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After a sudden death, Georgians praise controversial billionaire

By Shorena Labadze
Friday, February 15
Shocked Georgians remembered a charitable, immensely successful compatriot yesterday, as news of the February 12 death of Badri Patarkatsishvili continued to bound across televisions and telephones.

On Tbilisi streets, Patarkatsishvili’s unexpected death dominates conversation.

The suddenness of the news left many Georgians stunned, and the significance of the event provoked dramatic national introspection. One elderly woman, standing inside a metro station, wept as she spoke of the injustice Patarkatsishvili faced after doing, in her words, so much for a poor country.

“It’s a historical pattern and we can’t see the end of it. I’m not comparing people and their deeds, but the assassination of our great public figure Ilia Chavchavadze was just the start. Then there was our beloved journalist Giorgi Sanaia, [late prime minister] Zurab Zhvania, the businessman Zviad Tsetskhladze and many others. What is this? Where are we headed?” she asked.

Despite a preliminary statement from British police there is no reason to suspect foul play, most Georgians this reporter spoke to suggest the death was an assassination, and everyone had something to say about the long-controversial figure.

A common theme was a reluctance to judge the billionaire’s murky past, instead focusing on what they’ve personally seen him do in Georgia. Georgians see cultural monuments restored, and ill children saved by his charitable foundations.

His support for Georgian athletes—he is said to have donated more than ten million dollars as head of the country’s Olympics committee—was recalled repeatedly.

The capital’s residents spoke not just of his charity, but also of a personal bravery, the idealized fortitude they say is characteristic of a “real Georgian, a real Tbiliselebi.”

The somber praise may surprise foreign observers, who two weeks ago would have heard vociferous denunciations of the tycoon, who stood accused of plotting to exploit voters in a violent coup attempt, along with acknowledgements of his contributions and stature in Georgia.

Georgians have largely reacted mournfully, but not angrily. Still, some local analysts expect to see the event very much on the minds of opposition demonstrators, who are planning a rally outside parliament today.

“The population is very motivated to protest even without [Patarkatsishvili’s death]. But it will surely have an effect in street protests,” political analyst Gia Khukhashvili says.