The bill on local self-governance aims to give regional towns and communities more decision-making power via the election of local mayors and municipal officials. Today, only the mayor of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, is elected, while regional heads are appointed by the central government.
The proponents of the bill argue that the change will help regional governments, including in highland communities, address local needs more efficiently.
But, in December 4 remarks, the patriarch cautioned that a devolution of authority could encourage more separatism, a phenomenon that already haunts Georgia with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“If this happens, it will lead us to disintegration of Georgia,” Ilia II said. “We will never tolerate this and will do our best to make sure this does not happen.”
"We should remember that when the [central] government was strong . . .
Georgia was strong as well," he continued, underlining that "the people
should consider whether or not [the draft law] is acceptable and good for Georgia."
The debate over decentralizing power, however, soon spun out into the realm of secularism vs. theocracy, another ongoing bugbear for Georgian society.
To be precise, the poll (of 1,000 respondents) found that Armenia's level of suffering stands at 37 percent. Georgia, a comparatively sized neighbor with its own economic and security problems, suffers by 16-percentage points less.
Azerbaijan, the richest yet least democratic of the South-Caucasus trio, apparently suffers the least, at 15 percent of its respondents.
Overall, the survey, released on December 2, makes the Russian maxim that “It is better to be rich and healthy than poor and sick” ring truer than ever. The line of inquiry is broad -- linking "thriving" to job-security and access to healthcare, for instance.
Nonetheless, some surprises did emerge: the UK and Uzbekistan allegedly sharing the same level of suffering, for one.
Yet the Gallup pollsters, who did both face-to-face and over-the-phone interviews, did not just call up randomly selected respondents to ask how they're doing on a given day. Criteria under examination included the amount of income, optimism, stress, physical pain, worry and anger.
The data, though, is based on how respondents rate their own lives. How the survey compensated for cultural differences toward public expressions of feelings is not clear.
The “corrupting influence of the West” is a catchphrase immortalized by the 1969 cult Soviet comedy, The Diamond Arm, in which a busy-body apartment-manager (portrayed by iconic actress Nonna Mordykova) becomes suspicious of the new, supposedly bourgeois ways of a neighbor after he returns from abroad.
You would not expect to hear a post-Soviet government official repeat this line today. Unless, that is, you happen to be in the oil-soaked Caucasus country of Azerbaijan.
In a December 2 speech in Baku, Ali Hasanov, a senior political aide to President Ilham Aliyev and a tireless guardian of public loyalty to his boss, called on all and sundry to fight back against the pernicious effects of Western influence that supposedly are pitting Azerbaijani young people and the media against their own people and the state.
“Each of us has a duty to protect youth from the corrupting influence of the West,” he instructed his audience, the APA news agency reported. “We can’t allow certain young men to engage in an anti-Azerbaijani activity for some 2 or 3,000 manats" via Western donor grants, he argued.
By "anti-Azerbaijani activity," Hasanov presumably means any action seen as presenting a challenge to the Aliyev family, in power for most of the past 44 years. Western grants meant to help democratize Azerbaijan inevitably translate into challenges to that status quo, in Hasanov's mind.
But, never fear, President Aliyev and his youth fund are here. In a bid to preserve Azerbaijan's "integrity," the fund is dishing out grants to match civil-society funding by Western democratization groups.
How and why the music was chosen is not known. But as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze exchanged kisses and signatures, the melody eventually morphed into the more stately sounds of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, the European Union anthem, and the protocol faux-pas faded away.
Nonetheless, a dangerous hopak dance remains underway in Ukraine, a country especially on many people's minds in Georgia now and for several reasons.
Scores of former drug addicts and rights activists holding symbolic urine test cups gathered in front of the interior ministry in Tbilisi on November 24 to protest Georgia's practice of mass roundups of citizens for drug tests.
Since 2007 as many as 200,000 Georgians have been taken straight from the streets to police stations and requested to urinate in a cup, according to the Harm Reduction Center, a non-profit involved in advocacy for addicts. The NGO alleges that police had little more than probable cause to haul in these individuals. "Two-thirds of these people tested negative for drugs, but all were subjected to that humiliating procedure,” said Paata Sabelashvili, a programs manager at the Harm Reduction Center.
Those who tested positive paid a fine of 500 lari ($297) . The protesters argue that the fines have become a drug tax and an effective revenue source for the state without doing much to solve Georgia's problems with substance-addiction.
To make that point sink in, protest participants emptied test cups, filled with beer, into a giant container that read “The Georgian Budget.”
Armenia’s second-largest city of Gyumri is becoming a Potemkin -- or rather a Putin -- Village for a two-day visit this December by Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the best Soviet tradition, when the South Caucasus would tidy up and put on a show for a Communist big wig visiting from Moscow, Gyumri is having a long-overdue face-lift to look good for Putin, who himself is said to have a soft spot for facials.
