Voices from Russia

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Anti-Saakashvili Candidate Claims Victory in Georgia Vote

00 Voting in Georgia. 27.10.13


On Sunday, an opponent of outgoing president Mikhail Saakashvili claimed victory in the Georgian presidential election just hours after voting stations closed in the former Soviet nation on Russia’s southern border. Initial exit polls gave Giorgi Margvelashvili, from the anti-Saakashvili Georgian Dream party, about 65 percent of the vote in an election that marked the end of a decade in power for Saakashvili. On Sunday evening, outside his party headquarters in Tbilisi, where supporters had already taken to the streets to celebrate his win, Margvelashvili said, “I want to thank everyone who supported me. Thanks to the Prime Minister who facilitated today’s victory”. Margvelashvili is a close ally of Georgian Prime Minister and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who led Georgian Dream to a crushing victory over Saakashvili’s United National Movement in parliamentary polls in 2012.

Twenty three candidates took part in Sunday’s election in the South Caucasus nation, but the presidential position is less powerful than it was under Saakashvili, as laws passed earlier this year diluted presidential powers. Margvelashvili’s main rival, Davit Bakradze of the United National Movement, got about 20 percent of the vote according to exit polls. He said shortly after polling stations closed that the exit polls provided a “clear picture” and that he was prepared to work with the country’s new president. Both front-runners in the election pledged to continue policies of integration with the EU and NATO, and indicated a willingness to improve ties with Russia, which soured badly under Saakashvili.

According to the country’s election commission, turnout amongst Georgia’s 3.5 million registered voters was 46.6 percent. On Sunday evening, outgoing President Saakashvili said that Georgian voters had “spoken” and called on his supporters to respect the election result. A Columbia Law School graduate, Saakashvili enjoyed broad public support early in his presidency after he swept to power following Georgia’s 2003 so-called “Rose Revolution“, accomplishing successful institutional reforms. However, a disastrous defeat in a brief war with Russia in 2008 contributed to a later precipitous drop in his approval ratings. Saakashvili’s bitter political rival, Ivanishvili, is a secretive tycoon; Forbes estimates his fortune at 5.5 billion USD (175 billion Roubles. 5.75 billion CAD. 5.73 billion AUD. 4 billion Euros. 3.4 billion UK Pounds), making him Georgia’s richest man. Ivanishvili, who became prime minister last October, pledged to quit politics after the presidential vote, but hasn’t named a successor yet.

27 October 2013



Editor’s Note:

Langley’s Charlie McCarthy is history. Shall Georgian-Russian relations improve? Only time will tell us, but Saakashvili’s party went down in flames. However, the turnout was meagre. Most voters didn’t like ANY of the choices on offer and stayed home. I seem to recall that most Georgian soldiers took “French leave” during the 2008 war. They didn’t like the prospects on offer and simply melted away, going home in such numbers that the government couldn’t punish them. A clash between pro-Western factions excited less than half of the voters. Does this mean that the rest are Left voters? God alone knows, but I wouldn’t bet against it…




Sunday, 8 September 2013

Georgia: What’s the Definition of Tolerance?

00 Mosque in Imiri GEORGIA. 08.09.13


A revival of the Orthodox faith in Georgia appears to be coinciding with an uptick in discrimination against the country’s Muslim population. For centuries, Georgians defined their existence in “us vs them” terms, as a struggle to survive as a tiny Orthodox Christian nation in a predominantly-Muslim neighbourhood. In part, this concept came, in part, from the Ottoman and Persian Empires’ past control of parts of Georgia. However, today, this definition of national identity seems to leave little room for Georgia’s estimated 433,784 Muslim citizens, roughly 9.9 percent of its overall population. Sociologist Iago Kachkachishvili, the chairman of the Tbilisi State University Sociology Department, said, “The dominant attitude in Georgian society is that being Georgian means being Orthodox. The meaning of being Orthodox isn’t the pure religious meaning; it’s very close to a national identity as well. Many don’t consider non-Orthodox Georgians proper Georgians; they’re Georgians who’re kind of deviants. If an individual wishes to be perceived as a ‘real Georgian’, they must be baptised in the Georgian [Orthodox] way”.

Efforts to convert local Muslim populations are now especially strong in Adjara, an autonomous region of western Georgia that was part of the Ottoman Empire for 300 years. The Georgian Orthodox Church spent millions in state funds building churches and seminaries in villages there; local priests actively encourage their congregations to convert Muslim neighbours to Orthodoxy. However, for most Muslim Georgians, the expectation that they have to convert to be truly Georgian is unacceptable. Georgi Sanikidze, director of the G. Tsereteli Institute of Oriental Studies at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, noted that although for generations their faith was dormant, today, Muslims are also experiencing a religious revival. He said that where local Muslims tried to build mosques or publicly express their faith, often, tension flared with local Georgian Orthodox believers.

