In brief, News

Obama and Georgia’s Saakashvili did not discuss Iran

by | January 31, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - According to the Georgian president’s administration, Iran was not on the agenda of Monday's meeting between U.S. president Barack Obama and president Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia. Before the meeting many had been speculating that the two would be discussing the increased tension between Iran and the U.S., especially in light of how close Georgia is to Iran. But Saakashvili's press spokesperson Manana Manjgaladze said at her regular briefing Tuesday that Iran had not been a topic during the talks. “This issue wasn't on the agenda at all, accordingly it couldn’t have become the subject to review. The issue regarding Iran or any new operation wasn’t discussed,” she said.

News

Obama’s ‘transfer of power’ comment discussed in Tbilisi

by | January 31, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Political Tbilisi is grabbing on to a phrase used by U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday after meeting the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili about having a transfer of power after this falls parliamentary election in Georgia. “I want to express my appreciation for the work that’s been done in the past, but also anticipating fair and free elections here; the formal transfer of power that will be taking place in Georgia, which I think will solidify many of these reforms that have already taken place,” Barack Obama said at a press conference after the two had met at the Oval Office of the White House. Authorities in Georgia have tried today to explain when Obama meant by the phrase ‘formal transfer of power’. Akaki Minashvili, head of parliament's foreign relation committee, says that the phrase transfer of powers means that the government will be transferred to the force that wins the election. “It’s not logical that the USA advised someone on who should come into government. In this case President Obama meant that the government should be transferred to that political ...

News

Obama talks about free trade after meeting Saakashvili

by | January 31, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - U.S. President Barack Obama said after hosting the Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili in the Oval Office Monday that the United States will explore various trading options, including the possibility of a free trade agreement. The president made it clear that there still is a lot of work to be done and that a lot of options will have to be explored. Monday's meeting had been eagerly awaited among Tbilisi's political circles. Beforehand, the White House announced that the two leaders would be discussing strengthening relations following a strategic partnership signed in the wake of the Georgia-Russia war of August 2008. In his comments to journalists, President Obama expressed his appreciation for the work Georgia has done building democratic institutions and made reference to the importance of protecting minorities as well as the importance of a police and a rule of law that is observed. Many observers have noted the possibility of a potential "Putin scenario" in Georgia. The American president noted that he was anticipating the formal transfer of power after elections this fall, which would solidify many of the reforms ...

Opinion

What are Georgia’s chances of NATO membership?

by | January 31, 2012

A number of articles and statements have been boosting our hopes that NATO membership is within Georgia’s grasp. There are several arguments made to this effect, some more serious than others, writes Tedo Djapharidze, Georgia's former ambassador to the United States. This rhetoric surely reflects a commitment to this objective, which no one disputes; but there are also reasons to believe that this rhetoric is also contributing to a false perception that the West, like a Deus ex Machina, will descent upon Georgia not merely as a security guarantor, but also as a peace-maker. Somehow, this fantasy seems more related to forthcoming legislative elections rather than “facts.” Most public statements made to this effect point towards NATO membership as a possible “exit strategy” from the current strategic deadlock with Russia and the unacceptable for Georgia status quo. True, Rasmussen, in his recent visit to Georgia (November 2011), verified the fact that the alliance considers South Ossetia and Abkhazia as integral parts of Georgia. However, it requires a huge leap of faith in order to go from support towards the restoration of ...

Opinion

Sham Justice: Chamber of Control’s treatment of Georgian Dream

by | January 31, 2012

A couple of days ago, Georgian Dream, a civil society agency established by the Georgian billionaire, Mr. Bidzina Ivanishvili, got notice from the Georgia Chamber of Control where the said government agency warned Georgian Dream to refund a total of GEL 1.1 million to Elita Burji Ltd. The failure to implement the Chamber of Control demand would result in the forfeiture of GEL 1.1 by Georgian Dream, writes Alexander Baramidze, lawyer for Georgian Dream. Back in December 2011, Georgian Dream entered into a contract with Elita Burji whereby the latter undertook to manufacture some furniture for the former. The contract price was set at GEL 2 million, which money was paid by Georgian Dream to Elita Burji in advance. Later on, it turned out that Elita Burji was able to perform its obligations under the contract just within the limits of GEL 0.9 million. Naturally, Georgian Dream requested the rest of money – GEL 1.1 million – back which request was fulfilled without any delay. What can be unlawful or even unusual in this story? The Chamber of Control claims that Georgian ...

News

Whose election campaign will Georgia-U.S. summit benefit?

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - People in Georgia are looking forward to today’s meeting between the U.S. and Georgian presidents in Washington, both of whom are near the end of their terms. Analysts speculate that the summit may be part of either of their election campaigns, or is payback for Saakashvili accepting Russia as a member of the World Trade Organizations last year. Most agree that when Saakashvili walks out of the White House later today, he will carry with him another confirmation for U.S. support for Georgia and a warning to Russia. Some in Tbilisi also hope Obama will ask Saakashvili to conduct this fall’s election in a democratic way. The first official meeting between Barack Obama and Mikheil Saaksavhili will be held at the Oval Office in the White House. The Georgian President is already in Washington, having left for the U.S. on January 25. According to the White House website, the two presidents will discuss strengthening relations in trade, tourism, energy, science, education, culture and security, within the framework of the strategic partnership charter signed in 2009. President Obama will underline the importance of ...

News

Georgian youth: Learn the truth about our country

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - As the presidents of the United States and Georgia are preparing for their first meeting in Washington, Georgian youth groups today rallied in front of the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi. Their message was that American authorities need to know more about what’s really going on in this country and not believe what Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili is saying. Activist Zaza Svanide described him as an English-speaking president who is talking all the time about how everything is all right here. “If Barack Obama is meeting our president today, he should know who he is dealing with,” Svanidze said. In an appeal to the U.S. embassy, the youth activists said that the USA doesn’t have enough information of what’s really happening in Georgia, meaning the numerous problems media are facing, human rights violations, the situation in the penitentiary system and other areas. “Mr Bass [U.S. ambassador to Georgia], we want you to bring [U.S. authorities] information about the discriminatory democracy in Georgia,” Svanidze said. The activists wanted the ambassador to inform the U.S. administration about the real picture in Georgia: terrible problems in ...

Elections, News

Georgia increases subsidy for political ads

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government in Georgia increases the state funding of political TV ads to create a more level playing field for this year’s election. But analysts say it’s not enough. An extra 2.2 million laris, or nearly 1.3 million US dollars, will be set aside in the state budget for subsidized political advertisements. The money will be distributed among twelve parties which garnered enough votes in the local elections in 2010. Parties in Georgia already receive a state subsidy for buying air time, but government says that increasing the amount will be an extra lever to create an equal electoral environment. But commentators claim the measure is not enough and if the prices of political advertisement aren’t regulated, releasing this money cannot bring the desired results. Pavle Kublashvili, head of the parliament judiciary committee, says that the 30Th article of the law about political union of the citizens will have a new twelfth article, where there will be written that during the electoral period the qualified subjects will be allocated extra money for TV commercials. Subsidizing the TV commercials of political parties ...

Opinion

Legislative Novelties Leading to the Absurd

by | January 30, 2012

An election reform which started out with the aim to create an equal and fair election environment in Georgia ended up creating discriminatory regulations, violating freedom of speech and property rights; imposed real threats for voters, media, NGOs and business organizations, writes Tamar Chugoshvili, chair of Georgian Young Lawyer's Association. Amendments made to the law on Political Union of Citizens and the Criminal Code of Georgia in December 2011 have a restrictive effect on civil and political activities. It imposes unreasonable prohibitions and disproportionate sanctions. The Law imposes unequal restrictions for the ruling party and the opposition in terms of vote buying. The newly adopted law provides unreasonably restrictive regulations for voters. Both a party representative and a voter will be charged with up to 3 years’ imprisonment in case of vote buying, while there are no liabilities for the cases when activities that would lead to vote buying are funded from the state or local budget. The law imposes significant restrictions for expression of political views by citizens, whereas civil servants and state officials are subject to minimum restrictions on political agitation. ...

News

Historic Tbilisi square was dying, springs to life

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Gudiashvili square in central Tbilisi seemed dying for years, but in the last month has had a revival thanks to a protest against new plans to modernise it. Every other Sunday, protesters gather at the Gudiashvili, which lies just behind Freedom Square, as a symbol of protest against the people responsible for the fate of the square, which to most non-Georgians is probably best known as the location of Cafe Pur Pur. The square is facing an uncertain future, after plans surfaced to renovate the historic face of the square and old buildings which today are barely standing. The fourth demonstration took place this Sunday. People coming by are already ready for the various shows, performances and short concerts they can enjoy here. Four years ago the population in the buildings encircling the square were resettled because the houses were structurally insecure. Until today, no reinforcement works have been done to solve this problem. This is the first and main request of the demonstrators: to immediately carry out work to save the buildings before it is too late. The second problems is ...

Opinion

The Georgian-style principle of subsidiarity

by | January 30, 2012

During his meetings with ordinary citizens (especially in the regions) the Georgian president often assures them he keeps a close eye on everything happening in the country, be it a new road or monument in a small town or village. "Nobody can do it but me," he says, writes David Losaberidze, project coordinator at the Caucasus Institute for Peace Democracy and Development. It is interesting that these statements have so far drawn no reaction, neither positive nor negative, from the public. At first glance, it seems normal and even exciting that the country’s leader cares for the nation as well as he does for his own family, trying to involve himself in every detail of social life, for instance advising on architectural design or choosing a colour for a school walls. In a patrimonial society such deep involvement can only strengthen the leader’s popularity and approval rating - "The country is in good hands". And the president’s statements are not mere words. The central government indeed has complete control over every aspect of the country’s everyday life and is trying to take advantage ...

News

Russian company patented Georgian wines in Germany

by | January 30, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia has reclaimed three brand names of wine that had been patented in Germany by a Russian company. The company, Moscow Wine and Spirits Company GmbH, had been selling the wine brands Tsinandali, Kindzmarauli and Khvanchkara. Irakli Ghvaladze, head of Sakpatent, Georgia's intellectual property agency, says these brands are of Georgian origin and have been Georgian property for centuries. In 2011 Sakpatent became aware that the Russian company had registered the brandnames with the German patent and trademark office. Last year Georgia reclaimed the trademark of Khvanchkara from the U.S. patent office, which had granted the rights to use it to Dozortsev & Sons. According to the agreement, all rights to use the Khvanchkara trademark in the United States have been transferred to Georgia, which means that no one will have the right to import goods and sell it on the American market under this name without Georgia’s permission. The Georgian patent agency discovered Dozortsev & Sons's patent while trying to register 18 Georgian wine brands in the U.S. One of them, Khvanchkara, turned out to be already patented by Dozortsev ...

News

New deadlock in South Ossetian leadership contest

by | January 29, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - South Ossetian opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva wants to have her inauguration on February 10. The location for the ceremony has not been announced. “I appeal to the acting president of South Ossetia requesting that the transfer of power is done in a civilized way, as fits a legally elected president,” Russian news agency Ria Novosti quotes her as saying. Dzhioyeva has written several letters to the acting president Vadim Brovtsev, but says she didn’t receive an answer from him, but from the press office of the president, which said that her actions were destructive. In November 2011 two candidates competed in the second round of the so-called presidential elections in South Ossetia: opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva and Anatoly Bibilov, the Kremlin favorite. Preliminary results showed Dzhioyeva clearly winning. But the South Ossetian Supreme Court annulled the results after receiving a complaint, and announced a repeat election on March 25. Dzhioyeva refused to accept this and mobilized her supporters on a square in front of the government building in Tskhinvali. After ten days, a compromise deal was put forth by president Eduard Kokoity ...

Opinion

A critical time of choice for Georgia

by | January 28, 2012

Dear Amb. Yalowitz, I am writing to thank you for your compelling editorial in “Democracy and Freedom Watch” in which you rightly warn that my country is at a critical crossroads with upcoming parliamentary elections.  I too share your concern that free, fair and transparent elections are being threatened by an increasingly authoritarian rule by President Saakashvili who is moving to consolidate his power while at the same time undermining the peaceful and democratic opposition that is being rallied by Bidzina Ivanishvili.  Our hope is that during his meeting with Saakashvili next week, President Obama and other US leaders will clearly and firmly state that the Putin-like moves being engaged by President Saakashvili are of grave concern to the US. These authoritarian moves by President Saakashvili have been confirmed by such independent observers as Human Rights Watch, whose 2012 World Report compared the protests for fair elections and an end to corruption in Georgia and President Saakashvili’s use of excessive force in order to attempt to quell demonstrations in the streets to the protests of the Arab Spring.  These actions are regarded ...

