Georgian Nightmare

I have tried to avoid partisan political activity on this blog for several reasons – one, given that I already blog about social and cultural issues, I don’t really need additional ways to wade into controversies in Georgian society. Two, I am here at the invitation of the current political regime in Georgia, which means that I am not an impartial or disinterested observer. When people ask me if I like Misha, my response is always the same: “of course I like Misha – he pays my salary!” This invariably gets a laugh and diffuses further conversation on the matter, which has kept me out of partisan political discussions for two years. And at heart, it’s true – Georgia’s president invited me here, pays my salary, sends me on excursions throughout Georgia, and provides me with various other benefits that I greatly appreciate. So yes, I like and appreciate that, but it also basically disqualifies me from commenting impartially on the current regime.

That said, given recent events, I feel fairly justified in admitting that I am, and have always been, highly, highly skeptical of Bidzina Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream coalition.

Back in the Sex in Georgia days Maestro did a couple of smear pieces on TLG – one on my blog, one on the Tomas Fletcher thing – and I called them and the Christian Democrats out for being a bunch of xenophobic buttholes, and some of the commenters said that most of Georgia’s opposition parties are xenophobic buttholes, but since the opposition had no traction and no credibility, I was content to let the matter drop, and indeed it’s been a quiet year-and-a-half, with very few anti-TLG or anti-foreigner rumblings.

So you can imagine my reaction when Ivanishvili’s TV9 ran a 30-minute-long smear piece on one of Georgia’s most prominent Americans, Mark Mullen. Mark is the chair of Transparency International Georgia, a watchdog group that monitors Georgia’s political and economic institutions and calls attention to instances of corruption. Mark also has a news podcast and some business interests in Georgia.

The thing is, a blatant mud-slinging attack on TIGeorgia makes absolutely no sense for a political coalition that constantly complains about corruption and about being shut out of the political process. If Georgian Dream really wants free and fair elections, why are they slandering the one NGO in Georgia that is the most devoted to and most effective at reducing corruption in Georgia’s political process?

This tells me that the Georgian Dream coalition puts more priority on exploiting xenophobia than on actually ensuring a fair and transparent electoral process. This is particularly troubling to me since Georgian Dream’s primary complaint about the current regime is about corrupt election policies.

Two wrongs don’t make a right. Yes, the government has been pulling tons of shenanigans to throw every possible hurdle in Ivanishvili’s way – from revoking his citizenship to fining him to the ballot number 41 business – but neither Ivanishvili nor Georgian Dream has done anything to signal that they would not do the same given the reins of power, and smearing TIGeorgia signals that their concern for fair and free elections is a matter of circumstance, rather than principle.


When Ivanishvili first declared his intention to purchase Georgia, I was skeptical of his intentions. Sure, he could be another Bloomberg – someone who decided to forego the luxurious life of the fabulously wealthy and slug it out in the trenches of city politics. Bloomberg notably takes the subway to work, refuses his mayoral salary, and puts his business acumen to work in making New York City work. His policy positions transcend partisanship – fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and above all pragmatic and results-oriented. I like and admire Bloomberg’s political career, even if I don’t agree with him on every single issue.

On the other hand, it seems more likely that Ivanishvili is a Georgian Sheldon Adelson, devoted to bankrolling a long list of crackpots whose only goal is to disrupt the political process and obstruct any sort of forward progress in society out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

I don’t buy Ivanishvili’s claims about wanting to improve social and democratic institutions. There’s nothing stopping him from funding NGOs devoted to the causes he claims to support. There’s nothing stopping him from funding a neutral media outlet. His plan to install satellite dishes in homes in the regions, so they could pick up alternative media channels, would not have been illegal if it wasn’t done in furtherance of a political campaign. He has had to divest himself of interest in various public and municipal projects – see, for instance, Cicinatela and the Batumi Dolphinarium. It seems like every one of the things he’s claimed to want to do has been undermined by his pursuit of parliamentary power, leaving me to wonder what he wouldn’t do – what he wouldn’t sacrifice – in the quest for self-aggrandizement.

And of course I’m skeptical of anyone whose entire campaign platform is “the other guy sucks.” That’s Romney’s strategy (another guy with too much money and no substance) and all it does for me is completely erase any credibility the candidate might have.

Of course, nobody really has any idea what Georgian Dream would do if it did manage to take hold of legislative power in Georgia – not that it really matters because they seem to be 20 points behind in the polls – so no one, least of all me, can really say with any degree of certainty whether they’d be a Georgian Dream or a Georgian Nightmare. Still, the fact that Ivanishvili’s media outlet has chosen blatant hackery over substantial journalism has basically cemented my opinion that Ivanishvili’s intentions towards Georgian politics are anything but noble.