This May and June, angry crowds in the eastern village of Samtatskaro succeeded in shutting down Friday services at the local mosque. The services resumed only after intervention by police and officials. Last October and November, similar outbursts occurred in the western village of Nigvziani in response to rumours about alleged plans to build a local mosque. The hubbub quieted after a senior cleric denied the rumours, and police cautioned locals against harassing Muslim villagers. However, last month, an event raised questions about what, if anything, the government learned from these episodes. On 26 August, troops barred the entrance to the southern village of Chela after the Revenue Service (RS) opted to remove the local mosque’s minaret for allegedly unpaid import duties. The action sparked sharp protests nationwide. RS officials issued a statement that the agency tried to contact the minaret’s owner five days before closing the village and removing the minaret for “analysis”. Currently, the minaret is sitting in “storage” at a nearby site under police guard. The incident aggravated fears about discrimination against Muslims. In comparison, the Georgian Orthodox Church isn’t required to pay taxes and duties on goods. RS representatives didn’t respond to requests from EurasiaNet for additional information about its minaret investigation.

Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili sought to ease concerns that Georgian ethnic and religious minorities face discrimination. In a 2 September speech to the diplomatic corps, Ivanishvili reassured Georgian Muslims that Georgia is a tolerant country, saying, “Religious tolerance … isn’t only our tradition, but it’s also one of the fundamental principles of the Georgian constitution”. He claimed that what happened in Chela had “nothing to do with religious intolerance”, without elaborating. Some political analysts in Tbilisi interpreted his comments as a reference to a possible “dirty tricks” campaign against the governing Georgian Dream coalition during the run-up to October’s presidential election. However, sociologist Kachkachishvili cautioned that the concept of tolerance as defined by many ordinary Georgians strongly differs from the common understanding in the West. In Georgia, it’s more of a willingness to forgive those who accept Georgian Orthodoxy. He added, “This is a kind of quasi-tolerance, I’d say”. Ivanishvili pledged that “an appropriate response” would occur for any violations of the law in taking down the minaret or for “excessive force” against villagers protesting its removal. Then again, how far that response would go could be open to debate. Whilst emphasising that the minaret’s forcible removal was “unacceptable”, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani… whose ministry oversees the General Prosecutor’s Office, the government agency responsible for investigating the minaret removal… termed the structure “illegal,” and asserted that Georgia would have to discuss whether or not the country should contain minarets.

In comments to EurasiaNet, Tariel Nakaidze, head of the Georgian Muslims’ Union, welcomed the investigation into the minaret’s “unprecedented” confiscation, but expressed caution. He claimed that the government hasn’t yet properly investigated other past abuses against Muslims. We couldn’t reach government officials to respond to the allegation. Nakaidze said, “This isn’t just about minarets and mosques. This is about our country. Our democracy will have a problem and we shouldn’t allow that to happen”.

6 September 2013

Molly Corso




Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Five Years After the Five-Day War, Everyone’s Learned Their Lessons

01g South Ossetia 2010


Russia and Georgia’s clash over South Ossetia happened five years ago, but today it feels like an age away. Much has changed since then in Georgia and Russia, as well in all the countries that were indirectly involved in the conflict. Georgia was the first post-Soviet republic to engage in a direct military clash with Russia, certainly an extraordinary event. Georgia changed politically since then, with a new government coming to power last fall. The five-day war didn’t topple Mikhail Saakashvili, as many in Moscow hoped it would, but it did seriously mar his moral and political image. Little by little, Saakashvili’s government abandoned its pro-reform policy and turned into a repressive régime that wanted only one thing… to remain in power at all costs. When a strong political rival appeared three years later, it turned out that Saakashvili’s chair was much shakier than many thought.

Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream, which won the parliamentary elections last fall, promised to examine the causes of the military conflict and the role of Tbilisi in it. Some members of the current Georgian government said that the government made gross mistakes, but Georgia is unlikely to do a U-turn on its attitude toward the war. The war did major damage, and if a leading politician tried too abruptly to change the idea that Georgia was a victim in the events, the political consequences might be unpredictable. It’s unclear whether anyone should do this at all, although such a positive change would be of truly revolutionary importance for relations with Russia and a breakthrough in relations.

The new Georgian authorities are grappling with many problems. However, most predictions agree that the Georgian Dream will easily win the presidential election in October and that Saakashvili’s United National Movement is losing weight. Firstly, Georgia still heavily depends on the West, which sees Georgian Dream’s attempts to restore political order as a persecution campaign, even if there may be very serious reasons behind it. Therefore, the government should move slowly and act prudently. Secondly, people heaved a sigh of relief when the previous government’s pressure eased, but they soon became aware of drawbacks in the new democratic rule. Georgians are heatedly discussing their problems, and political life is in full swing, but there are few practical results so far. Furthermore, with the United National Movement discredited and no other serious political forces in the country, the government is in a dangerous position, with no opposition to keep it in check. Life without opposition corrupts, as we know from history. Nonetheless, it looks like Georgia learned its lesson and is unlikely to act opportunistically again.

