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Issue no: 1227

• FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020 • PUBLISHED TWICE WEEKLY

In this week’s issue...

FOCUS

President, Ambassadors Discuss Ways to Resume Political Dialogue

ON DEMOCRACY Outcry home and abroad as an opposition leader is arrested

PRICE: GEL 2.50

NEWS PAGE 2

PAGE 3

New Head of EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia Appointed NEWS PAGE 2

Karasin: Russia Will Attend the Planned Ministerial in Tbilisi NEWS PAGE 3

Russia’s Changing Economic Attitude towards Abkhazia & Tskhinvali Regions POLITICS PAGE 4

NGOs Claim Information Security Bill Contradicts Constitution

Source: Mzia Saganelidze (RFE/RL)

Amendments to Georgian Labor Law on Equal Pay & Parental Leave for Men

POLITICS PAGE 5

BY TEA MARIAMIDZE

UAE Unveils New Investment & Development Initiative to Build Connected & ‘Turbocharged’ Africa Driven by Youth

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his spring, Georgian Parliament is to start work on draft amendments to the Labor Law, which will allow both men and women to take parental leave. The changes were initiated last year by an independent Member of Parliament, Dimitry Tskitishvili, as a result of which, several meetings were held with the participation of the business sector and international and non-governmental organizations. The current law does not give fathers the right to enjoy parental leave, however, the draft bill reads that an employee who becomes a father has the right to claim paid leave within 30 calendar days of the birth for the duration of 14 calendar days. Also, that an employed man can enjoy a 604-day leave for childcare, of which 30 days will be reimbursed (plus a 14-day paternity leave remuneration). Employed women are granted, on request, a leave for pregnancy and childbirth, and a childcare leave of a total 730 calendar days, of which

Georgian Economic Climate Has Slightly Worsened BUSINESS PAGE 6

SOCIETY PAGE 8

17th Branch of Luca Polare Opens on Aghmashenebeli Avenue SOCIETY PAGE 9

Image source: sbemp.com

156 calendar days will be paid. To note, a father and mother will not be able to enjoy paid parental leave at the same time. During the paid parental leave, 80% of the average monthly salary of an employee will be

reimbursed from the state budget. In the current legislation, it is written that parental leave cannot be reimbursed by more than GEL 1000 ($350). Continued on page 3

Meet the Producer of ‘And Then We Danced’ CULTURE PAGE 11


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NEWS

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

President, Ambassadors Discuss Ways to Resume Political Dialogue BY ANA DUMBADZE

New Head of EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia Appointed BY BEKA ALEXISHVILI

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he Council of the European Union in Brussels has selected Marek Szczygieł as the new Head of the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia. Presently working for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Szczygieł served as the Polish Ambassador to Romania from 2011 to 2015. The polish diplomat also has expertise in conflict mediation as he served as the Deputy Head of the Polish Mission in the framework of OSCE and UN in Vienna. The mandate approved by the Council gives the timeframe of Mr.Szczygieł’s administering of the Mission, which continues from March to December

2020. Before Szczygieł’s appointment, Danish representative Erik Høeg supervised the Mission from 2017 to 2019. Since January 2020, Kate Fearon has been assigned as Acting Head of the Mission. The Irish secondee has operated as the Deputy Head of the Mission, as well as being the Chief of Staff, since 2018. “Thank you! Looking forward to working with great and dedicated team of @EUMMGeorgia to deliver the Mission mandate.” Mr. Szczygieł wrote on twitter after he was congratulated by the staff of the Mission via social network. The Foreign Minister of Georgia, David Zalkaliani, also welcomed the newly appointed Head of Mission. “I want to wish the Polish diplomat success, in this very important, yet very challenging, task.” Zalkaliani wrote on Facebook.