Anyway, judge for yourself what Ivanishvili’s media arm considers “journalism”:

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14 Responses to Georgian Nightmare

  1. Victor Oniani says:

    I have known Mark Mullen for more than fifteen years as balanced and as a free thinker; Mark has been dealing with political parties since his coming to Georgia and it is only normal that over the years his professional relations would develop into friendly ones with many politicians be it from government or from opposition;
    If Mark is involved in all the listed businesses then good for him there is absolutely nothing illegal or anything wrong about this; It would have been professional for Mr. Ivanishvili not allow his TV station to get involved in the usual black PR and especially regarding people who have devoted their lives to making Georgia a better place; having said that I would like to thank Channel 9 for airing this documentary as it gave me an “avant-gout” of what kind of attitude we will be facing would Georgian Dream come to power.


  2. Giorgi says:

    Dear author,
    I honestly do not know who you are, as I have reached this article through a friend’s post on fb, and I apologize for being an amateur comment maker.

    I did appreciate you article, especially the way you put yourselves as a “not an impartial or disinterested observer” paid by Misha to go on excursions in Georgia. Invariably it gets me a laugh and diffuses from further conversation, knowing that you would be a very “interested” side to this dialog. But still, I want to weigh up my chances and see why I non-Georgian person (I presume so from your native language used) would, by definition, not trust Ivanishvili. By the way, I am not trying to be xenophobic, just observing facts as they stand.

    We, Georgian citizens, would like to hear some firmer arguments as to why (except the fact that Misha pays you) Ivanishvili’s Government would not be as “good” as the current one is? What is this grain of mistrust that all Misha’s not-so-blind supporters see in Georgian Dream and all the others do not? Surely, there must be something more than the infantilism of the latter…

    As for Mike Mullen and recent press against him: I personally am not into details of politics and surrounding NGOs, but all I could see were two facts – 1) Dismissal of N. Khatiskaci (I think that is the name) from Transparency International Georgia and 2) Mike Mullen’s presence on the board of the same NGO ( ). Now, It has been widely known that Mike Mullen (if you are not him) has been in a close partnership and support of the current government (just like you, the author). So, would there be a chance that just like thousands of other entrepreneurs in this country, Mr. Mullen (as a an entrepreneur) had “owed” something to the regime (as you validly described it) and was forced to take action against a specific professional who could have had certainly radical views? All indications were that this could have been the reason of her dismissal and no other…. Any explanations on the subject?

    I would not want to defend or praise the so-called opposition TV channels TV9 and Maestro for the quality of their investigations, which indisputably need to be better and more substantiated by facts, but neither do I believe that a person paid by Misha’s regime (as you validly say), should step out and start accusing the quality of Georgian broadcasting, having seen Rustavi 2 and Imedi in action (the heavily pro-government TV stations, to put it politely). With all due respect, please let Georgian citizens decide what is right and what is nightmare in this country and argue you, dear author, to remain more objective to the ongoing nightmare primarily caused by the current ruling Party and I argue you to describe things as they stand, rather than foretelling what one “would do in future”.

    Thank you very much for reading this amateur masterpiece by a middle class person who cares for his county.

    Oh yes, to Mr. Oniani: I would not dispute his good knowledge of Mr. Mullen, but would argue him to first of all, come back to Georgia and breathe the air of hatered established by the National Movement, and secondly not seek any more justifications for his сonscience as to why to vote for #5, just do it and let his compatriots continue living in Georgia – “brought to you by Rustavi 2”.

    With kind regards,


    • panoptical says:

      You ask why I do not trust Ivanishvili. Well, this whole blog post is about why I don’t trust him, so I admit that I am a little confused by the question. Still, I will summarize the main points:
      1. Ivanishvili’s media network, TV9, engages in deceptive journalistic practices.
      2. Ivanishvili’s media network, TV9, relies on anti-foreign innuendo, rather than fact, to persuade viewers to distrust the current regime.
      3. I am skeptical of billionaires going into politics under any circumstances. Ivanishvili appears to be trying to buy power and support, both in Georgia and the United States, rather than running on the strength of his ideas, experience, or policy proposals.
      4. Ivanishvili seems to have already sacrificed the public interest in favor of gaining personal power on numerous occasions.
      5. Ivanishvili’s campaign so far seems more negative than positive.