Opinion

Democracy, National Interests, Idealism and Realpolitik

by | January 28, 2012

Saakashvili is meeting Obama on January 30. The agenda announced on the White House webpage names issues such as: 20 years of diplomatic relations, the U.S. – Georgia Charter, Georgia’s contribution to operations in Afghanistan, U.S. support for Georgia’s territorial integrity, and upcoming elections, writes Giorgi Margvelashvili, rector of Georgian Institute of Public Affairs. The list is quite extensive, nevertheless, Georgian public opinion concentrated on two issues, and even speculates on which of these two will be dominating the discussion – security or democracy. What will this meeting be and how will its members act? Will Obama perform as a descendant of the Founding Fathers, of Woodrow Wilson, or will he talk hard about current interest and military geopolitics? Will Saakashvili talk about Georgia’s national interests or try to negotiate his political future or severance package? The dichotomy is probably too simplistic, and probably any acting politician, even the most idealistic one, is engaged in realpolitik and naturally has to defend his national interests, as well as the concerns of his party and of individual political actors. But the question is not ...

In brief, News

Georgia hopeful about new ‘Swiss’ border checks

by | January 28, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian Speaker of Parliament Davit Bakradze hopes that Switzerland will be able to fully monitor the flow of goods across the border between Georgia and Russia. Bakradze said this at a meeting with the delegation of the Swiss Foreign Affairs Department. Russia occupied parts of Georgia's territories after the war in August 2008. Georgia has been striving for a control regime for the flow of goods across these border. After Swiss-hosted negotiations last year about Russia's WTO accession, an agreement was made that Georgia would accept Russia as a member of the Word Trade Organizations in return for a new control regime on the border to be run by a private company overseen by Swiss authorities. Bakradze says the Swiss side played an important role in the negotiations about WTO and now it is important for Georgia that the achieved agreement will be fully implemented. “Switzerland has a crucial importance and function in the issue of monitoring of goods and it is important for us that goods be fully monitored on the Georgia-Russia border; also that Georgia has complete information ...

News

Georgia’s ruling party responds to trickery accusation

by | January 28, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian speaker of parliament says lawmakers never rubber-stamp laws after receiving advice from the Council of Europe. Davit Bakradze was responding to criticism from a think tank that the ruling party manipulated the legislative process by changing a law after it had been submitted to the Council of Europe for advice. He said Friday: ‘after the commission's conclusion, certain changes will always be made to the bill, because it’s an issue for review in parliament.’ Bakradze's comments came as a response to statements by the CoE's Venice Commission chair Tomas Markert, who says that the Georgian parliament voted over a version of a bill which is significantly different from the version they had seen. The draft of the changes to the law was sent to the Venice Commission in November of 2011. But the draft was significantly changed after the Venice Commission had finished its review of it. During the parliamentary debate a completely new concept was introduced, that of ‘connected person’, which means someone who is connected to a political grop. There was also made an innovative change which made ...

Environment, News

Two thousand villagers waiting to know when to move

by | January 28, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Villagers in Upper Svaneti are waiting for a report which is supposed to guarantee their forced resettlement follows a democratic process. But the country's energy minister said in December that no matter what the results are of the environmental and social impact assessment, the Khudoni hydropower project will be built. Khudoni, or Khudonhesi as it is known in the Georgian language, is a project which was developed in the late Soviet era. It would harvest more of the energy in the steep valleys in Western Georgia which already harbors Europe's largest hydropower dam, Enguri. Popular protest stopped the project in the late 1980s, in which former prime minister Zurab Zhvania played a key role. There are concerns about the massive scale of the project, which will alter the microclimate of the area, as well as displace thousands of people. In recent times, the project has been revitalized with support from the World Bank. But if international standards are to be adhered to, there must be an impact assessment. The company which has been tasked with building Khudoni has ordered such a ...

Legal reform, News

Confusion sets in over Georgian election reform

by | January 27, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - As Georgia is heading for potentially the first real competitive election, confusion arose Friday over different versions of the same law. A think tank says the government significantly changed a draft law which was sent to the Council of Europe (CoE) for advice. The Georgian Development Research Institute, which was founded in November 2011, says that the CoE's advisory body called the Venice Commission saw another version of the draft law on political associations of citizens than the one the government made available to parliament. The one that was finally passed in December violates the country’s constitution and other parts of its legislation. The think tank says it will contact the Venice Commission about the issue. In December the law about political associations of citizens was changed so that rules that previsously only applied to party financing now applies also to organizations, private companies and even individuals which have an aim of impacting the political process. Analysts say that with the new law, if a person does a party a favor or expresses sympathy for a politician, all the restrictions about party ...

Environment, News

Georgia allows hunting of endangered species

by | January 27, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia allows hunting of rare animal species, which could lead to their extinction, environmentalists claim. The legislative changes will also allow hunting in protected areas. Hunting and protection of species is regulated by a kind of laws used under the Soviet Union called normative acts and decrees. The law doesn’t directly says one can kill an animal which is on the Red List, but new normative acts now say that authorities may decide what number of animals can be allowed to be killed. “The decision about allowed amount of harvesting endangered wild animals is made by the Environment Minister based on an individual administrative-legal act,” the law says. The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources issued a decree which now allows obtaining animals of certain species, including animals that are on the Red List, a list compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, showing the extinction risk of species. The ministry defines the allowed amount of harvesting certain animals, including ones that are about extinction. Specifically, the following: coypu - 194 animals, rabbits - 615 animals, badger - 168 animals, ...

Opinion

The United States and Georgia: Freedom is in the Interest of Both

by | January 27, 2012

When President Obama sits down with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili on Monday, the conversation they have will take but a small part of the busy and beleaguered American leader’s day, but could have far reaching consequences for Georgia, writes Irakli Alasania, leader of the Free Democrats Party and Georgia's former United Nations ambassador. It could provide another look at what in the United States is the often-debated question about the respective roles played by their interests versus their values in world politics. Both America’s values and interests would be well-served were Obama to speak firmly to Saakashvili about taking a more democratic stance in the run-up to parliamentary elections here later this year. It is hard to overstate the importance of the United States to Georgia. The road that leads from the airport into the capital city, for instance, is called George W. Bush highway, a sign of tribute Saakashvili paid to Obama’s predecessor. Any pronouncement from Washington dominates the headlines here for days. We consider the United States as playing a critical role in our country’s security, especially in the ...

News

Georgian authorities accuse opposition movement of fraud

by | January 27, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian authorities accuse the opposition movement of billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili of making a fraudulent business deal. The claim is put forth in a statement posted on the web pages of the Chamber of Control's financial monitoring unit, signed by its head Natia Mogeladze. Her unit has been controlling Mr Ivanishvili's movement since the start of January, following a change in the law which made the same rules that regulate party financing also apply to private companies, organizations and even individuals, if they have a stated aim of affecting the political process. Many commentators and groups opposed these changes, because the constitution says that the Chamber of Control only has a right to monitor publicly financed organizations and doesn’t have a right to impose sanctions. The new law gave the CoC power to monitor organizations that are not publicly financed and to impose sanctions, including sequestration. Only courts and the revenue service had this prerogative before, though only in certain cases. Despite that it seems to violate the constitution, the government approved these changes and after the CoC established a financial monitoring ...

News

Georgia asks Russia to close embassies in breakaway regions

by | January 26, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president says diplomatic relations with Russia will only be restored if Russia closes its illegal embassies in Georgia’s two breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Mikheil Saakashvili's statement comes as a response to what Russian president Dimitry Medevedev said Wednesday; that he wants to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia, but only if he won’t have to shake hands with 'one person', understood to mean Mr Saakashvili. Russian officials a number of times have said that the Georgian president is unacceptable and they refuse to talk to him. Diplomatic relations with Russia and Georgia suspended after the war in 2008, when Russia occupied Georgian territories. “We are absolutely ready to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia. We hadn’t stopped it. There is only one person I don’t want to have business with. Probably you know, who I am talking about, I won’t meet him and shake his hand,’ Medvedev said. “It’s unclear what they mean by Georgia. Is this Georgia for them in the internationally recognized borders or is this Georgia without the territories occupied by them?” Saakashvili's press spokesperson Manana Manjgaladze ...

Opinion

Will election year work as a reset button for Georgian democracy?

by | January 26, 2012

Two presidents that came to power under the sign of change meet January 30th. Below are some thoughts elicited by my friend Ambassador K.S. Yalowitz’s letter, writes George Khutsishvili, director of the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation. We live in the election year 2012, and I belong to those who believe change is needed, and the alternative exists. Yet is the change possible in a country where all branches of power, information and resources are controlled by one power vertical, the ruling team insists it is unchangeable, and the silent majority’s voice is accounted to the administrative majority? Looking back, we see that similar hopes, questions and doubts existed in the election year 2003, but the peaceful revolution happened. What could have dramatically clicked within a few days in a skeptical society’ mind, where everyone was supposed to know everything about anyone else? The turning point that had made November 23 possible was created by the opposition media who demonstrated the effects of (a) virtual critical mass of popular support, and (b) virtual US support for the change. Both supportive ...

In brief, News

Georgia answers Medvedev’s invitation: ‘Any time’

by | January 26, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s foreign minister says his country never refused to restore negotiations with Russia. Grigol Vashadze made the statement during a session of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, while answering a question from an MP from the Netherlands. After a speech by Vashadzem the Dutch MP wanted to know what his views were on how to restore negotiations with Russia. Russian president Dimitry Medvedev earlier Wednesday said during a meeting with students that Russia wants to restore diplomatic relations with the Georgian government, but not with the Georgian president. Asnwering the question from the Dutch MP, Vashadze said: “We never say no to negotiations. We are ready for it any time, any place, but first of all we should know the goal of the negotiations and what structure it will have.” Another MP in the Council of Europe was interested in how the dialogue will be done while Russia refuses to have the relations with the current government of Georgia. “The Russian government doesn’t want to talk to the democratically elected Georgian government. After the elections in 2012-2013, when a new government ...

In brief, News

Medvedev wants to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia

by | January 26, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Russian president Dimitry Medvedev says he wants to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia. But the president adds, only if he won’t have to shake hands with one person. That one person is understood to be Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. Diplomatic relations with Russia and Georgia suspended after the war in 2008, when Russia occupied Georgian territories. Russian officials have said a number of times told that the Georgian president is unacceptable for them and refused to communicate with him. Medvedev made this statement on a meeting with students on January 25. “We are absolutely ready to restore diplomatic relations with Georgia. We didn't break them off. There is only one person I don’t want to have business with. You probably know who I am talking about, I won’t meet him and shake his hand,’ Medvedev said. Regarding other politicians and officials, and the Georgian people, the Russian president claims that he 'very much wants the estrangement phase to be finished as soon as possible'. “Several steps have been already taken in this direction. Specifically, flights are restored between the two countries. It’s necessary to ...

News

Report: Press freedom is declining in Georgia

by | January 26, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia is no longer the leading country in the South Caucasus in terms of media freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders. Georgia is on a shared 104th place among the 179 countries listed. Last year, Georgia was number 100 on Press Freedom Index, as the ranking list is called. This year's lower ranking is explained as a result of the handling of events surrounding May 26, 2011, when police violently dispersed a peaceful anti-government rally in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi. “Georgia is paying the price for the violent dispersal of an opposition demonstration in May and the persistent harassment of journalists and bloggers suspected of sympathizing with Russia,” the report says. It was just past midnight May 26 when police moved in to clear the area in front of parliament to make way for a military parade in the morning to mark Georgia's independence day. With this as justification, the government sent in police and other forces which exerted violence towards people who were there, using tear gas, rubber bullets, batons and a sonic weapon. Four people died; ...

News

Ex-pilots left without compensation despite Supreme Court backing

by | January 25, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A group of about ten former pilots demand compensation from the government. For several years now they haven't received their compensation, they say, not even after Supreme Court ruled in their favor. Wednesday the retired pilots gathered in front of the president's residence and started a hunger strike, demaning compensation, and the state established a pension for former pilots. “It doesn’t matter where I will die -here or at home, in poverty and hunger,” one of the aviators told journalists. “I will fight for my rights.” The pilots say they do not receive pension, but compensation, amounting to from 108 to 135 lari, which is not enough even to buy medicine. Around two hundred pilots are waiting for the money to be paid, totaling several thousand lari for some. Opposition parliamentarians expressed support to the group and promised to help. “Our aim is that they receive these compensations while they’re still alive, because their number is decreasing day by day,” Interpressnews quotes member of parliament Dimitry Lortkipanidze as saying. He demanded to meet with government representatives regarding the issue, and later had a meeting with ...

