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Polarization of Georgia

Bagrati Temple is no longer on the list of UNESCO

Polarization of Georgia

Within two days a group of prominent lawyers is to arrive in Tbilisi. They come at the invitation of the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, being in the opposition to the authorities, to protect his interests in the courts.

In the last week alone, Ivanishvili was fined by the Control Chamber for more than $75 million. His counter-claims allowed to almost halve the amount, but the latter is still impressive. According to some reports, from that day when Ivanishvili announced the creation of the Georgia Dream opposition coalition, the fiscal authorities of the country, having identified various violations in the structures related to the billionaire’s business empire, have imposed fines totaling almost half a billion dollars. At first, Ivanishvili, whose fortune is estimated at $5-6 billion, supposedly paid fines, but now that they have become regular, he refused point-blank to part with his money. As is bitterly joked in Tbilisi, perhaps out of fear that by the beginning of the Parliament election campaign in the autumn, the government will have got out from him all to the last penny. You may laugh at it but the fines payment period has expired, and it is not yet clear how events will unfold around Ivanishvili.

The Georgia Dream under the pressure

The fiscal authorities’ questions have arisen regarding the schemes of financing the billionaire’s political allies. The fact is that. pursuant to the law, Ivanishvili still being without Georgian citizenship, has no right to found political organizations and subsidize them. He has easily evaded the first part of the ban: legal founders of the Georgia Dream are the spouse and attendants of the wealthiest of Georgians. But it was not all plain sailing with the second part. In order to circumvent the legal barriers it was necessary to create new structures - probably on the same system, and to use them to transfer money for politicians and parties not included in the Georgia Dream. It is in these financial schemes that the Control Chamber has detected some flaws and began to slap heavy fines on Ivanishvili.

Another reason for trying to withhold tens of millions of his purse was an information war he was ready to open in a full-scale against the government. The TV-9 television company recreated by him can broadcast only via satellite, whose signals are not available to all residents of Georgia. TV companies that successfully operate in the country in providing the public with paid TV services (satellite or cable TV), without wanting to let themselves in for trouble in relations with authorities, have excluded TV-9 from their packages. Ivanishvili had to act independently. But the authorities saw the law violation in the free distribution among the population of special antennas to transmit TV-9 programs not only by a computer, but also in a much more familiar way. The court held to dismantle the handed out antennas, and to fine the companies engaged in their installation.

However, the reason for such an angry attitude towards TV-9, is probably not any disorders, but the fear of a repetition of events in November 2007. It is a reminder that then the activities of the Imedi TV company owned by another billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, who had also defied the authorities, nearly made a breakthrough in the days-long street confrontation between authorities and opposition. Ivanishvili’s television audience will now decrease a lost, but the authorities are formally not to blame for the violation of democratic standards: the TV company itself is running; no one encroaches on it; and the technical aspects associated with the rules of TV signals distribution still stand in every country of the world. Freedom of speech takes its course, while the law violation takes its. Such is the logic of the authorities.

Not for personal gain, but merely in compliance with my people’s wishes...

Pressure on Ivanishvili is not limited to financial sanctions only. Thus, recently he has been deprived of his fleet. The equipment confiscation is not the subject at issue, but just a ban on flights on his helicopter (or helicopters?) supposedly being in bad repair. The businessman himself sadly said that his flying machinery is in order and with its help under his direction over the fields in western Georgia substances had been sprayed to kill harmful insects, and the results were good, but now it is obvious the farmers will have problems with crops. So Ivanishvili tries to turn to his advantage the discomfort caused by the authorities - he says he helped farmers but the authorities have forbidden to do so. And he seems to have nothing personal at that!

Not only the leader of the Georgia Dream takes blows but also his attendants do so. Particularly, the famous soccer player Kakha Kaladze, working for many years in Italy, on his page in Facebook urged the authorities to let him alone. According to the former captain of Georgian football national team, the Ministry of Internal Affairs sent its staff on a mission to Italy, where another scandal broke in connection with match-fixing, to dig up some information about the involvement of Kaladze in corruption. “Do not waste time and money, as I am pure!” said Kaladze.

