Rockford, Illinois is 5,959 miles (9,590 kilometers) and a total mindset away from the Georgian capital of 1.2 million, Tbilisi. So, perhaps it came as no surprise that some of the attendees at the May 15-17 World Congress of Families, a Rockford, Illinois-based Christian cooperative which promotes heterosexual marriage, were taken aback by the anti-Western stance vehemently espoused by their host, the outspoken nationalist businessman Levan Vasadze, in his crusade against gay marriage.
In a fiery speech to conference goers on May 16, the 45-year-old Vasadze stressed that there are no LGBT groups in Georgia; only provocateurs sponsored by Western non-governmental organizations that will soon be kicked out of the country. He did not elaborate about the basis for his prediction, but identified whom to blame.
The West, he said, owes Georgia an apology for attacking Georgian traditions; a reference to heterosexual marriage and families, both actively encouraged in this emphatically Orthodox Christian country. Vasadze, who holds an MBA from an American university (Emory), demanded that the US apologize “for supporting homosexuality globally” and predicted that Georgia will ally itself with Russia, with which Georgia shares a religious faith and, as he put it, traditional values.
The day when Moscow “realizes its mistake” and ends its support for separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be the day “the West will finally lose Georgia,” he concluded.
Vasadze’s rage, however, did not easily resonate with all Western conference-goers, who saw their gathering as designed to promote an evangelical message of Christian love and the need to fight “Satan’s lies” to preserve the sanctity of a traditional family.
Nor, conceivably, would it have jived with former US President George W. Bush, who sent greetings to the conference.
Street-art in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, takes aim at police for allegedly indiscriminate use of urinanalyses to detect drug use.
Urine cups appeared in front of Georgia's main government building the other day as a remonstration against government-performed urinalyses to detect drug users. The pee-protest capped a recently invigorated push to decriminalize the use of marijuana and showcased growing frustration about what many see as the country's overly harsh narcotics laws.
Proclaiming "You Can't Find Crime in Urine," the June 9 rally was sparked when police crashed a private party in the capital, Tbilisi, and hauled off 14 people for drug tests. Street art also appeared around the city, with one graphic portraying policemen offering a test cup to a line of characters ranging from Manneken Pis, Brussels' landmark peeing boy statue, to Star War’s Yoda.
One widely distributed Facebook photo goes a step further and shows the Brussels boy taking aim at the Georgian interior ministry.
But the police maintain they were within their rights. They say they'd arrived on the scene after neighbors complained about the party.
Letting go of a dead child is hard for any parent. One Georgian mother has decided that she should not. In the backwoods of western Georgia, Tsiuri Kvaratskhelia has been keeping her dead son preserved for 18 years by using a homemade mummification recipe.
A disturbing TV report from Kvaratskhelia’s house recently left mouths wide open across the country and beyond. Eagerly leading a camera crew into her house, the bereaved mother proudly removed a coffin cover to reveal the (thankfully blurred-out) face of her deceased Joni, who suffered a fatal drug overdose at the age of 22.
Kvaratskhelia said that she and her husband decided to preserve their son so that their grandson can see what a great father he had. “He is not afraid of the dead man; rather he is proud to have such a father,”Kvaratskheli is quoted by Prime Time News as saying.
She was even willing to share a few tips on body preservation. Rubbing the body with alcohol and wrapping it in sheets apparently helps preserve the bones.
The rest of the TV report goes pretty much like an extract from Terry Gilliam’s 2005 movie, Tideland, a dark tale of a little girl sharing a prairie house with her dead father’s body.
In Georgia, the worlds of the dead and the living interact closely. No Georgian social function is complete without a toast to the tsaulebi, or the dearly departed.
Be advised that drinking and getting naked in public may soon be strictly prohibited in Georgia, so adjust your plans accordingly.
For reasons unknown, the country's ever-reforming interior ministry has proposed a law to impose hefty fines for “morally offensive public behavior." Since the authors of the law did not bother to provide an operational definition of “morally offensive public behavior,” the project has raised many questions and eyebrows.
Many Georgians assumed that a public kissing ban was underway. In this fairly conservative country, public displays of affection other than hugs and kisses (the latter often for greetings or farewells) are rarely encountered, unless someone is really looking for it.
But an ongoing conflict over values (as seen recently with the May 17 attack on an anti-homophobia rally in Tbilisi) prompted some to fear the worst. A wave of protest spread across social networking sites and threatened to spill into the streets in the form of a mass act of protest-kissing.
Interior ministry spokesperson Nino Giorgobiani finally had to intervene (via Facebook) with an attempt at explanation. She said that the law does not consider “dating and kissing” as morally inappropriate. Rather, a good example of what the law will try to prevent is public nudity, Giorgobiani said.
But Tbilisi is not Munich, and there is no practice of naked picnicking or Frisbee tournaments here. Police did not specify why, of all things at hand, they prioritized tackling the non-existent problem of public nudity or why they wanted to propose such legislation.
The main concern is that the ambiguous wording leaves it to police officers and judges to decide what constitutes indecency, or even nudity.
Georgia has begun thinking of banning abortions after influential Georgian Orthodox Church Patriarch Ilia II pitched the idea in his Easter sermon on May 5.