News

Firewood in Georgia: burning the candle in both ends

by | January 25, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgians use nine times more wood than what is sustainable, according to a new study. If nothing is done, it will lead to a catastrophe, according to Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN). Annual firewood consumption, measured in energy output, is 12 billion kWh, while the sustainable level in Georgia is only 1.3 billion kWh. Georgia has great renewable energy potential -- wind, sun, biomass, hydro power and geothermal -- but today imports around 70% of its energy. Among the renewables, the country has only made use of its hydro power. There are more than 26 000 rivers in Georgia, but according to the Energy Ministry, three hundred rivers have energy importance. Their average annual energy is around 50 billion kWh equivalents. According to the CENN report, besides the big hydro power potential in the country, only the small projects are considered renewable energy potential. Among the plans, the economically realistic projects amount to around 5 billion kWh, or around 6-8%. Wood is also one of the main energy sources in Georgia. Despite the fact that natural gas is now distributed by pipes to ...

In brief, News

Saakashvili to also meet Biden and Boehner

by | January 25, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili plans to meet other top people while he's over to talk with President Obama, including the Vice President and the House Speaker. While in Washington, President Saakashvili will have meetings with other top people both in the U.S.'s legislative and executive branch, including Vice President Joe Biden and John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives. Next Monday's meeting between the Georgian and American presidents will be important in many regards, noted president Mikheil Saakashvili's press spokesperson Tuesday. She says that the U.S.' support has been important for the protection of Georgian independence and sovereignty for the last 20 years. Manana Manjgaladze also emphasized that the support has been important for the country’s democratic reforms and economic development, and the success of Georgia on the way to NATO integration. The meeting between Barack Obama and Mikheil Saakashvili will be held on January 30 at the White House. Topis for discussion will be defense and security issues, strengthening democratic reforms, and cooperation on a number of areas, including economy, energy and trade. The two sides will discuss deepening existing ...

In brief, News

Georgian president questions Human Rights Watch report

by | January 25, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, says through his press speaker that he may not agree with everything Human Rights Watch (HRW) is writing about his country. HRW's World Report 2011 is sharp in its criticism of the situation in Georgia, much of which revolves around the police operation to clear a peaceful protest in front of parliament on the night of 26 May. The organization points to shortcomings of the justice system, both in terms of not protecting the rights of those who were exposed to police brutality that night, including journalists, but also in not launching a single criminal investigation against policemen, although sixteen were disciplined and four of them dismissed. Furthermore, the influential group makes reference to the spy charges against four journalists in July, a case which is still classified and was settled by a plea bargain agreement, and the unscheduled audit of the media company Palitra. Both cases are by some seen as retribution for journalists covering the police brutality on May 26, HRW notes. President Saakashvili's press speaker says his administration carefully studies all information regarding ...

News

Ivanishvili’s wife gets back her Georgian citizenship

by | January 24, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Ekaterine Khvedelidze, wife of Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, is a Georgian citizen again, after the president decided not to appeal a court ruling. This paves the way for the Ivanishvili couple to formally register a political party and run in the election this fall. On December 27 Tbilisi City Court ruled partly in favor of a lawsuit lodged by Mr Ivanishvili and found a presidential decree partly unlawful. The decree robbed the couple of their Georgian citizenship, which made it illegal for them to engage in politics. President Mikheil Saakashvili had until today to appeal the ruling. Eka Beselia, one of the lawyers of Ivanishvili said after the December 27 court ruling that it was a victory and she and the rest of Ivanishvili's legal team are going to fight until the citizenship of Ivanishvili will also is restored. Archil Kbilashvili, another of Ivanishvili’s lawyers, claims that they have appealed the other part of the court ruling to the Appeal's Court; the decision to not restore the businessman’s citizenship. Ivanishvili's lawyers are following a plan, they say. The businessman has already appealed to ...

Opinion

What will be on agenda of Saakashvili’s Washington meeting?

by | January 24, 2012

It is very fitting and important that Presidents Obama and Saakashvili meet in Washington on January 30, writes Kenneth S. Yalowitz, former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Georgia and this is an excellent time to reflect on the many successes in our bilateral relationship and the issues we will be confronting in years ahead. Looking back on the precarious situation Georgia found itself upon independence and the collapse of the USSR, the progress made to date in state building and developing the economy is very impressive. The United States has been a consistent supporter of Georgia's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and has provided diplomatic, economic and technical, and security assistance towards those ends. In particular, the US has supported the desire of the Georgian people to be a part of Europe and join the Euro-Atlantic economic and security community. Georgian government efforts in recent years to deal with widespread corruption and support allied policy in Iraq and Afghanistan have been welcomed. Indeed, the bilateral ...

In brief, News

Kitsmarishvili lost suit to claim Ivanishvili TV

by | January 24, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Tbilisi City Court did not grant Rustavi Media Management Company's request to sequester TV Company Igrika ltd. The reason is that Igrika ltd is no more the property of Ilia Kikabidze, general director of the independent TV company Maestro. A week ago Eroski Kitsmarishvili's Rustavi Media Management Company went to court, demanding to seize Igrika ltd because of damages to personal property. The story around Maestro events begin in December 2011, after Kitsmarishvili intruded into the company building, fired the directors and refused to leave. The police sided with him and helped in evicting the journalists from the building, and there has since been a frozen stand-off with Maestro broadcasting from a radio studio. Maestro was seized by Tbilisi City Court a month and a half ago, after Kitrsmarishvili requested it. Then there's another TV station called Igreka, that recently surfaced in the news when ownership of it was transferred to the company Aktsept one week ago. The latter is the property of opposition financier Bidzina Ivanishvili’s wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze. Recently it became known that people around Ivanishvili have decided to found ...

Media, News

Georgians still trust their TV, despite hoax of the century

by | January 24, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Time Magazine called it one of the greatest hoaxes in history. But 33% of Georgians still trust the channel that scared them out of their wits. That's one the findings Eurasian Partnership Foundation's program called Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) presented Monday. Internationally it's called the hoax news, but locally it is known as the 'simulated Kronika'. This was an enacted report aired on Imedi in March 2010, which purported to show that a few opposition politicians had staged a coup, and Russia had intervened militarily. The fact that it was broadcast in the regular news slot with the same news presenter and identical graphics as a normal 'Kronika', led many to believe that it was real news, which caused a massive panic in the country. Producers considered running a continuous banner warning that it was enacted, but president Saakashvili told them not to do it, because the report would lose its effect, according to a phone recording verified as authentic by British forensic experts. The day this program went on air is etched into the memories of most people. It ripped ...

News

Crisis avoided in South Ossetian power struggle

by | January 23, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The South Ossetian opposition leader Alla Dzhioyeva calls off her protest and enters talks with the regime. Dzhioyeva said that consultations between the opposition and authorities will continue, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. On November 17 she withdrew from a compromise agreement and gave acting president Vadim Brovtsev until today to meet a list of demands, or else she would claim election victory. After meeting with Brovtsev today, Dzhioyeva decided to call off the protest and continue talks. "There was a constructive dialogue today, and we agreed with Brovtsev to continue it. Today is the first time I have heard the question: what are my suggestions to resolve the political crisis," Dzhioyeva said. Preliminary results gave the opposition leader a clear victory over assumed Kremlin favorite Anatoly Bibilov in in the November 27 run-off in the so-called presidential elections. But after a complaint about violations, the Supreme Court of South Ossetia annulled the results and rescheduled a new election for March 25. This caused Dzhioyeva's supporters to launch a rally which created a tense situation until an agreement was achieved which involved ...

In brief, News

Ruling party mobilizing, gathering passport numbers

by | January 23, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia's ruling party has already started mobilizing supporters, before a date for the parliamentary election has been announced. Georgian newspaper Mteli Kvira reports that the National Movement Party has begun compiling lists of of supporters around the various districts of Tbilisi. Party activists are going round collecting passport numbers of people who are ready to vote for the ruling party in the upcoming election. The newspaper has asked several independent election commentators who say that there doesn't seem to be anything illegal with the ruling party's mobilization. Activists go from door to door and build up a list of people who promise that when they enter the voting booth, presumably sometime in October, they will circle the number of the the National Movement of president Mikheil Saakashvili. Non-governmental organizations working on electoral issues say the Election Code does not prohibit this, but it depends on what way this list is used. Previous elections have been blighted by various kinds of pressure being exerted on voters and by vote-buying.

News

A day in the life… of ‘Misha’

by | January 23, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Saturday was just another day for president Mikheil Saakashvili. But it dominated the news on Georgian national TV channels. The news was simply put that the president visited Rustavi, a small city just south of the capital Tbilisi, to talk to the locals about how things are going. This news story took up the first 55 minutes on Imedi's 5 o' clock news and the first 40 minutes on Rustavi 2, in both cases without commercial break. The president decided to walk from block to block in Rustavi and talk to people about what has changed, what has been built and plans for further development. He visited four big yards in Rustavi and held impromtu discussions. Both channels showed the entire conversations. One shot lasting for about fifteen minutes was the president standing in front of a building surrounded by a crowd of people asking questions, thanking him and receiving answers. Several minutes of it was just the crowd shouting ‘Misha’ (president Saakashvili's nickname). Another scene showed a wide circle of people sitting and listening while the president stood inside the circle ...

Opinion

The electricity meter produces rubbish in Tbilisi

by | January 22, 2012

Most of the government's decisions are routine in nature and ordinary people rarely feel their effect in everyday life, writes David Losaberidze, project coordinator at Caucasus Institute for Peace Democracy and Development. From time to time, however, the government makes

In brief, News

Georgia will support West in case of Iran crisis

by | January 22, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian parliamentarian from the governing party says his country will support the West in case of a confrontation between Iran and the U.S. Davit Darchiashvili, head of the Euro-integration committee, says that ‘in case of an Iran-U.S. confrontation, Georgia’s choice will be clear’, which means that ‘Georgia will be with its international democratic partners.’ The MP was being asked questions January 20 from journalists about what Georgia will do if there is a war between the U.S. and Iran. “Everything is possible, but it’s unlikely that Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz and stop the rest of the world's access to oil supplies,” Darchiashvili said. On the other hand, in his opinion they will be thinking of a compromise in Iran. But in case of global tension and a confrontation, ‘Georgia’s choice will be very clear – to be together or against its international democratic partners. But I don’t think it will come to this.’ According to him, blocking off international transportation is considered one of the biggest crimes and if any country does this, serious steps will be taken ...

News

Crisis in South Ossetia as candidate withdraws from compromise

by | January 22, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The winner in South Ossetia's cancelled election says she will not participate in the rescheduled election March 25. Instead, Alla Dzhioyeva told a crowd in Tskhinvali Saturday, she’s going to claim the presidency and hold her own inauguration. The exact date for the ceremony will be decided after January 23. “If we don’t receive an answer from acting president Vadim Brovtsev of South Ossetia, I will gather you once more and appoint the date of the official inauguration,” Dzhioyeva told the crowd. November 27 there weas a run-off in the so-called presidential elections with Alla Dzhioyeva pitted against Anatoly Bibilov. Dzhioyeva is considered opposition and Bibilov claimed to be the Kremlin favorite. During the final stages of vote counting it became clear that Dzhioyeva was going to win, however the Supreme Court of South Ossetia annulled the results of the elections, and declared it invalid. A new election was scheduled for March 25. This caused Dzhioyeva supporters to launch a permanent rally which lasted for ten days, until an agreement was achieved which involved that president Eduard Kokoity, whose term has ...

News

Urges UNESCO to Abkhazia to save 10th century fresco

by | January 21, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia is ready to make an exception from the travel restrictions and let a UNESCO mission enter Abkhazia in order to save a historical monument. According to Georgian legislation, the only way to legally enter or exit Abkhazian territory is by asking permission from Georgian authorities and cross over from Georgian territory. However, the authorities in Abkhazia are not willing to let a UNESCO team enter from Georgia. What is at stake is Bedia Monastery, built by the first king of a united Georgia, Bagrat III Bagration at the end of the tenth century, in 999. This complex was one of the cultural centers of Georgia for centuries and had its own library. Even more important, it has the only existing fresco of the first king of a united Georgia. Georgia in 2008 expressed concern about the possibility that the monument could be destroyed, when there was information that Russia was going to conduct restoration works on historical monuments in Abkhazia. Video footage was broadcasted by the Abkhazian TV channel Абаза showing that the walls and frescos of the monastery were already painted, ...