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he President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili once again reiterated her full readiness to engage in political dialogue and reconciliation processes, the President's Administration reported. On February 12, Zurabishvili met with facilitation ambassadors to find ways to resume dialogue with political opponents. The meeting was attended by EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell, Council of Europe Ambassador Christian Urse, US Ambassador Kelly Degnan and Acting Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany Michael Fabri. The parties exchanged information on the recent developments in Georgia and the President once again expressed her full readiness to be engaged in political dialogue and reconciliation processes. "As I’ve said many times, I am ready to get involved in the dialogue and reconciliation processes between the different political sides in Georgia. Dialogue is the cornerstone of democracy," the President of Georgia stated before the meeting with ambassadors. The meeting followed the recent decision of opposition representatives to suspend dialogue with the ruling party Georgian Dream regarding the electoral system after the detention of ex-mayor

of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, on charges of embezzling GEL 48 million from the Tbilisi Development Fund "The Ruling Party Georgian Dream has removed the space for agreements and negotiations in the country. Therefore, the opposition can make only one decision: all negotiations will be suspended from the moment of Ugulava's detention," David Bakradze, the leader of European Georgia, announced. In turn, the ruling team called on the opposition to joing them at the dialogue table. "On behalf of the Georgian Dream -

Democratic Georgia party, we invite opponents to the dialogue table, as we believe that dialogue and consensus have no alternative. This is what our public expects and this is the recommendation of our international partners, namely to stabilize processes and resolve existing challenges in a peaceful, constructive way. "We would like to thank our key strategic partner, the US Embassy, which calls on both the opposition and us to engage in dialogue and is ready to play the role of mediator in the political dialogue,” majority leader Mamuka Mdinaradze stated.


NEWS

GEORGIA TODAY FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

3

Reactions to Ugulava’s Arrest

Source: Mzia Saganelidze (RFE/RL)

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n February 10, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Gigi Ugulava, the former Mayor of Tbilisi, found him guilty of misspending GEL 48 million of public money from the Tbilisi Development Fund, a non-commercial legal entity founded by the City Hall, the purpose of which is to preserve the historic look of the city and promote the growth of real estate value. The ruling generated many negative comments from both Georgian and international society, almost all of them viewing it as “bad news” for Georgia’s democratic development. On February 11, twelve NGOs responded to the Supreme Court's decision, calling it a “continuation of political persecution” by the government of Georgia against its opponents. “There were significant violations in the case and it gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that the prosecution was politically motivated and its sole purpose was to distance the opposition leader from the political process,” the NGOs wrote. “Before the 2014 local elections, Gigi Ugulava, while he was head of the

opposition party's election headquarters, was arrested and detained for more than nine months without proper cause and in violation of the Constitution. It is noteworthy that two of the judges of the Supreme Court who brought the final verdict, had been recently elected by the authorities via an untransparent process. One of them is Shalva Tadumadze, a former personal lawyer of the informal ruler of the country, Bidzina Ivanishvili, Parliamentary Secretary of the Government of Georgia and Prosecutor General. Obviously, his involvement is problematical and leads to distrust in the verdict. “In the light of the investigation launched against Gigi Ugulava seven years ago, as well as the criminal prosecution against several opposition leaders, including Irakli Okruashvili, Nika Melia and Mamuka Khazaradze, there is suspicion that the government is using criminal prosecution as leverage to put pressure on its opponents,” the NGO statement went on. “The long-running investigations and trials against the representatives of opposition parties have become a widespread practice. It seems the government is

using this method to indirectly pressure its opponents. Gigi Ugulava's sentencing may also be a message to other opposition leaders. “In the recent period, representatives of Georgia's partner countries and international organizations have increasingly pointed to alarming trends in the country. Along with the electoral system, Western partners' statements focus on the problems of independence of the judiciary and prosecution, and prosecution of political opponents. “By this ruling, the Georgian government once again ignored the country's interests and the recommendations of its Western partners. The recent actions of the authorities have left the impression of a demonstration of force, and that they are increasingly distancing themselves from political rationality, increasing the nihilism in society and the threat of isolation of the country. “Taking the general context of the country and the forthcoming election period into account and amid the ongoing negotiations between the authorities and the opposition, the arrest of one of the leaders of the opposition does indi-

