus somewhat like its Sicily: a land of wine, great food, songs and the mafia</p><p>In the long years of Soviet decline, their <em>nomenklatura</em> successors became much less than a rational bureaucracy. That extra space ordered by informal understandings gradually filled up with nepotism and corruption, a more typical variety of informal bureaucratic understandings. In the Caucasus, this demoralising process simply ran deeper. When Gorbachev shook the whole Soviet system from above, the <em>nomenklatura</em> felt stunned and scared. When popular uprisings surged right under their windows, they lost nerve and fled. Resistance was minimal.</p><p>In the aftermath of 1991, power across the South Caucasus first fell to the hands of nationalist intelligentsias, who excelled in radical rally oratory. They usually lasted about a year or less. Only in Armenia, where the intelligentsia tribunes rode the wave of victorious patriotism during the Karabakh war, they had time to learn the unsavoury tricks of post-Soviet politics. One example is the alleged exploits of Vano Siradeghyan, children’s writer turned the dreaded security chief, include 30 political assassinations and running monopolies on several food imports. Since 2000 he has been on an Interpol warrant, however, still at large.</p><p>Nonetheless after 1998, the elements of Yerevan intelligentsia were ousted by the cruder, yet more practical provincials promoted during the Karabakh war. This war essentially created the new Armenian state, and its commanders were used to ordering men and procuring the supplies by whatever means. They now seized the state and saw business positions as rightful spoils. These guerrilla veterans gradually displaced all economic and political rivals. But, after all, God loves the Armenians — and gave them no oil.&nbsp;</p><p>On the Azerbaijani side, defeat created an acute turmoil masterfully exploited by the ex-KGB general and ex-member of the Soviet Politburo Heydar Aliyev. As if a signal that the old Master was back, things quietened down, though not after a series of bizarre events and unsolved assassinations. Baku’s oil now flowed to world markets. Outdoing Dubai, Baku got its Heydar Aliyev Centre designed by no less than Zaha Hadid.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01175405.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01175405.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijan’s current president Ilham Aliyev contemplates his father Heydar, former president and party boss during the last years of Soviet Azerbaijan. Baku, 2012. (c) Vladimir Fedorenko / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Remarkably, even basic facts of Heydar Aliyev’s biography, such as the date and place of his birth and death, are hotly contested. Did Aliyev die before or after the succession of his son Ilham to presidency? A tired-looking Azeri intellectual told me in Istanbul: “do not believe that we are one nation with the Turks. They are a state nation, and we are a familial nation.” Although the statement rather betrays the despair of exile, Azerbaijan does look increasingly like a Middle Eastern “presidency for life”. In fact, frighteningly so.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgia, meanwhile, is an ever eccentric case. Its post-Soviet politics goes in an odd cycle where each new leader is first greeted as saviour and in the end cursed as scoundrel. Such was the rise and fall of the mystical national–fundamentalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia in 1989-1992, the Soviet-era big boss Eduard Shevardnadze in 1992-2003, and the mercurial reformer Mikheil Saakashvili who continues playing enfant terrible in the Ukrainian revolution as the governor of Odessa.&nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/peter-pomerantsev/polyphonic-president" target="_blank">Saakashvili’s record in office is especially difficult to judge objectively</a> for he is dismissed and despised even more than he is adulated. What to make of the president who enthusiastically hosted Donald Trump and renamed the road to Tbilisi airport George W. Bush Avenue? Most of Saakashvili’s grandiose investment projects remain a mirage, and he barely survived the 2008 war in separatist South Ossetia.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The politics of minimising people’s pain now fosters conditions for a more successful way out of global postmodernity, wherever it ends</p><p>Yet Saakashvili and his western-educated upstarts did restore state power in Georgia, principally embodied in those soldiers at Sadakhlo wearing US uniforms and the new police force who no longer extort cash at ubiquitous roadblocks — their decent salaries come from the newly collected taxes. Their “tough cop” methods of combatting crime and corruption, however, allegedly bordered on sadistic pornography. His massive defeat at elections in October 2012 dealt a rude surprise to Saakashvili, sending him into exile and landing several key supporters in jail.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgia’s newest saviour was an unlikely figure: the shadowy billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili who had amassed his fortune — reportedly twice larger than Georgia’s state budget — in the gangland Russia of the 1990s. After a brief stint as prime-minister of the splendidly named Georgian Dream coalition, Ivanishvili left mere figureheads in his stead and once again secluded himself in the gaudily postmodernist palace dominating the cityscape of Tbilisi. It remains to see what happens in Georgia after elections this October. Saakashvili’s party survives and nurtures some hope, but the bombast and energy seem gone now.&nbsp;</p><p>The immediate prospects of Armenia and Azerbaijan appear more troubling. Falling oil prices exposed the overreach of Baku’s hubristic drive to become a Dubai on the Caspian. The sultanistic regimes of the kind created by the Aliyev family tend to become very brittle when faced with economic distress and loss of prestige. The kinds of opposition to Ilham Aliyev also seem familiar: liberal intelligentsia in the capital city, the much larger and largely unknowable Islamist opposition in poorer neighborhoods, and aggrieved oligarchs who fell out from the palace circle. The wealthy Azeris from Russia could pose a threat, too.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/7074019303_f9992f9310_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/7074019303_f9992f9310_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A woman passes the ruined railway station in Sukhumi, de-facto capital of Abkhazia. Political realities have frustrated plans to re-open the railway south, once again joining Armenia & Georgia with Russia. CC Marco Fieber / Flicker. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Probably on this political calculus, last April president Ilham Aliyev gambled on redeeming his prestige in a lightning strike against the Armenian forces in Karabakh. After four days of fierce fighting, the Azeris advanced by only a few hundred metres and called it victory.</p><p>Although the Armenian forces largely stood the ground, this shock sent Armenian society into deep soul-searching. The victory in Karabakh remains the single legitimating accomplishment of independent Armenia. It helped to redeem the lasting trauma of Turkish genocide. However, this became impossible to reconcile with the lavish, by local measure, lifestyles of a ruling oligarchy readily noticed in a small impoverished country. On the one hand, Armenia’s population grew politically fearless after all the struggles and travails that they have experienced since 1988. On the other, the Karabakh veterans in power backed themselves into corner by monopolising the state, leaving them with few good moves in the face of de-legitimation.&nbsp;</p><p>The absence of a credible opposition channeled popular emotions into the internet, which can surely enhance emotions, but may not achieve the authoritative coordination required for political struggle. Tensions came to a head in July when a group of Karabakh veterans — or rather a charismatic sect of aggrieved first-wave volunteers left without positions after the war — <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory" target="_blank">attacked a police garrison in Yerevan and declared the beginning of national insurrection</a>. Their ill-conceived plan could not but fail. Even though president Serzh Sargsyan showed restraint, the mutiny accompanied by spontaneous street clashes between police and protesters, badly shook both Armenian society and state institutions.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">These are all only modest hopes for avoiding further disasters and better managing the peripheral varieties of capitalism in the Caucasus. Anything bolder would have to involve the end of postmodernity</p><p>Things need not necessarily end badly in the Caucasus. Overcoming gloom is an important immediate task precisely because our fears are not unfounded.</p><p>Nevertheless, Georgia might soon leave behind its messianic cycles, develop an orderly democratic rotation, and a more accountable political elite. Azerbaijan’s rulers, wearily following the oil markets and now puzzling over the infighting of Turkish patrons and Russia’s daring assertiveness, might instead try to re-legitimate themselves as prudent deal-makers, externally and domestically. Armenia, faced with debilitating impasse on all fronts, could finally turn to the pursuit of economic growth. The rare combination of the educated, hard-working but impoverished population in the homeland with the capital and global connections of an Armenian diaspora is begging for a <a href="http://www.romeconomics.com/beginners-guide-developmental-state/" target="_blank">developmental state</a> of the kind pioneered in once impoverished East Asia.&nbsp;</p><p>These are all only modest hopes for avoiding further disasters and better managing the peripheral varieties of capitalism in the Caucasus. Anything bolder would have to involve the end of postmodernity. But the politics of minimising people’s pain now fosters conditions for a more successful way out of global postmodernity, wherever it ends.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">Depoliticising protests in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory">Armenia’s crisis and the legacy of victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/way-down-in-pankisi">Way down in Pankisi</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tom-junes/where-does-key-to-political-change-in-post-soviet-space-lie">Where does the key to political change lie in the post-Soviet space?