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Small gay rights rally held in Tbilisi amid fears of violence

Gay rights groups in Georgia called off a planned rally on May 17 after threats of violence and continued tensions following riots in Tbilisi over the weekend, effectively ceding the city to religious conservatives and small neo-Nazi groups. But individual activists, defying the LGBT groups’ decision, still came out to rally.  

May 17 is International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT), and Georgia’s embattled gay community and activists often try to hold various public events on the occasion. This year…

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Armenia and that post-Soviet trick with prime ministers

Two Russians are having a conversation following the peaceful revolution in Armenia, goes a recent joke. “Wouldn’t it be great if people came out to the streets to kick out Vladimir Putin like what happened in Armenia?” One says. “Yes, but we don’t have enough Armenians in Russia,” replies the other.

It was self-exiled Russian politician and chess legend Garry Kasparov, half-Armenian for what it's worth, who tweeted the…

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Georgia’s condemned condoms

Safe sex has become the latest battleground in Georgia's culture wars after a court effectively outlawed a brand of condoms featuring religious jokes.

Condom maker Aiisa (Georgian for “that thing”) ran afoul of the law this month with a new line of irreverent prophylactics. One had packaging featuring a hand gesture representing sign of the cross, with two fingers inserted in a condom. Another had the tagline “I’d jerk off, but it’s the Epiphany,” a catch phrase from…

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Georgia witnesses second coming of Bidzina Ivanishvili

Georgia’s richest man Bidzina Ivanishvili has emerged from seclusion to take back the reins of the ruling Georgian Dream party in an apparent attempt to iron out bitter divisions that have emerged in the party that he created six years ago.

The last time the reclusive billionaire stepped out of the shadows, he brought down Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. This time he is expected to decide who the next president of Georgia is going to be: The country is scheduled to hold…

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Five remarkable things about Azerbaijan's unremarkable election

Azerbaijan's presidential election was, as predicted, a non-event. Ever-incumbent leader Ilham Aliyev won his fourth consecutive term with an 86 percent landslide, while his token rivals got crumbs of voter support – in the low single digits – according to early official results. Nevertheless, the vote did manage to produce a number of oddities.

1. Statistical Wonders. For starters, the vote tabulation results will challenge anything you thought you knew about probability theory. For example, one of Aliyev’s rivals, Araz Alizadeh, appears to have received exactly…

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Abkhazia mobilizes against foreign invader: Stink bugs

Hunter has become hunted in Georgia’s separatist region of Abkhazia, as locals are now capturing stink bugs to sell to Russia.

Abkhazians are collecting the brown marmorated stink bug for export by the bucketful, thanks to an offer from Russia’s agriculture authorities, who are willing to pay 1000 rubles (just over $17) per kilo for the swarming vermin. The stink bug wiped out crops in the Russian dependency and other…

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Georgia: Ski Lift Crashes in Gudauri Resort

A ski lift careened out of control, with people jumping or thrown from the chairs, in Georgia's popular Gudauri ski resort on March 16.

Videos taken by eyewitnesses showed terrifying scenes of the chairs speeding in reverse and smashing together at the lower terminal. Most passengers managed to leap out at the last moment, but others were flung into the snow as their chairs swung violently around the bullwheel…

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Teaching Tupac to Georgian Tweens

A middle-aged school teacher pulling off a hip-hop act with her students is not something you see often in the ex-Soviet world. But in Georgia, an English teacher has become an internet star after she posted a video of her and her preteen students jamming to Tupac Shakur’s rap classics.

In the video, teacher Darejan Gurasashvili shakes to the beat of Shakur’s “Me and My Girlfriend,” singing words from an old jazz chant: “I told you not to do it, and you did it again!” Then the kids take it away, chanting “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…

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Georgian Government on Defensive in Journalist Kidnapping Case

Released from prison for a day to attend a memorial service for his relatives, journalist Afgan Mukhtarli said that Georgia’s government was behind his abduction from Georgia and rendition to his native Azerbaijan. The explosive allegations prompted officials in Tbilisi to lash out at Mukhtarli, whose travails have made him a cause celebre among many in Georgia.

“This happened by sanction and, probably, direct order of [Prime Minister Giorgi] Kvirikashvili,” Mukhtarli told…

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Controversy Dogs Rollout of Saakashvili’s Book in Armenia

A memoir by former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has received a rocky reception in Armenia, which the book's Armenian translator alleges is the result of government pressure.

