Tbilisi-based journalist (and frequent Eurasianet contributor) Paul Rimple has a very interesting take on billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose Georgian Dream party was the big winner of Georgia's Oct. 1 parliamentary elections. How to understand the surprise contender? sit down with him for dinner, suggests Rimple. From an excellent post of his on the Roads & Kingdoms blog:
Dozens of guests are sitting around a table that is at least 20 meters long, piled high with plates of earthy east Georgian dishes. More home-cooked food is coming. I’ve got one eye on a bowl of khashlama that was just set down. So does the billionaire.
We are in Kakheti, the hilly wine region of eastern Georgia, where khashlama is the signature dish. It might look like boiled beef, but that’s like saying wine looks like vinegar. It’s actually a heroic mix of fresh herbs, salt and beef, slow-cooked in an open cauldron. The billionaire, sitting across from me, spoons a chunk onto his plate. He is the only person holding his utensils upright, like a proper European (the English journalist with us might have done the same, I suppose, but he was still holding a pen and notebook). It’s not that I hadn’t expected such upstanding usage of the cutlery—earlier I watched him taste the homemade wine as if it had been corked in France in 1981—but there are plenty of foods, including some of the herbs on the table, that are just expected to be eaten by hand in Georgia. There’s something unsettling about a man, no matter what his tax bracket, using knife and fork at a country table in Kakheti.
The billionaire is Bidzina Ivanishvili, the most serious challenger to Georgian President Mikheil “Misha” Saakashvili since the Rose Revolution put Misha in power in 2004. This is my first meeting with the contender. It’s billed as an interview, including me and journalists from Le Monde and the Financial Times, but I’m actually most excited just to just watch him eat. If you want to know who politicians really are, don’t interview them. Eat with them.
Rimple is clearly impressed by the neat and proper Ivanishvili, especially in comparison with Saakashvili's reputation for stuffing his face. But watching the billionaire in action at the dinner table and on the campaign trail leaves the journalist unsettled. "A billionaire-politician who intends to build democratic institutions without a plan is every bit as suspicious as a Georgian that eats only with a knife and fork," Rimple writes.