cate that the authorities have a desire to continue negotiations. Such rulings help to radicalize the situation and reduce the resources for dialogue and constructive relations between different political forces,” reads the statement. The verdict against Ugulava, the NGOs write, once more shows that the Georgian justice system bends towards selective justice, not free from the influence of the government. “The political bias of the prosecution and judiciary endangers the country's democratic development, further undermines public confidence in state institutions and the rule of law, and affects the pre-election environment.” “We call on the Georgian authorities, the ruling party and the country's informal ruler Bidzina Ivanishvili, to stop exercising selective justice against their opponents and people with different views, to promote a constructive resolution of the political crisis and to prioritize the interests of the population and the development of the country instead of party interests,” the twelve NGOs jointly wrote. The statement was signed by Transparency International Georgia (TIG), Georgia’s Democratic Initiative (GDI), the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the Georgian Reforms Association, the Regional Center for Strategic Studies, Atlantic Council of Georgia, Center for Economic Policy Research, Society and Banks, Institute for Democracy and Safe Development (IDSD), the Human Rights Center, Open Society Foundation and the Media Development Foundation. International society also appeared to see nothing positive in Ugulava’s arrest. “There is worrying news coming from #Georgia. Ahead of the elections, opposition leader Gigi Ugulava is again in prison. We hear about cases against other opposition leaders. Hard to believe it is not politically motivated. Endangers consensus on electoral reform,” German Member of the European Parliament, Michael Gahler, tweeted. “Gigi Ugulava, leader of European Georgia, was arrested today and sentenced to 38 months in prison for an old

crime he’s already served time over. To say this is disturbing would be an understatement. Using courts as a weapon is NOT a deumocracy,” US Congressman Adam Kinzinger Kinzinger wrote on Twitter. “I'm disappointed Georgia has chosen to increase its politically motivated abuse of opposition politicians. As I told the Georgian foreign minister last week, the collapse of judicial independence & persecution of the opposition is unacceptable behavior,” Jim Risch, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee tweeted. The US Embassy in Tbilisi also responded to Ugulava’s arrest, calling on the different political sides to engage in active dialogue. “The US Embassy supports the political dialogue between Georgia’s governing party and opposition representatives aimed at reaching an agreement on an election system that best serves the Georgian people. The US Embassy is disappointed that the timing and context of the conviction and sentencing of an opposition leader has put the dialogue at risk. "An environment conducive to the successful continuation of the dialogue requires an independent, transparent judicial system free of political influence. We call on all sides to remain committed to the political dialogue, as well as further refinements to the electoral code, as the best way to create the conditions for free and fair elections,” the Embassy said in a statement released on Tuesday. The British Embassy in Tbilisi noted that the sentencing of Ugulava leaves “unanswered questions”. “The sentencing of opposition leader Ugulava leaves unanswered questions around timing and process. Also impacts on dialogue on electoral system that will earn trust of Georgian electorate. As friend and strategic partner, UK encourages steps to narrow divisions and reinforce democracy,” reads the tweet on the British Embassy's official Twitter account. Ugulava himself said: “"If prison is a path to freedom, I am ready to go to prison for the third time”.

Karasin: Russia Will Attend the Planned Ministerial in Tbilisi BY BEKA ALEXISHVILI

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he former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Grigory Karasin, has stated that the Russian delegation will attend the planned Council of Europe Ministerial

in Tbilisi. Karasin adds that specifically which delegate will represent the Russian Federation is yet to be discussed. The main dispute within the Georgian political spectrum is whether Sergei Lavrov, the acting FM of Russia, will attend the ceremony or not. The Ministerial will take place in May. Georgian President Salome Zurabish-

vili says the country is ready to host a Russian deputation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Ministerial in Tbilisi. "We are a state that respects our international obligations and will accept the Parliamentary Assembly because we respect the regulations and the principles of the organization," Zurabishvili said in January.

Amendments to Georgian Labor Law on Equal Pay & Parental Leave for Men Continued from page 1 Equal pay for men and women is not written into the current law; however, the amendments define equal remuneration for both. “The employer has to provide an equal salary to men and women for their doing the same amount of work,” the draft reads. In addition to parental leave and equal pay, the draft also reads that working time should not exceed 40 hours per week and 8 hours per day. Moreover, during a seven-day period, working time, including overtime, should not exceed

48 hours, except for special enterprises. In the current law, the amount and remuneration for overtime is not defined; yet, the amendments read that overtime in one day cannot be more than 3 hours and during the week – 8 hours. The draft reads that remuneration for working such hours should be 25% more than the payment for normal working hours. Furthermore, the amendments read that the employer must notify the employee one week in advance regarding overtime, except in extreme circumstances. Under the current Labor Law, the amount of minimal salary is not defined;

however, the proposed amendments read that the mechanism for determining the minimum wage and its scope should be defined by the Law on Minimum Wage. Where at this stage the concepts of direct and indirect discrimination are not defined by law, the draft law provides a clear explanation of both. “Discrimination is direct when there is inappropriate treatment against a particular person. Discrimination is indirect when a neutral provision, criterion, or practice places a person into unequal conditions as compared to others,” the bill reads.