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Georgi Derluguian 25 years of change Politics Georgia Conflict Caucasus Azerbaijan Armenia Mon, 03 Oct 2016 10:02:42 +0000 Georgi Derluguian 105718 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s politics of piety https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Georgia’s church is independent of the state. How long before the state can free itself from the church?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-12419472.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-12419472.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="280" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Georgian Orthodox Christmas celebrations at Tbilisi’s Sameba cathedral, 2012. (c) Shakh Aivazov / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Next week Georgia holds parliamentary elections. The pre-election period is the perfect time for politicians to demonstrate their allegiance to the Orthodox Church to gain political legitimacy with the public.</p><p>Georgia’s ruling party Georgian Dream “<a href="http://www.tabula.ge/ge/verbatim/112247-ivanishvili-ufskruls-miveqanebodit-patriarqs-mainc-daujeret-chemi-tu-ar-gjerat" target="_blank">performed marvels during these [last] four years</a>” said former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili in the run-up to the vote on 8 October. “We were heading towards the abyss… if you don’t believe me, listen to the Patriarch!”&nbsp;</p><p>In a country where 83% of citizens identify as Orthodox Christians, the Orthodox Church has considerable political clout. Georgians often boast of the country’s long history of Christianity, which became the state religion of the Georgian Kingdom of Kartli in fourth century AD.&nbsp;</p><p>These days, a constitutional agreement acknowledges the church’s “special role in the history of Georgia”. The relationship may be less formal, but it’s no less important.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Georgia, a popular politician is a pious politician. With elections looming, many are queuing up to kiss the patriarch’s ring</p><p>Gallup research from 2015 shows that <a href="http://www.wingia.com/en/news/losing_our_religion_two_thirds_of_people_still_claim_to_be_religious/290/" target="_blank">Georgia is the fourth the most religious country in the world</a>. Ninety percent of Georgians say that <a href="http://caucasusbarometer.org/en/cb2015ge/RELIMP/" target="_blank">religion is rather or very important in their daily lives</a>, though <a href="http://caucasusbarometer.org/en/cb2015ge/RELSERV/" target="_blank">just 18% of the population say that they attend religious services once or more a week</a>.</p><p>The exalted role of the church in Georgian society is even more important given rising <a href="http://rustavi2.com/en/news/44254" target="_blank">mistrust of politicians and the ruling party</a>. A NDI/CRRC survey this year found that 74% of respondents questioned <a href="http://netgazeti.ge/life/109169/" target="_blank">would not vote for a political party which was critical of the Georgian Orthodox Church</a>.</p><p>In Georgia, a popular politician is a pious politician. With elections looming, many are queuing up to kiss the patriarch’s ring.</p><h2>The politics of the pulpit</h2><p>Using the Orthodox Church as a source of political legitimacy is nothing new in post-Soviet Georgia. Every government since president Eduard Shevardnadze’s tenure (1995-2003) has tried to manipulate the Georgian public’s trust using the church. Thanks to an informal deal between the state and the patriarchate, the Georgian Orthodox Church has gained ideological, legal and finally political recognition. During the tenure of Mikheil Saakashvili (2004-2013), it became financially powerful before breaking the deal with the government by supporting its political opposition.&nbsp;</p><p>If before 2012, the pattern of state financial support to the Georgian Orthodox Church fluctuated according to important political events, since 2012 the state and church have developed more harmonious relations. Tactics have also changed. Unlike in 2012, the church isn’t openly supporting a particular political party. Today’s politics of piety are more behind closed doors, to influence specific policy issues</p><p>That year, the support of the Orthodox Church proved to be decisive for the Georgian Dream coalition, then in opposition. When the Holy Synod announced a resolution in 2012 obliging the clergy to uphold political neutrality, church representatives and supporters of Georgian Dream <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH_GT-I-DUc&amp;feature=plcp" target="_blank">rebelled</a>, holding a protest rally. If necessary, they claimed, they would “take off their cassocks” in search of compromise.&nbsp;</p><p>Voters heard plenty of politics from the pulpit, and the synod never strictly enforced its ruling. After Georgian Dream’s victory in parliamentary elections, a representative of the patriarchate, Deacon Tariel Sikinchilashvili, raised Georgian Dream’s party flag at a monastery fence and <a href="http://for.ge/view.php?for_id=17453&amp;cat=9" target="_blank">hailed Ivanishvili’s victory as God’s miracle</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>The new government knew who to thank. The church’s influence on political processes increased, as seen in legislative changes and the impunity of Orthodox clergy. Religious minorities were particularly concerned.&nbsp;</p><p>The most recent development concerns same-sex marriage. This year, Georgian Dream proposed a draft constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. As same-sex couples cannot actually marry under Georgia’s Civil Code, the initiative seems rather ludicrous. Instead, it appears to be a government strategy to capitalise on public discussions of LGBT rights by attracting conservative voters.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Using the Orthodox Church as a source of political legitimacy is nothing new in post-Soviet Georgia</p><p>This isn’t the first attempt. In 2014, then prime minister Irakli Gharibashvili <a href="http://dfwatch.net/pm-garibashvili-well-decide-same-sex-marriage-issue-by-ourselves-36860" target="_blank">hinted at banning same-sex marriage</a>, even suggesting a constitutional amendment. Orthodox clergy also insisted on legislative changes. In an interview for <em>Asaval-Dasavali</em>, <a href="http://jam-news.net/Publication/Get/en-US/343" target="_blank">one of the most homophobic and xenophobic publications in Georgia</a>, Dean David Isakadze, a high-ranking clergyman and founder of the radical Union of Orthodox Parents, said: “It would probably be good to have a plebiscite […] on same-sex marriage and LGBT propaganda, which would later pass into law.”</p><p>Georgia’s government also adopted a law on elimination of all forms of discrimination in May 2014 after a series of parliamentary debates held to appease the church. This was also a result of an EU-Georgia visa liberalisation agreement, in which Georgia agreed to redouble its efforts to eliminate various forms of discrimination. Nevertheless, Orthodox clerics continued their campaign by calling for restrictions on LGBTQI expression, and discontent towards the government grew.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ivanishvili_Ilia.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ivanishvili_Ilia.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bidzina Ivanishvili and Georgian Orthodox patriarch Ilia II at a meeting in 2013. Image still via Info9 TV / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>So, this year’s call to ban same-sex marriage is the culmination of earlier attempts. Members of the LGBTQI community and human rights defenders argue that the initiative was solely intended to gain “traditional” and pro-Russian votes while striking a chord with the Orthodox Church. Same-sex marriage has never before been a matter for popular political discussion in Georgia. Neither has the physical safety of LGBTQI people — and they’re still under threat.</p><p>In April 2016, the patriarchate made an official statement, together with five other religious organisations, stating that a <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/ge/story/106551-sapatriarqo-da-5-konfesia-mxars-uchers-konstituciashi-qortsinebis-gansazghvras" target="_blank">constitutional amendment on marriage was necessary</a>. It was, they added, in the interest of the absolute majority of Georgian citizens regardless of their ethnic or religious group. The statement even claimed "sexual minorities would also benefit, as eventually [thanks to the law], the risk of violence against them would decrease.”&nbsp;</p><p>Some 80 MPs signed and supported the initiative. Opposition parties, such as the United National Movement and Republican Party, opposed it. After two months, it was still unclear whether the bill would be put to vote. Any constitutional amendment requires at least 113 votes from MPs and they should be present in the chamber.&nbsp;</p><p>Georgian Dream member and first vice-speaker of the parliament Manana Kobakhidze said at a <a href="http://www.parliament.ge/ge/saparlamento-saqmianoba/plenaruli-sxdomebi/plenaruli-sxdomebi_news/parlamentis-plenaruli-sxdoma27052016.page" target="_blank">plenary parliamentary session</a> in May that it was necessary to make changes to the Constitution and if it was not achieved through the support of MPs, the issue might be decided by referendum.</p><p>The government and Orthodox Church took the next step by mobilising interest groups and raising the issue of holding a referendum on defining marriage as union of a man and a woman. Georgia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) received requests from three different initiative groups. In July, the CEC approved a question on referendum signed by 224,000 supporters of an initiative group led by former deputy minister of diaspora issues Sandro Bregadze. The proposed question asked voters: “Do you agree or disagree that marriage should be defined as a union of a man and a woman for the purpose of creating a family?”</p><p>Civil society mobilised, requesting that president Giorgi Margvelashvili oppose the referendum. The president finally blocked the initiative.</p><p>But the story doesn’t end there. Prime minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said in August that, after the elections, <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/ge/verbatim/111077-premieri-archevnebis-shemdeg-qortsinebaze-chanatsers-konstituciashi-avsaxavt" target="_blank">the government still would make the amendments</a>, defining marriage in the constitution as the union of man and woman.</p><h2>New crusades</h2><p>Since his rise to power Bidzina Ivanishvili, informal leader of the country, has made bold statements about the <a href="http://www.rferl.org/content/georgia-lgbt-equal-rights/24986492.html" target="_blank">importance of the protection of “sexual minorities”</a>. Nevertheless, many Georgians remember one date with particular disgust — one which has come to symbolise religiously-motivated violence against peaceful people.