Meet the Press, Georgia-Style
Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire on everyone’s lips here in Georgia, made another of his oracular appearances from his futuristic Tbilisi hermitage yesterday. Just like his previous appearances, the messy, hour-and-a-half-long news conference with President Mikheil Saakashvili's latest opponent is now being poured over obsessively.
Ivanishvili did not get too much down to brass tacks about his plans, though. The rowdy news conference was perhaps more informative about the state of Georgian news media than anything else. As reporters -- reportedly, 200-strong -- literally wrestled for a microphone and for a chance to ask a question, the much-anticipated rendez-vous, televised live on Georgian Public Television, nearly turned into a hair-pulling match.
Hacks from government-friendly television channels went out of their way to grill the tycoon on his ties to Russia; other reporters offered up coquettish adulation. One opted for a question about a penguin and sparrows, but that's a separate story.
All of this was MC'd by Ivanishvili’s overly emotional spokesperson, former Georgian Public Broadcasting Board of Trustees Chairperson Irakli Tripolski, who, gesticulating angrily, barked at inattentive journalists during Ivanishvili's comments to "Listen to him, listen to him!"
Ivanishvili himself remained composed -- "Don't get upset. Everything will be fine," he told the frantic Tripolski at one point -- and stuck to the general, delivering largely diplomatic responses. In a few fresh details about his political plans, he pledged to push for Saakashvili's impeachment upon taking over parliament in the 2012 election. (Apparently, even Saakashvili's "mother would not vote for him.")
But how Ivanishvili, stripped of his citizenship, would gain entrance to parliament and try to realize that goal -- or any other goal -- remains unclear. For now, the focus appears to be on cooperation with sympathetic opposition parties.
Nonetheless, some observers hail the businessman's political ambitions as a welcome way to introduce some competition to Georgian politics; others, most notably cab drivers, idolize the billionaire and expect his fortune to trickle down somehow to the common folk. Scientists and celebrities who have benefited from Ivanishvili’s philanthropy call for restoring his citizenship. The government, after hinting broadly about black magic, still warns of a Russian trap. Meanwhile, a handful of commentators, who, for the past two decades, have witnessed how Georgians' repeated one-night-stands with political messiahs end in morning-after alienation-turned-hatred, just suggest keeping expectations within reasonable limits. Don't hold your breath.