They may be divided by a war and an almost epic feud, but in a trend worthy of a classic Russian novel, Russians are by far Georgians' favorite foreigners to marry.
Of some 2,000 cross-border marriages in Georgia so far in 2012, almost 900 were between Georgians and Russians, according to Georgian Civil Registry data shared with EurasiaNet.org.
In most cases (roughly 500), a Georgian is the groom and a Russian is the bride.
Surprised? You might well be.
Georgia’s 2008 diplomatic break-up with Russia went like a nasty, dish-throwing divorce that left emotional (and physical) scars, plus unresolved property disputes. To hear Tbilisi tell it, the Kremlin has since turned into a creepy stalker that just can’t let go.
In particular, of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, some 20 percent of Georgia's internationally recognized territory, where thousands of Russian troops are still stationed.
A recent poll indicated that some 73 percent of Georgians think that Russia poses a danger to their country.
But, apparently, those considerations take a backseat when love comes a-calling.
Granted, a running joke in Georgia holds that many men miss the days when they could fly to Moscow on the cheap in pursuit of Russian women, and, no doubt, that line will be trotted out again to explain this marriage trend.
Yet this looks like more than a passing infatuation -- last year, Georgian-Russian unions accounted for almost 50 percent of the 1,362 marriages between Georgians and foreign nationals.
After Russians, Georgian men give priority to Armenian and Ukrainian women, while Georgian women go for Turkish and Greek men.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili used a speech commemorating Georgia’s disastrous 2008 war with Russia to toss a few verbal brickbats at some present-day enemies.
Saakashvili’s nationally televised address August 7 was ostensibly a remembrance of the sacrifices and suffering that occurred during the five-day clash that began on August 8, 2008. But, with an eye toward Georgia’s parliamentary elections in October, the president also did a little politicking on behalf of his United National Movement party.
At one point in his speech, Saakashvili insinuated that Georgia’s leading opposition figure, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, was acting as an unwitting accomplice of Georgia’s long-time bête noire, Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“Now they [the Russians] have a new plan for Georgia, which is about breaking Georgia from within … with the hands of Georgians themselves,” Saakashvili said. He went on to deride “mummified figures” who were ready to sell out Georgia.
Saakashvili also baited Putin, saying that Russia couldn’t achieve its goal back in 2008 of installing a pro-Kremlin regime in Tbilisi. "They have failed,’ the president said. “Georgia has the same government, so it [Russia] is not a winner.”
Since Ivanishvili’s emergence as an opposition force to be reckoned with, Saakashvili and his allies have sought to portray the billionaire as a Kremlin hireling. Ivanishvili has tried to counter such allegations by accusing Saakashvili of engaging in reckless behavior that caused Georgian and Russian forces to start shooting back in 2008.
There’s a whiff of something rotten in the air, and it’s trailing the Azerbaijani boxing team at the London Olympics.
Forget about the badminton scandal that featured Chinese, South Korean, and Indonesian players throwing matches. Perhaps the most egregious behavior so far at these Olympic Games has been the boxing officiating - and Azerbaijani boxers have just happened to be the beneficiaries of two of the most controversial decisions.
The latest result to prompt howls of disbelief was Azerbaijan heavyweight Teymur Mammadov’s decision August 5 over Siarhei Karneyu of Belarus. Boxing commentators who watched the fight said Mammadov should have been disqualified in the third round for a clear rule violation.
But it turned out that if the bout’s referee had one more eye, he’d be a Cyclops.
“This was as big a travesty as we've seen so far,” boxing commentator Scott Christ wrote on the Bad Left Hook blog, referring to the scoring in the Mammadov fight.
NBC boxing analyst Teddy Atlas offered perhaps the most memorable comment on the officiating, when, after the Mammadov bout, he said: “I’m going to start keeping a bucket here near ringside, because I want to throw up.”
The Mammadov decision followed on the heels of a bantamweight bout, in which Azerbaijani fighter Muhammed Abdulahmidov got pummeled, and yet was declared the winner. That decision, however, was overturned on appeal.
These days, no newscast is complete on Georgia's government-friendly national news channels without a little plug for President Mikheil Saakashvili that usually features Misha embracing an overjoyed old lady or "bebia."
One day, village women thank the president for fixing their water supplies; the next, he is personally pulling a more middle-aged woman through a flash flood.
(A photo depicting the latter scene was posted on Facebook by the Russian journal Snob.ru next to a still of Russian President Vladimir Putin thoughtfully observing flood damage from the safety of his plane. The two pictures have been madly debated, with some crediting Misha for getting his feet wet for the people, and others defending Putin's drier ways. )
Whether or not the old ladies are truly happy to see their president, the encounters are a syrupy standard for Georgia's national broadcasters, and one that no government would want to see go awry in an election year.
But when they do, leave it to the president to turn them around into another bebia-hugging success.
Case in point: At a July 24 event in western Georgia, Roza Tskabelia, a poverty-stricken local, tried to approach Saakashvili to tell him about her plight. Opposition-minded TV cameras filmed two plainclothesmen crudely dragging the struggling woman away. The video was aired on TV and went viral online, with Internet users demanding the men's punishment.
Olympics fans should expect Georgian athletes, the dollar signs flickering in their eyes, to fight madly for gold in London. Of all countries, it was the cash-strapped Caucasus nation of Georgia that has offered the most lavish prize for gold medals -- $1.2 million per pop. A sum that makes this Georgian wish he’d taken those tennis lessons more seriously.