      I specifically said that I don’t know what Ivanishvili would do if given power. Maybe he would personally come to every house in Georgia with a bottle of wine and a check for 5000 lari. Maybe he would reconquer all the Georgian territory currently held by Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan and be known for all eternity as Bidzina the Builder. No one knows. I’m not saying he would or wouldn’t be better than Misha. I’m just saying that his actions, in the present, are not the actions of an honest, trustworthy man of integrity.


    • panoptical says:

      I don’t really know how to address your comments about Mark Mullen since you seem to have already made up your mind. If we can’t agree on something as basic as what the guy’s first name is I doubt I’m going to be able to persuade you about more nuanced matters.

      I’ll try, though.

      First of all, if you listen to the recording that Khatiskaci released, a few things are obvious. It’s in English, and TV9 doesn’t give a translation, so I can see why the Georgian public might be fooled, but you seem to know English rather well, so go ahead and give it a listen.

      Mullen gives Khatiskaci two names of TIGeorgia managers who have problems with her work. Khatiskaci does not dispute this or give any indication of surprise. Mullen tells Khatiskaci that he does not want to publicize the reasons for her dismissal. Khatiskaci never disputes that such reasons exist. Whatever the reasons are, she knows they are real, and they are potentially damaging to her reputation – so much so that TV9 labels this “blackmail.”

      Second of all, you linked to TIGeorgia’s website. I urge you to take a look around that website. Read their reports. Look at the work they do opposing illegal government land appropriations, for instance. Look at their analyses of campaign financing, of corporate connections to government, of media connections to government. All the information that Ivanishvili uses to attack Imedi and Rustavi Ori – where do you think that information comes from?

      Does it make any sense to you at all that an organization that does all of the above things would fire someone in order to please Saakashvili? Or that its chairman would be a secret Saakashvili stooge? Think about that. Does it make any sense at all?


  3. Giorgi says:

    Thank you very much for your reply. First of all, my apologies for misspelling Mr. Mullen’s name, that might partly explain how well acquainted I am to the current establishment. And yes, further apologies for some gramatical errors…
    Supposing the apologies are accepted, let me elaborate a little on the subject.

    Let me speak on behalf of a small group of middle class people from Tbilisi, who, in 2003, were sincerely excited about the changes that the country went through and were looking forward to seeing positive changes. We were among those 97% who voted for the current leader, primarily believing that all those promises had a good chance of coming true. Many were skeptical about certain characheristics of the leader but there was faith that all would go well. We simply trusted the new government in their promises.
    Needless to once again enlist all disappointments that we encountered during these eight years, but we remained the same people who could trust other people and keep faith without counting money their pockets but judging their past contribution to society. I think it will be simplest to say that we still trust “them” the promise-makers, but this time “they” are a different group. The only reason for this trust is that we still look forward to see fair justice, freedom of choice, better educated children and better appreciated elder. These were all promised by Saakashvili, not done and unfortunately unlikely to be done in future. Whoever Ivanishvili is, he is not an enemy to this country and evidently can do a lot of things.
    Now, I understand we both have positions and one of us will vote this coming fall, but regardless of that I believe that blog posts like this do export somewhat wrong interpretations about Georgian nightmare to the world and that is why I dared to stepping forward.
    May I suggest that you re-write your list of why-I-don’t-trust-Ivanishvili simply by substituting the word “Ivanishvili” by “Saakashvili” and see what happens (save item 3). I have a funny feeling you will then speak the very truth about this country and that is tragic to us.

    May I point out that your sarcazm about “Bidzina the Builder” was neither relevant nor funny and I hate to admit that it sets you closer to “magnificent five” experts (as seen on TV), who are ready to defend Saakashvili in any circumstance, rather than a healthy dispute on the subject. It sincerely is sad such notes are conveyed to an international audience and serve the only purpose – praise Misha.

    On Mullen-Khatiskaci row and journalizm standards in general, I will say no much more because we seem to agree that Georgian journalizm (all of it, all) need to go a long, long way to become even considerable. As for the row itself, whether or not Mr. Mullen is Saakashvili’s stooge, firing Khatiskaci now (within this rather tough period) would inevitably cause questions and publicity, given that Khiskaci herself seems to be quite a stubborn and brave person. This makes me think that Mr. Mullen, aknowledging all above, still made this decision, hence he could have been forced to act so. I do hope you would not ask who forced him, my basic theory simply closes the logical chain.

    Once again, I honestly am not a public figure, nor a blogger and this dispute is a rather pleasant consequence of a click on a friend’s fb wall. Thank you for your time.

    With kind regards,


    • panoptical says:

      Disagreements aside, you are the most polite person on the internet. Bravo!