Within the amended version, an employee shall, on request, be granted additional time for medical examination if such medical examination needs to be carried out during working hours. Missed working hours due to medical examinations will be remunerated if an employee presents the proper documentation. The number of missed working hours during the month should not exceed 1/8 of the working hours. This restriction does not apply to medical examinations performed during pregnancy. The same rule applies to a person with any kind of disability, or their representatives. To summarize, the amended version

is said to focus more on the protection of the rights of the employee, a fact which has been positively assessed by the nongovernmental sector. The NGOs say that the planned changes to the labor law are a step forward in protecting the rights of employees, but it is important that the interests of all parties involved in the labor law reform process are taken into account. “Legislation should not create unreasonable barriers to business that may lead to their having a negative impact on the labor market and the country's economic development,” the sector noted.


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POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

Russia’s Changing Economic Attitude towards Abkhazia & Tskhinvali Regions

Image source: wikipedia.org

OP-ED BY EMIL AVDALIANI

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ooking at the arc of separatist states on the Russian borders, there have recently been interesting developments which might signal a new approach in Moscow’s policies. Ukraine's Lugansk and Donetsk, Georgia's Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, Moldova's Transdnistria region – all

these territories were helped and maintained in one way or another by Moscow. In some cases, Moscow recognized independence (Georgia's territories); in others, it pursues a federalization model (for example, in Ukraine and previously in Moldova). Models of support differ, but the geopolitical agenda remains the same for all territories: preventing Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine from becoming fully-fledged members of NATO and the EU.

If so far this policy has been successful, its long-term prospects, however, are doubtful. Preventing the NATO/EU membership of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine does not prevent deeper cooperation between these states and the West. In fact, this approach has resulted in the creation of an arc of states geopolitically hostile to Russia. This increases instability and serves as a constant diplomatic pressure on Moscow’s foreign policy. Moscow’s control of those separatist

states has been based on direct financial and military aid. But the Russians were also interested in the economic benefits those regions could bring to Moscow. Decades have passed since the end of the Soviet Union, and the separatist regions have transformed into veritable appendages to Russia, with Russian money serving as the only economic lifeline. Though there were at times genuine measures taken in Moscow to raise economic and social conditions in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, the policy has largely failed. Abkhazia and Tskhinvali have become predatory entities which pin their survival on Moscow’s money and military might. A decade or two ago, when Russia was on the rise economically, this state of affairs was still acceptable to the Kremlin. However, the Ukraine crisis of 2014 resulted in large economic sanctions with Russia’s GDP having experienced a sharp decline. As a result, control over expenses became stricter. Vladislav Surkov’s resignation in January 2020 from his curating position in the Kremlin, over the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region and eastern Ukraine, came as a result of this changing attitude within the Russian political elite. This is the case not only with Georgia’s territories, but also with eastern Ukraine. There too expenses are high, while economic benefits are not. There is also a question of the political elites of the separatist entities in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, which failed to provide Moscow with clear ideas on how they are willing to raise the economic and social conditions in their territories. These changes in attitude are not only

dictated by immediate economic concerns. True, the expenses the Russian budget bears should not be overestimated, as spending tens of millions of US dollars does not represent a big fraction of the Russian budget. What we are seeing here is more about those deeper developments in the thinking of the Russian political elite, which span the entire period since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russian political elites have grown increasingly unwilling to spend money abroad if there are no benefits on the ground. And it is not only about winning in a geopolitical sense, as was the case in the 1990s or 2000s: Moscow is now increasingly tending to seek a mixture of both economic and geopolitical benefits. We are then likely to see in the coming years Moscow’s stricter approach to spending in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions. This could further complicate an already difficult economic and social situation in these two Georgian territories, as well as causing deep reverberations in the structures of politics classes in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. However, even these measures are not set to improve the internal situation. For Moscow, Abkhazia and Tskhinvali are adjacent territories and despite some hopes in Tskhinvali, there is little chance that Russia will be looking to annex those lands. Thus, in the long run, Russia’s policies towards Abkhazia and Tskhinvali have reached a certain deadlock. Those territories now only serve a geopolitical purpose: preventing Tbilisi from NATO/EU membership, but not fullscale cooperation between Georgia and the West.

