Bottoms Up, the Elections are Coming: Odgen on The Scandal


I shall not deceive my public and claim that I was surprised by this week’s release of sex tapes showing politicians going at it; far from it, I actually suspected something of the sort to emerge sooner or later. With elections coming up in October and with no party enjoying a clear lead in the polls, a scandal was bound to emerge, yet precious few people amongst the Georgian public seem to believe that the timing of such releases has twice been conveniently close to the day in which they are supposed to cast their vote. I refer, of course, to the release of footage in 2012 depicting the sexual abuse of imprisoned criminals, which is widely believed to have cost Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) party victory in the elections and allowed Georgian Dream (GD) to take the lead.

As deplorable as it is that prisoners had brooms shoved up their backsides (unlike in Norwegian prisons where they would be given an Xbox, television and a pool table), the timely nature of the release of the footage is either forgotten or ignored. Some people believe that Saakashvili organised the mass abuse as he sat in his office in the Presidential Palace, summoning his aides and barking “Prisoners! Brooms! Where it hurts! Now!”, while others claim that while the President cannot be held completely responsible for the actions of prison guards, the widespread rumours of mistreatment should have prompted a government investigation. Neither viewpoint acknowledges the fact that the videos were filmed years before they were released. Of course, even those who admitted this did not see how it changed anything; the UNM had orchestrated (or at least allowed) abuse in prisons, so why did it matter when the footage was shown to the public? The fact that it was a cheap political trick by GD (who, if they really cared about the Georgian people as they claimed, might have released it as soon as they had it rather than just before the elections) and earned them votes but gave no idea as to what kind of government they might be were, apparently, moot points.

This latest scandal is - like everything else in Georgian politics - dirty, dishonest and nothing at all to do with politics. Despite the mass outrage, nobody is entirely sure what they’re angry about: everyone agrees that private surveillance is terrifying and inexcusable, but others have expressed horror that Maia Panjikidze is alleged to have been filmed going at it with a young man clearly not her husband (I don’t know about you, but I had to think about who the victim really was there). Besides which, if it had been a male Georgian politician filmed with a young woman, I can’t help but think that nobody would be surprised.

Likewise, nobody is sure who to blame: the ruling GD coalition claims the recordings were made by former UNM officials (and have arrested a number of UNM-affiliated people in connection with the release of the footage), while the Opposition accuse the government.

Georgians have many qualities, but subtlety is not one of them; one only has to think of Saakashvili’s clumsy attempt to remove Bidzina Ivanishvili as a political opponent by stripping him of his Georgian citizenship in 2012. Nobody has yet to claim responsibility for leaking the footage, and accusations from all sides only serve to cause more confusion.

Yet it is hard to see how the UNM would benefit from showcasing videos which seem to almost exclusively threaten politicians and figures associated with the Free Democrats (Maia Panjikidze is Irakli Alasania’s sister-in-law, and Alasania himself was threatened during the course of the second release). The UNM would hardly invite comparisons with the 2012 political scandal; likewise, their political positions are not at odds with those of the Free Democrats, with UNM rhetoric generally targeting Georgian Dream.

It is my own belief that the video releases are an awkward Georgian Dream attempt at discrediting political opponents in order to gain a lead in the opinion polls. The government openly admits that despite destroying much of the secret surveillance footage recorded under the UNM, several videos have been retained for the purpose of ‘ongoing investigations’: it is not hard to imagine these recordings being used in a desperate attack on political opponents; after all, Georgian Dream have done it before. For their part, the UNM are unlikely to regain mass popularity with their reputation being so badly damaged by their last years in office.

This, then, leaves the Free Democrats as Georgian Dream’s chief rivals. Though never as widely popular as GD or the UNM, their support has been consistent, and Irakli Alasania was seen to have retained his dignity after leaving the GD coalition in 2014.

However, do not suppose that I blame the entirety of the government; Georgian Dream is riddled with rivalries, such as the rift between the President and former Prime Minister Garibashvili, or the on-going dispute between the Republican and the Industrialist parties (which has been forgotten in the wake of this latest scandal). The sudden dismissal of Garibashvili gave credence to the claim that Bidzina Ivanishvili still pulls the strings of GD; with this in mind, it is not hard to believe that even if GD was responsible for the release of the videos, it is possible that neither the Prime Minister nor the President even knew about it. Expect further accusations to fly back and forth until the concrete blaming of an unlucky scapegoat.

Tim Ogden

17 March 2016 19:10