</p><p>On 17 May 2013, a small-scale demonstration to mark the international day against homophobia and transphobia (IDAHO) was violently dispersed by Orthodox priests and laypeople in Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi. The timing couldn’t have been worse — the attack happened just two days after Ivanishvili’s positive statements. Persecution of LGBT people continued for months. Hundreds of witnesses were questioned by law enforcement bodies and the case was taken to the Tbilisi City Court. But the priests and three supporters who allegedly committed violence were acquitted two years later.</p><p>Apart from gaining the guarantee of impunity, the Orthodox Church then went on to symbolically occupy Georgia’s public space. The church later pronounced this most traumatic day for LGBT people as a nationwide <a href="http://dfwatch.net/georgian-patriarch-declares-may-17-a-day-of-family-values-92135-28547" target="_blank">“Day of the Family”</a>. Ever since, the government has been unable to guarantee the safety of people who publicly observe the international day against homophobia.</p><p>The patriarchate did not take the rising criticism well. In November 2013, it backed a proposed law against insulting religious feelings, supported by then-deputy interior minister Levan Izoria. However, most members of Georgia’s Council of Religions at the Tolerance Centre under the auspices of Georgia’s Public Defender did not support the bill. They issued a statement against the proposed law, signed by 20 religious entities. Following criticism by civil society organisations, it was dropped.<br /><br /><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-16544237.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-16544237.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Homophobic protesters try to attack a bus carrying LGBTQI activists after a gay pride parade in Tbilisi, 2013. Among their number are several Orthodox priests. (c) Shakh Aivazov / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The church struck back with a new draft law imposing fines for insulting religious feelings in February 2016. However the law's initiator, parliamentarian Ioseb Jachvliani from Georgian Dream, withdrew the proposed law on 15 February, claiming in a letter to parliament that it “needed to be refined”.</p><p>Despite the strong opposition of Orthodox clerics, the anti-discrimination law was eventually adopted. However, prior to passing the bill, non-governmental and a number of religious minority organisations stated that the final draft law was “essentially a step backwards” from the previous version that the ministry of justice had developed.</p><p>The government interpreted the law from the point of view of the Georgian Orthodox Church, reflecting religious discourse in the document. Most worryingly, the draft stipulated that “no provision of the law can be construed to contradict the constitutional agreement between the state and the Orthodox Church of Georgia”.</p><p>It wasn’t enough. On the same day when the bill was passed, the patriarchate stated that the law still “was not acceptable to the church” and they could not agree with the final version. Two years since the adoption of the law, it has hardly been put into practice.&nbsp;</p><p>While the government tried to protect the Georgian Orthodox Church from existing (and potential) criticism and squash public debates, religious minority communities, especially Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?year=2015&amp;dlid=256191#wrapper" target="_blank">continued to face persecution and discrimination on religious grounds</a>. Since 2012, seven instances of Islamophobia and gross violation of Muslims’ rights took place in different regions of Georgia. The government not only was unable to protect the rights of its citizens, but representatives of law enforcement bodies <a href="http://www.ombudsman.ge/uploads/other/3/3892.pdf" target="_blank">allegedly verbally and physically abused Muslims</a>. None of these cases have been fully investigated and alleged perpetrators have not been punished.</p><p>Moreover, due to the influence of Georgian Orthodox Church, usually regional municipalities either don’t issue permits for constructing houses of worship for non-Orthodox communities, or suspend them illegally.&nbsp;</p><p>Over the past two years, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Catholics encountered a series of <a href="http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2118" target="_blank">obstacles from local municipality councils</a>. Jehovah’s Witnesses only got a permit after going to court, while Georgian Catholics have not yet been able to construct a church in Rustavi, an industrial city near Tbilisi, since 2013. </p><h2>Hearts, minds and souls</h2><p>The church has acquired control over education. Georgia’s Law on General Education protects the principle of religious neutrality, and indoctrination and proselytism are forbidden at public schools.</p><p>But according to various <a href="http://tdi.ge/sites/default/files/study_of_religious_discrimination_and_constitutional_secularism_tdi.pdf" target="_blank">local</a> and <a href="http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?year=2015&amp;dlid=256191#wrapper" target="_blank">international</a> reports, this law is systematically violated. Many public schools resemble shrines where religious symbols are displayed in classrooms, the Orthodox clergy preach during school hours, and <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32595514" target="_blank">minorities and atheist students experience discrimination</a>.</p><p>In 2015, Georgia’s ministry of education and science declared that it intended to introduce a new subject for third and fourth grade students at public schools “Society and Me”. Classes would focus on civic awareness, democracy, tolerance, equality and cultural diversity. The patriarchate severely criticised the programme, citing “liberal values” and “gender equality” as threats to Georgia’s traditions and religious mindset.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Georgia’s clergy is bargaining with the state. They call this mass financial support “compensation for the damages” inflicted on the church during the Soviet period</p><p>In September 2015, Levan Vasadze, a Georgian businessman and a founder of the Demographic Development Fund, widely known for his homophobic rhetoric and allegiance to the church, called the new school subject “catastrophic” in an interview with TV channel Maestro. Vasadze admitted that he thoroughly went over the content and provided consultations to the ministry to alter the text. Tamar Sanikidze, minister of education at the time, did not deny Vasadze’s words. When asked whether she was summoned to the patriarchate, Sanikidze responded: “I do not want to get involved in this discussion […] <a href="http://www.epn.ge/?id=11032" target="_blank">I think we should be more careful while talking about the Patriarch</a>.”</p><p>This year, the education minister signed off on “Society and Me” and “Our Georgia”. However, many topics from the previous version have been omitted: the words “minority” and “gender”, the whole chapter “What I believe and have faith in”, and topics like “Why and how should I respect other people despite their different religious creed?” and “Why it is not allowed to commit violence in the name of faith?”</p><h2>When piety pays off</h2><p>Theologian Beka Mindiashvili, one of the founders of Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI), says that there is always an economic interest behind the patriarchate’s religious requests to the Georgian government. In other words, the church is bargaining with the state.</p><p>This relationship becomes evident when looking at the government’s significant financial support for the church. According to a <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/318466011/%25E1%2583%25A0%25E1%2583%2594%25E1%2583%259A%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%2592%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%25A3%25E1%2583%25A0%25E1%2583%2598-%25E1%2583%259D%25E1%2583%25A0%25E1%2583%2592%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%259C%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%2596%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%25AA%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%2594%25E1%2583%2591%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%25A1-%25E1%2583%25A1%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%25AE%25E1%2583%2594%25E1%2583%259A%25E1%2583%259B%25E1%2583%25AC%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%25A4%25E1%2583%259D-%25E1%2583%2593%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%25A4%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%259C%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%259C%25E1%2583%25A1%25E1%2583%2594%25E1%2583%2591%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%25A1-%25E1%2583%259E%25E1%2583%259D%25E1%2583%259A%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%25A2%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%2599%25E1%2583%2590-2014-2015" target="_blank">study on state funding of religious organisations in 2014-2015</a> conducted by the Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) and Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), there has been a significant increase in the funding and transfer of property by the government to the Georgian Orthodox Church.</p><div><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/23924510532_7c80d23dda_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/23924510532_7c80d23dda_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“Georgians, together towards God” Tbilisi, 2012. CC: Tony Bowden / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2014, the state allocated more than 32m Georgian lari (£10.5m) from the budget to the Orthodox Church, including annual subsidy and local transfers from 40 regional and ten Tbilisi district municipalities. In 2015, the state allocated more than 31m lari (£10.1m), including transfers by 48 regional and 10 Tbilisi district municipalities. In 2012, the government’s reserve fund transferred 969,000 lari (£318,000) to the church; in 2015 the sum amounted to 1,590,000 lari (£522,000).</div><p>There has also been an increase in the number and size of property lots and buildings belonging to the church. All told, the state and municipalities transferred 66 pieces of real estate to the Georgian Orthodox Church between 2014 and 2015. This amounted to over 65,000 sqm of real estate during the same period.