News

Georgian media sign treaty for common defense

by | January 21, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Independent Georgian media units Friday signed a memorandum of mutual defense, vowing that any harassment on any of its member will lead to coordinated action by all the others. It comes after a crisis at the small independent TV station Maestro, which is still broadcasting under emergency conditions; the result of a complicated dispute which some claim is being orchestrated by the government. The former producer of Maestro called for solidarity and proposed forming a common platform for defense against future attacks. A draft memorandum was worked out, and Friday finally signed. It's called Solidarity for Freedom of the Media, and gathers fourteen media outlets under its umbrella. These are: Alia Holding, Rezonansi, internet news site Presage.tv, media unit Obiektivi, Media Palitra, Asaval-Dasavali, radio company Sakartvelos Khma, TV company Sakartvelos Khma, newspaper Versia, magazine Ghia Boklomi, Bankebi da Pinansebi, TV Company Maestro, and radio Maestro. There still is time for other media to join in, as the final agreement will be signed on February 1 and is open for late-comers until then. The main idea is to establish a strategy for media ...

News

Saakashvili: Prime Minister Putin is panicking

by | January 21, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - President Mikheil Saakashvili says it's the Georgian nation the government of Russia has problems with, not the Georgian government, like it claims. Saakashvili's statement was a response to an appearance by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Wednesday, when he criticized one of his opponents because of his Georgian origin. Putin had gathered together leading Russian editors for a frank, no-holds-barred-chat that ended with the microphones being cut during an exchange with the editor of independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, with the PM accusing the editor of pouring diarrhea over him. Putin criticized Ekho Moskvy for supporting the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system in Georgia and said that if the anti-missile system were to be deployed in Georgia, Russia would be forced to aim its offensive weapons on Georgia. While discussing the country's relationship with Georgia, the Russian PM said he is ready to find a way out of the strained relationship by working together with Georgian civil society. The debate comes as Mr Putin is trying to build momentum for his election campaign in the midst of a wave of ...

In brief, News

Georgia not in talks about U.S. missile shield

by | January 21, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze says there are currently no negotiations with the United States about deployment of missile defense installations on the territory of Georgia. After the announcement of a meeting between the presidents of the U.S. and Georgia on January 30, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke about the possibility of the U.S. deploying parts of its anti-missile system in Georgia. The Georgian government didn’t comment what PM Putin said. But both the parliament majority and part of the opposition say that they would have supported the deployment of such installations, while making it clear that they do not know about such negotiations. "On this level it’s not foreseen to review such issues," Nino Kalandadze told DF Watch on January 20. She added that there is an expectation that at the meeting between the presidents ‘priorities will be given to issues important to Georgia’.

News

Perilous work should be compensated, union says

by | January 20, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Nearly 18 000 employees in Georgia work under stressful or hazardous conditions, according to the Georgian Trade Unions, which suggests compensating them for financial loss due to early retirement. In many dangerous professions, there is a mandated upper age limit, but no compensation for the loss of income until they reach pension age, which is 65 for men. Firemen, for example, are not allowed to work after 55. They find it hard to find new work after serving 20 years or more in a specialized job. “I think neither you, I nor anyone can imagine a 65-year old miner or 65-year old pilot. These are professions in Georgia which do not have the possibility to stay in the job until pension age, because of the age requirements,” Irakli Petriashvili, head of the Georgian Trade Unions told DF Watch. Now the Georgian Trade Unions suggests compensating people who retire early from stressful jobs., and has worked out a bill they want lawmakers to look at. The union suggests to calculate the compensation on the basis of work experience. If a person has a salary ...

News

Freedom House: Georgian politics is on early 90s level

by | January 20, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - American human rights group Freedom House indicates that Georgian democracy has not recovered from the backlash, but remains at a comparable level to right after independence. Seen overall, the trend is that democracy is improving, but in the wake of the turbulence which Georgia experienced a few years ago it is still on the same level as in 1993 when it comes to the indicator for political rights. In terms of how citizens are able to participate through elections, Freedom House gives Georgia a 4, the same rating as last year in terms of democracy. The scale goes from 1 to 7, with 1 being the best score. Overall, Georgia is among the 60 countries (31%) out of 195 surveyed that are categorized as partly free. The country is not considered an electoral democracy by the organization, which is influential in setting the agenda for debate about democracy building internationally. Georgia has been considered an electoral democracy through most of its time since independence in 1991, but lost the status briefly in 2004, then it regained it after the Rose Revolution, but in the ...

In brief, News

Four Georgian survivors from ‘Edirne’ return today

by | January 20, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The four surviving Georgian crew members from a Turkish tanker that sank off the coast of Albania will return home today. Avto Basiladze, Koba Partenadze, Vladimer Varshanidze and Ioseb Katamadze were flown from Tirana to Istanbul yesterday and were given further medical examinations there before returning to Batumi sometime today. One Georgian is confirmed dead; Beka Urushadze, as well as the ship’s Azerbaijani captain, Khayyam Mammadov. Another Georgian, Malkhaz Lazishvili, is still missing. There are currently negotiations about the transfer of Urushadze’s body. The Turkish tanker Edirne had just unloaded three thousand tons of fuel January 16 and was about to leave Durres harbor in Albania when there was a massive explotion on board. Preliminary examinations indicate that the cause of the explotion was failure to vent the the tanks after unloading the fuel, according to Trend.az. Fourteen people were on board, of Turkish, Azerbaijani, Ukrainian and Georgian origin.  

News, Security

Tbilisi welcomes missile defense despite warning

by | January 20, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian parliamentarian from the governing party welcomes the idea of Georgia as location for parts of the U.S. missile defense system. Davit Darchiashvili, who heads parliament’s EU integration committee, said it while commenting statements by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that if America places parts of its missile defense in Georgia, it would force Russia to aim its offensive weapons at Georgia. The idea of Georgia as location for missile defense was floated one year ago by a group of U.S. senators, because Turkey demanded that if a radar were to be located in that country, information should not be shared with Israel. „We believe the Republic of Georgia’s geographical location would make it an ideal site for a missile defense radar aimed at Iran“, the senators wrote. Georgia did not immedately respond, but in a September interview with Newsweek, president Mikheil Saakashvili said he would accept a missile defense radar in his country. Darchiashvili doesn’t have any information about the perspectives of the placement of these systems in Georgia. He says such issues are not his area of competence, ...

In brief, News

Abkhazian leader opposed to neutral passports

by | January 19, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The leader of Georgia’s breakaway region Abkhazia is opposed to so-called neutral passports being introduced. Neutral identity papers is a form of documentation used in Georgia for persons who are from the breakaway parts. Last summer Georgia’s parliament introduced a neutral passport that may be offered for people who live in Abkhazia. Today, most inhabitants in the region hold an Abkhazian passport, but it is of little use when travelling internationally, because it is only valid in Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru. Many also hold a Russian passport. The issue of passports and citizenship is a source of friction also for ordinary people. Abkhaz authorities have promoted, or by some accounts forced, the use of the Abkhaz passport, and since they do not allow double citizenship other than Abkhaz-Russian, many Georgian citizens, particularly in the Gali region, report that they have been forced to renounce their Georgian citizenship as a consequence of this effort, although this is denied by Abkhaz authorities. Gali is a town in the south of Abkhazia with predominantly ethinic Georgian population. Now the leader of the region, Alexander ...

News

International crisis topic when Obama meets Saakashvili

by | January 19, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - One of the topics of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili and U.S. president Barack Obama's January 30 meeting will be ways of responding to international security challenges. It's the Georgian president’s administration which writes this in a press release Wednesday. Saakashvili and Obama have met several times before, but this will be the first official face to face meeting and will take place in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. The White House website wrote that Obama will be discussing reforms in Georgia. U.S. ambassador to Georgia John Bass  also mentions that the reform process is on the agenda, as well as common security. “The presidents will also discuss the security situation in Afghanistan. The subject for the discussion will also be the reforms which are being implemented in Georgia and are directed to the possibility for the Georgian citizens to choose the future for the country themselves, achieve more economic success and choose the leaders of their country,” Bass said. The Georgian president highlights the importance of the strategic partnership charter which the two countries signed in 2009, and ...

Society

Georgia’s eco-migrants are living dangerously

by | January 19, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia, which already has 250 000 internal war refugees, does not recognize eco-migrants. Thirty thousand families are left with faint promises from the government, and many choose to stay in life-threatening homes. Last August, Khatia Nazghaidze (3) drowned while her family was on a waiting list for immediate resettlement due to a dangerous river which had already flooded the village once. Efforts to help those affected are not working, due to mismanagement of compensation payments, and alternate housing which is so bad that families prefer to live in danger. The situation took at turn to the worse last summer. Heavy persistent rain in eastern and western Georgia between June 12 and 22 led to landslides which ultimately killed seven people and affected more than 3,000 houses, according to the Red Cross. Hundreds of families had to abandon their homes, which were left in a shambles, or because surrounding infrastructure like water, sewage and electricity was out of service, or their farmlands and roads destroyed. The Georgian refugee ministry has registered 35 204 families as affected by natural disasters, some of which are refugees, ...

Investigative reports, News

Police action against Chinese settlement in Tbilisi

by | January 19, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - People at a Chinese settlement south of Tbilisi say the police came and questioned them two days after DFWatch wrote about the place. The Interior Ministry denies that the police was there. DFWatch December 6, 2011, reported on a Chinese market where women and children seemed to be living under cramped conditions in the highest secrecy. A spokesman for a company called Lilo City Ltd, which owns the area, says the police arrived two days later. They came in six cars and questioned the management for five to six hours, says the spokesman, who only wants to say his first name: Zviad. The police also looked around the market, where there are more than a hundred booths of about three by three meter’s size, many of them locked from the outside with a padlock. Some are used as living quarters. When first reporting about this market, DFWatch was approached by Zviad, and we asked him whether people were living there, but all our questions were rejected. After fifteen minutes we were physically thrown out by his security guards. There were ...

Media, News

Lawsuit against Ivanishvili’s new TV

by | January 18, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The new TV station being established by people around Georgian opposition financier Bidzina Ivanishvili is being sued. It’s called Igrika and was recently bought by a company which is owned by the wife of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire who has said he plans to run in the election this fall and then form a government. Rustavi Media Management Company (RMMC) released a statement today saying it had filed a suit against Igreka, because of damage to personal property. RMMC is owned by Erosi Kitsmarishvili. The reasons for the lawsuit are unclear. DFWatch tried repeatedly to contact Mr Kitsmarishvili Wednesday evening, but his only comment was: "Keep watching". But it is likely to be related to the fact that Igrika belongs to Ilia Kikabidze. Apart from that, he is (or according to Kitsmarishvili, was) general director of Maestro, a TV station which currently is in a protracted feud to which Kitsmarishvili is one of the parties. The other party to the conflict is the journalists and techincal staff, who have fled to a radio studio and are continuing to broadcast from there, while ...

In brief, News

Obama to discuss fall election with Saakashvili

by | January 18, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - U.S. president Barack Obama will host his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili in the Oval Office on January 30 to discuss the upcoming parliamentary election in Georgia, expected in October. They will discuss democratic reforms that will ensure that Georgia is a vibrant and stable democratic state. Other topics will be the issue of territorial integrity. “The President will reconfirm U.S. support for the integrity of Georgia’s territory within its internationally recognized borders,” the statement says. But the U.S. president will also talk to Saakashvili about the defense cooperation with Georgia and its contribution to the security operations in Afghanistan. “The two presidents will discuss further strengthening the U.S. – Georgia Charter on Strategic Partnership by enhancing cooperation in the fields of trade, tourism, energy, science, education, culture, and security.” 2012 is 20th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between USA and Georgia, the statement notes.  

