In its cautious, arduous attempts to make up with Russia, Georgia brought to the negotiation table its key natural resources: wine, mineral water and folk dancing. But the ongoing cultural and business rapprochement, which Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili hopes will usher in a diplomatic reconciliation, is pitting pragmatic Georgians against patriotic Georgians in an increasingly bitter fight.
After nearly seven years of abstinence from Georgian alcohol, Russia on March 6 essentially allowed wine and mineral water from its southern neighbor back on its national dinner table. The decision came after Russia’s federal wine-tasters spent many hours in Georgia, scrupulously sampling the wine to make sure the NATO-aspiring country’s alcohol didn’t taste anti-Russian.
Concurrently, one prominent Georgian cultural act took place in Russia. But the performers face stone-pelting at home for what some call selling-out to the oppressor, as many Georgians are not buying the art-and-business-are-above-politics argument.
A series of Moscow performances by the Erisioni ensemble may be a success in Russia, but is a flop in Georgia. The collective of folk dancers, musicians and singers has become the target of vitriolic attacks online and in the media.
Italian novelist Umberto Eco would have no trouble transforming the turmoil over Armenia's February 18 presidential election into a fantasy thriller complete with secret societies, mystical forces and evil home repairmen.
In a fresh subplot in the ongoing Armenia-elects-a-president drama, one presidential candidate has now been accused of plotting to assassinate another. Meanwhile, a more ordinary stand-off between the two main characters -- the official winner and the runner-up -- continues apace over whether or not the election results were rigged.
On March 5, Vardan Sedrakian, a mythologist, occultist and failed presidential hopeful, was arrested and charged with conspiring to kill candidate Paruyr Hayrikian, who survived a shooting attack two weeks before the election.
Finding the basis for this claim could prove an uphill struggle. But there is one connection to masonry: two of the alleged attackers on Hayrikian reportedly remodeled mythologist Sedrakian’s summer house.
A small crowd of frail, elderly Georgians bearing red banners and wreaths gathered on Tuesday in front of Joseph Stalin’s childhood home in the town of Gori to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet leader’s death.
“Comrades, we have gathered here to remember the great leader,” said Alexandre Lursmanashvili, the chairperson of Gori’s tiny Community Party, as he stood in front of the Stalin museum. With their hair blowing in the wind, elderly men and women swaddled in winter coats listened and applauded solemnly.
“Don’t film just the old people. Film the young as well,” some instructed reporters, pointing at a younger woman with a red flag. After some photo-opp'ing, the crowd walked to a nearby church to attend a memorial service for the city’s most famous son.
A recent study commissioned by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has shown that Stalin is still very popular in his native Georgia, though diehard admirers like members of the small Communist Party are few in number. The study, which includes surveys of respondents in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, showed that a startling 45 percent of an unspecified number of Georgian respondents still view the Great Terror's architect positively. Unlike for other ex-Soviet spots, though, in Georgia Stalin is more of a national brand than just a USSR leader and a victor of World War II.
“He made us famous,” commented one elderly woman in Gori to EurasiaNet.org. “He was born here, in our town, he built a great, beautiful country and then he saved the world from Nazi Germany. Did any other Georgian do anything that even comes near to that?”
Armenian presidential candidate Raffi Hovhannisian, who argues that a rigged February 18 presidential election deprived "the people" of "victory" against incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, has said that he will demand today that the country's Constitutional Court throw out the official election results.
The Court has said that it will consider the appeal in ten days, Aysor.am reported. The March 4 move will open a legal front in Hovhannisian’s battle for the presidency, which, so far, has mostly unfolded in the form of street protests and campaigning. The US-born leader of the tiny opposition Heritage Party ambitiously has described his fight as the “Hello Revolution,” or "Barevolution."
But the chances remain slim that Hovhannisian, a onetime foreign minister, will get a favorable court decision or a critical mass of popular support for greeting his arrival in the presidential residence. His rival Sargsyan has already been welcomed back into the presidents’ club by world leaders such as US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sargsyan also commands influence with Armenia’s state institutions and the Constitutional Court is no exception, local commentators say.
Armenia’s handling of the voting process scarcely passed muster with international observers, who noted “implausibly high” support for the incumbent in several precincts, but the election monitors did not say that the irregularities warranted reconsidering the outcome of the national vote. Local observers have dismissed such findings as wide of the mark.
With all the dramatic flair of a silent movie star, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili sent his security detail home the other day, later saying he needs no bodyguard other than his Dutch-born wife, Sandra Roelofs. He then sat down in his tiny blue electric car and drove himself and the First Lady to the Tbilisi airport for an official trip to Baku.
But after coming back from Azerbaijan, the president found a convoy of security vehicles waiting for him at the airport, as if they were never dismissed. The big black SUVs, dispatched by the government, followed home the little presidential Nissan Leaf, which resolutely ignored them.
President Saakashvili and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili have fought over speeches, arrests, constitutional changes and more. So, it should come as no surprise that they are now fighting over whether or not the president will have bodyguards.
Since last year's parliamentary elections, most components of the presidential security service -- like most of Georgia's government agencies -- have been taken over by the prime minister’s office. In turn, the president claims that the prime minister's people have been bringing pressure to bear on his personal bodyguards, so that he was compelled to relinquish the reported 350-person team altogether.