</p><p>Funds and property transferred to the church are mostly used for religious purposes, violating the constitutional principle of religious neutrality. The state doesn’t check how the money is spent — standards of accountability are not observed.</p><p>The сhurch officially justifies the existing practice by the Constitutional Agreement signed between the state and the patriarchate in 2002 and calls the financial support “compensation for the damages” inflicted on the church during the Soviet period. However, these damages were never calculated by the government and there is defined no time-frame during which these damages should be compensated for.</p><p>“When the ruling party has an incoherent and weak ideological platform, the church succeeds in occupying political and public space. Moreover, it pervades the state institutional domains (for instance, educational system, legislative process) and cements its power,” says Tamta Mikeladze, a lawyer at Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC).</p><p>Today, the state does not need a particular excuse to demonstrate its allegiance to the church, but it does so on a regular basis, often at the expense of targeted non-Orthodox and other minority groups. The biggest loser, of course, is Georgia’s young democracy.</p><p><em>Want to know more about the crossover of religion and politics in the post-Soviet space? Read Badma Biurchiev's investigation into how "traditional" and "non-traditional" Muslims <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">are consolidating against the Russian state in the North Caucasus</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/who-do-i-call-if-i-want-to-speak-to-pro-russian-forces-in-georgia">Who do I call if I want to speak to &quot;pro-Russian forces&quot; in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/inga-popovaite/georgian-muslims-are-strangers-in-their-own-country">Georgian Muslims are strangers in their own country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Eka Chitanava Religion Politics Georgia Caucasus Fri, 30 Sep 2016 13:51:02 +0000 Eka Chitanava 105685 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who do I call if I want to speak to "pro-Russian forces" in Georgia? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/archil-sikharulidze/who-do-i-call-if-i-want-to-speak-to-pro-russian-forces-in-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span style="line-height: 1.5;">In Georgia, whether you're in opposition or in power, you can always call your opponent an agent of the Kremlin.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-25784777.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In recent years, Georgia's political discourse has been reoriented around the figure of "Russia". (c) Shakh Aivazov / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">The August 2008 war, events in Ukraine and role in Syria have raised concerns in the west that Russia seeks to reshape the post-Cold War international system and regain once lost positions around the world. “Deterring” Russia has become a crucial issue for NATO and its allies. But Georgia, where Russia is a crucial pillar of both domestic and foreign political narratives, has taken on this topic to a whole new level.</span></p><p>Russia may be <a href="http://www.tradingeconomics.com/georgia/balance-of-trade">actively involved in the Georgian economy</a>, but our foreign policy narrative represents Russia as an existential threat. With Georgia's status as a “beacon” of democracy in the South Caucasus taken as standard, the country finds itself under a continuous phantom threat from outside. </p><p>This is where Georgia's domestic political narrative comes in. Ever since Mikheil Saakashvili <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7084357.stm">divided society into “patriots” and “non-patriots” in the post-revolutionary years</a>, the Georgian state has publicly searched for “enemy agents” in the form of “pro-Russian forces” and “fifth columns” — these groups are “traitors” who try to undermine Georgia’s sovereignty and aspirations to become a member of the civilised world.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This tactic has been transformed into an approved pre-election campaign to marginalise opponents and mobilise further support from Georgian society</p><p>Indeed, these exact terms have been used to abuse, oppress and libel various Georgian opposition groups and political parties by the political elite. Fast forward to 2016, this tactic has been transformed into an approved pre-election campaign to marginalise opponents and mobilise further support from Georgian society and the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">country’s strategic partners</a>. </p><p>In fact, there is no clear definition of Georgia’s “pro-Russian” phenomenon. Instead, there are various interpretations that make it easy to deploy this term against “undesirable” elements and thus legitimise the use of questionable methods against them.</p><h2>Saakashvili’s rise, fall and rise again</h2><p>Russia’s involvement in its southern neighbour’s political life is an old story. During the 1990s, the Russian state contributed to the unrest in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (separatist regions recognised by Russia) and Georgians were fully aware of that. </p><p>Still, there was no public obsession with Russia in Georgia. Russia wasn't the focus of discussion locally or internationally. Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia's president from 1992 to 2003, did not push the idea of Russia as an enemy, instead trying to maintain good relationships with both the west and the north.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Saakshvili’s government managed to make it acceptable for Georgian society to use questionable methods against so-called “pro-Russian forces” and the “fifth column”</p><p>Everything changed dramatically after the Rose Revolution in 2003. The newly elected political trio of Mikhail Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze assured the international community that they will put the state on a democratic “path”. After the death of Zhvania in 2005, Saakashvili and his political team in the United National Movement (UNM) became the undisputed leaders of Georgia. Saakashvili tried to “restart” Georgian-Russian relations, <a href="http://www.tabula.ge/en/story/72022-the-first-steps-of-their-administrations">but failed</a>. </p><p>After the events of August 2004, <a href="http://reliefweb.int/report/georgia/three-georgian-soldiers-killed-breakaway-region-clashes">when Saakasvhili’s government clashed with separatists in South Ossetia’s Tskhinvali region</a>, it became clear that there was little ground for political dialogue between Georgia and Russia. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-5187522_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>September 2007: thousands of opposition supporters rally in Georgia's capital to demand Saakashvili's resignation. (c) Shakh Aivazov / AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span style="line-height: 1.5;">At the same time, the situation in Georgia itself also became more strained. Saakashvili’s aggressive rhetoric and authoritarian attitudes gave way to a political system with a “firm hand” and one dominant political party in parliament. Lacking balance, Saakashvili’s government </span><a style="line-height: 1.5;" href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=27858">made a few critical mistakes</a><span style="line-height: 1.5;">. By 2007, Saakasvhili’s popularity had seriously declined, which was reflected in a permanent protest that gathered thousands of people.</span></p><p>It was obvious that Saakashvili’s enormous support had melted away. In November of that year, Saakashvili ordered the dispersal of this peaceful protest, <a href="http://www.transparency.org/news/pressrelease/20071107_transparency_international_georgia_comments_on_events_of_november_">which led to mass riots, the closure of opposition TV broadcaster Imedi and the declaration of an emergency situation</a>. </p><p>After Saakashvili was&nbsp;<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7084357.stm">forced to resign and announce new presidential elections</a>, it was clear&nbsp;Saakashvili was in need of a new political campaign that could <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20218">consolidate Georgian society around him and legitimise his actions</a>.&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.5;">He found it in Russia.</span></p><h2>From November to November</h2><p>The people who gathered in downtown Tbilisi in November 2007 <a href="http://georgica.tsu.edu.ge/files/02-Economy/Political%20Economy/Macfarlane-2011.pdf">came out against authoritarianism, abuse of rights and corruption</a>. But prominent figures from UNM initially labelled it as a “pro-Russian rally” that aimed to dismantle Georgia, its sovereignty and overthrow the democratically elected pro-western government. </p><p>Saakashvili told local news agencies that <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7084357.stm">“high-ranking officials in Russian special services are behind this”</a>. Givi Targamadze, the former chairman of the parliamentary defense and security committee, warned protesters that the government would not let the Russian flag be raised on Rustaveli avenue, Tbilisi's central thoroughfare. Moreover, Targamadze argued, the participants of these events would <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuTnBRlBmGY ">“drown in blood”</a>. This was the first case in which a high-ranking Georgian official directly accused a foreign country of an attempt to overthrow the government. </p><p></p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/og1zc2UTcrU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>From November to November, released by Georgia's Public Broadcaster, alleged that the organisers of the 2007 protests were involved in a Russian plot.</em><p></p>Later on, under the direct patronage of the government, Georgia's Public Broadcaster released a documentary called <em><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=og1zc2UTcrU">From November to November</a></em>, in which Nika Gvaramia, Georgia's then deputy state prosecutor, argued that Georgian opposition forces were in a direct contact with the Russian security agencies. <p>Step-by-step, and using “secret recordings”, Gvaramia explained that the leaders of Georgia’s main opposition forces, such as Levan Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party, Giorgi Khaindrava of the Equality Institute, Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, leader of the Freedom Party and Shalva Natelashvili, the leader of the Labor Party, directed the 2007 protests under the guidance of foreign agents. <em>From November to November</em>&nbsp;thus introduced the concept of “pro-Russian forces” and “fifth column” into Georgia’s domestic political culture, justifying the government’s actions as a “necessary evil”. Despite these allegations, no one was arrested or with treason or the organisation of an attempted coup. