Ongoing NATO war games in Georgia have elicited not just fears of a vindictive reaction from Russia, but also a healthy dose of homegrown sexism.
“You can’t give a woman a gun or let her make decisions,” proclaimed parliamentarian Tamaz Mechiauri, chairperson of the budget and finance committee, and a member of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition.
He was referring to one particular woman, who packs more guns than anybody else in Georgia, 42-year-old Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli.
Khidasheli is the main host of the May 11-25 US-UK-Georgia drills, marked by columns of US tanks shipped by sea and paratroopers raining down from the sky. Moscow, as always, is warily watching this Western military show close to its borders; essentially a gunshot away from Russian military bases in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Mechiauri is worried that Russia is worried. Following an angry statement by the Kremlin, Mechiauri, 61, came out to say on the eve of the drills that they spell danger for Georgia and the country should keep the Alliance at arm’s length lest it incur Moscow’s wrath.
He called for firing Khidasheli because a) she will get Georgia into trouble and; b) defense ain’t a woman’s job. “This country is a not a toy. You can’t have her drag tanks in and out,” he fumed, proposing that Khidasheli play computer war games instead.
Khidasheli responded by posting on her Facebook page a photo collage of female Georgian sports shooter and seven-time Olympian, Nino Salukvadze next to Mechiauri. The caption featured Mechiauri’s memorable quote about women and guns.
The confrontation between the defense minister and the parliamentarian has many layers, however. Khidasheli’s pro-Western Republican Party and Mechiauri’s Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, both parts of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, are parting ways and will run separately in parliamentary elections this fall.
But Mechiuari’s words, coming from a senior member of the party in power, have been an embarrassment for the Georgian government’s goal to both join Western institutions and achieve institutional gender equality.
Earlier this year, an ugly blackmail campaign of still unclear origins featured sex tapes allegedly depicting female politicians. While civil society groups and top government officials condemned the videos and supported women targeted in them, Mechiuari said that these women should quit politics because they could be manipulated.
He also seized the opportunity to place on the public record that he had had plenty of sex in his day and is not generally against people having sex. “Yes, I fooled around with women, but never with my buddies’ wives, unlike certain someones,” he said, referring to unnamed political rivals.
The most curious thing about Mechiauri is that his party clings to him despite his constantly drawing public anger.
Leading Georgian Dream figures are always quick to distance themselves from Mechiuari’s views on NATO, women and sex, but they refuse to distance him from his party. Some tie his untouchability to his allegedly close association with Bidizina Ivanishvili, the former prime minister and the billionaire founder of the Georgian Dream.
Amid the latest frey, Manana Kobakhidze, the female first deputy speaker of parliament and a member of the Georgian Dream, was asked to explain Mechiuari’s anti-NATO comments. “If you are asking me NATO or Russia, I will say NATO. If you are asking me the European Union or Commonwealth of Independent States, I will say the European Union,” she said.
But if asked to make a choice between the Republican Party and Mechiauri, she added, “I will say Mechiauri.”