The messenger logo

In Tbilisi election season, the fever of argument

By Iris Neva
Friday, May 16
In Chukhureti, a dodgy district around the train station and one of the oldest quarters of Tbilisi, electioneering is on the agenda.

A member of the united opposition, a coalition of nine different opposition party, and his deputy are said to be coming round the corner any moment now to talk to his prospective voters. A policeman is already in position, surveying the street. Another one ambles over nonchalantly to join him.

People from the neighborhood have trickled in and are waiting. I chat to the crowd, trying to get a general idea of what people are expecting from the campaign stop in particular, and the elections in general. So far, it had seemed to me people were unhappy with the status quo because of high taxes, and the unpopular, strict methods of enforcing their payments. Now I get to hear the wildest stories of policemen dealing in drugs and the unlawful executions of children.

Forgive me if I hesitate to take these stories at face value, but I have only been in the country for three weeks, and have thitherto been subject only to the Western-digested press versions of what's going on in this country.

Then, finally, a young man walks over, energetically shaking hands with everyone he can grab from the flock of people along the side-walk. He is dressed entirely in black, resembling a Protestant priest to my eyes in that only a spanking white collar breaks the arrangement, neatly tucked out over his slightly washed-out sweater. The talk begins.

"What is he saying?” I ask the woman next to me, hoping for a translation. "He is talking about the bad state the pension system is in, that parents of handicapped children now receive nothing from the state. And that all this will change when the opposition is elected,” she explains to me in Russian.

She waves the candidate over, and he grants a minute for an interview with the foreign journalist, lays his arm over my shoulder and walks away a few steps from the crowd.

"What were you talking about? What is your party's program?" I ask, laconically.

"We must bring down this criminal government, if this will not happen through democratic elections, there will be another revolution!" Out spurts the propaganda.

"So, what in particular is your criticism of the current government?"

I nod at his winding explanations, and although as I mumble the word "privatization” it passes without understanding, that seems to be what he is aiming at.

I eventually conclude with one of my naive, Western questions: "What is the name of your party? Do you consider yourself to be left-wing or right-wing?"

"Excuse-me, but that is a nonsense question. First we must make the courts independent, we must decentralize power in this country, then we can speak of a Left, or a Right!"

He soon returns to spread his word among the multitude. Women dominate the scene, peppering him with questions, while the gathered men stand stoically in the back. On scrutinizing the crowd I discern the hint of an interested mien on one or two of the assembled faces there in the background.

In typical Caucasian fashion the colloquy soon gets out of hand and degenerates into several pairs of people taking turns shouting at each other, their faces lit up with the fever of argument.

As if it hadn't been possible to get more Georgian still, it all came to a natural end when a scuffle between two drunks at the end of the street attracted the general attention and the crowd dispersed in favor of watching that spectacle, children running down the street shouting "Chkhuby! Chkhuby!" (Fight!)