They Say the Numbers Don’t Lie, But… OP-ED BY ZAZA JGARKAVA

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he more time goes by, the more important the question of “what does the Dream want?” becomes. If it is good results in the upcoming parliamentary elections, as the recent results published by NDI show, their ratings have plunged substantially. Although the governmental party is still holding top position, the United National Movement and the rest of the oppositional parties together are set to defeat Ivanishvili’s party with a great advantage. There is quite a lot of time until October and this picture can change numerous times, but in whose favor will it be? Making forecasts in a country where a 3-minute reconstruction clip can turn everything upside down is truly hard, but not impossible. As they say, the numbers don’t lie and if we recall what happened four years ago, it should help us to better envision the clashes that could take place in autumn. In the parliamentary elections of 2016, there was a 52% turnout, which is about 1.8 million voters. The Georgian Dream got only 48%, which is about 936 thousand votes, which was enough for it to form a constitutional majority in Parliament. This was a total of 115 mandates of MPs, 44 from proportional lists and 71 from Majoritarian. These figures are a clear indication of why the Georgian Dream does not want to change the electoral system and why it staged a performance which aimed at preventing the change to the electoral system last November. It is not hard to understand what the Dream and Ivanishvili want in a country of 4.5 million, where only 1/5th support is enough to come to power and rule the country the way you want to. This is

where the vicious urge for uncontrolled power emerged. Yet, on the two-year anniversary of the “triumphal” victory, the electorate sent the first signals of discontent towards Ivanishvili. In 2018, about 200 thousand voters said no to the ruling party. Although Ivanishvili “corrected” this “flaw” using various electoral manipulations in the second round, it is clear that two years after those elections, the number of Dream supports has decreased even further. This is what

NDI’s latest poll proved, and it became clear that the former Dream electorate has actually distributed itself over the oppositional spectrum. Now it is clear why the government offered the opposition the option of implementing the electoral system 100/50, as it wants to compensate the loss at the expense of the guaranteed 50 majoritarians, plus 40 mandates from proportional, which eventually equals 60% in the 150-member parliament. “Dream’s

declared chronicles of victory” is how this offer could be labeled. Although the opposition has refused this offer from Ivanishvili, and most likely will need to agree to the existing system, they are still hopeful enough to boast that victory over the government is inevitable and that the said offer won’t change this. The governing party Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia will lose the elections if the elections are held by this mixed system, because the

opposition will be nominating unified candidates in the one-mandate electoral districts. The monolithism of the opposition has triggered discussions about snap elections even in corridors of the government itself, which could take place at the end of March or beginning of April. Which direction the Dream and Ivanishvili are taking the country is very difficult to discern, especially since changing the order of addends does not change the sum.


POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

5

Russia's Attempts to Regain the Balkans Are Futile OP-ED BY DAVID BRAGVADZE, GISP

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he Balkans has always been a matter of special interest to Russia. Russia tried to influence the Balkan nations and to create a positive image in this region at various times through different methods. In some parts of the region, Russia is still considered to be an "older brother", but this myth is slowly disappearing, as it has become clear to everyone that Russia does not shy away from interfering in the internal affairs of its "friend" countries. Russia uses several tools to maintain its influence in the Balkans. In the Slavic countries of the region (Bulgaria, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro), Russia develops the idea of Panslavism - the great Slavic world (which is also actively used in the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe). One can say that the Kremlin views these countries as part of the Russian world. The second important line of implementing the Kremlin’s interests is in religion. The idea of the Orthodox world is an important tool the Kremlin uses, especially since in the Balkan countries, where the majority of the population is not Orthodox Christian (Croatia, Albania), Russian influence is weak. To actualize these two ideas, the Kremlin uses the machine of misinformation and state propaganda. Pro-Russian television channels, news agencies and outlets function in most of the Balkan

