Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s daughter, Ana Margvelashvili, has accused the police of fabricating evidence of illegal-drug possession against her friends and family members in possible retaliation against her father’s refusal to side with the ruling party.
In a March 21 TV interview, the First Daughter alleged that police had planted 18 pills of Subutex, a synthetic opioid, on her close friend, Mikheil Tatarashvili, while other friends and her brother-in-law, Mindia Gogochuri, had been threatened with the same scenario.
Her proof hinges on what she says are eyewitness accounts and a cell-phone video of plainclothes police officers charging into a regional restaurant to search members of the group, and haul off Tatarashvili. He has been charged with possession of large quantities of illegal narcotics.
“When family and friends of a man who has a different perspective are being persecuted like this, there is probably some kind of connection,” Margvelashvili, 24, commented to Rustavi2, a station critical of the government.
Interior Minister Giorgi Mghebrishvili dismissed her allegations, saying that “nobody is planting anything.” He underlined that being “someone’s daughter” or holding a government office will not provide immunity against criminal prosecution.
Parking tickets may be hated universally, but car owners in the Georgian city of Batumi took it to an extreme this past Saturday with mass rioting that revived old memories of civil unrest. The political blame-game that followed left little hope for a widely acceptable explanation of why one parking ticket led to fierce clashes between police and protesters in the country’s top seaside resort.
Authorities in Batumi, seat of the Black-Sea region of Achara, have been taking stock of the damage done on a night of rampage that left cars burnt, property vandalized and dozens arrested. City Mayor Giorgi Ermakov put the damage at 150,000 laris (about $60,000). He said that the local government already has repaved cobbled sidewalks that provided ammunition for protesters. Riot police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
The trouble began on the evening of March 11, after a Batumi man and his son came out of a drugstore to find police ticketing their car for being parked in a restricted area, eyewitnesses say. An altercation followed that ended in both men’s arrest. (Their names have not been released.)
Bystanders tried to intervene, blaming police for using excessive force. “They pushed [the son] in like a sack of potatoes,” an emotional woman told Rustavi2 television station.
As elsewhere in the Caucasus, flower-giving for International Women's Day in Armenia contrasts starkly with the widespread problem of domestic violence. (http://www.medialab.am/gallery/cartoon_lab/id/5108)
In the South Caucasus, International Women’s Day is still largely about men offering flowers, candies and compliments to their mothers, wives and significant female others. But many women in the region are now saying that they want “rights, not flowers.”
Throughout the post-Soviet part of the world, March 8 has long ranked as a bit of a Soviet Valentine’s Day. In keeping with that tradition, Russia’s Vladimir Putin this year panegyrized women’s beauty and grace, and threw in a poem for good measure. “Woman is with us when we are born; woman is with us in our final hour; woman is the flag we fight for,” the Kremlin boss rhapsodized, borrowing lines by the 19th-century Russian symbolist poet Konstantin Balmont.
Caucasus leaders avoided poetry, but their governments did have other offerings.
In Armenia, female arrivals at the Yerevan airport received flowers, courtesy of the Armenian capital’s authorities. Meanwhile, in Yerevan’s central square, Armenian Sports Minister Hrachya Rostomian whirled about with a group of cyclists, doling out both flowers and greetings to women.
The European Court of Human Rights on March 7 extended its freeze on a controversial court decision allowing an ownership change at Georgia’s largest private TV station, Rustavi2, that observers claimed would muffle media criticism of the government.
Neither officials nor Rustavi2’s would-be owner, Kibar Khalvashi, responded immediately to the decision, but Rustavi2’s general director, Nika Gvaramia, posted the ECHR notification on his Facebook page, announcing that “We’ve won!”
The decision is not a court ruling, but does prolong “until further notice” the ECHR’s March 3 request that Georgia suspend the ownership change pending a hearing of the Rustavi2 case by the Strasbourg-based court.
At the very least, the decision delayed a new chapter in Rustavi2’s chequered history.
Once a fierce critic of the late President Eduard Shevardnadze and a conduit for the 2003 Rose Revolution, Rustavi2 went on to become a government loyalist under President Mikheil Saakashvili, and then back to being a government detractor after Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream came to power in 2012.
Many Georgians see the station as biased toward the pro-Saakashvili opposition, with Khalvashi’s bid to retake Rustavi2 simply a cover for a takeover attempt by the government and Ivanishvili.
More than two weeks on, an investigation into a potential scheme to poison the iconic leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, is nowhere near its denouement, leaving Georgians entrapped, spellbound, in a tangle of conspiracies straight out of an Umberto Eco novel.
If there is one thing that has become clear throughout the whole debacle is that there is a fierce, ongoing battle to become the 84-year-old patriarch’s heir apparent. The outcome of the battle has far-reaching impact in Georgia, one of the world’s oldest Christian countries, where sectarian and secular matters are deeply intertwined.
But what role the 32-year-old deacon, Giorgi Mamaladze, charged with the attempted murder of a “senior cleric,” has to play in this battle remains unknown.
Prosecutors spent an improbable eight hours on February 27 interrogating Mamaladze, yet, even as Georgians waited for a televised tell-all, emerged to say only that they have more questions than answers.
Mamaladze was caught with cyanide in the Tbilisi airport on February 10 en route “to Germany,” where the 84-year-old patriarch was undergoing gallbladder surgery in Berlin. The government cites an anonymous tipster to explain the charges of attempted murder brought against the deacon.
Within the Church hierarchy, clerics have engaged in unusually public speculation and bickering to come up with their own explanations.
An embattled Israeli-Russian travel blogger was trotted in front of news crews in Baku on February 8 following his extradition from Belarus to Azerbaijan, where he is facing charges of illegal border-crossing and hostile activity.