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">By the end of Saakashvili’s rule, every single individual, group of people or political opponents who had alternative approaches had been labeled “pro-Russian” and “non-patriotic”</p><p>Saakshvili’s government managed to make it acceptable for Georgian society to use questionable methods against so-called “pro-Russian forces” and the “fifth column”. As Koba Turmanidze, the director of Caucasus Research Resource Center, argued, <a href="http://liberali.ge/articles/view/24048/dabruneba-tsarsulshi">an openly “pro-Russian” position could provoke a “harsh response”</a>. This “response” was revealed several years later on 26 May 2011, when <a href="ttp://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23478">protesters led by Nino Burjanadze in Tbilisi</a> were accosted by security officers and brutally beaten. <a href="http://www.democrats.ge/images/stories/0report26mayeng.pdf">Four people were later found dead</a>.</p><p>The government <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13554828 ">called this protest “pro-Russian”</a>, and easily justified its actions while members of Georgian society — afraid of the same fate — turned a blind eye to this “punitive” operation. By the end of Saakashvili’s rule, every single individual, group of people or political opponents who had alternative approaches had been labeled “pro-Russian” and “non-patriotic”. </p><h2>Russia, again</h2><p>Even though Georgia’s post-Rose Revolution government tried hard to stay in power, it lost parliamentary elections to the “pro-Russian” political party Georgian Dream in 2012. </p><p>Saakashvili’s attempts to represent Bidzina Ivanishvili, the oligarchic leader of Georgia’s opposition movement, <a href="http://freshnews.ge/ge/specialuri-reportaji/rusuli-gegma-2016-aleqsandre-chachias-vaji-kremlis-sqemas-shifravs.page">as a close ally of Vladimir Putin failed</a>. As soon as these “agents of foreign states” came to power, they assured Georgian society they would normalise Georgian-Russian relations. </p><p>But while there were hopes that the new government would dismantle the dubious concept of “pro-Russian forces”, Georgian society was deceived. Saakashvili’s legacy remained strong. Just like UNM in the past, Georgian Dream <a href="https://www.ndi.org/March-2016-Public-Opinion-Issues-Press-Release-Georgia">slowly haemorrhaged support thanks to its frequently illogical and ineffective reforms in various fields</a>, including the extremely sensitive judicial and electoral systems. And on top of that, the failure of the Georgian-Russian “reset” <a href="https://www.ndi.org/files/NDI_June_2016%20poll_Public%20Issues_ENG_VFF%20(1).pdf">intensified dissatisfaction among the electorate</a>, on the one hand, and positions of anti-Russian groups, on the other.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">So, who do I call if I want to speak to “pro-Russian forces” in Georgia? It seems the addresses are growing exponentially.</p><p>By September 2015, one year before parliamentary elections in October 2016, and <a href="https://www.ndi.org/node/19854 ">in the wake of Georgian Dream’s falling approval ratings</a>, Russia became relevant again. In a BBC interview, Tina Khidasheli, Georgia’s defence minister at the time, <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/n3csy4sk">urged western states to support Georgia on its way toward NATO and EU integration</a> — otherwise pro-Russian forces would be represented in the new parliament. Funnily enough, it was a colleague of Khidasheli's who appeared in the secret recording with a Russian intelligence operative in&nbsp;<em>From November to November</em> that “proved” Russia's involvement in the November 2007 events.</p><p>It is a paradox that Tina Khidasheli, an active participant of the “Russian-led” events in November 2007, <a href="http://freshnews.ge/ge/specialuri-reportaji/anonsi-rusuli-fuli-saqartveloshi.page">began a search for “Russian spies”</a> among opposition members in the lead-up to this year's parliamentary elections. Nowadays, both the government and opposition use the concept to corral votes and marginalise one another other. </p><p>For instance, take July's <a href="https://www.oscepa.org/meetings/annual-sessions/2016-tbilisi-annual-session">OSCE parliamentary assembly annual meeting in Tbilisi</a>. During the session, OSCE members should have voted for a new president. The UNM presented its own candidate Gigi Tseretely, while the ruling party opposed. By the end of the day, the dispute was not about Tseretely’s candidacy, but <a href="http://rustavi2.com/en/news/50855">rather about which side was cooperating with the Russian delegation</a>. It should be noted that while the Bush administration was previously keen to trust Saakashvili on “pro-Russian forces”, nowadays, <a href="http://dfwatch.net/interview-how-has-georgia-changed-since-2012-36947">it is a less popular topic abroad</a>.</p><p>Russia is both an important trade partner and a threat to Georgian security, but Mikheil Saakashvili managed to transform the country into a popular political method to marginalise his political opponents and oppress them.</p><p>Now, two months before Georgia’s parliamentary elections, the Georgian Dream ruling coalition, which is unable and unwilling to crack down on opponents, is also using the concept to consolidate the electorate. </p><p>So, who do I call if I want to speak to “pro-Russian forces” in Georgia? It seems the addresses are growing exponentially.</p> <em> Want to know more about how politicians use "anti-Russian" and "pro-western" positions to shore up support in Europe? Check out Tom Junes on <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia>the trap of "countering Russia"</a>.</em><p></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/tom-junes/trap-of-countering-russia">The trap of “countering Russia”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-thomas-rowley/why-we-don-t-publish-articles-about-putin">Why we don’t publish articles about Putin</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/oles-petik-halyna-herasym/critical-thinking-at-stake-ukraine-s-witch-hunt-against-journali">Critical thinking at (the) stake: Ukraine’s witch hunt against journalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Archil Sikharulidze Politics Georgia Beyond propaganda Wed, 31 Aug 2016 08:32:56 +0000 Archil Sikharulidze 105030 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In the shadow of conflicts past and present, Ossetians and Georgians have found ways to coexist. Twenty-five years after the collapse of the USSR, how do they fit into the post-Soviet story?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Tskhinvali 2009 - PA Sergey Ponomarev AP Press Association Images.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tskhinvali, South Ossetia: the anniversary of the August 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict is often a tense occasion. (c) Sergey Ponomarev / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></span><span>While some villagers in western Georgia&nbsp;<a href="http://dfwatch.net/stalin-monument-restored-in-georgia-58792-1492">restore statues to Stalin</a>, the people of Areshperani celebrate another prodigy. This small village of 150 in Kakheti, western Georgia, is a centre for the country's Ossetian community, and a home to an immense statue of Kosta Khetagurov, the Ossetian national poet.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Every year on 21 October, Ossetians come from across Georgia to Areshperani for the Kostaoba festival, paying homage to Khetagurov and his work. Not all are so appreciative. In 1995-1996, the monument was blown up with explosives by persons unknown, probably in an act of xenophobic vandalism. It was only reconstructed under Georgia’s reformist president Mikheil Saakashvili.</p><p>It was an important gesture. Relations between Georgians and Ossetians may be cordial, but they haven’t always been easy. In this month in 2008, war broke out between Georgia and Russia over the small, mountainous territory of South Ossetia.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Surviving the peace has proven difficult. Hard times, not hatred, has led many ethnic Ossetians to leave Georgia</span></p><p>The five-day conflict saw hundreds of civilian casualties. Hundreds of thousands of local residents, mostly ethnic Georgians, were displaced. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev then recognised South Ossetia as an independent state. Georgia, along with the vast majority of states, considers this region to be under Russian occupation.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>But surviving the peace has proven difficult. Hard times, not hatred, has led many ethnic Ossetians to leave Georgia, and those who remain are rapidly assimilating.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>To Vladik<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>We’re drinking coffee outside the house of Zeinab Khusoeva, 61, who well remembers the day when Saakashvili restored Areshperani’s statue to Khetagurov. “We stood there with our khachapuri [geo: cheese pie] and wine as Saakashvili arrived with his retinue to rededicate the statue,” she tells me. “They landed in the schoolyard... in two helicopters”.</p><p>A few dogs wander through the dust, a couple of local kids are watching with interest as Zeinab teaches me a few words in Ossetian. Judging by their curious faces, I can tell it’s a learning curve for them too.</p><p>“Buznyg — thank you”. “Booz-neg?” “Buznyg”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Zeinab estimates that today just ten percent of the local residents are Ossetians, adding that migrants from Ajara, western Georgia, resettled after landslides and floods, now live in their empty homes.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Areshperani is seen as a centre for Ossetian culture due to the Kostaoba festival. However, it took some searching to find local Ossetian residents.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_8233.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>This statue to Kosta Khetagurov, the Ossetian national poet, stands outside Areshpani's secondary school. (c) Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Nino Margeeva, Zeinab’s neighbour, approaches us, squinting in the sunlight. She sits in the shade, and turns to squint at me instead. Margeeva’s story is common for many Ossetians in Georgia — she’s married to a Georgian, and has a Georgian grandmother too. Most people have a mixed heritage around here.