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”: