May 19, Tbilisi, Georgia – It is only starting now that the wheels are down and the first plane from Russia full of passengers landed with the possibility of better and ever-improving relations between Georgia and the Russian Federation. The first step after many years started with visa-free travel and direct flights.
However, as an eyewitness to the arrival of the fight plane from Russia last week, and the ensuring token “show of force” by the Georgian opposition, I can understand the risks involved, especially in the realm of public relations and potential EU status.
As always, anything that hints at improved Russian-Georgian relations is quickly discounted, Salome Zurabishvili, the Georgian president has labeled the decision to open direct flights “a provocation,” tweeting that the flight that landed in Tbilisi “despite the opposition of the Georgian people” was “not welcome.”
Already the “spin doctors” are out in full force, round up the usual suspects, starting from the airport with waving of Ukrainian flags, and loudspeakers on the back of likely USAID paid-4 new truck blaring away “Russians Go to the Penis,” and You are NOT welcomed in Georgia, amongst other less menacing slogans.
Useful idiots for the US and EU
There were more police and journalists than protesters. I quickly recognized many of the protesters from the Georgian NGO community and various foreign missions. They are the same ones who usually show up at almost every anti-government or anti-Russian protest, aside from the 60 or 70 actual protesters, by my best estimation.
This is likely a high head court, several with their Azov (is banned in Russia) t-shirts and tattoos of extremely poor taste and quality. There were not more than 100 protesters, [at the very most] including some onlookers, a hand full of Indian medical students, who had been studying in Ukraine before the Russian special operation started. It is worth noting that the vast majority of those in attendance were not even Georgians. At least CNN got something right by describing the overall turnout as having been “dozens of protesters.”
Their message is not the collective sentiment of most Georgians who see the change in relations and being able to visit friends and family as a step in the right direction, after so many years of uneasy terms of constant rhetoric and saber-rattling, AND they fully understand that “more often than not such meetings are orchestrated and paid for by the Western supporters of Georgia.”
A follow-up protest in front of the Georgian Parliament, on the 20th brought about the same results, and the “same participants”, according to one eyewitness: “I saw the anti-flight protest outside parliament last night. It was pathetically small and full of the usual freaks. Well, several teenage girls and androgynous boys with the usual facial piercings and multicolored hair. This subsequent protest was so small, the turnout, that the police only had to cordon off side streets for about half an hour.”
It is always an attitude adjustment to see how the media reports something that you are an eyewitness to; there is little wonder why most people are so clueless about what is going on in the world. MSM channels are simply controlled propaganda outlets, and stray far from the truth.
Take for instance, the reporting by Radio Free Europe (is recognized as a foreign agent in Russia) takes the prize, Georgians Dismayed at Renewed Direct Flights from Russia – but does not back up such a statement with anything other than its spin.
Three scores and ten, less than one hundred becomes hundreds, or dozens according to CNN, “Hundreds gathered at the main airport in Tbilisi, Georgia, on May 19 to protest the return of direct flights from Russia. Georgian opposition activists protested against any warming of relations with the Kremlin because of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the 2008 war against Georgia.”
Most Georgians seem to be happy with the improvement in relations with Russia. Compare the pathetic protest at the airport and other venues with the size of the March in Defense of Family Values held each year. The problem is that it is a self-contained bubble amongst those who are always against anything that seeks to reestablish normal relations with the RF. They all feed each other’s zealotry within their bubble and disregard and disparage anyone who the opposition to the government wants to perceive as being outside of their tribe; it is pointless to engage with them.
The protestors complain that they want Russia to give back (South Ossetia and Apkhazia), two Georgian breakaway regions, as if it was Russia’s to hand over. The ONLY way that is ever going to happen is through good relations with Russia and look for ways for internal conflict resolution. And here they are sabotaging that option. The birds of feather don’t know what they want.
The Georgian PM sums it up well, and to the point, and the EU may not like what he has to say:
“From a humanitarian point of view, anything and any decision that facilitates the life, movement and business of our citizens is, of course, positive and welcome,”- Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said on May 11, assessing Moscow’s decision to lift the visa regime with Georgia and restore direct flights.
I can’t believe sometimes what it is that I hear from them, the NGOs and the protesters, as it is so counterproductive to own their demands and goes against the greater good for Georgia as a fledgling democracy and developing country. The BIGGER picture image that is being painted by NGOs over the resumption of flights is far from the reality of most Georgians, and rather bleak—[but the NGOs] rationale is understandable –it is all about the continuity of their funding sources.
It is [again] like, a choice between Russia and the EU?
For instance, as part of one joint NGO statement, paid for by foreign funds, TI, Transparency International, and many others, describes how “The permission given by the Georgian authorities for flights between Tbilisi and Moscow is a direct sabotage of the country’s status as a candidate for EU membership,” say more than a hundred non-governmental organizations, adding that “Russian plane does not land in EU.”
The statement also makes the unsupported claim that the “granting of permission for flights between Tbilisi and Moscow by the Georgian authorities is a direct sabotage of the EU membership candidate status” and is against the vast majority, nearly 9 in 10 Georgians and Article 78 of the Georgian Constitution, and how the government continues to change its foreign policy direction.
And continues to claim that before deciding on the status of a candidate for EU membership, such a demarche ignores the foreign course chosen by the Georgian people, and which has already brought to Georgia visa-free travel and direct flights to the EU, not to Russia.
The NGOs want to assert that the “Georgia population is already suffering because of the government’s current foreign policy, one of the results of which is the increase in Russian immigration to Georgia. They claim that the sharp increase in prices and inflation caused by this policy is an additional fee that the citizens of Georgia have to pay.”
Despite such simplified thinking, and the failure to understand basic economics, as to the real cause of out-of-control inflation in the world, hint, printing of money with no financial backing, US policy and a war of convenience in Ukraine started by the West that dates back to 2014.
It is a relief to witness how the hodgepodge of the so-called Georgian opposition is running out of steam. On the flip side, Georgia is not so easily intimidated by threats of US and European sanctions and the refusal of EU candidacy status or fast-tracked membership. Georgia is now looking for normalized relations with Russia, and [this trend] has the potential for greater things to come.
Only left to defend Georgian honor is Salome Zurabishvili, the so called Pro-Western president who is now calling for a boycott of Georgia’s national carrier. Now she claims that she will lead a personal boycott of Georgian Airways over its decision to resume flights to Russia, and urged her fellow citizens [travellers] to do the same. Moreover, she alleges that Georgian Airways is “ready to do anything for money” and “taking advantage of a reality that is unacceptable for a very large part of our population.”
One-sided and near-sighted policies
I think there have always been strange people among us, lone voices, and ones who will actually do anything for money, speaking mostly of Zurabishvili. It is only now because information spreads quickly we know more about such people—and in real-time. The reality is simple, if Georgia pursues an independent policy, it will benefit the entire nation and the larger region—not a zero-sum game.
Many Georgians should quote Victoria Nuland on “what to do with the EU,” as an appropriate commentary on their meddling and following one-sided and near-sighted policies. Let the EU do what it wants, and those who are impacted by overreactions can only hope that the EU and its so-called partners will not make the same mistakes as they did in Ukraine in 2014.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”