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></span></p><p>Georgia is known for its ethnic diversity. Its largest minority groups, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/karabakh-view-from-georgia">Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the south</a>, are poorly integrated — <a href="http://dfwatch.net/ethnic-and-religious-minorities-affected-by-population-decline-census-42339">many don’t speak Georgian fluently</a>. In contrast, Ossetians are traditionally Orthodox Christians like the Georgian majority, and overwhelmingly speak fluent Georgian.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Since 2002, the Ossetian population in Georgia (excluding the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia) has more than halved — from 38,028 in 2002 to 14,385 in 2014. A similarly sharp drop can be seen in two Georgian provinces with a traditionally high Ossetian population: the far eastern province of Kakheti and the government-controlled areas of Shida Kartli. Much of this central province is controlled by the breakaway South Ossetian government.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Walking the streets of Areshperani, it’s not difficult to see why people are leaving. Kakheti is rich in fertile land, vineyards and tourist attractions. But it’s not enough</span></p><p>The long-awaited census of 2014 confirmed grim suspicions. Georgia’s population had shrunk by 15% in just 12 years. Poor economic prospects in rural areas have led to depopulation — another 61 villages were abandoned in the same period. In fact, the capital Tbilisi was the only region of the country whose population grew at all.</p><p>Walking the streets of Areshperani, it’s not difficult to see why people are leaving. Kakheti is rich in fertile land, vineyards and tourist attractions. But it’s not enough.</p><p>Villagers are leaving, says Margeeva. According to <a href="http://www.ecmi.de/publications/detail/45-ossetians-in-georgia-in-the-wake-of-the-2008-war-151/">unofficial estimates</a>, some 40% of them have left since the 2008 war. The Ossetians are going over the mountains “to Vladik”, as she affectionately calls Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, which is an autonomous republic in Russia.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Speaking lessons</h2><p>The school at Areshperani is one of three left in Georgia where Ossetian remains a compulsory subject. According to the 2014 census, only 5,968 of Georgia's Ossetians can speak Ossetian, an Indo-Iranian language. This is part of a broader trend — local authorities in both North and South Ossetia are concerned about its fate. </p><p><span>In “Vladik”, they’re switching to Russian; in Tbilisi, to Georgian. There’s been an Ossetian language Sunday school in Georgia’s capital since 1907. A large proportion of Tbilisi’s Ossetians arrived here during Soviet-era industrialisation, settling in the new suburban districts adjacent to the main railway line. Some Ossetians still live here on Java Street, in the suburb of Nakhalovka.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>If you’re lucky, you’ll find Khabidzgina (Oss: ossetian cheese pie) in a few local restaurants. However, there are no Ossetian monuments to speak of, save for a small statue to Khetagurov in the centre, unveiled by Saakashvili in 2007.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The name of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-Soviet president, conjures up dark times for Georgia’s ethnic minorities</p><p>Mariam Dzagoeva, a Tbilisi-based Ossetian journalist, <a href="http://women-peace.net/gruzinskij-yazyk-v-osetii-i-osetinskij-v-gruzii-kak-obstayat-dela/">writes of one ambitious project in the city to rekindle the Ossetian language</a>. Founded in 2015, the Centre for Georgian-Ossetian relations at Tbilisi’s Javakhishvili State University offers courses for Ossetian language learners, and much more besides.</p><p>Nailia Bepieva, the centre’s director, and her colleagues have published Ossetian-Georgian dictionaries and phrasebooks, as well as the translated works of Ossetian poets in Georgian. Bepieva aims for the centre to be of practical use to the Ossetian community.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Despite census figures to the contrary, Bepieva told me that reports of the Ossetian language’s death have been greatly exaggerated. In any case, she adds, Ossetian is far from alone in UNESCO’s handbook of endangered languages. Despite Bepieva’s best efforts, it’s rarely heard on the streets of Tbilisi.</p><h2>“Guests”</h2><p>The name of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Georgia’s first post-Soviet president, conjures up dark times for Georgia’s ethnic minorities. A dissident-turned-demagogue, Gamsakhurdia promoted an extreme Georgian nationalist political programme in the early 1990s. In this view, Ossetians were guests on Georgian territory, and their political demands meant they had overstayed their welcome.</p><p>In 1990, Gamsakhurdia revoked the autonomy of South Ossetia. Enraged Ossetians then demanded an upgrade of their autonomous republic to a union republic, which would have eased their succession after the unravelling of the USSR. The writing was now on the wall.</p><p>By December, a military conflict was imminent — between 60 and 100 villages were burnt down and Georgian and Ossetian militias (the latter with some Russian military assistance) committed numerous human rights abuses.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In 1992, Georgia’s new president Shevardnadze brokered a ceasefire in Sochi. South Ossetia was to remain a confused patchwork of Georgian government and Ossetian militia-controlled enclaves and exclaves until 2008.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Gamsakhurdia.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A banner featuring a quote by Zviad Gamsakhurdia flickers in the wind at Tbilisi’s Dry Bridge market (c) Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><br />Some Ossetians fled Georgia for Russia, crossing the mountains to their compatriots in North Ossetia. By 1992, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/fatima-chumakova/five-bloody-days-in-north-ossetia">a brutal territorial conflict broke out between North Ossetians and their Ingush neighbours to the east</a>. The presence of between 70,000 and 100,000 Ossetian refugees from Georgia only fuelled the flames.</span></p><p>Ethnic solidarity proved a fickle thing. In troubled times, these Ossetian refugees were useful in keeping statistics favourable. Yet <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/valery-dzutsati">Valery Dzutsati</a>, a North Ossetian analyst, told me of several “layers of intolerance” towards the new arrivals. The more standard complaints against labour migrants and refugees (perceived competition for housing and jobs) soon emerged.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">Not only are North Ossetians more Russified — they also speak a different dialect of Ossetian. The Digor and Iron dialects are distinct, and not entirely mutually intelligible</span></p><p>More than mountains divide Ossetians north and south of the Caucasus mountains. According to a 2013 estimate, up to 15% of North Ossetia’s population practice Islam. Some Muslim Ossetians, says Dzutsati, feared that the influx of Christian Ossetians would undermine their already precarious situation in the region.</p><p>Not only are North Ossetians more Russified — they also speak a different dialect of Ossetian. The Digor and Iron dialects are distinct, and not entirely mutually intelligible.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>“A couple of weeks ago, my cousin visited from North Ossetia,” Zarina Sanakoyeva, a&nbsp;<span>South Ossetia-based journalist,&nbsp;</span><span>told me in an online exchange. “We strolled around Tskhinvali [the de-facto capital]. When I mentioned to him that young people here regularly speak Ossetian, or when the waiter in a cafe addressed us in Ossetian, he laughed. He simply wasn’t used to it.”</span></p><h2>De-facto lives</h2><p>The central motorway connecting central and western Georgia passes just kilometres from the de-facto border of South Ossetia. </p><p>As you head to the regional capital of Gori from Tbilisi, a large green warning sign can be seen in the fields to the right. In recent years, the sign has crept closer as Russian soldiers and their South Ossetian colleagues <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/south-ossetia%27s-creeping-border">unroll the barbed wire deeper into Georgian territory</a>, cutting off fields, roads, and even individual villagers in the process.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Here in Shida Kartli region, this “borderisation” has dealt an economic blow to the locals. Times past had seen small-scale commerce and the personal contact it brings. Observers lauded the nearby Ergneti market on the de-facto border as an example of local co-operation — others slated it as a conduit for corruption (Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili closed it down in 2004).<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>While up to 23,000 ethnic Georgians may have fled South Ossetia in the 1991-1992 war, nearly 15,000 more did so in 2008. There are approximately around 125,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from South Ossetia in Georgia today. Together with <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">IDPs from Abkhazia</a>, they number 265,000.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Shavshvebi.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The IDP camp where Galina Kelekhsayeva lives, lies just off the main road between central and western Georgia. (c) Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>Displaced people are poorly integrated and await an ever-receding return home. Georgian politicians <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">may nurture these grievances in public</a>, but IDPs say that they rarely — if ever — make good on their promises.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>A small IDP camp on this road, between the villages of Natsreti and Shavshvebi, is but one example. A couple of hundred IDP families live here, in small concrete huts capped with red metal roofs. It’s spartan, efficient enough. Some IDPs have made ends meet; vegetable gardens are in bloom, South Ossetia is (technically) just down the road.</p><p>“It’s not about raising awareness,” sighs Galina Kelekhsayeva, “everybody’s aware. It’s about resources”. Galina should know. Born in South Ossetia in 1959, she’s seen her own successes. She’s worked on a number of projects empowering refugee women, and has received grants from international donors. On the side, Galina sews bedsheets to sell at the market in Gori.