The case of a Georgian man serving life for an alleged 2005 assassination attempt against former US President George W. Bush in Tbilisi will not be reconsidered, despite pleas from the convict’s mother.
“My son is a political prisoner [and] an illegal prisoner,” Anzhela Arutinian told a February 28 press conference. “They have to give me back my boy. I am all alone. I have no one in this world.“
In family-centric Georgia, such an appeal can carry a certain weight, but, apparently, not with the Ministry of Justice, which, according to the TV station Maestro, said there were no grounds to reconsider the case.
Thirty-four-year-old Vladimer (Vova) Arutinian was convicted in 2006 for allegedly throwing a hand grenade into a crowd that had gathered in downtown Tbilisi's Freedom Square to see President Bush during his May 2005 visit to Georgia. The visit almost turned into a national celebration, with Bush calling the country a "beacon of democracy" and dancing on stage.
Georgian officials initially believed that Arutinian’s grenade was a dud, but later said that it simply failed to detonate. Wrapped in a piece of cloth, the grenade allegedly hit one person in the crowd before landing some 30 meters away from Bush, Georgian police said. Police later raided Arutinian’s apartment in a poor Tbilisi suburb. In the ensuing shootout, one policeman died and Arutinian was wounded.
After sashaying to a folk dance with a dictator in Russia's North Caucasus, French cinema legend Gérard Depardieu may next appear in Azerbaijan for a film . . . and, perhaps, more dancing.
The larger-than-life French actor, who often goes on junkets to ex-Soviet spots these days, plans a “big movie” about sports in the young republic of Azerbaijan, said French film producer Arnau Frille, Russian and Azerbaijani media report.
Storyline details are not known, but, no doubt, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, head of Azerbaijan's 2015 European Olympics preparation committee, and President Ilham Aliyev, head of its Olympics committee, could make a few suggestions.
In the latest twist in Georgia's ongoing, high-stakes political drama, a Tbilisi court on February 25 rejected the central government's demand for the resignation of Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, one of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's closest allies, following criminal charges on misuse of budgetary funds.
Pending an April 10 hearing on the charges of alleged embezzlement/misappropriation of funds and money-laundering,Ugulava, Georgia's first elected mayor, was not required to post bail
and will be left free. The prosecution had requested that bail be set at one million laris
(over $600,000), Ugulava's suspension from office and a ban on travel
“I simply don’t have a million lari to pay,” declared Ugulava, to jeers from Georgian Dream members, who long have accused the 37-year-old mayor of skimming off millions from the city budget.
The judge found no grounds for any of the proposed measures against Ugulava; a ruling that a packed courtroom and supporters outside cheered as a clear victory.
Former Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili, whom prosecutors named as the middle man in an alleged government attempt involving Ugulava to take over the private TV station Imedi, was sentenced to pre-trial detention in-absentia. His whereabouts are not known.
President Saakashvili strongly defended Ugalava and, again, slammed the ongoing prosecutions of his loyalists as an attempt by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili to destroy the opposition, represented by Saakashvili's United National Movement.
Supporters of Armenian presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian are gathering this evening in central Yerevan for what Hovannisian called a "celebration of victory", but more questions than answers exist about the claim.
The official returns for the February 18 vote placed the American-born Heritage Party leader far behind incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, but Hovannisian claims this is a result of his votes being stolen. Sargsyan failed to convince his challenger otherwise during a tête-à-tête yesterday in the presidential residence, and Hovannisian emerged from the talks insisting that he would press on.
“My dear compatriots . . . we are defending our Constitution, our rights,” he declared to protesters in Liberty Square. “This is not about the fight between Raffi and Serzh, but about the future of the Republic of Armenia and its citizens.”
Mindful of the ten deaths that followed the last time there was a presidential election fight, both sides appear to be approaching the conflict with some degree of caution.
The presidential administration released a little video teaser of the closed meeting between the two men. “You look kind of sad,” Sargsyan told Hovannisian with a disarming smile -- an observation which his rival denied, also with a smile.
Apart from legislative occasions, a chokha also can be worn when washing a car.
Georgian lawmakers might soon need to upgrade their wardrobes if a new legislative fashion bill gets through parliament. The legislation, currently under discussion, will allow representatives to get decked out in traditional outfits for ordinary sessions of the national assembly.
The Conservative Party, a member of the ruling Georgian Dream alliance, and one with a taste for wearing traditional attire to parliament's opening sessions, initiated the sartorial bill in a bid to "popularize" traditional Georgian culture, but many of the rest of the representatives were left scratching their heads.
The centerpiece for Georgian men's traditional dress is the chokha, a waist-hugging longish wool coat complete with bandoliers and daggers. The ladies of the legislature might need to put on headdresses, attached to long, gauzy veils, to match their full-length dresses, possibly worn over stiff petticoats or crinolines.
Many Georgian men eagerly don chokhas for weddings and other social functions, but women tend to be less inclined to adopt their ancestors' clothing.
Sporting such attire within Georgia's spaceship-style parliament could make for an unusual visual contrast, to say the least. Georgian Dream parliamentarian Levan Berdzenishvili, no fan of chokhas, expressed skepticism about women MPs milling around the legislature with chikhti-kopis on their heads.