News reports showed handcuffed blogger Alexander Lapshin emerging from a government jet in the Baku airport and escorted with gun-wielding guards in balaclavas. “The extradition of Alexander Lapshin is another testimony that Azerbaijan is capable of defending its national interests,” said Deputy Prime Minister Ali Akhmedov.
He remains in pre-trial detention, his next destination not disclosed.
The Russian-language blogger stands accused of unauthorized entry into Nagorno Karabakh, a breakaway territory from Azerbaijan controlled by ethnic Armenian rebels and Armenian military forces. Baku also accuses Lapshin of posting entries supportive of Karabakh’s independence on his Livejournal blog, Puerrtto.
Azerbaijan long has tried to coerce Karabakh back under Baku’s fold through international isolation; mainly by blacklisting foreign travelers to the territory. But this is the first time Azerbaijan had a foreign national arrested in a foreign country and then handed over to its control for such an offense.
One week after the European Parliament granted Georgia visa-free access to the European Union, the South Caucasus country has entered into a rivalry with Russia over laying a road to the EU for breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Parliament’s February 2 approval of the visa-free plan marks a big leap forward for Georgia in its long journey from the Soviet Union into Europe, and it wants its Russian-backed separatists to get Georgian passports and come along for the ride.
The separatists have dismissed Tbilisi’s advances as wishful thinking, but it appears that Moscow, which recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, and provides them with military and economic support, was put on guard.
It claims it can trump Tbilisi’s offer by convincing the EU to start accepting the breakaway regions’ own passports for travel.
In a February 7 remark, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin half-heartedly welcomed the EU’s decision to exempt Georgia from short-stay visas as a “positive act,” but advised that the EU should next start accepting visa applications from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and “abandon its restrictions” for their “citizens.” Moscow, he said, will raise the matter with Brussels soon.
This might be the emptiest promise Moscow could make to its protectorates, as the EU is fairly strict about its policy of not recognizing the statehood of the Russian-backed breakaway regions.
It also is hardly in Moscow’s interest to let go of the two territories’ tight ties with Russia, which has backed separatism – in Ukraine, as well – as a way to curb the EU’s influence in the post-Soviet space.
Turkey’s campaign against schools reportedly linked to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen got a mega-boost late last week when the Georgian government opted to suspend the license of Batumi’s Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School, a private institution earlier denounced by a Turkish diplomat for supposedly “serving terrorist groups” loyal to Gülen.
Georgia’s decision to cancel the school’s operating license came just days after 270 suspects went on trial in Turkey for alleged involvement in a failed coup attempt last July that Ankara blames on the US-based Gülen, now being tried in absentia. Washington does not recognize the 75-year-old Islamic teacher as a terrorist.
Despite its strategic ties with Turkey, Georgia, unlike other Eurasian countries, previously had made no move to close institutions considered part of Gülen’s international network of schools.
The grounds for its decision to do so now are less than crystal clear. The official decision, apparently taken on February 3, may not be published until next week.
The spokesperson for the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement, the body overseeing school licenses, said only that a monitoring group had found “serious violations” of regulations, including for enrollment procedures, Interpressnews reported.
Pink protest hats were not the only piece of clothing to mark US President Donald Trump’s January 20 inauguration. He did, in fact, receive a chokha, a traditional wool coat from the Caucasus for men, usually worn with a dagger.
Little suggests that Trump will soon cut a dash in the bandoliered, cinched-at-the-waist costume from a Tbilisi apparel shop. But its offering symbolizes the regional hope that he will not overlook the Caucasus.
Even before Trump’s calls for “America First,” local analysts believe that American foreign policy had become introverted under Barack Obama, with the Caucasus fading fast on Washington’s radar.
So far, expectations are not high that Trump will reverse that trend. Aside from two defunct hotel projects, he has never shown a personal interest in this geostrategic crossroads.
Nonetheless, mulling the Trump future and the Obama past, the South Caucasus closely watched the new American leader’s swearing-in. Some in Tbilisi even opted to take part in a local Women’s March.
Yet Trump’s divisive flamboyance is not what counts in this part of the world. What does is Washington’s actual role in global and regional affairs.
In Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, some observers say that Obama was the least concerned with post-Soviet affairs of any US president in memory. And when the US takes a step back, it can only mean one thing in these parts: Russia steps in.
Georgia's Father Frost pours acid on a dead Santa Claus in New Studio's controversial online video.
Murdered in an online video and framed for an armed robbery, Santa Claus had a tough holiday season in Georgia this year.
His troubles began with what seemed at first like just another one of those cuddly Christmas commercials.
As a jingle plays, a bespectacled Santa, fresh from the chimney, checks out the room, helps himself to candy and starts placing presents under a glittering Christmas tree. Suddenly, a menacing voice rasps: “Real men come in through the door.” Santa turns around to see his Georgian counterpart, Tovlis Papa (Father Frost), sporting his traditional gear and an unusual bad mood. While grudgingly watching his Western rival, Tovlis Papa has been using his dagger to whittle a piece of wood into the Georgian version of a Christmas tree, a chichilaki.
The next scene shows a trail of blood, leading to the bathroom. Santa’s leg is sticking out of the bathtub. Tovlis Papa, changed into protective coveralls and glasses, is getting ready to pour acid into the tub when a little boy walks in. After a suspenseful moment, the kid, with an approving nod from Tovlis Papa, drags off the dead Santa’s bag of gifts.
For many Georgians, the art-video, produced by a Tbilisi studio known for its edgy TV ads, hit a raw nerve with its allusion to friction between nationalism and Westernization.
Interpretations vary widely about whether the intention was to support or mock the tendency of being jealously protective of traditional Georgian ways against “corrupting” Western influences.