countries. Russia spends huge financial resources in this regard. Russia's "spy games" have also become especially noticeable of late. In this regard, Bulgaria was put in the limelight when it expelled two Russian diplomats from the country at the end of January 2020 on charges of espionage. Bulgaria accused Dmitry Yaroshenko and Alexander Khvatov of being agents of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). A similar decision was made by Sofia in October 2019, when Vladimir Rusayev was expelled from the country on charges of being an agent of the Russian military intelligence (GRU). Shortly before this, a former Bulgarian lawmaker and head of a pro-Russian NGO, Nikolai Malinov, was arrested for spying for Russia. It is noteworthy that Bulgaria has long refrained from active actions against Russia and its agents, but the Kremlin's recent interference in domestic affairs forced the country's authorities to take steps. In 2018, Bulgaria refused to expel Russian diplomats from the country despite the poisoning of Sergei and Iulia Skripal. However, after the poisoning an incident was exposed that took place in April 2015 when Bulgarian gun-maker Emilian Gebrev was poisoned with an unknown substance. He was in a coma for several years and in 2018, it was speculated that he had been poisoned with Novichok, just like the Skripals. The Bulgarian Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the case, but it was soon suspended due to "lack of evidence". No-one was surprised- the then Attorney

General Sotir Tsatsarov had never concealed his close relationship with his Russian counterpart Yuri Chaika. Bulgaria is not the only Balkan state against which Russia is waging a spy war. Russian security services worked hard to thwart the agreement between Greece and Northern Macedonia aimed at defining the official name of the latter. Over the years, this issue was a subject of dispute between the two states, and the only obstacle on the way to Macedonia's accession to NATO. Eventually, Russia failed to achieve its goal. The agreement between Athens and Skopje was signed on June 17, 2018, and Northern Macedonia will become the 30th member of the Alliance. Interestingly, within weeks of reaching the agreement, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats from the country for having tried to prevent it. A few months prior, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had refrained from making a similar decision during the Skripal scandal. In 2016, Russia tried to interfere in Montenegro's elections with the help of Serbian ultranationalists and with the aim of overthrowing the country's government, including liquidating the prime minister. After the plan failed, it became known that the operation was carried out by Russian citizens - GRU agents Eduard Shirokov and Vladimir Popov (real name Vladimir Moiseev). A Montenegrin court tried both of them in absentia. It is also noteworthy that Popov carried out activities in Bulgaria in 2014. There is speculation that he planned to poison Emilian Gebrev.

Russia is also waging a spy war against its biggest and traditional ally in the Balkans, Serbia. In November 2019, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic openly attacked a former employee of the Russian embassy who sought to bribe a retired Serbian officer in order to obtain classified information. Serbia, as a traditional ally of Russia, usually avoids any demarche against Moscow. Moscow's support for Kosovo also plays an important role in this, but Belgrade fell into disrepute on this issue, as the record of the meeting between the Russian diplomat and Serbian officer was posted on YouTube and caused serious anger among the Serbian community.

The Balkan countries are no exception when Russia interferes in the domestic affairs of sovereign states around the world using spies. As we can see, Russia does not shy away from using such methods against allied nations either. Naturally, the Kremlin will continue to use this tactic in the future, but it is also expected that the Balkan states will step up their efforts to protect themselves from the Kremlin’s malign influence.

NGOs Claim Information Security Bill Contradicts Constitution BY TEA MARIAMIDZE

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he draft law on amendments to the Law on Information Security is being discussed in the Parliament of Georgia, which, according to some non-governmental organizations, contradicts the Constitution and contains a number of serious risks. The NGOs claim that the ineffectiveness of the same law, passed in 2012, to high-profile cyber attacks and modern challenges, makes it clear that an upgrade of the cybersecurity legislation is much needed. However, they stress the bill establishes a system that fails to ensure the effectiveness of state-level information security, contains risks of total control over information systems and personal and commercial information protected therein, and contradicts the norms of the Constitution of Georgia and the country’s international obligations. The proposed changes prepared by Irakli Sesiashvili, Chairman of Parliament's Defense and Security Committee, fundamentally change the current cybersecurity system in Georgia. According to the draft, LEPL Operational-Technical Agency (OTA) of the State Security Service is to become the main coordinating and supervisory body of information and cybersecurity. The Agency will be entitled to cover the critical infrastructure of both public and private entities. It will be added to the governance pillar of cybersecurity, which will be authorized to supervise relevant institutions,