The book – with the Star Wars-esque title, “Awakening of Force” – is an account of Saakashvili's political journey throughout the former Soviet space. The volume describes the making of the Rose Revolution – the peaceful 2003 uprising in Georgia that Saakashvili is now endeavoring to export to Ukraine – and the subsequent reforms that pulled Georgia out of the mire of corruption and chaotic governance…

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Tbilisi Metro Collapse Evokes Memories of the Dark 90s

A suspended ceiling in a Tbilisi metro station collapsed on January 30, injuring 14 commuters in the worst transit accident in the city's recent memory. Eyewitnesses recounted scenes of panic, with commuters running for their lives up the escalators to escape the falling panels.

For those of us who rode the Tbilisi metro in the 1990s, the accident brought back memories of that (literally) darkest era of the city and its subway.

In those days, descending into Tbilisi's metro was a leap of faith. You never knew if a…

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Georgia: US-Funded Media Outlet Grapples with Controversy

An in-house controversy within Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is spilling into the public following the reported refusal of the international news network’s Georgian service to form a partnership with Georgia’s private television stations. The proposal has raised the Georgian staff’s concerns that association with highly partisan local stations could cast a pall on the credibility of RFE/RL’s reporting in Georgia.

The United States government-funded RFE/RL has faced numerous challenges to its illuminating coverage of the post-Soviet…

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Of Saakashvili, His Son and Khinkali

Khinkali and Mikheil Saakashvili are among Georgia's best known brands. Combine the two and you get an instant online hit, as was the case with a video filmed by the former Georgian president featuring the iconic, but tricky-to-eat, dumplings.

The video demonstrates to the world the proper way of eating the messiest of Georgian dishes and stars the ex-president’s younger son, 12-year-old Nikoloz Saakashvili .

Young Saakashvili explains what Georgians are wont to tell the uninitiated who…

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Five Peculiar Soviet Cartoons for the Holidays

Since it’s that time of year again, readers with (or without) an interest in the Soviet Union could use recommendations for Soviet cartoons to watch over the holidays that are the antithesis of the usual Santa-Claus fare.

An outlet for entertainment, propaganda, social commentary and artistic expression, animation was a huge business in the USSR. Arguably, animated films can tell more about the Soviet Union than some history books. Many of them continue to exert vast cultural influence to this day.

The list below attempts to look beyond blockbusters like…

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High-Tech Baby Bed Unveiled in Armenia

A new Armenian-made “smart crib” that can sing lullabies, tell stories and keep a watchful eye over a baby is the latest manifestation of the post-Soviet country’s burgeoning high-tech sector.

Caring for a baby can be an easier job when daddy is a programmer, as was the case with the team behind the Armenian smart bed, Cribby. Gor Shahbazian, one of Cribby’s creators and co-founder of an eponymous start-up, came up with the idea of an intelligent bassinet after his first son was born. A few likeminded programmers and computer designers and he then got together to devise an all-in-…

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Saakashvili: Free Again (Seriously)

For the second time running in less than a week, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on December 11 was again freed from Ukrainian state custody, but, this time, by a Kyiv judge who refused the state’s demand for Saakashvili’s house arrest on charges of criminal conspiracy.
 
“I think that this proves that you can’t prevail against logic, that they really wanted to isolate me from Ukrainian politics . . . They wanted to hide me from the people and to hide the people from me. In reality, it turned out exactly the opposite,” a beaming Saakashvili told…

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Saakashvili Recaptured, For Now

Arrested, broke free, arrested again -- the spectacle around ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Ukraine seems straight out of a Wes Anderson movie. Following a surreal game of cat and mouse with Ukrainian police, it was ultimately the common cold that got him.   
   
After a few near-captures on charges of allegedly assisting a criminal organization, the elusive Saakashvili was eventually cornered in Kyiv late on December 8…

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Saakashvili Rallies Supporters in Kyiv after Escaping Arrest

After an hours-long standoff with law-enforcement, supporters of Mikheil Saakashvili gathered outside Ukraine's parliament on December 5 in the hundreds to demand the impeachment of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The rally follows a failed attempt by special forces to detain the former Georgian president on charges of allegedly plotting to overthrow Poroshenko and collaborating with "the Russian side."

Addressing supporters on Maidan, Ukraine’s revolutionary epicenter, Saakashvili, now an opposition politician battling the Ukrainian government over rampant corruption, vowed…

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