As is the case, repressive actions against Ivanishvili and his fellows in arms did not diminish the army of the Georgia Dream supporters, but rather on the contrary. In late May, he was able to gather more than 100,000 people for a rally in Tbilisi. In total, a little less people came to a similar event in Kutaisi, Ozurgeti. Speeches by Ivanishvili and other prominent figures of the Georgia Dream are quite of the same type: the whole country is against the cowardly dictator, victory over him is inevitable, the return of Georgian self awareness is not far off. Plus, the generous social promises. Ivanishvili’s statement to one of the Georgian media about his desire to acquire TELASI, Tbilisi Electricity Distribution and Supply Company, as well as electricity generating facility, also fit well into it. It may be assumed that it is the government that prevented the desire to implement a deal. And it can be also guessed why.

By purchasing TELASI, Ivanishvili could make a strong publicity stunt - to release for some time the company subscribers from electric bill payment. Such a gift (and the payment for the expensive electricity takes up more than half of utility payments of Tbilisi residents) would not remain without a response of gratitude in the form of votes in the upcoming parliamentary election. Something similar, but with natural gas, was performed in due time by the late Patarkatsishvili.

The year 2015 scares the opposition

The government counterpropaganda is not notable for originality, and is mainly confined to a dethronement of Ivanishvili’s speeches and promises estimated as exclusively populist, the implementation of which will lead Georgia to economic collapse. Yet, it is not clear how to put in other way its current situation with the multi-billion foreign debt, with no major industry, the bungled agriculture, at least 50 percent unemployment, the subsistence level inadequacy to the minimum consumption basket, the abundance of beggars on the streets.

The local opposition-leaning newspapers, competing with each other, give not a short list of campaign promises of President Mikhail Saakashvili, still remained unfulfilled. Meanwhile, some of them anxiously pay attention to the fact that in his recent speeches on the controversial construction project of a city Lazika, the program for providing each refugee’s own apartment, and some others, Saakashvili with ever increasing frequency calls the year 2015 as a deadline for the implementation of these plans. And the oppositionists’ anxiety is understandable – the next year he must go out of office, and will not be able to participate in the presidential election, under the Constitution. But the fact is that by that time the amendments to the Constitution will have come into force, under which the power in Georgia shall go from the president to the prime minister. And no one shall prohibit him from taking this post.

Therefore, this autumn’s parliamentary election seems uncompromising - the opposition expects to get a majority of seats, and have time before the presidential election to sift through legislation so that Saakashvili either looses interest in the prime minister post, or has no chance to take it up. However, if the president himself says something about his plans on this account, he does it quite vaguely and ambiguously. Yet through it all, this would be a mistake to think that his positions have weakened. Opposition rallies of many thousands of people do not mean that the authorities will not be able to organize actions on a smaller scale.

And not necessarily by pressure on state employees. Some estates under the ruling of Saakashvili really improved their living standards, some consider the eradication of corruption a brilliant achievement, others consider the resolution of the energy crisis and repair of roads a great achievement, and still others admire the reform of the Interior Ministry and the army, etc. And in whole, these people have every reason for this, if you remember in what misery the country was until 2003, i.e. before the Rose Revolution that ascended Saakashvili to the position of president. Another thing, if the authorities did not rest on their laurels and remind every hour “of their merits”, but continued to move forward. But it is here that difficulties arose. Or rather, if there was progress, Ivanishvili would not have arisen in the political arena. There would be no ground for it, no need for him.

Bagrati Temple is no longer on the list of UNESCO

Meanwhile, the authorities seem to have received a strong blow. The position of the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC), declaring the equidistance from political camps, is increasingly opposite to the position of secular authorities. Considering the Georgian society highest polarization, any slightest divergence of the GOC with the secular authorities is regarded by most of the population as a proof of the church’s opposition.

So at this week, a “confrontation” arose around the famous medieval Bagrati Temple near Kutaisi. The monument inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List needed restoration. However, as stated by independent experts, it would be better if nothing were moved in the temple. Some things really seem to be unacceptable. Such as the installation of an elevator rising to the dome...

The alarm raised by the opposition was supported by the GOC. Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II issued an injunction to immediately cease all rehabilitation works, which could destroy the famous temple. There has hitherto not been such a sharp reaction of the spiritual authorities of Georgia to the actions of the secular authorities. Rehabilitation works seem to be suspended until the establishment of some special commission. But, according to the opposition, Bagrati Temple has been already excluded from the list of UNESCO.

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