Will Georgia's Videos Kill Its Political Stars?
Looks like it's time that Georgia introduces an Emmy-style award for the Best Secret Incriminating Video of the Year. As the country zooms toward October 1 and the parliamentary vote, its dirty laundry is being gleefully aired on television and online, and more, no doubt, is still to come.
The latest installment of secret recordings shows something to which the public is rarely exposed -- how the rich and the powerful decide the fate of a country over a glass of wine and meat dumplings.
A video that popped up today depicts President Mikheil Saakashvili, the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, the late billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, millionaire Vano Chkhartishvili and media mogul Erosi Kitsmarishvili trying to draw turf lines in post-Rose Revolution Georgia. Two of the men -- the prime minister and the billionaire -- are now dead; the rest openly hate each other.
Another video shows how things can go sour among the ruling establishment, represented by Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, and Patarkatshvili, whose television channel the government charged had helped spur mass protests in Tbilisi in 2007. The two men’s conversation essentially ends in a declaration of war.
A lot has changed in Georgia since the period depicted in these videos, but the political game seems to remain the same. Saakashvili is still the president and is still locked in a battle with a billionaire, this time Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream Coalition. Like Patarkatsishvili, Ivanishvili is also armed with a television station of his own, and, despite all the eye-rolling by many Georgians, the government is leveling the same old accusation of their main foe being a Kremlin lackey.
A volley of competing videos and audios rolled out today portraying Ivanishvili’s and his entourage is less than a positive light. Some key members of the billionaire’s open-door political movement were allegedly recorded by an Ivanishvili guard making less than flattering comments about their leader, his family and other members of the group. If (and for many Georgians there is a big "if" there) the audio recordings are authentic, they show infighting and mistrust among the Ivanishvili team. Other video selections and phone-call recordings, released by the Interior Ministry, allegedly indicate ties between key Georgian Dream figures and Georgia's notorious "thieves-in-law." That said, hardly anything can match the political impact made by earlier video revelations of gruesome torture in Georgian prisons. But the ongoing exposure of political filth is fueling criticism and anger not just toward one force, but toward politicians in general.
Almost in every key post-independence election, Georgians have voted primarily for whichever perceived political messiah was on hand at the time. Whoever prevails in the upcoming poll, here's betting we won’t witness any political force or leader with a near-national mandate. Georgia's age of political gods is over.