    • Anna says:

      Well, no matter how much I hoped not to get drawn into your ignorant statements (yes I do not care to be polite) you sir are not exactly confused, with all my ex-soviet experience I clearly see a putinist goon ivanishvili supporter in you. What is it that this Government did not provide? I also knew well educated middle class as you stated that would go out for loaf of bread and not come home, as their kidnappers took her for ransom, or another friend was hit by a drunk driver. 10 years ago when i attempted to do business in Georgia, group of criminals wanted me to pay them (Georgian cosa nostra). After 10 trips to Georgia in the past 10 years Misha’s “regime” (as you put it) has impressed me so much that I just became a citizen of Georgia. Yes, I truly believe that out of 30 thousand or so criminal element that he so wonderfully eradicated, most have become putinist ivanishvili supporters, so Georgia needs true Georgians to help this exceptional nation to flourish. For your information there are no perfect governments, yet show me one place on earth where I would rather call home – it is only western democracy – that is what I find each and every time in New Georgia in Misha’s Georgia. Guess what no one but neighbouring losers want to relocate to Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran but to Canada (my home), USA most EU countries and now even to Georgia very many relocate (I will soon be one of many). Why do you think this is? Oh yes! Because Misha has “ruined” Georgia and ivanishvili is going to “fix it”. Shame on any Georgian that supports this putinist oligarch and helps kremlin to secure their influence in sought after geopolitical territories.


  4. Anna says:

    most polite yet most confused Giorgi


  5. What were they talking about in that video? 🙂 A guy has (might has) few businesses, so what? He did show up for an interview and they didn’t show it all – just few sentences, in which by the way he tries to give an answer to a question too long to be remembered and then the accuse him. In what? 🙂


  6. Grant says:

    Your disclosure in the beginning hardly mitigates the fact that you’re singling out Ivanishvili. While I personally agree with your statements, I think the main thing missing in this entry is a critique on the performance of the current administration. As I know you’re currently payrolled by Misha (and in essence, the UNM), let me point out things that of concern regarding the current ruling party:

    – a powerful Ministry of Internal Affairs (coverups, illegal actions against citizens and journalists alike, etc.)
    – lack of freedom of press
    – teachers and public employees getting fired for supporting the opposition
    – jingoistic rhetoric, especially in regards to Russia
    – moving the parliamentary capital to Kutaisi (yes, Misha claims that the move was meant to boost West Georgia [and to better protect Georgia from a Russian invasion, as well – whatever that means], but skeptics think he was trying to reduce the influence of Tbilisi in the national political discourse)

    Mark Mullen has a great podcast, but if you want an in-depth resource, I recommend Thomas DeWaal (author of Georgia’s Choices). Like I said before, I actually think the UNM is the better of two evils, but I think you jumped the gun here by describing politics while on the payroll of the current admin.


    • panoptical says:

      I think it’s great that Georgia has a political culture where people are highly sensitized to threats to their civil liberties – unlike, say, the US, where the regime is a thousand times worse than the UNM but 98% of the population is perfectly satisfied with living under thinly disguised martial law – but I don’t think the answer is to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.

      Complaints about Misha are all over the internet, and have been for four years now. So far, no one that I have read or spoken to has called out Ivanishvili on his hypocrisy, or raised serious questions about Georgian Dream’s attitude towards foreigners and foreign investment. That’s why I’m singling him out – he’s the new guy and we need to hold Georgian Dream to the same standards that we have been holding the UNM, Christian Democrats, and every other party to.


  7. Victor Oniani says:

    I wish all debates regarding Georgian politics were as courteous as on this blog; I have to admit that both sides have valid arguments; the truth is that Mr. Ivanishvili is pointing finger at some serious shortfalls of the current government mainly regarding the non-independence of the judiciary, the atmosphere of fear currently prevailing and the harassment of many business people who are perceived as being in opposition; anyone living in Georgia CANNOT deny those facts; by the same token no one can deny as well that the current government has brought back the country from the abyss of total collapse to a model that is being copied by many developing (and developed) countries around the world.
    What scares me are some of Mr. Ivanishvili’s allies that are a reminiscent of another age and who if ever come in power will make us long for the “dictatorship” of Mr. Saakashvili.
    Having said that, the documentary regarding Mark Mullen gives us an “avant gout” of the Georgian Dream’s attitude if they ever make it into power.
    In my modest opinion a strong minority in Parliament represented by the Georgian Dream would be a necessary and constructive watchdog that will make sure that the government’s current serious shortfalls are addressed swiftly and permanently; by the same token the government will pursue the building of a country that every Georgian should be proud of.


  8. Pingback: What it’s like to be an immigrant | Georgia On My Mind

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