Georgia's ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has found a new calling -- to teach Georgians how to make what Ivanishvili will consider to be informed decisions. And he's got just the tool in mind -- a new foundation, called "Citizen."
“Yes, we need to learn how to hire the government. First of all, we need to learn well who to hire,” Ivanishvili told a capacity-crowd press-conference in Tbilisi on February 4.
He plans to expand on this through his new NGO, which, he said, will help train Georgian media and experts in deep, “correct” ways of interpreting news and facts. The organization also will underwrite media research and sponsor a training course for experts.
Deciding that there's no time like the present to start this mission, Ivanishvili, who has no work experience in journalism, took a few reporters to task during his hours-long press conference, lambasting them for their supposed impatience and incompetence. The journalists, for their part, were more interested in his perceived failure to live up to the lavish campaign promises that helped put him in office in 2012.
A court in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, has suspended from office the city's Mayor Gigi Ugulava, the country's only elected mayor, in the wake of fresh criminal charges brought against him. The decision strips the opposition United National Movement of its last influential public officeholder.
Charged with the misuse of 48.18 million lari (over $28 million), Ugulava, a close ally of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, has accused the ruling Georgian Dream coalition of putting pressure on the Tbilisi City Court to eliminate the opposition's last remaining pocket of power.
“The Constitution knows no mechanism of dismissing an elected mayor other than an election,” he said.
The ruling occurred without hearing opposing arguments -- a scenario allowable under court procedures, a Tbilisi City Court spokesperson said, Netgazeti.ge reported.
Defenders charge that his removal from office violates the democratic value of innocent until proven guilty.
Did Georgian prosecutors try to intimidate a jailed ex-prime minister? This question has been on many people’s lips in Georgia, after Vano Merabishvili claimed that the country's general prosecutor threatened to cause him health problems and arrest his friends and relatives unless he testified against ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.
The coalition routinely denies the charges, but that doesn't stop them from coming.
Merabishvili claims that on December 14 he was taken from his prison cell, and blindfolded with a jacket, to meet General Prosecutor Otar Partskhaladze. The prosecutor allegedly requested that Merabishvili provide evidence of Saakashvili’s personal involvement in corruption and also offer leads about the mysterious 2005 death of the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Otherwise, Merabishvili recounted, he was threatened that his own health would be compromised and his friends would face persecution.
Some may well be wishing that the Georgian Dream, a collection of highly sundry individuals and ideas, had listened. The coalition now is faced with the tricky question of how to preserve its unity when faced with public criticism for members' misbehavior.
First, there were a few dramatic exchanges at committee-level meetings. Finally, a full-blown slugfest broke out at a plenary session last week, when actor-turned-Georgian-Dream parliamentarian Soso Jachvliani told ex-State Minister for European Integration Giorgi Baramidze to “Shut your face, wimp,” to use a loose and sanitized translation of the original line.
“Switch off his microphone,” hurried to say Usupashvili, but Jachvliani and his rival were already going for each other, with back-up teams in tow. As the brawl raged in the aisle, Usupashvili, shaking his head, announced a break and exited the hall.
Later, a few out-of-touch reports from international news outlets would declare that this brawl was all about the political crisis in Ukraine spilling over into Georgia, but the actual reasons were quite local and mundane.
Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili on November 2 named 31-year-old Interior Minister Irakli Gharibashvili as the ruling Georgian-Dream coalition's choice for prime minister once Ivanishvili resigns later this month.
Speaking to journalists at the Georgian Dream's central office in Tbilisi, Ivanishvili described Gharibashvili as "very worthy," "very practical" and "a good manager."
"He knows the price of work," the prime minister, a self-made billionaire, said with a smile.
Gharibashvili, who, under Georgia's amended constitution, will take on broad powers formerly reserved for the president, is a newcomer to government. His post as interior minister, held for barely a year, is his first public office. A replacement has not yet been named.
While hailed by Ivanishvili for running "the most complicated structure" in the Georgian government, he has faced public criticism for an alleged uptick in crime since the amnesty of hundreds of people imprisoned under outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili. The government denies the accusations; Ivanishvili claimed that Gharibashvili has restored public trust in the police.
Most of Gharibashvili's past career, however, has been tied to Ivanishvili himself. Before becoming a founder of the Georgian-Dream coalition in 2012, he managed the recording label for the prime minister's teenaged rapster son, Bera, and served on the supervisory board of Cartu Bank, a venture formerly owned by Ivanishvili. He also acted as general director of the Ivanishvili-financed International Cartu Charity Foundation.
When Tea Tsulukiani became Georgia’s justice minister her task seemed tough, but straightforward: Take former corrupt officials to task and build an apolitical, widely trusted institution.
She worked hard, and, finally, made a chilling discovery: Many of Georgia's government-issued personal IDs contain the number 666, which is, of course, the mark of the Beast; a phenomenon of the end times, according to the Bible's Book of Revelation.
