05/20/2022, 10.35
GEORGIA
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Censorship and clashes in Georgia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Protests over opposition journalist Nika Gvaramia's prison sentence. His ideas unwelcome to the Georgian Dream government.  EU critical of authorities in Tbilisi. Opposition calls on executive to enforce Western sanctions on Russia. Ukraine feels betrayed by Georgian "friends."

 

Moscow (AsiaNews) - A march in solidarity with opposition journalist Nika Gvaramia (see photo), director of the Mtavari Arkhi TV channel, who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for his political views disagreeable to the "Georgian Dream" government, has been organized in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Protesters are calling on President Salome Zurabišvili to pardon the journalist to avoid a "return to Soviet times," while government officials, through the mouth of party chairman Iraklij Kobakhidze, speak of "disrespect to the presidential institution."

Expressing support for Gvaramia, the director of TV Kavkazia, Nino Džangirašvili, believes that this is a political vendetta by the ruling caste: "We cannot sit comfortably at home, when from above they come down on one of our colleagues...I hope that our protest will be joined by everyone, politicians, humanitarian associations, even those who do not belong to anything, but do not want to live like in Russia."

Gvaramia has no plans to make appeals to the president, but an initiative to this effect is also coming from the group of "People's Defender" Nino Lomdžaria, which in turn claims that political persecution is taking place, and questions the independence of the Georgian judiciary. Several Western diplomats have also spoken out in defense of the journalist, saying the affair casts a shadow over Georgia's application to join the European Union, which Brussels is expected to respond to by June.

On the government side, the opposition is accused of fomenting unrest and setting the stage for a much more difficult future, and it is precisely the convicted journalist who is said to be one of the main culprits in this climate, insisting on Georgia's enforcement of Western sanctions against Russia. Prime Minister Iraklij Garibašvili has ruled out this possibility since the first days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: "We must move from the interests of our country and our people."

The oppositions of the "National Movement," founded and still inspired by imprisoned former president Mikhail Saakašvili, have organized many anti-war demonstrations during this period, with thousands of participants waving Ukrainian flags, and several Georgians have left as volunteers to fight against the Russians. However, relations with Russia have been very difficult for several years since the 2008-2011 war, and at this juncture they are becoming increasingly complicated, partly because of the large influx of Russian citizens fleeing the Putin regime.

The government is trying to keep itself balanced between opposing thrusts regarding the conflict and economic relations with Russia and Ukraine, on which it depends for 90 percent of its grain imports. According to Garibašvili, "if Saakašvili were in the presidency today, we would have a second Mariupol at home," considering also the dual Georgian and Ukrainian citizenship of the former president, who allegedly returned to his homeland precisely to incite the nation to war with Russia. From a recent poll, nearly half of the population supports the premier's positions of caution over the Ukrainian conflict, despite general sympathy for Kiev.

However, the quarrelsomeness of the parties in Georgian politics causes a strong rejection reaction in the population, with another poll showing that 64 percent do not intend to support any political party of those currently in parliament. The government is generally accused of inaction and holding back necessary reforms, the oppositions are seen as too quarrelsome and prone to easy populism, as well as lacking credible leaders, continuing to remain dependent on Saakašvili's excesses.

Rather, they feel betrayed in Ukraine by their Georgian friends, who show fear of Russia, and have failed to organize a real state visit to Kiev, sending separate and contradictory delegations. On the other hand, the war is hastening Ukraine's entry into the EU, and Georgia would like to take advantage of it in turn, but the picture of the Caucasus and Black Sea region will only be composed as a result of the outcomes of the ongoing conflict.

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