News

Give us back our rights

by | January 18, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – The government in Georgia removed almost all labor protection in 2006. Now there is a growing movement to reclaim the lost rights. Labor rights campaigners demonstrated in Tbilisi Tuesday against the lack of proper protection. People gathered near the Rustaveli statue with flyers and painted posters with slogans like ‘Labor Code - Code of slavery’, 'No exploitation', 'I was fired for being pregnant' and ‘Solidarity with the Kutaisi workers’. The rally was organized by the Georgian Trade Unions and the youth movement Laboratoria 1918, which demand that the government amends the Labor Code, specifically the articles number 37 and 38, which entitles the employer to fire the employee any time, for any reason, without even explaining the grounds for being fired. In 2006, the government amended the Labor Code despite a number of recommendations and criticism from international and local organizations and trade unions. The government’s goal was to attract more investors to Georgia through the ‘simplified’ Labor Code, which would create comfortable conditions for them to arrive here in Georgia and invest money. The aspect about attracting investors has been borne ...

News

Christian Democrats alarmed by Russian exercise

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s Christian Democratic Party warns against a Russian military exercise of unseen proportions planned for September. The exercise is called ‘Caucasus 2012’ and is organized by the Russian South Strategic Command, one of four geographical divisions making up Russia’s territorial defense. Caucasus 2012 will involve a larger geographical area than previous exercises, according to Russian defense sources. Not only will it involve activity in Armenia, where Russia has a military base, but also inside Georgia’s two breakaway regions, where Russia has steadily built up a larger and more extensive military presence after the war in August 2008. The fact that a Russian military exercise for the first time will involve land areas south of Georgia as well as inside its breakaway parts raises the alarm in Tbilisi. Nika Laliashvili, the member of the parliamentary opposition party Christian Democrats Movement, calls Caucasus 2012 ‘alarming’ and says the exercise is ‘a bad coincidence with the upcoming presidential elections in the Russian Federation.’ Other countries were briefed about the exercise last December when foreign military attaches in Moscow were summoned to that country’s military chief ...

News

Gudiashvili Square protest continues

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - People gathered Sunday on Gudiashvili Square, the third protest against plans to develop the historic area. The rally was titled ‘Minifest as Manifest’ and saw another brandishing of paintings, handicraft and other artwork as well as refreshments and entertainment that continued into the night. Gudiashvili lies just behind Freedom Square, and to visitors it is probably best known as the place where Cafe Pur Pur is located. It is one of those places in the old part of Tbilisi with narrow streets and tightly spaced houses that are barely standing and sorely need reinforcement works. Tbilisi City Hall has a plan for giving the area a face lift which protesters however fear is too radical and will destroy its historic qualities. The main request of the rally's organizers and supporters is for the government to reinforce the buildings surrounding the square. The history of the square begins several centuries ago, just like the buildings around it. The houses are the same height in different colors which are fading away. Cracks in the walls, old balconies and windows, roofs; it is all like ...

News

Georgia warns against ‘offensive’ Russian exercise

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Russia’s South Strategic Command is planning the exercise ‘Caucasus 2012’ in September. Foreign military attaches were briefed about the exercise at a meeting in Moscow last December with the head of the Russian military’s chief of staff. It will involve not only army but also border guards, air force, interior ministry, security and emergency services, as well as what is called the Air Defense Force Management System. This air defense system controls not only Russian skies but also covers the South Caucasus, justified by the need to protect the Russian base in Armenia, Nezavisimaia Gazeta reports. According to Russian defense sources, unlike in previous exercised, this year it will also take place inside Georgia’s breakaway regions, Abkhazia and the South Ossetia, as well as in Armenia. Georgia’s Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday that the exercise is offensive in nature and a provocation meant to stoke ‘permanent tension’ in Georgia and the Black Sea region. “The international community should pay attention to the fact that the Russian foreign policy is not changed. It continues aggressive actions, including demonstrating military forces and provocations. Russia is the ...

News

Cartu sues National Bank over delayed audit

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Bank Cartu of Georgian tycoon Bidznia Ivanishvili sues Georgian National Bank because an audit is being delayed, claiming political motivations. The National Bank started an audit of Cartu right after police seized two million US dollars and one million euros worth of cash last October, suspected of being part of a money laundering operation. Cartu Bank said it was an inter-bank transfer to boost their cash reserves which was made necessary because supporters of the ruling party had closed their accounts after Ivanishvili's political debut, causing a cash crisis. On October 19, Cartu was subject to further misfortune as the National Bank launched an audit, justified with the seizure of cash, as well as changes in the bank’s management. One week ago the cash was returned, but the investigation is still ongoing. Nodar Javakhishvili, board chairman of Cartu Bank, says they are suing because of a delay in the National Bank’s audit. “They are working in a regime of pre-control of operations, something which doesn’t even fit in the essence of checking term and there is no legal basis for it.” Javakhishvili said. According ...

News

Georgians want to be member of EU, not move there

by | January 17, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A new poll shows Georgians expect EU membership reasonably soon, but that very few want to seek employment in other European countries. Compared to 2009, a slightly larger majority think Georgia will become a member of the European Union within ten years. A third think this will happen within the next five years, while one in ten think Georgia is already member. 66% of those interviewed think that NATO is the most important organization for Georgia, followed by the EU and the World Bank. However, the largest group (41%) thinks EU membership is more important for Georgia than to join NATO. 88% of respondents in the survey ‘Knowledge and Attitudes toward the European Union in Georgia’ think Georgia should become EU member. The Eurasian Partnership Foundation, which carried out the survey, interprets the results as a sign that closer integration with the EU is not just a project by Georgia’s political elite, but something ordinary people also support. ‘Georgian citizens are profoundly Europhilic,’ the report’s authors write. The main barriers to Georgia becoming EU member are unresolved conflicts, political instability, Russia and democracy, ...

In brief, News

Georgian died after explosion on Turkish tanker

by | January 16, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - One Georgian crew member and the Azerbaijani captain have died after a Turkish tanker sunk off the coast of Albania on Sunday. Georgia's consulate in Turkey reports that the body of 22-year-old Beka Urushadze has been identified. The Embassy reports that one more Georgian, Malkhaz Lazishvili, is still missing following the accident, and some Caucasian news agencies are reporting him as deceased. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nino Kalandadze says the situation is complex and the government is therefore careful with releasing information until it is confirmed. The tanker Edirne had delivered three thousand tons of fuel in Durres, Albania. It was about to leave the harbour when the accident happened. Initial reports indicate that there was an explosion before the ship sank. Interfax reports that two Ukrainians were rescued. There are conflicting reports of how many people were aboard, with Interfax reporting 15, while Interpressnews, a Georgian agency, says 14. The crew included Turkish, Azerbaijani and Ukrainians, in addition to Georgians. Edirne had a deadweight of 4112 tons and was built in 1980. It flew the flag of Sierra Leone. Georgia used to have a significant trade fleet, but ...

In brief, News

Tbilisi mayor’s 2010 campaign to be scrutinized

by | January 16, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian Chamber of Control is looking closer at the financial activities of an organization which campaigned for Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava in 2010. The organization is called Our Vote to Gigi Ugulava and had several well-known Georgian singers among its members. This is the result of recent changes in the law about party financing which made the same restrictions apply to other groups than parties, and even individuals. The CoC's monitoring group quickly got busy using the new powers and started checking the finances of a movement called Georgian Dream, which was started by the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who plans to win this year’s parliamentary election and then form a government. Several commentators asked why the body didn't do checks on organizations close to the government. Yesterday, a second organization was named as target of the expanded rules. Our vote to Gigi Ugulava was formed as a campaigning tool for the mayor's election campaign. Although the incumbent at the time, he had never been elected until the local elections in May 2010. When this organization was founded it was said to be ...

News

Georgian government may play for time in Ivanishvili case

by | January 16, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government in Georgia can gain one year by delaying a court case which will decide whether to allow an opposition financier to form a political party. By that time, the parliamentary election will be over.  The only legal way for the government not to allow Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and his wife to participate in this year’s parliamentary election is to take their citizenship case to the court and drag out the process. This is the result of a recent court ruling which upheld a presidential decree annul Ivanishvili’s citizenship but decided that the annulment of his wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze’s citizenship was unlawful. President Mikheil Saakashvili revoked the couple’s citizenship in October 2011, just four days after Ivanishvili declared that he would go into politics. The argument was that the government didn’t know that Ivanishvili and his wife both were French citizens as well as Georgian and Russian. According to Georgian legislation, double citizenship is allowed, but a person needs to go through a specific application process which the government claims had not been done in this case. Georgian law ...

Opinion

NATO Accession Not a Right, but a Reward

by | January 16, 2012

While the Free Democrats strongly support the idea of Georgia’s accession to NATO, the government’s language with which the path to achieving this has recently been described, as "inevitable and irreversible," reflects the wrong attitude for success, in our view. As a club of democracies, NATO requires of its members sound and lasting commitment to democratic values, its own leadership has made very clear. I was heartened by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s remarks at the meeting with students at Tbilisi State University this past November when he reminded the audience of the essential role of democratic institutions for countries aspiring to NATO membership and urged Georgia’s rising generation to play as active a role in our country’s civic life as youth groups did during the 2003 Rose Revolution.  In essence, Rasmussen was suggesting that Georgia re-capture the very promise of that time which attracted the world’s attention in a most positive way.  His message did not fall upon deaf ears. The current government’s rhetoric on this issue consistently lacks the balance we need to advance towards membership.  Right now, Georgia ...

In brief, News

Opposition politician released

by | January 16, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia has released an opposition politician who was arrested Saturday on charges of illegal possession of weapon. Elguja Chkhaidze, the leader of the Free Democrats in the Lanchkhuti region western Georgia, was released Sunday after paying a 2 000 lari fine. Сourt proceedings in the case are scheduled for March 7. He is charged with illegal weapon’s possession. Irakli Alasania, the leader of the Free Democrats yesterday held a briefing in the Lanchkhuti region and dismissed the allegations as yet another political game, claiming that the weapon found in the house of Chkhaidze had been planted. He also said that the whole family is also suffering because of such political ploys. Chkhaidze ‘s son was recently detained for illegal drug use. Alasania promised that ‘the next parliamentary elections will change the government, which persecutes people solely because of their political beliefs.’ Georgia has released an opposition politician who was arrested Saturday on charges of illegal possession of weapon. Elguja Chkhaidze, the leader of the Christian Democrats in the Lanchkhuti region western Georgia, was released Sunday after paying a 2 000 lari fine. Сourt proceedings ...

In brief, News

Opposition politician arrested in Georgia

by | January 14, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Police yesterday evening arrested the regional leader of the opposition Free Democrats party in the town of Lanchkhuti, western Georgia. Spokespersons for the party say the police did not allow Elguja Chkhaidze access to a lawyer after his arrest, violating his right to defense. During the search of his home the police found an automatic weapon. According to the Free Democrats, Chkhaidze spent the whole night at the regional police office. Party leader Irakli Alasania today called the arrest ‘political persecution’ and connects it to the sudden move into politics by Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. Alasania was speaking at a press conference in Lanchkhuti. The Free Democrats is one of four parties supported by Mr Ivanishvili. “Chkhaidze is illegally detained and the weapon they found was deliberately put [there],” Alasania says, adding that also Chkhaidze’s family is victim of political persecution. Recently his son was arrested for alleged drug use, he says.    

In brief, News

Georgian sailors held hostage return home

by | January 14, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The fifteen Georgians who had been held captive by Somali pirates returned home yesterday. They were released on Sunday. The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili greeted the sailors in Turkey together with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Three Turkish sailors were also freed along the Georgians. They have spent 508 days in captivity. After arriving in Turkey the Georgians came home to Georgia together with President Saakashvili. The ship, which was sailing under a Maltan flag, was captured in September 2010. The Somali pirates demanded 9 million dollars in ransom. The amount proved too big for the shipping company, and the negotiations were broken off. The Georgian government ascribed the sailors’ release to their inter-agency commission which had worked intensely on the case, but claimed that no ransom had been paid. However, the news website Somali Report claims to have been in contact with the pirates who say that a ransom of 3 million dollars was dropped onto the ship. In October last year twelve other Georgian sailors were taken hostage off the coast of Nigeria, but were freed after several ...

News

Ivanishvili’s secret weapon: his own TV station

by | January 14, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Many people in Georgia have been expecting that the billionaire who is challenging president Mikheil Saakashvili’s position would have a card up his sleeve. Now it’s revealed: A new TV station. His wife Ekaterine Khvedelidze is part owner of a company which recently bought management rights to an already established TV station, which has a licence for cable and satellite. The company is called Igrika, and transferred its management rights to Aktsepti Ltd from December 13, 2011 to December 31, 2013. Igrika was founded by the director of Maestro, a small independent TV station, and 80% of Aktsepti’s shares are held by Ekaterine Khvedelidze, Ivanishvili’s wife. What the station will be called and when it will start broadcasting is still unknown. Yesterday Tina Khidasheli, leader of the Republican Party which is aligned with Ivanishvili, also confirmed that the new television station is in the works, and that some of the goods damaged in customs recently are actually techincal equipment for the Ivanishvilis’ new TV studios. “This is only 10% of the equipment the television really needs, but we are still waiting for ...

