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.
He is wanted by Russian federal investigators. He is suspected of raising “millions” of protesters in Moscow and nearly bringing down Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin. He is Givi the Georgian.
A Moscow court just issued an arrest warrant for Givi Targamadze, a 44-year-old Georgian parliamentarian, staunch supporter of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and, apparently, a lone crusader against the Putin regime and a bespectacled mastermind of international conspiracy.
Russians who rallied against President Putin in 2012 claimed they wanted to end human rights abuses, the monopolization of power and rampant corruption, but Russian investigators knew that there just had to be something or someone else behind it.
After many late hours perusing evidence under a dim, desk lamp light, the investigators have found their man, the "true" source of evil. It was Givi Targamadze, who, Russian prosecutors say, secretly tutored Russian opposition leaders in the art of revolution, the craft he learned so well during Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution.
Along with sharing little tricks of the trade, Targamadze also allegedly slipped a big $3,000 to the dissenting Russians, telling them to go get Putin.
Some in Ukraine might nod their heads knowingly, claiming that he also tried to stop the 2010 election of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych.
But Tbilisi, much though it is attempting to smooth over past differences with Russia, has refused to hand Givi over to Moscow for prosecution.
Just when you least expected it, Georgia's politicians have found things to discuss – and agree on – without losing teeth or gaining a bloody nose in the process.
The ruling Georgian Dream coalition, led by Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, and the opposition United National Movement, headed by President Mikheil Saakashvili, reportedly have made it to the verge of an agreement on planned constitutional reform.
The negotiations were led by Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili for the Georgian Dream and Parliamentary Minority Leader Davit Bakradze for the United National Movement; arguably, two of the most circumspect politicians from either side.
What prevents them from "getting to yes", though, is an amnesty proposal which, for outsiders, could raise as many questions about Georgia's legal system as it does about the current tense political environment.
The two sides have provided contradictory descriptions of the proposed amnesty.
Usupashvili claimed that the UNM has demanded an unconditional amnesty from criminal prosecution for all government officials, ranging from the president to town council chairpeople, for any liable activities, apart from violent or other severe crimes, up until November 1, 2012.
Bakradze, for his part, arguing that "15,000 people" have been questioned because of ties to the UNM, asserted that the amnesty is about stopping "political persecution." It would apply not to current or ex-head-honchos, but to "the thousands" of people going in for questioning "daily" – defined as those under the rank of a ministerial administrative chief's deputy, he said.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan says he won a second term -- his rival (Sargsyan told RFE/RL he prefers the word "competitor") says, no, he did not. And with that, Armenia's stage is once again set for a potentially protracted political fray.
The rest of Armenia doesn’t seem to care about the presidential office too much. Eighty percent of 1,080 Armenians questioned for a recent survey by local pollster Sociometer don’t want to be presidents of their country.
The only other Armenian who wants to be president and put up a real fight for it is Raffi Hovannisian, the Fresno, California-born leader of the tiny opposition Heritage Party. Hovannisian claims that Sargsyan stole the victory from him through widespread funny business, ranging from bribery to ballot-box stuffing.
Ten days ago, Azerbaijan slung into space its first-ever satellite as an apotheosis of the country’s hydrocarbon-fueled progress. And what better way to celebrate the joy and the glory of the moment than to burst into song?
“Our first national satellite went into orbit. How can I not be happy, oh, motherland?” elated, shiny-eyed opera singer Ramil Qasimov bellows out in a handsome, optimism-infused tenor. “And now that our voice comes from the cosmos, nothing can restrain my joy,” he continues, gesturing dramatically in an online video recently posted in the Azerbaijani Studies Digest listserv.
A festively dressed choir, each woman holding a single flower, then kicks in with the politically correct chorus: “With Ilham, we march toward happy tomorrows . . . !”
The folk dancers kick and jump, the choir croons, the conductor waves her hands and the Azerbaijani satellite flies high in the sky.
If you feel like you've seen this somewhere before, you would not be far wrong.
Reminiscent of Soviet-era hymns to the proletariat, space exploration or young communists, the panegyric to the 3.2-ton, $230-million piece of national pride has sparked much eye-rolling among many Azerbaijani Facebook users.
But those Azerbaijanis weary of the country's Aliyev personality cult may see more space singing soon.
President Ilham Aliyev, so dearly mentioned in the song, has pledged that the February 8 satellite launch is just the first step in his country’s space ambitions. Lease fees are expected to recoup the cost of the US-made satellite and oil-and-gas dollars will help sponsor future projects and, perhaps . . . even accompanying soundtracks?