Tsulukiani hurried to share her find with the public. “I don’t mean to frighten believers, but tens of thousands of old IDs contain the number six three times in a row,” she said on June 4, Interpress reported. But fear not, she went on. Tsulukiani has vowed to make sure that Georgia's new, electronic ID cards will be free of the Beast and his number.
Many Georgians refused to accept the new, smart ID cards after some Georgian Orthodox groups affirmed that the card could bear the stamp of the Antichrist. (The Georgian Orthodox Church itself, however, denied it.) Of particular concern were personal details, which, the thinking went, might come in handy for the Antichrist whenever he might choose to strike.
Tsulukiani has said that including information beyond name and date of birth would be optional.
President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government had no patience to entertain such -- or, critics might charge, any -- public concerns about the cards. But the new, Georgian-Dream-led cabinet is eager to show that they're listening to voters -- particularly in a presidential election year.
Georgia's political culture may have just hit puberty. After ferocious debating over constitutional amendment meant to cut presidential powers, the measure passed on March 21 in a unanimous first-run vote.
The final vote is scheduled for Monday, but the drama-filled initial hearing promises to be the true grand finale of the constitutional epic. The second-stage vote occurred on Friday without incident.
The amendment will divest President Mikheil Saakashvili of the right to dismiss Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s cabinet and appoint a new government without parliamentary approval.
Saakashvili has maintained repeatedly that he has no interest in using the amendment, but the fact that the power will not vanish at the whim of a single political party or person, but by the will of two opposing political forces, is almost as momentous to many Georgians as the planned constitutional change itself.
Still a novel concept in Georgia's polarized politics, the compromise came after hours of debate in parliament and many calls to the president’s and the prime minister’s houses. The voting was preceded by a long and trying ping-pong of petty exchanges between the president and prime minister.
President Saakashvili insisted that he had no intention to sabotage the prime minister, to whom he conceded the choice of cabinet members after last year’s parliamentary vote, but Ivanishvili needed more than just the president's word for peace of mind. The variety of requests Saakashvili put forth in exchange for his United National Movement Party’s consent to the amendment included immunity from prosecution for former mid-level government officials.
A $2-billion investment fund, the limits to bipartisanship, and the hazards of adultery, both political and personal, were, on February 5, among the many talking points of Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who spent hours filling in Georgia about his cabinet's first months in office.
The televised parley between Ivanishvili and a roomful of journalists offered a peek into his plans, but, more significantly, into possible tensions within his ruling Georgian-Dream coalition.
Looking ahead to Georgia's presidential vote in October, Ivanishvili tossed out the observation that the respected, circumspect constitutional lawyer Vakhtang Khmaladze, a Georgian Dream parliamentarian, is a better fit for the head of state, than, say, the handsome and ambitious defense minister, Irakli Alasania.
And here is where the discussion took a bizarre turn. Ivanishvili alleged that President Mikheil Saakashvili's team is trying to seduce Defense Minister Alasania into switching sides. Quite literally, too.
In response to a reporter's question, Ivanishvili acknowledged that he had requested an explanation from Alasania about an alleged trip he made to Dubai, and then to France with the wife of a key Saakashvili loyalist, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, and another companion.
There had been, he told reporters, "a little misunderstanding in Dubai" and "we should forget this."
“Everyone can make a mistake, and Alasania is still a young man," he elaborated. "As for the France trip and the wife, all of that is very personal and I don’t pry into personal matters."
Rather, he discusses them in a televised press conference.
Let’s get this, well, straight. The Georgian parliament's deputy speaker, Manana Kobakhidze, is a heterosexual woman and, in her words, nothing, not even all the bureaucratic institutions of Europe, can change that.
You might wonder why 41-year-old Kobakhidze, a longtime civil-rights activist, feels obliged to share this information. But, in today's Georgia, consumed by feuding between Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition and President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement, politicians' attitudes toward homosexuality are a topic that has come out of the closet and can be used as ammunition by either side.
In Kobakhidze's case, it all began last weekend, when the center-right French daily Le Figaro published a story portraying the ongoing arrests and investigations of some of Saakashvili's political nearest and dearest as a vindictive witch hunt by a government with questionable democratic credentials.
The paper quoted Kobakhidze*, a Georgian Dream member, as noting that the Saakashvili administration had believed that the defense of all minorities, sexual included, was inherent to a democracy, but that the European concept that all citizens are equal is hard for Orthodox Georgia to accept.
Le Figaro claimed that the comment made French nationalist politician Marine Le Pen, an outspoken opponent of gay marriages, look like "a leftist."
Responding to Le Figaro's article, LGBT groups, rights activists and prominent Saakashvili supporters quickly attacked Kobakhidze as a homophobe; particularly on Facebook, where much of Georgia's debates now take place.