Over half of the country's population is employed in a struggling agricultural sector and hundreds of thousands are economically vulnerable Internally Displaced People. It's a place where international development dollars have run strong, and where infrastructure improvement is an ongoing challenge. Any strong rain can cause massive damage to farm lands and turns the capital, Tbilisi, into a water park.
But never underestimate a Georgian sports fan. The prize money on offer is more than twice the $510,000 promised by the second-most-generous athletic benefactor, Georgia's well-to-do neighbor, energy-rich Azerbaijan.
As RFE/RL points out, even one of the world's richest countries, the US, is only ponying up $25,000.
Azerbaijan’s ruling party announced today that their leader, President Ilham Aliyev, will run for a third term in 2013. Now who saw that coming?
The nomination was "definite," solemnly declared Ali Ahmedov, the executive secretary for Yeni Azerbaijan Party, as if the matter had not been as clear as day ever since Aliyev assumed the presidency in 2003.
Several days ago, Aliyev's opponents had argued that preventing the president from seeking reelection would be key to leveling the field for the 2013 vote.
“If Ilham Aliyev runs for the third time, there will be no room for a fair election,” Kavkazsky Uzel reported Panah Huseynov, one of the coordinators of the Public Chamber movement, as saying.
But running forever runs in the Aliyev family. Ilham Aliyev all but inherited the presidency from his late, glorified father Heydar Aliyev, who died a president. And when it comes to holding on to power, Ilham is his father’s son.
For now, the opposition’s plan is to mount a public push for democratization and to appeal to the international community for help. But the Aliyev government has shown in the past its taste for crackdowns, and Western governments, their eyes both on Azerbaijan's energy resources and its strategic proximity to Iran, usually do little more than wag a finger at Aliyev’s authoritarian practices.
Looks like the opposition strategists will need to think creatively if they don’t want to see another “definite” result in 2013.
The antenna confiscation spree is part of an across-the-board campaign against the supposed corrupting power of Western satellite channels. In Tehran's telling, the satellite dishes radiate evil. And evil can take many forms such as the BBC, Voice of America, Nickelodeon . . . .
“The satellite channels… have one objective only – to attack Islam, our Islamic government and [the] great people of Iran,” one cleric is shown preaching in a BBC report on the launch of the anti-satellite-dish campaign. Instead, Tehran aims to keep viewers' channels resolutely turned to the broadcasts of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
There is an extra dimension to the campaign in northwestern Iran, an area allegedly susceptible to irredentism by that nettlesome neighbor, Azerbaijan. Baku has many bones to pick with Tehran, ranging from terrorism allegations to meddling in domestic affairs and the recent arrest of Azerbaijani poets. Iranian officials keep telling their angered counterparts in Baku that the poets committed a crime, but have not specified its exact nature.
Let's all agree that no political campaign event anywhere is complete without balloons. But it can help to make sure that whoever supplies them has taken Chemistry 101.
On May 5, just two days before Armenia's parliamentary elections, Armenian politics literally became explosive when scores of balloons exploded over a Yerevan rally for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia. Over 150 people were hospitalized, and some underwent plastic surgery. Now, after almost three months of guesswork, Armenian police have revealed that a certain Serob Bozoian and several like-minded people allegedly filled the balloons with, well, natural gas. A Republican Party supporter’s cigarette supposedly touched off the ball of fire.
Natural gas, cheaper than non-inflammable helium, is usually available in every kitchen in Yerevan, and, to hear Armenian police tell it, that’s exactly where entrepreneur Bozoian filled up over 6,000 balloons. The group could face heavy fines and up to five years in prison for ignoring public safety standards.
But the official version has raised a few suspecting eyebrows in Armenia. Questions are being asked why the government would hire such a small-time entrepreneur. Some say that the ruling party’s alleged attempts to scrimp on campaign spending may also be at fault here. The party denies any guilt. In any case, here's betting that it's helium all the way next election. The public-safety risk of this gas usually includes only a high-pitch, cartoon-character voice. But that could actually add weight to campaign promises.
This is the fifth de-facto election in the separatist history of Karabakh and the fifth time the international community has shrugged its shoulders at the territory’s claims that it is an independent country with on-the-level elections.
Azerbaijan says that without the ousted ethnic Azeri population, no vote can be legitimate in Karabakh. Most of the world concurs.
But the de-facto election matters for the impoverished, ethnic Armenian population of Karabakh. They face a choice between five more years of the same with incumbent Bako Saakian, the onetime head of the region's de-facto security servicesl, or a new broom with his two challengers, one ex-military and one academician.
Saakian’s main challenger, former de-facto Deputy Defense Minister Vitaly Balasian, a veteran of Karabakh’s war for de-facto independence from Azerbaijan, takes a hard-line stance toward both Enemy Number One, Azerbaijan, and Friend Number One, Armenia. As a de-facto parliament member, he opposed surrendering any war-won Azerbaijani lands, a critical theme in talks over the territory’s status, and criticized Armenia for conducting international negotiations on the enclave’s status without the participation of de-facto Karabakh officials.
All three candidates are pushing for Karabakh's re-inclusion in the internationally mediated talks. Where the three differ is the economy and allegations of corruption.