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Galina is an ethnic Ossetian, a fact which — in the grand scheme of things — only came to matter not so long ago. Her husband, who sits here with us in her living room, is Georgian. In the 1990s, she tells me, Ossetians were harassed by Georgian militias and many of their villages burnt. “In 2008, it was the Georgians’ turn to leave.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">The story of Galina’s flight from South Ossetia begins with the same tragic words of many refugee histories, particularly in the South Caucasus: “We thought we’d only be gone for a few days”</p><p>For nationalists, mixed families could mean mixed loyalties. Galina’s roots lie in the Java region of South Ossetia, a mountainous, mostly Ossetian-populated area. As was common for many minority groups, Galina studied in a Russian-language school. After graduation in 1981, she soon found work as a teacher of German and Ossetian.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>She can even write her grant applications in Georgian now. There’s little need for Ossetian anymore — her three grandchildren can’t speak it.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The story of Galina’s flight from South Ossetia begins with the same tragic words of many refugee histories, particularly in the South Caucasus. “We thought we’d only be gone for a few days”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>By 2008, Galina and her family were living near the mostly Georgian village of Kurta, where she worked as a teacher.</p><p>On the eve of the war that August, Georgian villagers fled Kurta. Galina, her husband and her children followed suit, running through the forest.</p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Shavshvebi 2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Galina Kelekhsayeva was resettled to this IDP camp outside Shavshvebi in December 2008. (c) Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The following month, Galina managed to visit her old house outside Kurta. South Ossetian militias had looted and torched the village. “I found two of my dogs alive, and a few chickens. Otherwise, nobody and nothing was left. I wasn’t there long”.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>At the time of writing, Kurta remains a ghost town.&nbsp;<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>For three months, the family lived in a converted kindergarten in Tbilisi. In December 2015, the state resettled them here, a stone’s throw from the de-facto border. The conditions were pretty de-facto too, although over the years she has been able to make a home of this concrete hut.</p><p>Galina left family in South Ossetia — her infirm mother stayed behind in the hamlet of Kemerti. For several months, the family knew nothing about her fate. One day, a phone call came from the Red Cross. They’d found Galina’s mother alive, if not so well, in Vladikavkaz, where she died six years later.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the story of Georgia’s Ossetians sheds light on the scramble for Soviet spoils</p><p>Occasional incidents aside, her ethnicity is of no concern. She has good relations with her Georgian IDP neighbours. The nearby villages here are poor places, whose Georgian and Ossetian residents have bigger problems to tend to than old wounds. Gamsakhurdia is dead and buried, though perhaps not deep enough. Shortly after her arrival, a local official asked Galina why she hadn’t changed her surname.</p><p>Galina suggests that I visit her daughter in the nearby village of Tsitelubani. I’ll have to get permission from the local police headquarters in Gori. Their house is a couple of hundred metres from the de-facto border. Last year, South Ossetian border guards annexed the village cemetery, and a sizeable piece of the family’s land.</p><p>Ethnic Ossetians are among those Georgian citizens <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/south-ossetia%27s-creeping-border">who have suffered from the creeping border</a>. It is a raw tragedy they too must share.</p><h2>Modern passions</h2><p>Twenty-five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the story of Georgia’s Ossetians sheds light on the scramble for Soviet spoils.</p><p>Looking back at the South Caucasus in those years demands that we think again about “ethnic conflict”. Many writers on the region describe the insurgencies and wars which erupted in the 1990s as the result of ancient hatreds. As the USSR fractured, the argument goes, these thawed and ran amok.</p><p>Yet the bloodshed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was an all too modern tragedy. The USSR was built as a multi-ethnic federation; those ethnic groups provided with autonomous regions and republics gained the institutions of (mini)-statehood.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">The bloodshed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was an all too modern tragedy</span></p><p>In Georgia, conflict didn’t break out among the most numerous or even least integrated minorities. It began with those who feared the loss of their autonomy and institutions with the rise of a Georgian nationalist government.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Ossetians spoke Georgian, worshipped alongside Georgians and married Georgians. That they took up arms in the 1990s does not reflect the “narcissism of small differences”, but a failure to compromise after these small differences had been institutionalised by the Soviet state. Weak states could not prevent the escalation to war.</p><p>That many Ossetians leave their villages in search of a better life places them alongside their Georgian neighbours in a broader post-Soviet story of rural poverty and migration. A story which, for what it’s worth, treats all its characters — Georgian or Ossetian — with equal indignity.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fatima-chumakova/five-bloody-days-in-north-ossetia">Five bloody days in North Ossetia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/south-ossetia%27s-creeping-border">South Ossetia&#039;s creeping border</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/karabakh-view-from-georgia">Karabakh: the view from Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maxim Edwards Migration matters 25 years of change South Ossetia Georgia Conflict Caucasus Tue, 30 Aug 2016 07:59:35 +0000 Maxim Edwards 105005 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Way down in Pankisi https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/way-down-in-pankisi <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Georgia’s Pankisi Valley has gained a reputation for violent extremism in recent years. But the international community’s attention isn’t just unwanted, it’s harmful. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/cagara/pankisi_i_media">Русский</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5989-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Duisi, Georgia: local residents hold horse racing (doghi) competitions at the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. (c) Dominik K. Cagara. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>“Why don’t you come and do something useful?” an old acquaintance told me, his scorn undisguised, as I walked through Duisi, the largest village in Georgia’s Pankisi Valley.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>I’ve been coming to Pankisi for over five years, but this is the first time I decided to connect with the local community as a journalist. Not everyone I shared the news with reacted enthusiastically — here in Pankisi, there’s widespread negative sentiment towards foreign journalists.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Advance knowledge</h2><p>“Every journalist who’s worked here has come with a pre-written scenario,” Musa Pankiski, an active member of the valley’s Salafi Muslim community, tells me on my friend’s porch after <em>iftar</em>, the evening meal that marks the break of fast during Ramadan. He refused to reveal his real surname.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>“Journalists know in advance what they want to find in the valley,” Musa argues. “They don’t come in order to find the truth, which is somewhere in the middle; they come to find a scandal. This is one of the reasons behind people’s distrust of journalists. Journalists come, record their footage, later edit it, take things out of the context, and present it as a report. That’s why people’s trust has been affected.”<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>This attitude goes back 15 years, when Pankisi came to home a large number of refugees from neighbouring Chechnya — and the reputation of posing a security threat. Indeed, locals blame foreign media for marking the community out as “terrorist” — <a href="https://www.rt.com/news/330234-georgia-pankisi-isis-lavrov/">a label they’ve had to live with ever since</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class="print-no mag-quote-center">The valley’s residents have a certain allure for both Russian and western media</span></p><p>These attitudes have gained strength recently, after it became known that up to several dozen Kists, a Chechen-speaking ethnic group, <a href="https://theintercept.com/2015/07/09/mujahedeensvalley/">have left the valley in order to fight alongside Islamic State in Syria and Iraq</a>. Members of the community tell me the way foreign media covers issues related to violent religious extremism has reduced their trust in journalists to zero. Moreover, unbalanced, <em>ad hoc</em> reporting on the valley has affected grassroots initiatives aimed at engaging the community in a way that would allow them to articulate their problems in their own voice.</p><p>The unreciprocated love story between the media industry and Pankisi, which is far from the only region of the Caucasus or wider Europe where departures to the Middle East have been reported, is connected to the wider media industry. The valley’s residents have a certain allure for both Russian and western media, as this group has found themselves at a narrative intersection between Russia, the Middle East and the west, informed by the common trope of an untamable Chechen warrior who is both a likable insurgent against Russia and a dauntless Islamic militant.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5911-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>With its recent departures for Syria and Iraq, Georgia's Pankisi Valley has captured the international community's imagination. You can find out more about life in Pankisi at <a href=http://www.pankisitimes.com/>Pankisi Times</a>.