The West took a warning from the Georgian example. The August 2008 war put an end to the idea of NATO’s eastward expansion, which the West hasn’t discussed since, at least not in practical terms. Only a major change in American policy would bring this issue back in focus. However, so far, events have gone in the opposite direction. NATO’s extensive development, which masked the lack of a strategy in the 2000s, gave way to attempts to adapt the bloc to the more practical tasks at hand. These tasks have very little connection with the Caucasus, and the bloc is no longer enthusiastic about the post-Soviet space as a whole.

The five years after the South Ossetian war were a time of quest for Russia. Many saw the defeat of Georgia as a major landmark and a psychological resurgence after more than 20 years of geopolitical retreat. At the same time, it became clear that Russia wouldn’t pursue an expansionist policy to regain the losses it sustained after the dissolution of the USSR, which the West and some neighbouring countries feared would be the case. Moscow is gradually abandoning the post-imperial mentality rooted in the Soviet collapse and related feelings in favour of a new vision of itself and its interests in the neighbouring countries. The Customs Union idea proposed several months after the war was a major improvement on all previous plans. It focuses on economic expediency and the logic of mutually beneficial integration rather than reunion for the sake of reunion.

Russia’s most controversial postwar move was the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In the five years since, Russia hasn’t convinced any major country to do the same, and it’s unlikely to succeed any time soon. Moscow had to make the decision because the situation was rocky and they needed to stabilise the state of affairs. Nevertheless, it hasn’t resolved the problem. It only put the political and diplomatic conflict on ice, and it’s a fact that what’s frozen sometimes melts. A final settlement will come only when we find a solution that suits all sides, which means that aggravation is still possible, even though the status quo is stable and no one wants an escalation.

One can describe the South Ossetian war, which is deeply rooted in the dissolution of the USSR, as the closing page in a long chapter. The global financial crisis, which broke out a month later, put into question the results of an era that began in the 1990s and was a time of triumph for the West and its market ideology. It also engendered processes that have made things even more problematic. The Arab Spring, which began two-and-a-half years after the South Ossetian war, further complicated matters. There’ll be many more such events before a new world order emerges from the chaos. Russia paid a high price for being a lead actor in 20th-century history. It had its share of shocks and would rather be a spectator from now on, unless a new play develops in direct proximity to its borders.

01 Fyodor Lukyanov RIA-Novosti8 August 2013

Fyodor Lukyanov



Editor’s Note:

The above is far different from the narrative that’s still bruited in neocon and interventionist circles. They claim that Georgia was the totally-innocent victim of Russian neo-imperial aggression. Such wasn’t so… indeed, they’re the most disgusting apologists for AMERICAN neo-imperialism. Since 1991, American neocons and interventionists have been drunk on their ”victory” in the Cold War. Factually, the Cold War ended in 1987, after the Reykjavik Summit, not the 1991 implosion of the USSR, which was something else altogether (and had nothing to do with Socialist vs Market ideologies, in any case). America has run riot… showing all concerned that the leading elements of the USA are greedy, self-centred, and violent; they’re incompetent, uncivilised, uncultured, and indecent, not fit for the role of a “world leader”. That’s true of both the Right and Centre in American politics (there’s no Left in the USA… the last Leftists were FDR and Henry Wallace).

We see the moral bankruptcy of the trend in the USA (and the West, in general) that’s been regnant since the time of Slobberin’ Ronnie. “Might makes right” has run rampant in the USA… “Greed is Good”, “The race goes to the swiftest”, and “You earned it” sum up its evil credo. It’s Social Darwinism (actually, a misnomer, as it owes everything to Spencer, not Darwin) writ large. America’s become a McMansion… glitzy on the outside, cheap softwood plyboard inside (with the termites busy at work). It’s time to put things right… but shall we? That’s up to YOU…

If we don’t, the consequences will be dire… I’m not advocating chaos and bloodshed, I’m predicting that it could happen if we don’t scrap our present neoliberal Rightwing arrangements… that’s two very different things…


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Will Georgia Ban Abortions?

Barbara-Marie Drezhlo. Respect for Life from Beginning to End. 2012


The Georgian state has begun thinking of banning abortions after influential Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia Ghudushauri-Shiolashvili pitched the idea in his Easter sermon on 5 May. Many churches may be pro-life, but in this devout Christian country, which cherishes the Church leader above any other public figure, words from the patriarch can carry as much power as papal bulls once did in Europe. During his sermon, the patriarch called on the government to stop the “terrible sin” of abortion and “filicide”, aside from a few circumstantial exceptions. He blamed both Bolshevikatheists” from the past and modern liberal philosophy for the prevalence of abortions. Georgia tops the South Caucasus for abortions, with 408 performed per 1,000 live births, according to a study by the WHOthe Caucasus Research Resource Centres reported (By comparison, the EU rate is 222 per 1,000 live births).