News

Teachers in Georgia fired for political beliefs

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – When Tamar Sukhiashvili, a teacher from the village Kakabeti, was told she was fired, it came as a surprise. The previous day, the school’s director had complimented her on her qualified work. The reason for her firing turned out to be that she held views supportive of the opposition. “I asked him to explain what were the grounds for my firing. He told me that he was carrying out orders from the top,” Sukhiashvili remembers. She says that her employer asked her to write a letter of resignation, but she refused. Then she was told that he had already prepared her termination letter. She holds up the letter and says it only makes reference to article 38 of the labor code, which gives an employer the right not to give any reasons for firing an employee. “They accused me of some absurd accusation, as if an anonymous letter had been sent to the general inspection of the Education Ministry which told about my cooperation with Ivanishvili,” Sukhiashvili says. Bidzina Ivanishvili is a billionaire who recently launched an opposition movement and wants to ...

In brief, News

Green Party warns of ecological catastrophe

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Green Party claims a hydroelectric project in Turkey will divert too much water from Mtkvari, possibly creating serious environmental problems. A low water level in the river Mtkvari may lead to epidemics, because sewage water from Tbilisi and Rustavi will then make up the main mass of water, the party claims. Turkey is planning to build the Beshik Haya cascade reservoirs in Turkey’s Ardagani district. The Green Party claims this will redirect much of the water in the Mtkvari into the Black Sea instead of the Caspian Sea, where it runs today. This will lead to an ecological and economic catastrophe, according to leader Giorgi Gachechiladze. The Green Party appeals to authorities of Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, which also may become the victim of the project, not to let this project be implementated, because ‘an artificially created water deficit might cause tension between the states.’ The river Mtkvari is the biggest water artery in the South Caucasus and is very important for Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Green Party states. Today the Georgian Minister of Environment Goga Khachidze said on Radio Liberty ...

In brief, News

Georgia returns money taken in raid against bank

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The cash which authorities in Georgia took into custody in an armed police raid last October has been returned to businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili’s bank. According to a statement from Tbilisi Prosecutor’s Office dated Tuesday, the cash apprehended on October 18, 2011, has been transferred to Cartu Bank's account in accordance with the law, in the form of a non-cash payment. In the raid, police took two million US dollars and one million Euros worth of Cartu Bank’s cash in a van. The money was an inter-bank transfer between Cartu Bank and Bank of Georgia, a common practice internationally when a bank needs to increase its cash reserve. The reason for this particular inter-bank transfer was that the government and its supporters had just closed all their accounts in Cartu Bank in a concerted response after Bidzina Ivanishvili October 7, 2011, published an open letter saying he would go into politics. The many closed accounts made the bank face cash problems, and a cash reinforcement from Bank of Georgia was necessary, according to Cartu Bank president Nodar Javakhishvili. The banks were given ...

Opinion

Georgia and NATO integration

by | January 13, 2012

Georgia is getting prepared for the NATO Summit in Chicago, when the Leaders of NATO member states will gather to discuss the current agenda of the Euro-Atlantic community, including enlargement issues. The outcome of the Summit is determined by exclusively one particular session, which in this case will be held in Chicago in May 2012. It is a comprehensive and enduring political process, resulting in a set of decisions and solutions eventually reflected in the final statement of the summit. This process is going on right now and I want to draw your attention to the important decisions that NATO has already made and adopted in reference to Georgia in the context of the Chicago Summit. Let me start with the official visit of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) to Georgia led by the Secretary General in November 2011, which is an important part of the preparatory process for the summit in Chicago. It is important to keep in mind that NATO rarely conducts such official visits to non-member states. I would like to remind you that since the 2008 Russian invasion, ...

News

Who is building Georgia’s new parliament?

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The construction work on Georgia's new parliament building in Kutaisi is well underway, but who is actually building it, and how much will it cost? A recent push by a local civil rights group revealed that minister Ramaz Nikolaishvili does not give that information out to just anyone. Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) says in a statement that they contacted the Ministry for Regional Development and Infrastructure as well as Kutaisi City Hall, asking for details about the project's expenses. Kutaisi City Hall answered „we inform you that building the new parliament in Kutaisi is financed from the Georgian central budget“, in a letter signed by City Hall administrative service Tengiz Topuridze. But in Georgia’s 2012 budget, there is no mention of the new parliament building. That’s why IDFI made this request in the first place, the group explains. The Ministry for Regional Development simply answered that it doesn’t have detailed information about the parliament building in Kutaisi. It was president Mikheil Saakashvili’s decision to move Georgia’s parliament to the town of Kutaisi in the west of Georgia. The project ...

In brief, News

National Bank shared information about Ivanishvili

by | January 13, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s party finance watchdog claims it obtained information about the financial activities of the Georgian Dream movement from the National Bank. The body released a report Tuesday which showed how much money opposition financier Bidzina Ivanishvili has spent on advertisement in various newspapers and TV not affiliated with the government. As DFWatch has reported, there are some who question where this information came from, and whether the control body had the legal authority to base its report on unofficial information. The report says Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream movement refused to give the information to the Chamber of Control (CoC), and therefore the CoC obtained the information from ‘alternative sources.’ Thursday CoC spokesperson Natia Mogeladze declared that they have received that information from the National Bank. “The Georgian Chamber of Control has a memorandum with the National Bank. On the grounds of this memorandum we requested the information about the financial activity of the organization and it was made public,” Mogeladze says.  She is chair of the monitoring group of the Georgian Chamber of Control. Mogeladze also says that the changes to the ...

News

Georgian opposition financier waiting, considering options

by | January 12, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Lawyers working for Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili claim there are 44 days left for the President and the Civil Registry to decide whether to give him back his Georgian citizenship. They also say France will only revoke his French citizenship after the businessman’s has had restored his Georgian citizenship. The businessman’s citizenship troubles began several months ago, when declared that he wants to enter politics and run in the parliamentary election in October 2012. His unexpected statement puzzled authorities, and just four days later the president issued a decree which revoked Ivanishvili’s and his wife’s citizenships. The Civil Registry explained that both of them were French citizens, and at the same time had Russian and Georgian citizenships. Ivanishvili’s lawyers appealed the president’s decision to Tbilisi City Court, which only partly granted the appeal, and made a decision to restore the citizenship of his wife. She was already a French citizen when the president granted her Georgian citizenship in 2004, unlike Bidzina Ivanishvili, who several years later became French citizen. According to Georgian legislation, if a person becomes citizen of another country, ...

Opinion

Problems in the border areas

by | January 12, 2012

After the Russia-Georgian conflict of August war 2008 the administrative boundary line still remains as one of the most widely discussed issues for international and Georgian society. Before August 2008 Ossetians and Georgians travelled freely from one side to another, but since October 2008 when South Ossetia closed the administrative boundary line (ABL), which it treats as a “state border”, large-scale arrests began for “illegally crossing” the ABL or other fabricated crimes. As of the present time, access to South Ossetia still remains limited. On 14 August 2009 in the scope of the mechanism of Incident Prevention and Response to them, through the mediation of EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia the parties to the conflict reached an oral agreement that local residents shall not be detained on charges of crossing the border in case if they cross the ABL in any direction. However, in practice the real situation is more complicated. People are detained on both sides of the administrative boundary line. While detentions are usually brief, some last for months or for years. In the areas adjacent to South Ossetia, local ...

In brief, News

Georgia’s capital is on the move

by | January 12, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili is moving yet another state body closer to Europe -- at least a few dozen kilometers. This time it's the Ministry for Internally Displaced Persons which will be moved from Tbilisi to the town of Gori, which lies close to the occupied territories and just a few kilometers from the administrative border. "I don’t know whether Gori is a suburb to Tbilisi, or Tbilisi to Gori, this is an issue for discussion, but Gori will definitely be one of the major centers of Georgia," Saakashvili said on January 11 as he announced his decision during a street appearance in the town that was occupied by Russian troops in August 2008. Several years ago the constitutional court was moved to Batumi, and parliament will be moved to Kutaisi later this year. The energy regulatory commission has been moved to Kutaisi, and the Chamber of Control will soon be there too. Moving public bodies out into the regions is a conscious policy choice by Saakashvili's government, explained as a means to create development in those places. But the opposition thinks ...

In brief, News

Georgian tycoon-politician might use wife to form party

by | January 12, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Ekaterine Khvedelidze, wife of the Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili is going to set up a new political party and compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Khvedelidze said this today as she appealed for a judge to immediately enforce a court ruling which restores her Georgian citizenship. In October, her husband unexpectedly broke out of his role as a behind-the-scenes do-gooder and levelled a scathing attack against president Saakashvili, saying he would challenge him in Georgia's parliamentary election in October 2012. Four days later, Saakashvili revoked Ivanishvili's and his wife's citizenship, based on a request from the Civil Registry, which said it was not previously aware that the two were French citizens. Georgian law does not as a rule allow double citizenship. In December, a court rejected Ivanishvili's plea to annul the president's decision, but the court found that Khvedelidze's citizenship was incorrectly revoked. If or when she gets it back, she will be allowed to form a political party. As Ivanishvili's wife she will let him run in the election indirectly, a solution many have speculated that the businessman would go for after he ...

News

Georgian media swept up in campaign finance clampdown

by | January 11, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Newspapers and TV not affiliated with the government in Georgia have been swept up in a major effort by authorities to restrict an opposition financier's influence. Civil rights groups warned in late 2011 that this could happen, and now it has. Georgia's new party finance law is being applied far outside of party politics. TV stations and even newspapers are being made to jump through bureaucratic hurdles originally meant only for political parties. Now the media being targeted warn that if this is followed through, they will not be able to survive, because the rules applied to them are too strict and complicated. Bidzina Ivanishvili, a well-known but low-profile financier suddenly jumped onto the political stage in Georgia last October, and political debate has centered around bureaucratic moves by authorities that the opposition claim are meant to prevent him from supporting them in the elections this fall. The latest move came with changes to the party finance law. Before, they applied only to political parties, but from January 1, all kinds of organizations and businesses, and even individuals, that have an ...

Opinion

The role of remittances in Georgian economy

by | January 11, 2012

Remittances constitute 6% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and outweigh the inflows of both grants and FDIs in Georgia, writes Irina Guruli, program coordinator at the Economic Policy Research Center. International remittances are personal flows of money by migrants to family and friends in their countries of origin. With more than 215 million people living outside their countries of birth, remittances sent home by migrants accounted for 2 % of GDP for all developing countries in 2008, but 6% of GDP for low-income countries.  This is where Georgia stands: remittances constitute 6% of the country’s GDP, as of September 2011, the amount of remittances transferred to Georgia amounted to 812.6 million USD, which is a 19.6% increase compared to the same period last year. Roughly, 9% of the population is remittance recipient. For financial institutions, 20% of their net income is from money transfer payments, although they are competing with a very large informal sector (an estimate of one third), i.e. remittances sent through friends, relatives, etc. To better understand the role of remittances for Georgian economy we shall look at ...

In brief, News

Fox reaffirms UK’s military ties with Georgia

by | January 11, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - British conservative politician Liam Fox calls the administrative border around the Tskhinvali region ‘the occupation line between Free Georgia and Occupied Georgia.’ The MP for North Somerset and former Secretary of State for Defense was visiting the border border area when he made the comment January 9. During his stay in Georgia, Fox has met defense minister Bacho Akhalaia and discussed Georgia’s participation in the ISAF operation, security conditions in the region and what Fox calls the threats of Iran's nuclear program. “First of all, as a former Secretary of State for Defense I am given the opportunity on this meeting to thank the Georgian government for participating in the Afghanistan mission through the defense minister. Georgia's contribution is valued by the United Kingdom as well as by the whole ISAF mission.“ „We discussed the situation in Afghanistan and how to react to the violence there. We discussed the situation in Iran, the dangers of the nuclear program and instability in the region, which of course impacts not only the region, but on the larger global picture.” Fox said. According to the Georgian ...