</span></span></span>This unique position, fuelled by both Russian and western orientalism towards Chechens, has led to a disproportionate amount of reporting commissioned on Pankisi, while <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/inga-popovaite/georgian-muslims-are-strangers-in-their-own-country">other Muslim communities</a> in the Caucasus, such as the ones in Kakheti, Adjara, Guria, Kvemo Kartli or Azerbaijan, are almost entirely left out.</span></span></p><p><span>This reporting reinforces, rather than challenges, existing political attitudes held by the Georgian and international public, and legitimises policies undertaken by Georgia’s elites.</span></p><h2>White noise</h2><p>Negative attitudes towards journalists and their work have affected the ability of Pankisi<span>’s</span><span>&nbsp;<a href="http://radioway.ge/">local community Radio WAY</a>, whose name translates to “We” in Chechen, to recruit journalists. It has been difficult for the station to conduct reporting due to a mixture of suspicion and mistrust towards journalists and a cultural restraint against speaking out about the small community’s issues in public.</span></p><p>“It is very difficult for local reporters to work here,” Gela Mtivlishvili, editor-in-chief of Radio WAY and the Information Centre of Kakheti, admits. “Working as a reporter is acceptable only for the scarcest exceptions from among the local youth. Since we’re trying to build a community radio, its content needs to be created by staff recruited from among members of the local community. We are putting an extremely hard effort into trying to engage with the local population.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The unreciprocated love story between the media industry and Pankisi is connected to the wider media industry</p><p><span>The tragedy of Pankisi’s entanglement with the global media industry is that general disappointment with journalism translates into people’s reluctance to engage in a grassroots media project, which is meant to empower them and publicly voice their interests, instead of exploiting their experiences for profit.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5698-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Duisi, Georgia: Gela Mtivlishvili trains a journalist at Radio WAY, which means "We" in Chechen. (c) Dominik K. Cagara. All rights reserved.</span></span></span><span>Shorena Khangoshvili, a local English teacher and journalist at Radio WAY, says that, despite these difficulties, there have been <a href="http://onnik-krikorian.com/2016/03/some-positive-news-from-pankisi/">positive trends in community engagement</a> once people in Pankisi started to realise that the radio station is a way for the community to assert itself.</span></span></p><p>“It’s been difficult to conduct vox pops, to ask about even the most trivial issues,<span>”</span><span>&nbsp;Shorena tells me. “For instance: ‘Will you vote in the upcoming elections?’ These interview attempts can be met with very negative reactions. Still, I think that the radio has managed to do its job. […] The role of the radio is not only to report about issues, but also to stand up for people’s interests, which eventually encouraged them to enter into communication. They have started to become more or less used to the fact that they can voice their opinions publicly, which they weren’t comfortable with before.”</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">International outlets systematically ignore the social and economic issues which the people of Pankisi overwhelmingly consider their greatest shared tragedy</p><p>In this sense, Pankisi has attracted a large number of foreign media outlets which feed on and exploit one small aspect of the community’s shared experience — the presence of violent extremism widely embodied by <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/03/abu-omar-al-shishani-death-isis-commander-syria-160310053632955.html">Umar Shishani</a>, the Pankisi-born fighter in the ranks of the Islamic State — for ratings which translate into profit, in case of western media, or into advancing political agenda, in case of Russian outlets. In doing so, these international outlets systematically ignore the social and economic issues which the people of Pankisi overwhelmingly consider their greatest shared tragedy.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Despite being reluctant to do so, some members of the community continue to give interviews for fear of being portrayed as “radical” and uncooperative, as if they have something to hide. As Radio WAY shows, the media industry has the capacity to impede organic grassroots activities aimed at empowering communities to find their own solutions to their problems.</p><p>Reporting oriented at violent extremism attracts a lot of attention from international donors, who have begun to fund an array of activities in the area. The response to these activities, such as meetings with Islamic scholars, driving lessons or computer and internet literacy courses have been met with an overwhelmingly positive response. More development-oriented projects, such as developing ecotourism or creating workplaces (for instance, a recent initiative to set up a community sewing workshop), weren’t financially sustainable enough to succeed.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Rural divide</h2><p>These projects are, however, only a drop in the ocean, and are lost amidst the absence of a comprehensive development policy for rural areas from the Georgian state.</p><p>For instance, without being able to apply your skills in meaningful employment, the skills development projects, although noble and justifiable, lose a lot of their importance. Setting up a community sewing workshop is honourable, but futile when Georgia’s subsequent liberal governments seek to attract foreign direct investment instead of increasing their efforts to support local industry.</p><p>The presence of international NGOs in Pankisi and their projects should serve as a guidepost for the Georgian authorities. NGO activities do not absolve the authorities from stepping up and taking responsibility for the enduring lack of progressive change in the valley — or any other rural region in Georgia.</p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5703-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Georgian state, as the legitimate provider of security, should radically rethink its priorities by readjusting its development policies.</span></span></span>Locals say that the valley has been depopulating due to economically motivated migration to Russia and the west. While the 2002 Georgian national census recorded 7,100 Kists living in Georgia, the 2014 census recorded only 5,700 — a decline of 20%. Unemployment rates are soaring and there is a general feeling of despair, especially among the younger generation, who see few opportunities for self-realisation in Pankisi or elsewhere in Georgia. Shorena, the teacher who works at Radio WAY, points out that the problem needs to be considered on a national scale.</span></p><p>“Unemployment is an issue everywhere in Georgia, including here. Pankisi is not special in this respect,” Shorena says. “It’s obvious that there is a high rate of youth migration. Despite the fact that different projects are being done here, they still prefer to leave to find their own ways of self-realisation. In a way, Pankisi is a blind alley. It is just a couple of villages and it doesn’t matter how good education you receive, there is no way you can develop here.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">NGO activities do not absolve the authorities from stepping up and taking responsibility for the enduring lack of progressive change here</p><p>Since the 2002 census, Georgia has lost 15% of its population to outmigration. The only region of Georgia that has grown in the last 12 years is Tbilisi, which can be attributed to a pattern of migration to the capital in order to find employment. It shows that uncontrolled urbanisation, lack of a comprehensive development plan for rural areas, excessive focus on foreign direct investment with virtually no investment on behalf of the state, have all contributed to a spectacular failure to create employment opportunities in Georgia’s rural regions.</p><p>The resulting monopolisation of social aid in the hands of local Salafi activists, with the support of foreign charity funds, drives Kists further away from the state and Georgian societal structures, contributing to their isolation. While virtually all Kists speak fluent Georgian and can be considered well integrated into Georgian society, the difficulty in finding work, in addition to the disadvantage of coming from a rural region, can be connected to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/inga-popovaite/georgian-muslims-are-strangers-in-their-own-country">widespread anti-Islamic sentiments in Georgia</a>.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>The local environment is such that Georgian citizens and residents of Pankisi in particular are forced to leave Georgia to satisfy their basic needs, such as a varied diet or warm clothing, not to mention self-development and realisation. The Georgian state, as the legitimate provider of security, should radically rethink its priorities by readjusting its development policies. Otherwise, there is a risk that any form of grassroots activism will fail and the community’s problems will continue to be borne in isolation, silently.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Only policies based on the ideals of social justice will empower local people with dignity so they can engage in activism — whether in journalism, development or preventing violent extremism — and stand up for their own interests.</p><p><em>Why is Georgia's State Agency for Religious Issues accusing NGOs of fostering radicalisation? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/civil-society-and-countering-violent-extremism-in-georgia">Find out more about the role for Georgia's civil society in countering extremism here</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/civil-society-and-countering-violent-extremism-in-georgia">Civil society and countering violent extremism in Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/inga-popovaite/georgian-muslims-are-strangers-in-their-own-country">Georgian Muslims are strangers in their own country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/victory-day-in-tbilisi">Victory Day in Tbilisi</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/onnik-james-krikorian/karabakh-view-from-georgia">Karabakh: the view from Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/regina-jegorova-askerova/breaking-cycle-ending-underage-marriage-in-georgia">Breaking the cycle: ending underage marriage in Georgia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dominik K. Cagara Beyond propaganda Georgia Tue, 12 Jul 2016 06:55:58 +0000 Dominik K. Cagara 103817 at https://www.opendemocracy.net