Of Georgian Politicians' Fights, SUVs and Umbrellas
Do not let more actors into parliament, Georgia's Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili once begged ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. Parliamentarians should be making laws, not dramas, the thinking went.
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.
Parliament had indeed been discussing a resolution on the Ukraine situation, but the exchange went out of hand when it managed to digress into a Saakashvili-era crackdown on clans in Svaneti, a formidable highland region whose people -- of whom Jachvliani is one -- are frequent targets of Georgian jokes.
No doubt soured by the brawl, Jachvliani went on to accuse the Georgian-Dream-friendly TV station Maestro of a "conspiracy" against him after censure followed his inability to answer an on-air question about the Georgian Dream's budgetary priorities for 2014.
Jachvliani later apologized, although not to Maestro. But it is not just the actors who are raising eyebrows. Avtandil Beridze, head of the the Black-Sea region of Achara's executive council, made the news after it turned out he was looking to get himself an $83,000, posh SUV on the taxpayers' dime. And it had to be at least a 2013 model, according to the tender announcement.
Photos of Beridze strutting around with his assistants carrying umbrellas to shield him from the rain have become Internet hits.
Yet despite widespread criticism, Beridze has been unapologetic on both the SUV and umbrella counts. “What is wrong with a younger person carrying an umbrella for you?” he asked, clarifying for any naysayers that, yes, he is a VIP, and, therefore, needs a swanky SUV.
Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze (as a former captain of Georgia's national soccer team and a title-winning ex-professional soccer player, an actual VIP outside of politics) was one of the few high-ranking officials who lambasted Beridze in public and called for the Georgian Dream to discuss the provincial VIP’s party membership. Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili on December 18 announced plans to define what type of car comes with which official post, but it remains unclear if the Georgian Dream will start cleaning up its ranks.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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