Georgia Monthly Digest: vote to change election system takes political crisis to a new level, and Georgian doctor sentenced to two-months detention in South Ossetia6 min read

 In Caucasus, News, Politics

– On November 8th, the premier of the co-produced Swedish-Georgian film And Then We Danced, centered on a love story between two young male dancers of the Georgian national ensemble, took place against the background of the protests from far-right groups, which attempted to disrupt the movie screening. Several people were injured, among them civic activist Ana Subeliani, who was hospitalised with trauma to her head. Protestors referred to the a movie as “gay propaganda” and accused it of containing “pornographic” elements. The leaders of ultranationalist groups called for the demonstrators to break into Amirani Cinema in Tbilisi. During protest rallies the next day, police detained 27 persons in Tbilisi and Batumi. Most of the detained were accused of disobeying police orders and hooliganism. 

On December 5th, the board of the Sundance Film Festival announced that the movie would become part of the festival’s line-up, which will take place in the US in the spring of 2020, consolidating the movie’s positive reputation.  

Rally in front of the Russian embassy in Rome. Protestors demand the immediate release of Doctor Vazha Gaprindashvili who was detained by South Ossetian authorities on November 9th. Image source

– On November 9th, Georgian doctor Vazha Gaprindashvili was detained by South Ossetian authorities in Orchosani, a village around 45 kilometers away from Gori. He was  on his way to provide medical assistance to a patient in Akhalgori district, which is located close to the occupation line in the Tskhinvali region. Since September 5th, two checking points connecting it to the rest of Georgia have remained closed and led to a deterioration of the humanitarian situation. 

Gaprindashvili, who is well known in Tbilisi, is the president of the Association of Orthopedists and Traumatologists of Georgia, and a leading specialist at the Mediclub clinic. The South Ossetian officials first accused Gaprindashvili of “deliberately cross[ing] the border” and later of having participated in the 2008 war. 

On November 15th, Gaprindashvili was sentenced to two months of detention. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia announced that the government would work around the clock  to guarantee the doctor’s release. Following the detention of Gaprindashvili, solidarity rallies demanding Gaprindashvili to be free have taken place in Tbilisi and in front of Russian embassies abroad. Amnesty International published a statement, in which the organisation argues that the detention violates the right to personal liberty and security. Reportedly, Gaprindashvili is one of four men detained in the Tskhinvali region for alleged “illegal border crossing”. The other three were fined and relocated to Tbilisi-controlled territory. 

On November 27th, Former Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gregory Karasin, who represents Russia in economic talks with Georgia, stated that Russia was observing Gaprindashvili’s situation closely, and that the neighbourly relations between Georgia and Russia would soon be restored. According to him, prevention mechanisms are present in the framework of the Geneva International Discussions format, which should be used to prevent large-scale escalation. Karasin spoke with Georgian journalists after meeting with Zurab Abashidze, Georgian Prime Minister’s special representative for relations with Russia. The Karasin-Abashidze talks represent the only direct format of communication between Georgia and Russia since diplomatic ties were suspended after the 2008 war. 

Protestors in front of the Parliament in Tbilisi. Image source

– On November 14th, a long-debated bill on the change of the mixed election system towards a proportional one failed in the Georgian Parliament after only 101 out of 150 members of parliament (MPs) voted for it. Passing the law would have required 113 votes.  Changing the electoral system was one of the core demands during the June 20th protest (‘Gavrilov Night’), which Georgian Dream (GD) leader Bidzina Ivanishvil promised to fulfill. After the bill failed, 12 members of the ruling party Georgian Dream resigned from their posts. Among them were two deputy speakers and the chairs of the EU integration, foreign affairs, and education committees. Shortly thereafter, the parliamentary opposition started organising joint protests and discussing potential solutions. Also, the ultra right-wing Alliance of Patriots criticised GD for not supporting the promised bill, but mobilised separately. Since then, demonstrations have been held in front of the parliament. Activists and politicians demand the introduction of a proportional voting system, the formation of an interim government, and snap elections held with a proportional system.

Bigger protests were organised on November 25th, with partial sit-ins in front of the parliament and attempts to block members of parliament from entering the building. During the protests, the police repeatedly used water cannons; in the end at least 40 people were detained. On November 28th, the police set up iron barriers close to the Parliament so that the protesters would “not to use violence against the police”. 

– On November 27th, Georgia took over the 6-month presidency of the Council of Europe (CoE), which is Europe’s leading human rights organisation, and of which Georgia has been a member since 1999. Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs David Zalkaliani, the new Chair of the Committee of Ministers, presented Georgia’s four priorities: Human Rights and Environmental Protection; Civil Participation in Decision-Making Processes; Child-Friendly Justice – Converging Experience on Restorative Justice in Europe; Strengthening Democracy through Education, Culture and Youth Engagement. 

Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia stated that the presidency was a great opportunity and challenge for the country, and underlined that Georgia adamantly stands for its European choice. He maintained that the government would protect freedom of expression.

– On November 27th, one man died and three were injured after clashes between locals in the village of Sakobiano, of the Akhmeta Municipality, in Pankisi Gorge. According to locals, the incident took place between the two local Mutoshvili and Kavtarashvili families. An investigation has been launched under article 108 of the criminal code of Georgia, involving premeditated murder. The reason for the clash and the related murder remains unclear. Currently, there are two different theories: One supposes a longer-lasting family argument; another version points to a more recent argument over the construction of a hydro-electric power plant in Pankisi, which had previously led to clashes between locals and riot police earlier this year. Reginfo, a local media outlet, reported that the local Council of Elders had tried to reconcile the conflicting sides earlier that day, but the negotiations had proved unsuccessful.

– On December 5th, Berlin-based Georgian novelist and dramatist Zaza Burchuladze was awarded the 2020 Berlin city scholarship for his literary work. The award was granted to 10 authors of non-German literature and amounts to 240,000 euros. Burchuladze, who was born in 1973 in Tbilisi, graduated from Tbilisi State Academy of Arts and has translated a row of Russian contemporary novels and classics, including authors like Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He is seen by many as one of the most important and outstanding writers of post-Soviet Georgia, and is known for his provocative, and experimental style of writing. He became widely recognised to a broader audience due to his novel A Tourist’s Breakfast. 

Main sources: (EN), Amnesty International (EN), (EN), Eurasianet (EN), International Federation for Human Rights (EN), JAMNews (EN), Georgia Today (EN), OC Media (EN), Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe (EN). 

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