Incoming Georgian President-Elect Giorgi Margvelashvili will move into the same office building where outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili started out before migrating to a perky clifftop palace. But unlike Saakashvili, Margvelashvili will not find a cat there.
In a rhapsodic farewell address on October 28, Saakashvili reminisced about finding a stray cat luxuriating in Georgia’s rundown, mice-infested presidential quarters when he first moved in as president in 2004.
“We looked at each other and for a split second we regretted entering these offices,” Saakashvili said of his colleagues. Nearly ten years later, though, he continued, “the new ministers and the new president are moving into totally different buildings and offices, rule a totally different country and are responsible for totally different institutions.”
President-Elect Margvelashvili, however, does not plan to take up residence in the “totally different” presidential palace that Saakashvili built; a structure with a see-through dome and plenty of room to swing a cat.
While still a government opposition leader, Mikheil Saakashvili addresses supporters after storming the Georgian parliament building on Nov. 22, 2003, to demand the resignation of then President Eduard Shevardnadze.
Nearly ten years ago, Mikheil Saakashvili, with crowds of supporters in tow, forced his way into the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi, brandishing a red rose and screaming “Resign!” at his former benefactor, President Eduard Shevardnadze, who, ignoring the revolution happening outside, was busy welcoming in a questionably elected parliament. Since then, Saakashvili, known to friends and foes alike as Misha, has kept storming into places.
An indefatigable modernizer, Misha ran around the country, busting corrupt and loafing officials, driving race cars and tractors, opening and closing enterprises, and bulldozing over everything that stood in his way, be it enemies or buildings. And he went about it with his trademark goofy giggles and out-of-control forelock. His outsized personality dominated Georgian politics for a decade, making for what might be called the Age of Misha.
To remember this era, we have, with contributions from readers, compiled a list of what might be termed the top-five styles of Misha. Even with a new president to be elected in Georgia's October 27 elections, he will not easily be forgotten.
Armenia and Kazakhstan do not have much in common other than their Soviet Union past and Eurasian-Union future. So, if Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev accepts a recent invite to visit Armenia, the two countries are likely to talk about their new, Moscow-led customs club.
Granted, when Armenia’s new ambassador to Kazakhstan, Ara Saakian, conveyed Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s invitation, he put it in terms of relying on Kazakhstan, as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to take a balanced position in the OSCE-led attempts to resolve the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Yet Kazakhstan, like anyone else in the post-Soviet world, is unlikely to take any dramatic step on the dispute, lest it angers one of its across-the-Caspian Sea neighbors. Nazarbayev’s visit, therefore, is not expected to mark any changes in the Karabakh status quo.
But what needs some discussion is the membership rules in the Eurasian Union that Moscow hopes will be a new and better USSR. Nazarbayev has long been a Eurasian Union enthusiast and is pushing for his views about formation of a supranational body to govern the alliance. The current bureaucracy of the Eurasian Union is led by Russian officials, which some Kazakh experts believe shows who will be calling the shots in the Union.
It's difficult to know sometimes what gift to get for a close friend. But Azerbaijan -- or, to be specific, President Ilham Aliyev's elder daughter, Leyla Aliyeva -- has hit on an answer for Georgia. Ten gazelles.
Azerbaijan may be better known for oil and gas wealth and for being a family-run country than for its green activism, but the nation’s First Daughter styles herself as an environmental enthusiast.
She launched her IDEA (International Dialogue for Environmental Action) initiative through the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, a less-than-transparently financed organization named after her much-revered grandfather, the late President Heydar Aliyev. Her mother, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, is the president of the foundation, which also has doled out many a gift to France and Pakistan in recent years, in what often appear to be soft-power drives.
But back to the gazelles. Competition from sheep and cows, as the World Wildlife Fund puts it, and human meddling allegedly drove the animals away from the Caucasus. And now, we are told, under the 28-year-old Aliyeva’s initiative, gazelles are being returned to their historic habitat. The first homecoming occurred in 2010 on Azerbaijan’s Absheron Peninsula; now it's the turn of Georgia, Baku's only South-Caucasus chum.
Just as Georgia and other food exporters to Russia were about to sigh with relief, the Kremlin’s food strongman, Gennadiy Onishchenko, claimed that reports of his retirement had been greatly exaggerated.
