Dueling Visions of Georgia Abroad Catch Fire in Tbilisi

Georgia is a country pointed West with a giant, menacing reason to be aware of the East just to its north. It is therefore no surprise that competing visions of Georgia’s present and future — found in the Washington Post and Forbes, respectively — have brought open commentary from Georgia’s Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who seems perturbed to have been noticed outside of the small republic.

The two editorials concern different but overlapping subjects — the slow erosion of democracy in Georgia because of Ivanishvili’s attempts to prosecute and harass his political opponents in the former and Georgia’s foreign policy stance toward Russia and the West in the latter. The common element to these two pieces is, unsurprisingly, Ivanishvili, a fact not lost on the self-made billionaire.

According to Democracy and Freedom Watch, a site not broadly aligned with the prime minister, Ivanishvili took time out of his day to lash out at the Post while praising Forbes.

In a Palitra TV interview on Tuesday, the PM said he is interested in what basis the Washington Post has for drawing its conclusions, as they have never researched current events in Georgia, never sent a group of journalists here. Nonetheless, the newspaper ‘is slightly surprised and dissatisfied’ with the statements of Department of State and the Euro commissioners, as they haven’t been ‘tough enough, as the Washington Post would like it’.

“I would like to remind the editorial board that the Department of State gets its information from the US embassy in Georgia and they know better than me what is happening at the prosecutor’s office,” he said.

He went on to accuse the Post of drawing its information from lobbyists for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, his primary domestic foe. This is a charge with at least some historic merit; the Post has been prone to accept the information provided by those foreign figures it favors, as the case of Yulia Tymoshenko has repeatedly shown.

Yet it is hard to describe the Post piece as completely unwarranted, given Ivanishvili’s prosecution of Saakashvili’s officials. It is also hard to describe the Forbes piece as much better than fawning, as it paints the decidedly pro-Moscow moves and announcements of the last months as the result of Ivanishvili’s brilliant, canny, quiet operations, rather than the significantly more obvious alliance with Moscow that it is.

It also ignores Ivanishvili’s release of excommunicated an Orthodox priest who led a brutal charge on gay rights protesters, which ended with injuries among the protesters and no real action by the police — an action that is widely seen as aligning with the Moscow Patriarchate.

The overall message here is that Tbilisi is keenly aware of Western media. Let us hope that they continue to perceive this pressure and return Georgia to a more normal democratic path — away from Russia.

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