President Mikheil Saakashvili’s political camp suffered a major blow on May 21 when two prominent presidential allies, former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili, once one of Georgia’s most influential politicians, and Kakheti Governor Zurab Tchiaberashvili, were detained on criminal charges of misusing 5.2 million lari ($3.19 million) in public funds.
Lawyers for the two men interviewed by Maestro television reported that they had not yet received the official charges. Merabishvili and Tchiaberashvili are currently meeting with their attorneys in a jail in the parliamentary seat of Kutaisi. A court has 48 hours to decide whether to release them on bail.
Merabishvili, who, as interior minister from 2004 to 2012, led the charge under Saakashvili to revamp Georgia’s notoriously corrupt interior ministry, also faces separate charges for allegedly confiscating private property.
Prosecutors have indicated that Merabishvili, now head of the president’s United National Movement (UNM), will likely be charged for additional crimes stemming from the 2006 murder of banker Sandro Girgvliani and excessive use of police force during May 26, 2011 protests in Tbilisi as well, Interpressnews.ge reported.
Saakashvili blasted the arrests, accusing the Georgian Dream majority of turning Georgia into a pariah in the international community. The UNM has charged repeatedly that a desire for political retribution drives the government’s prosecution of former senior officials.
In Georgia, where motherhood is seen as a woman’s chief duty, a family without children has long been considered a tiny tragedy. To avoid such a situation, many childless Georgian families rely on a shortcut – directly paying or negotiating with other families for the parental rights to unwanted children.
When the topics of conversation turn to Turkey and Islam, tempers can sometimes flare in the South Caucasus country of Georgia. Even so, a movement founded by the charismatic Turkish theologian Fetullah Gϋlen has found a welcoming community in this emphatically Christian country.
In the Caucasus, Georgia is often seen as spoiled for choices. But, for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement, the big choice boils down to just one: with the West or against it.
Or, in other words, with the United National Movement (UNM) or against it. At an April 19 rally in downtown Tbilisi meant to prove to Georgia that the former ruling party is still a political force with which to be reckoned, President Saakashvili whipped up hundreds of supporters with memories of the Russian army's invasion of the country in 2008, and the world’s support for Georgia.
Leveraging lingering fears that Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is driving Georgia away from the West, Saakashvili called on Georgians to “make a choice” against occupation.
“I want to say that the Georgian people will choose, not between traitors and half-traitors, but between patriots and even bigger patriots,” he said, speaking to a crowd that stretched down Rustaveli Avenue for more than a block.
“If we choose dishonorably, we will receive complete occupation,” he asserted. (Tbilisi argues that the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, housing thousands of Russian troops since the 2008 war, are under occupation.) “If we stand with honor, we will free the entire country.”
Anticipating the punch, a session of leaders from Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition had taken to the airwaves before the rally to remind voters that they firmly support membership in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Recent media and human-rights activist reports claim that the South Caucasus countries of Georgia and Azerbaijan are playing an indirect role in supplying diesel fuel, weapons and cash to the embattled government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Government employees deny the charges to EurasiaNet.org, but key details about the alleged shipments remain unclear.
When it comes to relations between the United States and Georgia, outsiders usually focus on what the US has done for its tiny South Caucasus ally. But, now, it looks like Georgia might have a valuable item for the US – a super bee that could provide some much-needed variety to dwindling American bee colonies.
Plans in Georgia to review alleged “shortcomings of justice” dating back to when President Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement controlled parliament could lead to a fresh fracas in this developing democracy over the separation of powers among the various branches of government.
Students take a break to discuss words and spellings during the National English Spelling Competition finals held at the National Youth and Children’s Palace on March 30 in Tbilisi.
The competition was the final round of a year-long project to help motivate Georgian children to learn English. Initiated last year by Peace Corps volunteer Adam Malinowski, the spelling bee started with local competitions in more than 126 schools and more than 2,400 students throughout the country. During the final, 34 top spellers from nine regions around Georgia came to Tbilisi to compete for iPads, iPods, free English classes, and other prizes from the US embassy and other sponsors.
Molly Corso is a freelance journalist who also works as editor of Investor.ge, a monthly publication by the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.
A $150-million-plus Chinese real estate and tourism deal that is slated for a suburb of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, is creating a quandary for many Georgians. The project is feeding a long-standing desire for foreign investment, but it is also stoking wariness about foreign influence.
Where should the line be drawn between a government official’s personal wealth and his or her public responsibilities? Amidst promises to use his own cash to stimulate business investment, compensate storm victims and prop up the state budget, billionaire Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili is making any distinction ever blurrier.