Georgian government officials, who can’t hold a candle to the patriarch in terms of public support, quickly gave the nod to the Church on considering an abortion ban. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili responded by saying that baby-boosting legislation is in order. However, he sensibly suggested that if one wanted to improve the country’s bleak demographic situation, the focus should be on economic incentives rather than abortions. Amongst top Georgian officials, only female Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani ventured to express outright scepticism, saying that the ban could make abortion an underground business. She said that prohibiting informing parents about the sex of a future child is as far as she is personally willing to go as a way to prevent selective abortions, which favour boys.

With one eye on the country’s modest population of 4.48 million, the patriarch has long pushed Georgians to have more babies. After he offered to baptise every third child as an incentive, the Church held mass baptism ceremonies several times a year. Now, he’s proposed to cash-strapped parents that, rather than aborting any additional children, they hand them over to the Church’s care. However, gender researcher Nargiza Arjevanidze cautioned that Georgia’s Soviet experience actually illustrates the dangers of an abortion ban. She said in comments to EurasiaNet that a ban during the Stalin era “led to the rise of back-room abortions that often ended in health complications and even death. Another ban could result in similar problems. Those who can afford it would travel to neighbouring countries; others would resort to illegal procedures”. She believes than an anti-abortion law would do little to reduce Georgia’s high abortion rate. Rather, Arjevanidze thinks that promotion of contraception and family planning is the real need.

7 May 2013

Georgi Lomsadze



Editor’s Note:

There are those who believe that we can solve the problems associated with abortion by simply outlawing it, and making those who provide it criminals. That’s simply hogwash of the worst possible sort. Before Roe, abortion was readily available to women who had the money to pay for it. Those who didn’t have the money to access proper medical intervention turned to quacks or “homebrew solutions”. In short, there was plenty of abortion going on despite the formal ban on the procedure.

In any case, the Church doesn’t bless political action to solve moral problems. That’s a Catholic solution (said with no rancour towards individual Catholics). It’s not Christ’s solution… it’s the solution of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. That is, when we try to address moral problems with the police power of the state rather than with the moral authority of Our Lord Christ, not only does the effort usually fail, it ends in exacerbating the problem. Thus, to march in “Pro-life” rallies and to support rightwing politicians because they’re anti-abortion is clearly anti-Christian (it certainly ain’t Orthodox).

St Serafim Vyritsky didn’t carry on a political protest… he prayed for the Soviet state and for its conversion. He prayed for the victory of the Red Army in the VOV, as that was preferable to a Fascist victory. He was typical of many in the Church. We didn’t carry signs… we didn’t sign petitions… we prayed. That’s right… we prayed. It worked. By the 1980s, the KPSS abandoned the anti-religious struggle… the rebirth of the Church began, not in 1991, but in 1985. If all things are equal, then, Christ calls on us to pray. He calls on us to aid unwed mothers anonymously. He calls on us to show civility to Pro-Choice people. I’ll tell you a “secret”… virtually all Pro-Choice people view abortion as a nasty alternative, one that they’d like to see minimised. They’re not pro-abortion ogres. We should have nothing to do with Randall Terry and all those even remotely of his ilk.

To take the current Pro-Life narrative as a given is to reduce a full-blown moral dilemma (for there’s no “clean” moral solution to the abortion mess) to a cartoonish, juvenile, and fundamentally-untrue fairy tale. It’s not simply “good anti-abortionists” against “evil pro-abortionists”. It’s a case where all people who favour life over death (and most Pro-Choice people DO fall in that category) have to face stern reality and unyielding facts. We can have our own opinions, but we can’t have “our own facts”.

Are we Christians? Are we Orthodox Christians? Then, we face the dilemma that Dostoyevsky posed using the figure of the Grand Inquisitor. Think hard on that one… remember, “simple” doesn’t mean “easy”, it doesn’t mean “obvious”. Do bear in mind St Serafim praying for four years for the victory of the Red Army… it led to setting up a situation that led eventually to the relaxation of the ‘80s that led to the Church’s liberation. In like manner, we may have to keep abortion legal in order to reduce it.

I fear that many will call me pro-abortion for what I’ve written. One takes that risk. I’m not such, but you have no control over what others think of what one says or does. However, I’ll say this much… I’ve got the guts and grit to speak my mind, and that’s being “honest to God”. I don’t think that displeases the Almighty… and I’m not alone in thinking that way…


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