Awaiting the White Knight: Ogden on Equal Opportunity


The swaggering arrogance of American politicians or the British MP’s snobbish disdain for the people he rules are more than enough to make the sensible Westerner stop caring about his politics and turn to drink. Russians, Georgians and Ukrainians complain about corruption in their own parliaments, apparently under the impression that things are rather better in the West. Not so, says I.

America, that pinnacle of liberty which seeks to spread its democracy through occupations by the United States Marine Corps or McDonald’s and KFC, has had a President who was the son of a former President, whose brother helped him win his election while governing Florida, as well as a Secretary of State who is the wife of another former President (and is considering a run for the White House herself). So much for the republic of equal opportunities.

Not that Britain is any better. Instead of the drawling George Bush we have the weak rasp of Hilary Benn, the spawn of Tony Benn, an MP Cabinet Minister for the Labour Party. Oddly enough, Labour was once a working man’s party, but now its MPs are sons and daughters of other MPs, having entered politics after attending the same schools and universities as their ‘posh’ Conservative counterparts. Personally, I think we should abandon our current political titles and settle for the styles of Middle Earth and Westeros, with things like ‘Hilary, son of Tony, of Tribe Benn’ becoming the norm.

This boring predictability is common to the West, but not in Georgia. Not, of course, that it means Georgian politicians are more likeable or any better at their jobs, but given the choice between listening to the faceless mass of Western government or watching a fistfight between MPs on live television, then I’ll be shouting ‘Go on, Gio! Give to him! Left hook, that’s the way!’ along with everyone else.

However, Georgian politicians can have too much personality for their own good. Nobody can fail to notice that usually people speak of ‘Saakashvili’ and ‘Bidzina’, and rarely ‘the UNM’ or ‘Georgian Dream’. The political importance of public popularity is how Kakha Kaladze, formerly a confused-looking footballer, became Georgia’s first confused-looking Minister of Energy; people follow the man, not the party, and that carries a very obvious problem.

I recall that in 2013, people were stunned when Bidzina Ivanishvili abruptly quit his post as Prime Minister, announcing that he was finished with politics. I’m not entirely sure why people were surprised; it was, after all, what he had said he would do. Yet even those who remembered his pledge to quit still had no idea as to who was to replace him.

Enter Irakli Garibashvili, a man who had not even been able to vote for half of his life when he became Prime Minister, and who became famous for being the world’s second-youngest national leader, just edging behind North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. It should be remembered that if you’re ever in second place behind North Korea in anything, it might not be the sort of race you want to run in, seeing as the things that Pyongyang excels at (human rights violations, threatening to start wars and famine) are looked down upon in polite society.

Garibashvili’s own recent resignation has fuelled speculation that the Georgian Dream coalition is still controlled by Ivanishvili, which is likely given Ivanishvili’s recent comment of ‘We need to have consultations over who will be the next Prime Minister’. It seems unlikely that the party would consult with him if he still had nothing to do with them. After all, Manchester United don’t consult me for anything.

Garibashvili’s replacement has further confused the public. Recent polls have revealed that few Georgians have any idea who to vote for. Georgian Dream’s former faithful are disappointed and disillusioned, their hopes of being made rich by Ivanishvili’s billions having been dashed. Garibashvili subsequently beating the drum of EU agreements and Chinese friendship while the Lari’s value continued to fall just prior to his resignation had the air of a beggar with a spoon and a pan being moved on by the police.

Not that the UNM’s supporters have fared any better. Some pine for Saakashvili, in exile in Ukraine, continuing to fight his war (which makes him sound far more like Aragon than he really is). Others hope that the remnant of Saakashvili’s government not in exile or prison can point to Georgian Dream’s failures and win over the undecided public before the elections this year.

But who knows? Perhaps a mysterious stranger will join the ranks of the political hopefuls, a Georgian Luke Skywalker who can fix it all?

I jest, of course. Luka Skywalkeradze is yet to emerge.

Tim Ogden

06 January 2016 20:28