The billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, founder of the “Georgian Dream” opposition movement, has unveiled the movement’s top team for the upcoming parliamentary elections. A businessman with no previous political experience, Ivanishvili entered politics in October 2011, launched Georgian Dream as a public movement in December, intends to turn it into a political party, and take over power in Georgia.
Presenting his team to the media on February 15 in Tbilisi, Ivanishvili expressed confidence in winning the October 2012 parliamentary elections and in his team’s ability to govern Georgia in a coalition with lesser groups under Ivanishvili’s patronage (Interpress [Tbilisi], Civil Georgia, February 15, 17).
The top team consists of some 20 members, exclusively from Tbilisi (none from the provinces). It includes: the former, long-serving foreign minister Tedo Japaridze and former conflict-settlement deputy minister Giorgi Volski (they were dismissed from government in 2004 and 2007, respectively); as well as two lawyers specializing in court litigation, one “human rights lawyer,” and a lawyer of a “Kurdish rights group.” It further includes two journalists from the radical opposition daily Rezonansi, a Georgian literary author refugee from Abkhazia, a mathematician veteran member of the Academy of Sciences, a physicist, an actress, a retired Olympic champion wrestler, and two businessmen: Giorgi Zhvania (brother of former prime minister Zurab Zhvania, deceased in 2004) and Irakli Gharibashvili, head of Ivanishvili’s Cartu Bank (the conduit for Ivanishvili’s charity operations). Two further slots on the team are reserved for the lawyer of fugitive ex-defense minister Irakli Okruashvili and for Georgia’s former Ombudsman (until 2008), Sozar Subari, who had created his own political party while serving as ombudsman, oblivious to the incompatibility.
Also on the team are football star turned banker Kakha Kaladze – investment partner to former prime minister Zurab Noghaideli – and economist Nodar Khaduri, hitherto on former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze’s team. Noghaideli and Burjanadze cast their lot openly with Moscow following the 2008 Russian invasion. Japaridze, incomparably more sophisticated, proposes a readjustment of Georgia’s foreign policy, on the twin assumptions that Georgia should initiate accommodation with Moscow and turn into a consensus factor, instead of a divisive one, between the West and Russia. The possible cost to Georgia – e.g., NATO membership aspirations – would presumably become a negotiable issue in that process.
This team is mostly recruited from specific Tbilisi groups that opposed President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government from 2003 onward, or turned against it in due course. Such groups include: members of the privileged intelligentsia of Eduard Shevardnadze’s era (“Vake elite” of the late-Soviet and early post-Soviet years); extra-parliamentary opposition groups, more adept at operating through street politics than institutional processes; and individual politicians (or their close associates) who urged accommodating Russia following the 2008 Russian invasion. The team includes some independently wealthy individuals, and some whose salaries are paid by Ivanishvili in either one of his two capacities: as generous donor to arts and sciences and as proprietary leader of Georgian Dream.
Three common features characterize most members of this group. First, they hark back for the most part to the 1990s in terms of social status acquisition and mentalities (their average age is considerably older than that of the post-2003 Georgian government). Second, again contrasting with the government, most members of Ivanishvili’s team lack exposure to the West or fluency in English (when asked about this at the presentation event, Ivanishvili was able to name only three team members with a Western education). And third, very few on Ivanishvili’s team possess government and administrative experience. One team member, lawyer Archil Kbilashvili, provided a moment of levity at the presentation event, saying that only people of a certain age and wealth should go into politics, because “their libido does not prevail over their minds” (Evolutsiya.net, February 17; other translations into English were less charitable than this).
As hand-picked by Ivanishvili, Georgian Team’s leadership looks like a pro-forma body, too heavy with cultural or symbolic figures for a real policy-making body. In this respect it continues a tradition of Soviet-era “front organizations,” canvassing public support for decisions made by top leaders. This group is an eclectic one, bound together by Ivanishvili’s patronage, and guaranteeing support for their benefactor’s decisions in Georgian Dream (insofar as any guarantees can hold in Georgia’s volatile opposition).
Georgian Dream has no program at the moment, other than removing President Saakashvili’s government from power in the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2012. Toward that end, Ivanishvili plans to turn Georgian Dream from a public movement into a political party. Ivanishvili appointed his wife, Ekaterine Khvedelidze, as leader of Georgian Dream in January 2012, awaiting a legal decision on Ivanishvili’s citizenship. His Georgian citizenship had lapsed due to incompatibility with Ivanishvili’s Russian and French citizenships. Depending on that decision, Ivanishvili and Ekaterine will decide which one of them would lead the party in the electoral campaign.