Economy, News

Bankrupcy left workers in crisis

by | January 10, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Nodar has been working in Georgia's mountainous Bakuriani region for three years with his team of construction workers. But the company which employs him, Nola, has only paid him 2 000 lari out of the 16 000 he is entitled to. “So many today are in the same situation as me," he says outside of the National Executive Bureau in Tbilisi, where construction workers had gathered Tuesday to demand several years of back payment. “Some even have demands of 18 000," Nodar says. The company Nola sent Nodar's team to Bakuriani to build a security complex for the Interior Ministry on the order of BP. But a few years ago Nola went bankrupt. It had debts of nearly 11 million lari to the government and nearly 800 000 to the 450 workers employed at the different construction sites around the capital as well as in the regions. The workers went to court, and according to the Georgian Trade Union, two different judges reviewed the case. Both rulings -- in April and May of 2010 -- state that Nola must pay what it ...

News

Media’s alleged Ivanishvili links scrutinized

by | January 10, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - National TV channels in Georgia are scrutinizing the links between political challenger Bidzina Ivanishvili and an opposition-friendly cable channel in Tbilisi. Imedi, Rustavi 2 and GPB, the three national TV stations in Georgia, claim to have uncovered links between Ivanishvili and other parts of Georgian media. One target of the allegations is Kavkazia TV, which Monday night disclosed financial details about its political advertisements over the last two years. What started the debate was a statement by Zurab Japaridze, leader of a think tank called Clear Policy, voicing the suspicion that Ivanishvili is secretly funding certain media. Japaridze said one journalist left the newspaper Alia after having refused to print his Ivanishvili critical article, saying he suspects that the paper's editorial policy had been changed. When the billionaire established his Georgian Dream movement in December, some were running TV ads for it. Shortly after Japaridze made his claims, Nino Jangirashvili, owner of Kavkazia, wrote on her Facebook page that journalists of Imedi and Rustavi 2 had been following her all day asking the same question: whether Ivanishvili finances her company or not. She also ...

Opinion

2012 Georgian Elections – Battle without Rules?

by | January 9, 2012

National law-making pre-New Year incidents The history of how the Georgian parliament amended the law about Political Unions of Citizens is taking on more and more of a comic character. First, while amending this law parliament violated its parliament procedural regulations. Specifically, the second article of the law appeared in the text at the third hearing on December 28, having bypassed the second hearing. This is a violation of parliament’s regulations, article #155, paragraph 4. After this, parliament approved the law’s second article’s, following editing: “Political associations of citizens and political subjects defined by article 26/1 of this law foreseen by article one, paragraph 6, which have received financing in violation of this law’s requirements and haven’t spent the money at the moment of enforcing this law, are obliged to return the money to the one who granted it not later than three days after enforcing the law. In case of not fulfilling this obligation the money will become state property.” A political party, which didn’t have any idea of what kind of restrictions the legislator would place on him at the end ...

News

Saakashvili building megacity without plan

by | January 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili is starting to build an entirely new city from scratch, but there is no city plan yet. Contruction work is set to start within the year, but no map or street plan is yet in existence for architects and engineers to use. The president's administration has told the Georgian Institute for Development of Freedom of Information that there are no documents in their archive concerning Lazika. President Saakashvili December 4 promised to build an entirely new city in western Georgia close to the border with Abkhazia which in ten years will have half a million inhabitants and be the country's second biggest city. A plan is already prepared, and negotiations are underway with several big investment groups in Asia and Europe, the president said, during one of his live speeches regularly carried by the national TV networks, characterized by an enthusiastic, upbeat, campaign-like style. Shortly after, DFWatch asked the president's administration for more information about Lazika, but was told that work was still in progress and there was nothing to share.

In brief, News

Georgian media: One for all, all for one

by | January 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia's crisis-stricken free media have agreed on a new plan to react against outside interference in their work. The plan comes after a cable channel had to escape to a different studio and newspapers in Tbilisi have seen many newspaper kiosks torn down, threatening their distribution. Former producer at Maestro TV Mamuka Glonti took the initiative to the alliance, which works on the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all, and requires a joint response from the media sector. The idea is to have a stronger and clearer voice so the message will get through both inside Georgia and abroad. In the new memorandum the aim is described as to protect its member journalists and media outlets against political pressure and other illegal actions. Also non-members might receive the alliance's protection, but that will be decided on a case by case basis. The memorandum will be signed at an official ceremony February 1 at 1 pm, at the offices of Obiektivi, an internet based radio and TV outfit in Tbilisi. Until then, media units will be invited to sign ...

News

Georgian hostages released in Somalia

by | January 9, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Fifteen Georgian sailors taken hostage by Somali pirates have been set free after 508 days of captivity. According to Georgia's Marine Transport Agency, no ransom was paid. But pirates who spoke to the news service SomaliaReport.com said a three million dollar ransom was dropped onto the ship Sunday morning. Right now, the fifteen are being given medical attention aboard a ship with armed guards under Georgian control which is sailing towards a harbor somewhere on the African coast. The three Turkish hostages were also freed. It was in September 2010 that the Malta-registered ship Olupel Aiji was taken over by pirates off the coast of Somalia. A few months ago, the website SomaliaReport.com released a short video which appeared to show that the captured crew members were unharmed. In yesterday news about the imminent release of the hostages, the Georgian government claimed it was the result of intense negotiations by Georgia's inter-agency commission under the auspices of president Mikheil Saakashvili. Operative leader of the effort, deputy minister of economy and sustainable development, Giorgi Korbelashvili, said today that Georgia considered storming the ship six months ...

News

Citizenship issue postponed indefinitely

by | January 8, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian billionaire who wants to run in the election in fall may have to wait for a long time for his citizenship application. Bidzina Ivanishvili lost his Georgian citizenship in October, four days after declaring that he wants to challenge Mikheil Saakashvili's power. He needs a citizenship in order to legally run a campaign and form a party, but lost a court case and now pursues a different course: applying directly to president Saakashvili. But the president now has changed the rules, so that that kind of applications for citizenship have an unlimited response time. This means that Mr Ivanishvili may not get an answer before the election, and may never get an answer, according to legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze. He thinks this is a violation of the principle of predictability; that a citizen should know when to expect an answer from authorities. “When a person appeals to president with the request to grant citizenship, he should be able to know when he will receive a positive or negative answer. Possibly, the next step of this person is dependent on this answer," ...

In brief, News

Georgian hostages in Somalia to be released

by | January 8, 2012

Fifteen Georgian sailors who have been held hostage by Somali pirates for a year and a half are expected to be released in a few hours. Their release comes after intense negotiations by a an inter-agency commission within the Georgian government and is reported today by Georgian Tv station Imedi. The 15 were captured in September 2010 along with the three Turkish sailors. The pirates demanded millions of dollars in ransom, some reports said 15 million, which lead the company which owns the ship Olupel Aiji to break off negotiations, due to the size of the demand. The government’s inter-agency commission has since been in ‘intense negotiations’ to secure the release of the Georgian sailors. There has so far been no official comment from Georgian authorities. But according to Imedi, the parties have recently achieved significant progress and as a result there is a high likelihood that the process will lead to the Georgian hostages being released. In recent years, groups of pirates have been capturing merchant vessels in the waters off the coast of Somalia and demanding ransom. They move using cargo ships, boats, fishing ...

In brief, News

Georgian soldier dies in Afghanistan

by | January 7, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A Georgian corporal has died in Afghanistan while serving in the ISAF mission. This is the twelfth Georgian soldier who dies in the war. According to the Georgian Ministry of Defense, Shalva Palodze died of wounds received during a Taliban attack. Georgia is one of the biggest contributors to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In 2004, 50 Georgian military servicemen participated in the ISAF operation, providing security for the presidential elections. Since November 2007, Georgian doctors from the town Chagcharan in Georgia’s Gori region are carrying out a peacekeeping mission with the 6 month rotation in the Lithuanian contingent’s province reconstruction group. From November 2009, the Georgian peacekeeping company began carrying out a mission with the French contingent in Kabul, to provide security at regional command headquarters, Camp Warehouse. Rotation means that a new company takes over every six month. Since April 2010, a third Georgian unit has been station in the Helmand province in the south of Afghanistan; third infantry brigade’s 31st battalion, consisting of 749 soldiers. The battalion has been performing the full spectrum of ...

News

Political ‘interest’ prompted Ivanishvili audit

by | January 7, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – A political movement in Georgia must follow rules for party financing, because it wants to impact the election. The new head of Georgia’s campaign finance watchdog, Natia Mogeladze (pictured), says she ordered Ivanishvili's movement to report on its finances because they made statements indicating political intentions. “The motivation was their own statement, according to which, they are interested in processes which may finally have an impact on the elections,” Mogeladze said. Campaign finance rules until recently only applied to political parties, but a new law expanded those rules to any organization, and even individual, that is directly or indirectly connected to politics. Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili has refrained from going to party politics, but in December launched what is called a ‘public movement’ as a temporary detour towards his goal of running in the parliamentary election later this year. But the government introduced new stricter rules on party financing which this week were applied to his movement, called Georgian Dream. This is the first time such rules are used outside of party politics, a development seen as deeply worrying by influential organizations in ...

News

Ivanishvili company claims harassment by customs

by | January 6, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A company owned by Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili claims the customs service is deliberately damaging goods as they arrive from abroad, and that this only started after he said he wanted to go to politics. His company Cartu Group says goods arriving through customs have a loss of 700 000 lari, or nearly 420 000 US dollars, due to deliberate damage. Company representatives are asking that foreign diplomats monitor their goods at the custom control. Representative of Cartu Group Vladimer Khundadze told journalists Friday that since October all their goods have been arriving through the so-called red corridor. International organizations and diplomats were also present at the press conference. According to Georgian legislation, goods arriving at customs are subject to selective examination, and suspicious goods fall in the so-called red corridor, where goods are examined in detail. The law says that goods should be put through such thorough checking when the owner has been known to violate revenue or custom rules. Cartu Group representatives claim that they never committed such violations. “If it was necessary to examine Cartu Group goods in 5-10% ...

News

Georgia relaxes detention practice

by | January 6, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – The Georgian interior minister Vano Merabishvili (pictured) claims he is relaxing a controversial practice called administrative detention. Prisoners will be able to make phone calls, receive family members, talk to their lawyer and have more time to shower and be in the open air, the minister promises. The reason for the change is recommendations from the ombudsman, and local and international organizations, which have criticized the practice. Authorities in Georgia are in the process of changing the law regulating it, but Human Rights Watch Wednesday called for immediate measures to milden the conditions of such prisoners, and not to wait for the new law. The group pointed out that prisoners are being held for up to 90 days in cells that are built for only 72 hour stays. They lack proper access to shower and don’t get enough time in the open, among other things. Under the new rules which came into force January 1, administrative detainees will have increased food rations, more time to shower, walk in open air conditions, receive family members twice a month, have one 10 minute phone ...

In brief, News

Party finance boss’ neutrality questioned

by | January 6, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Opposition parties in Georgia object against the appointment of an employee at the Ministry of Justice as new head of the party finance monitoring body. The objections come not only from the many fiercly anti-government parties, but also from those that signed an agreement with the government last summer about how to overhaul the election system. Later, the government introduced new elements that had not been agreed, and one of these is a stricter and more complicated regime to control party finances. The statement strongly criticizes the appointment of a lawyer formerly employed at the chief prosecutor’s office as head of the financial monitoring of party politics. Opposition parties are against her appointment, because they think that ‘this way the ministry of Justice will personally control the opposition parties and will use it for harassment against them.’ In her new post at the Chamber of Control, Natia Mogeladze will instruct her staff to monitor not only the finances of parties, but also organizations and persons directly or indirectly connected to parties. Mogeladze today used the new law about party finances to order ...

News

Full checkup for Ivanishvili’s nascent bloc

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - One day after being given responsibility for enforcing Georgia’s new tough rules on campaign financing, Natia Mogeladze takes the bull by the horns and asks the country’s new opposition movement to see their finances. This is the first time a new, controversial law on party financing is being applied outside of party politics, which seems to confirm that the rules were tailor made to stem the progress of a wealthy busniessman. The law, which came into force four days ago, is controversial, because it widens the impact of rules that normally apply to political parties; so much so that organizations like human rights groups and even individuals could be treated in the same way as political parties. Mogeladze, who just became head of the monitoring service at the Georgian Chamber of Control, today asked for a financial report from the movement called Georgian Dream. Their report should be presented within ‘reasonable time’. Political parties, however, will have more time to put together their reports, and have a deadline of February 1. The Chamber of Control was tasked with monitoring the financial ...

