With a Georgian church as a demure backdrop, a few unremarkable, tubby middle-aged men stare grimly into the camera. At first glance, this might seem a photo of devout pilgrims. But it is not. The beer-bellied men pictured are alleged Georgian crime-bosses, and they are busy doing what Georgian crime-bosses have learned to do since the collapse of the Soviet era -- adapt to change, and survive.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last week upheld a controversial Georgian law that sets a potential behavior trap for the country’s legendary mobsters, or thieves-in-law. While many Georgians welcome this as a European stamp of approval for Tbilisi’s aggressive crackdown on organized crime, some observers believe that the law nonetheless can encourage a disregard for civil rights.
They came with bags full of cups of urine and left them in a heart shape for the prime minister to see. But this protest in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, against drug testing was not about lifestyle choices. Rather, the scores of protesters are part of a growing movement seeking the decriminalization of marijuana as a civil right.
Georgia plans to finalize a pact with the European Union on June 27 that would bring Tbilisi closer to Brussels. Even so, the campaign environment ahead of Georgia’s local elections suggests that the country has quite a bit of distance to cover before it reaches the standards of a European democracy.
Georgia has held transparent elections and it has pledged to create an independent court system and to honor media rights. But when it comes to government policy on illegal narcotics, the South Caucasus country is still not ready for European integration, experts contend.
Most of the American bandwidth for developments in the former Soviet Union is being taken up these days by events in Ukraine. But in late February, something very interesting happened in Washington that had to do with Georgia.