1 Sep 2015
Georgia – August 2015
Commemoration, by-elections, opening of NATO-Georgia Training Center and football and art uniting people
On August 5, a court decision was issued to sequester all belongings of the major TV channel Rustavi 2 based on the lawsuit filed by Kibar Khalvashi. He is attempting to regain his shares in the company that he owned in 2004-2006. Executive Director of Rustavi 2 Nika Gvaramia, former United National Movement (UNM) member of parliament and the former Minister of Education under Saakashvili released a statement claiming that the court complied with governmental orders to crack down on the TV station. Since 2004 the ownership of Rustavi 2 has changed multiple times, yet the station remains closely associated with Saakashvili’s supporters.
Controversy surrounded the by-election planned for October for two parliamentary seats in Martvili and Sagarejo. The seats were vacated after the death of UNM MP Nanuli Janashia of Martvili and the appointment of Tina Khidasheli, an MP from the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, to the post of Defense Minister. Eleven non-parliamentary opposition parties, including the Labor Party, Free Democrats, Nino Burjanadze’s Democratic Movement and others are planning to boycott the election raising as a concern the non-democratic electoral environment and the ruling party’s refusal to considerate the proposed by opposition and supported by the president scrap of the majoritarian seats during the next election. After some initial hesitation, UNM also joined the boycott. Independent candidates will still participate in the election.
International Politics and Conflict Resolution Process
Seven years have passed since the five-day war of August 2008 that took hundreds of lives and displaced thousands, leaving open wounds and the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia intractable. Many practical questions also remain unresolved, including the exact location of the demarcation line between the two sides. These questions were in the news once again in August when South Ossetian and Russian forces placed border signs near the villages Khurvaleti and Tsitelubani, situated a few meters away from the highway connecting the eastern and western parts of Georgia. This development carries further regional importance as the move left parts of the Baku-Supsa pipeline under South Ossetia’s control.
There were also positive signs in Georgian-South Ossetian relations when an agreement was reached between the sides regarding the damaged irrigation system affecting both Ossetian and Georgian villages. Meetings were held by the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM), which was created in February 2009 after the Geneva Discussions took place. IPRM is a forum that allows communication around potential risks and incidents and the exchange of information on problems affecting communities on a daily basis. IPRM is co-led by the OSCE and the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM).
Security and the conflicts in the South Caucasus were also the main topic of discussion between Georgian Defense Minister Khidasheli and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter during Khidasheli’s visit to the US. On August 26-27, Khidasheli hosted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Georgia. Stoltenberg participated in the opening of the NATO-Georgian Joint Training and Evaluation Center designed to conduct pre-deployment training and certification of units assigned to NATO-led and other international operations. The facility will have capabilities to host multinational, joint and combined exercises and training.
The Georgian Lari continued to lose its value with the exchange rate falling to 2.36 from 2.24 in early August. That means the lari is 37 percent weaker compared with last year’s August rates and 25.6 percent weaker than at the start of 2015. Economist Roman Gotsiridze believes that the development was a consequence of the decreased flow of investments into the county. Other analysts suggested that the depreciation was the result of the strengthening of the US dollar in global markets and decreased remittance inflow from Greece, Russia, Ukraine and other countries that face economic crises.
Another economic highlight of the month was the meeting of Georgian and Armenian Ministers of Agriculture Otar Danelia and Serge Karapetyan. The ministers met in Adjaraand discussed bilateral cooperation. During the press conference that followed, Danelia declared that Georgia’s signing of the Free Trade Agreement with the European Union and Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Union should not be seen as challenges but opportunities, opening up new markets to Georgia and Armenia.
Culture and Society
Black Sea coastal towns, especially Batumi, have been active with summer-long cultural events. The “Heat Batumi 2015” festival organized by Batumi City Hall featured music days (pop and classical) as well as theater days, during which Georgian theaters put on many plays in the streets of Batumi. “Heat Batumi 2015” will conclude with a gala concert on September 15.
“GEM fest,” held from July 30 until August 7 in Anaklia, was another major cultural event. The festival’s manager Giorgi Sigua invited Abkhaz participants to join “GEM Fest” as a good-will gesture in support of the Georgian-Abkhaz peace process. No official information was released regarding the number of Abkhaz visitors at “GEM fest.”
Another occasion that linked social events and conflict resolution was the final of the 2015 UEFA Super Cup that took place in Tbilisi, where FC Barcelona defeated Seville FC. Tbilisi hosted visitors from all over the region and Europe. One famous photo taken during the match depicted the Azerbaijani and Armenian flags flying beside one another in the stadium. The motto of the game was “football united for peace.” The national football associations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine participated in the opening ceremony.
This news review reflects the major events of the month and is based on media publications. The views expressed in the Review may be different from the views of the editors of the Caucasus Edition.