Potholed roads are being fixed, facades are being painted, garbage is being carted away on a scale that Gyumri residents have not seen since communism. “If Putin comes to town twice a year, Gyumri will become a great city,” joked municipal council member Levon Barsegian in comments to the Tert.am news service. “It is shameful that it takes a visit of a head of foreign state to renovate the city,” he added.
Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanian said he is not even sure what Putin’s itinerary is going to be during the December 2-3 visit. Some expect the Kremlin boss to skip the capital Yerevan and head straight to Gyumri's Russian military base, a major strategic foothold for Russia in the Caucasus.
The city will also be hosting an Armenian-Russian economic forum and its venue, a local drama theatre, is covered in scaffolding after 10 years of neglect. The forum is now more important than ever after Yerevan opted this September to go with the Russian-led Customs Union, a decision that put the kibosh on accelerated integration with the European Union.
Armenia and Turkey's periodic efforts to make peace tend to hit a wall, but the nettlesome neighbors seem to be, once again, having another semi-go at rapprochement. Turkey has been invited to attend a Black Sea summit in Yerevan and Ankara is reportedly trying to resuscitate the failed international mediation campaign to end one of the region’s longest-running disputes.
For reasons that remain open to interpretation, Ankara reportedly recently dusted off its foreign-policy master plan, ambitiously billed as "Zero Problems with Neighbors," to call for normalizing with Armenia whatever can be normalized.
Granted, we've been down this road before. Despite all the cheerleading from the US, a 2009 campaign to reconcile the two flopped. Both sides remain hostages to past and present regional conflicts -- namely, the World-War-I-era slaughter of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, and the 1988-1994 conflict over breakaway Nagorno Karabakh between Armenia and close Turkish ally Azerbaijan.
But this time, the cease-fire violations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are more frequent, and the international community, arguably, more concerned about a resumption of war.
So, the thinking may go, maybe it's time to shake things up a bit.
This time round, the US, one of the overseers of the Armenian-Azerbaijani negotiations, is keeping its cards to its chest, however.
Granted, after seeing many of their members jailed or interrogated, nobody expected the opposition United National Movement to give Georgia's 31-year-old nominee prime-minister, Irakli Gharibashvili, a pat on the back at his confirmation hearings. But the two-hour hair-pulling match that occurred on November 19 suggested that, even with the end of "cohabitation," the chances for grown-up political rivalry are as scant as ever.
In an exchange that rarely subsided below shouting and provided few answers about future policy plans, Gharibashvili, the outgoing interior minister, described the UNM as “neo-fascist” and “liars,” while his opponents described him as “irresponsible” and requested that he “watch his mouth.”
“Where do you think you are?” simmered the UNM's Giorgi Baramidze, a former State Minister for European Integration, news services reported. “This is parliament, not a circus!”
But, in fact, it looked more like a frat-house brawl.
Claiming that the UNM never stood up to its leader, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili. Gharibashvili charged, in reference to the 2012 prison-abuse scandal, that “You were afraid because you knew people were raped in prisons with brooms and truncheons."
By comparison, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s first inauguration in 2004 was more akin to the set for a Hollywood epic, complete with an all-out military parade and an oath delivered kneeling on an ancient king’s grave.
Yet for all the fresh emphasis on ceremonial modesty, the points made by Margvelashvili may not sound far different from those of his predecessor.
As his paladin, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili listened from the bleachers, the onetime education minister vowed to press for integration with the West and reconciliation with the North. He promised to guard the special status of the Georgian Orthodox Church and to defend the rights of religious and other minorities. And he invited the separatist Abkhaz and South Ossetians back home, to Tbilisi's embrace.
"European-style" democracy has arrived, he underlined, and, henceforth, the “post-Soviet” adjective can be dropped from Georgia. As proof, he cited the country's allegedly pluralized media and the largely clean transition of power in the 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections.
It’s not new that Facebook can be a dangerous thing. And not just for social faux pas.
Users who do not mince their posts can lose their jobs.Including in Azerbaijan, where a well-respected Baku State University historian, Altay Goyusov, claims that he had been asked to resign after expressing criticism of the university’s administration and the Azerbaijani authorities on his Facebook profile.
Goyusov’s cover photo shows police arresting Ilgar Mammadov*, an outspoken government critic and civil-society activist accused of helping stoke riots this January in the town of Ismayili. A photo caption calls for Mammadov's freedom.
The rector of Baku State University, Abel Megaramov, however, has denied the accusation, telling RadioAzadlig that he thought Goyusov was using the story as a means to "acquire political asylum in America."
After a long business trip to the US, he claimed, Goyusov "started to forget his national feelings" and, supposedly, began shirking work. He denied that he had been dismissed.
In response to the report, some of Goyusov’s students staged a protest and threatened to boycott classes. Goyusov thanked his students for their support, but requested them to go back to their classes. Several faculty members also spoke up for their colleague.