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Georgia greets 2023 with polarized politics

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, January 23, 2023
Georgian politics emerged at the beginning of 2023 with a polarized government and a polarized opposition. The main topic of internal political controversy is Mikheil Saakashvili, whose sending abroad is increasingly being demanded by the authorities, and this demand is already taking on a global character. As for foreign policy, the differences of opinion between the government and the opposition are caused by the Russia-Ukraine war and the issue of fulfilling the 12 demands of the European Union.

Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili and President Salome Zourabichvili congratulated the citizens of the country on the new year. However, the media and commentators saw different accents in their short congratulations. Last year, Georgia did not receive the status of a candidate for the European Union, which should be considered a serious failure. . In the first moments of the new year, the Prime Minister claimed that 2022 was a year of success and progress. Earlier he said that the 12 points of the European Union have already been fulfilled and Georgia did not get the candidate status because it did not enter into a war with Russia. The Prime Minister's New Year's address showed that in 2023, the Georgian dream is not going to change anything in its relations with Russia. In his New Year's address, the head of the government also avoided naming the events. The Prime Minister wished Ukraine peace, not victory, and did not mention Russia at all.

Unlike the Prime Minister, the President's New Year messages were clearer. He mentioned that the last year was unsuccessful and full of disappointments. Zourabichvili wished victory to Ukraine and the de-occupation of Georgia. Neither the Prime Minister nor the President has forgotten the occupied territories of Georgia, although in this case it was said differently. Zourabichvili accused the Georgian government of inaction in this direction.

On January 4 of this year, the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia turned 90 years old. The Prime Minister and the President unanimously congratulated the Patriarch. Among the foreign congratulations to the Patriarch, the media singled out the congratulations of the President of Belarus Lukashenko, who arrived in occupied Abkhazia last year on the instructions of Putin, as well as the Patriarch of Russia, who traditionally congratulated Ilia II on his birthday and also traditionally referred to him with an incomplete title, - did not mention that the Patriarch of Georgia is the Metropolitan of Abkhazia. This causes dissatisfaction in society, and the patriarchate traditionally does not notice the abbreviated title of patriarch.

In 2023, Mikheil Saakashvili met the new year for the second time in prison. So far, he has spent 15 months in prison. During this time, the health condition of the 3rd President of Georgia deteriorated sharply. There is information about his poisoning in prison. His trial is endlessly delayed.

One of the demands of Saakashvili's defenders is to hold court sessions on a daily basis in order to speed up the judge's decision. Mikheil Saakashvili requests that he be allowed to personally attend court sessions.

The second way to transfer Saakashvili for treatment is to have him pardoned by President Salome Zourabichvili, however, so far, both of these possible ways to transfer Saakashvili to treatment look rather vague. Saakashvili's supporters believe that the 3rd president of Georgia is 'Putin's personal prisoner'.

President of Ukraine Zelensky also asked the Georgian authorities to release Saakashvili and transfer him abroad for medical treatment, President Sandu of Moldova joined this request. The movement to save Saakashvili took a large-scale character.

On January 4, a global rally in support of Mikheil Saakashvili was held in 40 cities in Georgia and a number of countries around the world. Russian human rights defender Mark Feigin and adviser to the President of Ukraine Oleksi Arestovich came out with such a call. Of course, the main rallies demanding Saakashvili's transfer to the hospital were held in Tbilisi and the regions of Georgia.

According to the organizers of the rally, full responsibility for Saakashvili's health lies with the Georgian Dream and the informal leader of the country - Bidzina Ivanishvili. Mikheil Saakashvili thanked the participants of the rally "for their support and solidarity."

During the rallies, some dissatisfaction was caused by the fact that Saakashvili's party 'National Movement' was divided into several groups due to internal problems and held rallies in different places. Nika Melia's leadership is questioned by various groups within the party and internal party elections should be held in the near future to find out who is the legitimate leader of the party. There is a great chance that the elections will lead to the party's shutdown.

The government of Georgian Dream is not going to release Saakashvili for treatment yet, and they met global protest with indifference. According to Irakli Kobakhidze, the goal of the campaign for Saakashvili's release is the same as the one they had during his arrest - "one more time to disrupt the country and ultimately open a second front." Other leaders of the ruling party do not spare critical statements towards Saakashvili and the National Movement. The 90th anniversary of the patriarch was opposed to the January 4 protest in its own way. The political elite of the Georgian Dream gathered in the Opera Theater to celebrate this anniversary.