Many churches may be pro-life, but in this devotedly Christian country, which cherishes the church leader above any other public figure, words from the patriarch can carry as much power as papal bulls once did in Europe.
During his sermon, the patriarch called on the government to stop the “terrible sin” of abortion and “filicide,” aside from a few circumstantial exceptions. He blamed both Bolshevik “atheists” from the past and modern liberal philosophy for the prevalence of abortions.
Georgia tops the South Caucasus for abortions, with 408 performed per 1,000 live births, according to a study by the World Health Organization, the Caucasus Research Resource Centers reported. (By comparison, the European Union rate is 222.)
Georgian government officials, who cannot hold a candle to the patriarch in terms of public support, quickly gave the nod to the church on considering an abortion ban. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili responded by saying that baby-boosting legislation is in order. He carefully suggested, however, that to improve the country’s bleak demographic situation, the main focus should be on economic incentives rather than abortions.
The US military may have explored gay defense strategies, but Georgian prosecutors allege that Georgia's military police once made ample use of a disturbing strategy of its own -- gay honey traps to seduce socially prominent men and then blackmail them into "cooperation" with President Mikheil Saakashvili's government.
The Prosecutor’s Office claims that the military police, under their former chief, Megis Kardava, secretly filmed the private lives of homosexual men to coerce them into becoming secret agents. The recruited hommes fatales would then ensnare male targets into having sex with them and record it on camera, the allegation goes. The military police even supposedly took the trouble to hire apartments to make many reels of such rendez-vous, which would mean that Georgian taxpayers would have paid for the trysts.
Politicians, showbiz celebrities and other public figures were among the victims, according to General Prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili, who said that his office started looking into the matter after one victim complained to the police.
Prosecutors said that they are looking at a very large stash of, well, gay porn, and are pressing charges against top military police officials.
“To make sure these videos don’t become public, the blackmailed victims of the conspiracy were agreeing to publicly voice their support for the political regime and take part in the publicity events of the previous authorities,” the Prosecutor's Office said.
A draft bill from Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition that would limit minors’ access and exposure to sex paraphernalia has brought some adult-themed debates recently to Georgia’s parliamentary floor.
The bill proposes to ban the sale and advertising of items of a sexual nature in stores that sell children’s apparel and toys. It would also prohibit the sale of such goods in schools and other institutions that serve youth under 18 and in stores located near such facilities.
But, divided on just about anything -- from foreign policy to law-and-order matters -- parliament has not yet reached a cross-party consensus on what kinds of goods actually can be considered sexual.
“People get aroused by very different things,” knowingly remarked parliamentarian Zurab Japaridze at a recent committee hearing, Liberali.ge reported. “What kind of props people use during sex games is a very personal thing… and the state should not be regulating this.”
Japaridze and fellow members of President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement have requested the Georgian Dream coalition, which initiated the bill, to provide a hit list of items that would be restricted under the amendment.
And so the work began: sex toys – yes; porn – yes; condoms -- here things get a little tricky. Some parliamentarians proposed to make a distinction between condoms that serve the sole function of preventing sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy, and those that also enhance sexual experience.
The latest and perhaps the most bizarre case are allegations that the once-all-powerful Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili doctored a passport to travel with a Saakashvili-led delegation on November 30 to Armenia.
In testimonies published by the interior ministry, airport passport control officials assert that the ID presented by Merabishvili contained his photo, but somebody else’s ("a certain Levan Maisuradze") name.
Only after the snafu was pointed out to a Merabishvili aide, did the ex-prime minister pull out "his real" passport, they claim.
Merabishvili has denied that he tried to pass a false passport, and charged that the interior ministry, which later questioned him, was being turned into a "repressive machine" for the selective prosecution of critics.
Merabishvili, Georgia's last prime minister, now works as the secretary-general of Saakashvili's United National Movement.
Responding to the fake-passport allegations, the president, in turn, termed them "so absurd . . . that it is hard for me to even make a comment about this."
Meanwhile, online commentators point to various holes in the government's line of argument.
The generally puritan Caucasus saw an unlikely protest rally in Tbilisi the other day. This time it was not another political pow-wow to call for ousting the government; rather, it was about the right to kiss.
Responding to an alleged PDA crackdown by Tbilisi park security guards, Georgian blogger and civil rights activist Giorgi Kikonishvili had called on sympathizers to take action through a Facebook-promoted event called “We Love and We Make Out.”
“If kissing is a crime, then let’s commit that crime,” Kikonishvili wrote.
In case you're wondering, Georgians are not a particularly kiss-averse crowd. A peck on the cheek is a standard form of greeting or farewell between male and female friends alike, but cranking those kisses up a notch, and on the street, is another matter.
Kikonishvili and other supporters believe that Tbilisi's park administrations arbitrarily interpret a law that ambiguously limits displays of affection in public. “The government should be very careful when it interferes with the matters of decency and morality because decency and morality are highly subjective concepts,” Kikonishvili told the pro-opposition Maestro television channel.
Before the protest began, the event's Facebook page was already awash with comments by pro and anti-public-kissing factions.The campaign quickly crossed over into mainstream media.