It was Russia’s deputy prime minister, Olga Golodets, who said that the formidable chief sanitary inspector was on his way out now that his term has expired. The news sent reporters, including this blogger, writing epitaphs to the man (termed a "shadow minister of foreign affairs" by one columnist) who had ushered in an era of post-Soviet food-fights that largely told the history of Russia's relations with its ex-Soviet neighbors for the past decade.
But Moscow’s dietary ideologue insists it is too early to bid him good-bye. Describing Golodets as “a strange character,” the 63-year-old Onishchenko said that it is not up to her to fire him. Amid the snafu, Russian reporters sought clarification from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s spokesperson, Natalya Timakova. She equivocated, saying that Onishchenko’s current term has indeed expired, but no decision has been made yet about his resignation.
Russian law sets 60 years as the age limit for public officials , but the state can renew contracts with older officials on an annual basis.
It is a sad day for world food security. Russia’s national food-taster, the ever-bustling Gennadiy Onishchenko, is stepping down as head of the country's federal food-safety inspectorate, Rospotrebnadzor.
During his vibrant, low-carb tenure, Onishchenko ushered in an era of food-fights with Russia’s nettlesome neighbors. He put the Russians on a Georgian and Moldovan wine-free diet, outlawed Belorusian and Lithuanian dairy products, deported Ukrainian confectionary items, including its famous Kyiv cake, and dished out many other controversial bans.
“I have many enemies because of the nature of my job,” Onishchenko used to say.
Every time Moscow’s neighbors got too carried away making eyes at the EU or the US, or otherwise annoying the Kremlin, Onishchenko would throw himself over Russia to protect it from potential alimentary hazards.
One of his major battles was the war on Georgian wine and mineral water – a key cause and cure, respectively, of many a post-Soviet hangover.
The quality of Georgian beverages apparently improved, at least to Onishechenko’s taste, after President Mikheil Saakashvili’s Russia-bashing government lost legislative control over Georgia in October 2012. Onishchenko has been allowing Georgian drinks back into Russia sip by sip since.
A colossal, bronze Jesus Christ, cast in Armenia, has appeared in war-ravaged Syria “to save the world.”
Soaring higher than Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer, the statue stands 39 meters tall in the mountaintop, Byzantine-era Cherubim Monastery, lording it over the city of Saidnaya, 27 kilometers north of Damascus, Armenian news outlets reported. Some Russian outlets said that the statue is one meter shorter than its Brazilian counterpart.
From its vantage point above the sea, the statue overlooks an historic pilgrimage route from Istanbul to Jerusalem. The statue, created by Armenian sculptor Artush Papoian, was installed on October 14, when Orthodox Christians celebrate a commemoration of the Virgin Mary, whose icon is a chief draw for the monastery.
But the statue was not born of recent events in Syria. While Syria's ethnic Armenian population has been fleeing the country in droves -- including to Armenia itself, which has built a "New Aleppo" to accommodate the arrivals -- the project has been in the works since 2005, Russia's Komsomol'skaya Pravda reports.
After nearly a decade in office in Georgia, the once-all-powerful President Mikheil Saakashvili is on his way out. His replacement, to be elected on October 27, will enjoy only a fraction of the presidential authority that the incumbent presently wields, thanks to recently adopted constitutional amendments.
Ending a political career is apparently the latest thing in Georgia. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanshvili wants to quit; President Mikheil Saakashvili has to quit; lead presidential candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili says he may quit.
Under election law, a runoff occurs if the top candidate does not secure more than 50 percent of the vote. But to Ivanishvili,not known for his love of criticism, less-than-60-percent of the vote for his presidential protegé would be a sign that Georgian society did not appreciate the so-called tireless work he and his Georgian Dream team have been doing for the last year in office.
If the public doubts him, which Ivanishvili does not think is possible after everything he has done, then he will pack up and leave, and Margvelashvili should do the same, he concluded.
What he perceives as the price for such a move is one which might raise questions about the extent to which Ivanishvili understands Georgia’s current system of government.
With Margvelashvili and Ivanishvili gone, he reasoned, the opposition United National Movement candidate Davit Bakradze will become president, and Saakashvili will reinvent himself as prime minister.
Meant as a warning to voters, that scenario, though, is completely impossible. Georgia’s prime minister is chosen based on which party holds the majority in parliament. For the next three years, that’s Ivanishvili’s own Georgian Dream coalition.