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Georgia legalizes it – sort of

Georgia has become the first former Soviet state to legalize the consumption of marijuana. But travelers looking for an ex-communist Amsterdam shouldn't head there just yet, as a haze still surrounds many of the technicalities of drug use.

The Georgian Constitutional Court’s July 30 decision to drop punishment for the personal use of cannabis was indeed unprecedented for the ex-Soviet world, a region better known for its punitive anti-drug policies. But while Georgians can now legally smoke or otherwise consume marijuana, they still can’t legally buy it. The purchase and possession…

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Azerbaijan’s music festival mixes pop and politics

If your last name ends in “yan” and you are headed to Azerbaijan, you can be expect to be treated with suspicion. Russian singer Zara Mgoyan was the latest to find this out, as one of the star attractions of the glitzy Zhara (“Heat”) pop music festival in Baku.

The festival was designed as a celebration of the glamor and gaudiness for which the Russian pop music scene is well known. But it became yet another testimony to how the feud between Armenia and Azerbaijan, centered on the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, spreads to anyone or anything connected to either…

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Russia’s Georgian drinking problem

Russia, the world’s biggest drinker of Georgian wine, has threatened to tighten control on alcohol imports from Georgia in a step many take as a political shot across the bow.

About 16,000 liters of Georgian alcohol were denied entry to Russia during the first half of 2018, Russia’s federal consumer protection agency, Rospotrebnadzor, announced in a July 19 statement. The shipments did not meet “the standards defined by technical regulations and Russian law for consumer protection,” the agency declared.

Russia, to be…

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On trial in Georgia: the right to compare a person to a reproductive organ

A high-profile sexual harassment scandal that has rocked Georgia's activist community has taken an unusual twist: The man being accused has asked a court to order two women to publicly announce that he is not – as they have previously claimed – a … male sexual organ. The demand, legal analysts say, is a first in the history of Georgian jurisprudence.

The complaint was filed by former NGO chief Zviad Devdariani, who is accused of sexual harassment by several women. The allegations became…

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Georgia to extradite Turk involved in killing of Russian pilot

Georgia has arrested a Turkish man allegedly involved in the killing of a Russian pilot in Syria, an incident that led to a fierce row between Russia and Turkey in 2015.

Serkan Kurtuluṣ was arrested in Batumi at the behest of Turkish authorities and is slated for extradition. But Georgian authorities said that Kurtuluṣ's arrest is not connected to the slaying of Russian military pilot Oleg Pershkov on November 24, 2015. “Serkan Kurtuluṣ is wanted for creating and leading an…

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Georgia, South Ossetia exchange Magnitsky-like lists

Georgia and its breakaway territories have launched a tit-for-tat blacklist battle in an attempt to sanction individuals they blame for crimes against them.

The de facto leadership of South Ossetia, one of the breakaway regions, announced on June 27 that it was creating a list of individuals who committed or abetted crimes against South Ossetians, and will seek international sanctions against them. The list will reportedly include citizens of Georgia, the United States, Ukraine, and other countries, though the names have not yet been released. “We will try to act through Interpol…

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Will there be wine on Mars?

Next time Matt Damon gets marooned on Mars, he may be whiling away his days sipping Saperavi instead of farming potatoes as he did so laboriously in the 2015 blockbuster, The Martian. Georgia, an ancient wine-making redoubt, is putting its best space science and viticulture minds together to develop grapes fit for growing on Mars.

With its rocks and deserts, the Red Planet may not offer the best terroir for growing grapes, but with a 8,000-year record of cultivating…

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Georgian protests draw other bereaved parents

Protests led by a murdered teenager’s father are set to continue in Georgia as negotiations with top government officials on June 4 failed to resolve the standoff.

Sticking to his main demand, Zaza Saralidze said that “the system must fall” as he emerged from an hours-long meeting with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili. Saralidze gave the government until June 10 to bring to justice the killers of his teenage son as well as the officials that, he alleges, were involved in a cover-up.

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Syria formally recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia

The Syrian government recognized the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a gesture of thanks to its largest patron of late, Russia. Georgia responded by severing diplomatic relations with Syria.

“In gratitude for the assistance against terrorist aggression, the Syrian Arabic Republic has decided to establish diplomatic relations with the republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Syria’s foreign ministry…

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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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