In brief, News

Detainees may register at university

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Youth who are sentenced to administrative detention in Georgia will be guaranteed that they will be able to register as a university student while serving time. This has been decided by the Georgian interior minister’s in a decree, effective from January 1, 2012. According to the decree, a person sentenced to administrative detention has a right to register for higher education by the rules prescribed by the Ministry of Education and Science regarding continuation of education and participation in unified national exams. This should happen by submitting written application. On examination day, the applicant will be transferred from the place of detention to the appropriate exam center, accompanied by an escort. According to the decree, a person sentenced to administrative detention will be provided with the conditions to continue his or her general education program. It’s prohibited to prevent detainees from having access to school textbooks and other things, except for reasons of security or other urgent concern.  

News

Georgia rules out early election for parliament

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – There is uncertainty about the exact date of Georgia’s parliamentary election, with some expecting that president Mikheil Saakashvili might decide to hold them earlier than October. The exact date is decided by the president and must be announced at least sixty days in advance. The constitution says different things; on the one hand that it should be held in October, but on the other, some time after parliament is dissolved, which means it could be held any time in between July and October. Tuesday president Saakashvili once more confirmed that he plans to hold them in October and that nine months is enough for the country to prepare. 2012 could become the year when power in a South Caucasus country for the first time in history changes through democratic means. Georgia currently has two major political blocs that are running close in the polls, though it remains to be seen whether the challenger, businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, will be allowed to stand in the parliamentary election. Saakashvili was meeting Wednesday with Zurab Kharatishvili (pictured), head of the Central Election Commission (CEC). His ...

Media, News

TV staff jailed in Tbilisi

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Two employees of a TV station in Tbilisi who were arrested four days ago have been sentenced by a court to fifty days pretrial detention. The two are employed by one of the two opposing sides of a crisis-struck Maestro TV. The independent cable station was split after its manager broke into the studios November 30 and took control over most of the expensive equipment. Journalists fled to a radio studio and have been keeping the signal alive under what they call emergency conditions. Broadcasts are lacking name tags and other technical effects, and journalists have been trying to get back their equipment, but police have barred them from entering. The two who were jailed, Valery Gikashvili and Mikheil Zedgenidze, are employees of Rustavi Media Company, the company which bought Maestro’s management rights two years ago and are now in physical control of its main studios. They were arrested on charges of appropriation of Maestro’s equipment and resisting police. The company protests the court decision and calls for the public defender and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to monitor what is happening and ...

News

Parliament’s powers weakened, warn lawyers

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA) calls for the Minister of Justice to immediately amend a decree he issued which gives the government the right to change the wording a laws already passed by parliament. Last week saw an unusual legal manouver in Tbilisi, when the government changed the wording of a controversial law after it had been signed by the president. Several influential organizations like Transparency International protested against the law, because it seemed to apply what’s called retroactive powers, which means holding someone to account for actions which were legal at the time. Retroactive powers are not allowed by international conventions and the constitution. A spokesman for the ruling party said the editing had been done only to avoid misunderstandings. Shortly afterwards, justice minister Zura Adeishvili issued a decree which formally gives the government the power to change laws after they have come into power. His decree gave a body under his ministry – an office and a website called Matsne – the power to make ‘editorial corrections’ to normative acts. Decree number 158 by the Minister of Justice issued on ...

News

Little known official will lead campaign finance control

by | January 5, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia has appointed the official who will be in charge of enforcing a set of new tough rules on campaign finance, as the country is preparing to hold parliamentary elections in the fall. The responsibility to enforce the new rules has been handed to Natia Mogeladze, a lawyer about who little is known. Her formal position is chair of monitoring of the financial activity of political parties within the Chamber of Control (CoC). There has been at times turbulent debate about the new campaign finance rules, with influential organizations arguing that they are biased in favor of the ruling National Movement party. But when CoC head Levan Bezhashvili officially presented the monitoring service head at a briefing Tuesday, little was done to assuage concerns of partiality as the media’s inquiries about Mrs Mogeladze’s biography were rejected. What is known is that Mogeladze is a lawyer and has been working as a prosecutor at the Chief Prosecutor’s Office. The modified law about Political Association of Citizens gives the CoC the responsibility to conduct monitoring of how political parties get their financing and ...

Media, News

New media protection group formed

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – Representatives of Georgian media gathered today at the office of Obiektivi, an internet based radio and television outfit, to prepare the draft of a memorandum for a new media association, which will be called Solidarity for Freedom of the Media. The new association is the initiative of Mamuka Glonti, the co-founder of the independent television Maestro, which is in a difficult situation these days, after its head Erosi Kitsmarishvili broke into the main studio building on November 30, forced the journalists to leave, and is still in control of the premises. The current stand-off at Maestro is one motivating factor. Another one is what newspaper workers are calling an active campaign by the government to destroy their distribution system. This is about a project by Tbilisi City Hall to auction off locations for kiosks in Tbilisi. Many of these locations are at places where there until recently used to be newspaper kiosks. The old kiosks have been torn down during the last month. For these and other reasons, Mamuka Glonti took the initiative to set up the new association to ...

News

Administrative detention a violation of human rights

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Georgia’s law about administrative offenses is a violation of human rights and the problem must be addressed immediately, says a new report published Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report says that although the government is currently reforming the system, it should get in place emergency measures in order to ensure defendants' rights. Administrative detention is a harsh form of imprisonment left over from the Soviet Union where authorities may imprison a person for up to 90 days for minor violations such as breaking the traffic rules. It is in use in many former Soviet countries, but especially extensively in Georgia. Another rights group, the Georgian Young Lawyer's Association, estimates the number as high as around four thousand people every year, many of the cases in connection with political activism. HRW’s experts have interviewed dozens of lawyers of those held in administrative detention. They also talked to two persons fined by the court for administrative offenses and to senior government officials. Nearly all respondents who were charged with administrative responsibility had been arrested for participating in opposition rallies, according to Giorgi ...

In brief, News

New restrictions on prisoner belongings

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Prisoners in Georgia will no longer have the right to watch DVDs and receive certain kinds of things in the mail but will have to buy those things in the prison shops. Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance Khatuna Kalmakhelidze made this decision by a special decree which is already in force. The decree will shrink the list of consumer goods, articles of hygiene and other things which a prisoner has the right to receive in the mail, keep, legally use or buy in the prison shops. Until today, a prisoner could receive or buy tobacco and matches, clothes, hat, shoes and items’ samples set for convicts for the bed; underwear; handkerchief, belts, socks, tights, gloves, indoor slippers, sports shoes, yarn, robes, towels; toiletries (toilet and household soap, toothbrush, tooth powder, tooth paste, perfumed oil, comb, hair clip); kerchief, belts, bras, cheesecloth, hygiene packs, hair clips, jelly, cotton, shampoo, cosmetic things (for women); mirror, mechanical, electrical or single razor, shoes and clothes brushes, shoe-lubricant, made from plastic glasses, soap and a toothbrush nests, utensils, cups and spoons; board Games, except ...

In brief, News

Used cars is Georgia’s export article no 1

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch – Used cars has become Georgia’s most important export article, accounting for 21% of all exports in 2011. Second and third are ferroalloys and fertilizers. The country’s exports rose by 40% in 2011, compared to the previous year. Georgia ended the year 2011 with an average inflation level of 8.5. In 2010 and 2009 it was 7.1 and 1.7 respectively, according to the National Statistics Office, GeoStat. The new report shows a significant increase in prices on food and soft drinks (1.5%) at the end of the year; also vegetables, melons, potatoes (9.6%), fish and milk, while prices decreased for sugar, sweets (4.3%) and bread products (0.9%). For the whole year, the most significant changes are seen in the prices for transportation. They increased by 14.6 percent. The report also covers information about Georgia’s foreign trade from January to November. This totaled 8 259 million US dollars, which according to the report is 37% more compared to the previous year. 1 936 million US dollars of that amount was export, 40% more than in 2010; 6 323 million USD was import, which is 36% ...

News

Ask for solidarity

by | January 4, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Companies distributing newspapers in Tbilisi are calling for their colleagues who want to participate City Hall’s project ‘1000 Booths’ not to sumit bids for locations where there were newspaper kiosks before. Planeta Forte, Matsne and Elva Servis released a common statement regarding the auction, which is held today and will continue tomorrow. In the statement there are listed the numbers of the lots where newspaper kiosks were standing until recently, asking for solidarity from other companies. “We thank those companies and individuals who have taken account of our request, supported us and not participated in the auction for specific locations on December 30,” the statement says, adding special thanks to the two egg producing companies Kumisi and Koda. “This allowed us to keep the old places, but there also were persons, who didn’t listen to our request and who participated in the auction in the name of individuals.” Tbilisi City Hall over a month ago began implementing a project called ‘1000 Booths’, whose goal is to support small and medium sized businesses in Georgia and create a fairer business environment. But newspapers ...

News

Hijacked Tbilisi TV cut from sat link

by | January 3, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - A TV station in the Georgian capital has had its satellite link cut. The studios of Maestro TV were taken over November 30 by a businessman who held management rights to it, after which journalists and staff fled the premises. Since then, Meastro's satellite link has been used by the businessman to show a feed from Reuters. But now the Turkish satellite company Turkast has cut off the Reuters feed. Tbilisians have been witness to a strangely split TV station in recent times, with two versions of Maestro broadcasting in parallel -- one through the air and on the net, and one via satellite. The cofounder and former producer at Maestro Mamuka Glonti left the Maestro building together with journalists on November 30. They took with them some of their equipment and are now broadcasting from a radio studio via cable. Their broadcasts are visibly lacking in technical resources, their news reports without names and on the bottom the letters "SOS" are constantly shown. Meanwhile, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, head of Rustavi Media Management company, which signed a management contract with Maestro two ...

News

Government to ‘edit’ laws in Georgia

by | January 3, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - The government in Georgia has given itself the right to edit the wording of laws after they are passed in order to avoid misunderstandings. Recently a new law brought democracy groups to the streets to protest, but afterwards lawmakers claimed that the contentious part of the law was based on misinterpretation. The law seemed to involve so-called retroactive powers, which is banned by international conventions and means to punish someone for actions which were legal at the time. Many thought that the law was changed after pressure from the US embassy. Now Georgia's special website for legislative information -- Matsne -- has been entitled to make what's called "editorial amendments" to laws that have already been passed. The justice minister Zura Adeishvili has issued a special decree which changes the procedure for how laws are adopted, recorded, systematized and published. The website Matsne now has the right to do editorial corrections of errors, as long as it doesn't change the content of the law. It’s about correction of spelling and punctuation. Legal expert Vakhtang Khmaladze claims that this decree of the Minister in ...

In brief, News

Eleventh Georgian soldier dies in Afghanistan

by | January 3, 2012

TBILISI, DFWatch - Corporal Besik Niniashvili was serving in Helmand province with the Third Infantry Brigade’s 31th light infantry battalion within the frameworks of the ISAF mission. According to a statement from the Interior Ministry Niniashvili was killed when a mine exploded. He had the medal of Military Merit, an honorary diploma, a medal for combat wound and for participation in peacekeeping operations. Currently there are up to 950 Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan, according to official information from the Defense Ministry. In December, 2011, the government agreed to send one more battalion, which will be serving under American command. This will increase the size of Georgia’s contingent by 750, making it the biggest non-NATO contributor to the ISAF operation with 1 685 soldiers in total. Besik Niniashvili had been serving in the Georgian armed forces since 2007.  

Opinion

Electronic Record Management and Georgia

by | January 1, 2012

Electronic communications occupy a very significant role in daily activities of state authorities. Accessibility of such kind of electronic data and archiving it must be regulated by law. At the same time access to e-information of state officials will be a very significant step forward to open government and transparency. Also, this will give opportunity to future generations to better understanding and research about the internal communication and decisions of state officials. “When records are well managed, agencies can use them to assess the impact of programs, to reduce redundant efforts, to save money, and to share knowledge within and across their organizations.  In these ways, proper records management is the backbone of open Government” – this is how the US President Barak Obama looks at record management in his new Memorandum for the Heads of the Executive Departments and Agencies on Managing Government Records released on November 29th, 2011 http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/11/28/presidential-memorandum-managing-government-records. It is a significant commitment since the initiative started in September, 2011 when the White House put forward the Open Government Partnership as a National Action Plan for the United ...

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