Image source: 360smartnetworks.com

and at the same time cooperate with them. The non-governmental sector considers that such a centralized and unbalanced system cannot be effective and focused on improvements in this field. “The State Security Service is a law enforcement agency that, for security purposes, has a direct interest in having maximum access to various information infrastructure and can easily meet this interest if it is equipped with legal mechanisms, in particular the right to issue bylaws,” the statement of the NGOs reads. Also, according to the draft law, the Data Exchange Agency (DEA), a LEPL

of the Ministry of Justice, will be responsible for exercising its power in coordination with the LEPL of the State Security Service- OTA. The draft amendments suggest a threetier categorization for objects of critical information infrastructure: 1. State agencies, institutions, LEPLs (other than religious organizations) and state enterprises; 2. Electronic communication companies; 3. Banks, financial institutions and other entities of private law. The NGOs say that the rights and responsibilities of DEA are unbalanced and incompatible.

“The risk of gross and unjustified interference in the management of information systems by private organizations appears. In addition, if banks are considered as a critical information system subject to the data exchange agency, DEA and the National Bank will be two different bureaucracies with duplicate functions,” the organizations said. The statement also reads that OTA will have direct access to the information systems of the legislative, executive or judicial authorities, individual public agencies, including the Central Election Commission, as well as the National Bank and the telecommunications sector, and therefore indirect access to the

personal and commercial information protected in the systems. “The bill creates the possibility of processing personal data without the permission of the court, while the ambiguity of the norms creates the real danger of inappropriate and disproportionate processing of personal data,” the NGOs added. The third sector believes that in addition to the risk of unjustified interference and surveillance in private life, the bill does not comply with the Constitution of Georgia, as there is a risk of violating the privacy of individuals. The statement also notes that the draft law does not comply with a number of principles of the European directive on high standards of network and information systems security, which are obligatory for Georgia under the Association Agreement with the European Union. The NGOs believe that a management model should be developed to ensure the transparency and effectiveness of the information security system, which requires: • The involvement of all stakeholders in the process of preparation of amendments to the Law on Information Security; • Harmonizing the bill with the National Cyber Security Strategy and Action Plan; • Studying the experience of European countries in order to adapt best practice to the reality of Georgia. The organizations call on the Parliament Speaker to hold a public meeting with the involvement of relevant parliamentary committees, experts in the field and the third sector to discuss in detail the problems associated with the submitted draft law.


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BUSINESS

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

Georgian Economic Climate Has Slightly Worsened

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he Georgian Economic Climate is a product of PMC Research Center. In this bulletin, we discuss Georgia’s economic climate as assessed by Georgian economists. The bulletin is based on Ifo institute’s methodology. 40 experts are participating in this initiative from Georgia. The survey was conducted in January 2020, assessing the period January 2020 - June 2020. In the first quarter of 2020, the Georgian economic climate has slightly worsened. In this period, Georgian economists assessed Georgia’s present economic situation negatively. Moreover, the assessment of the present economic situation in this quarter has worsened compared to the fourth quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2019. In the first quarter of 2020, Georgia’s economic situation in the next six months has been assessed negatively by Georgian economists. However, in this quarter, expectations in six months have improved compared with Q4 of 2019, while it deteriorated rapidly in relation to Q1 of 2019. According to the semi-annual assessment of Georgian economic challenges, the Georgian economy currently faces the following four major problems: 1. Lack of skilled labor; 2. Lack of innovation; 3. Lack of confidence in government’s economic policy; 4. Political instability. In addition, experts consider there to be less severe challenges faced in the following areas: 1. Trade barriers to exports; 2. Legal and administrative barriers for business; 3. Inefficient debt management; 4. Widening income inequality.

In addition, experts predict Georgia’s main economic indicators. According to the results, the expected real GDP growth in 2020 is 4.3%. Other main economic indicators are shown below.

METHODOLOGY The ECI is based on quarterly expert assessments of the present economic situation as well as expectations for the next six months. The scale ranges from –100 points to +100 points. An index of –100 means that all experts assess the economic situation as deteriorating (negative), while an index of +100 indicates improvement (positive), and 0 means neutral/no change. Basic Economic Indicators

2015

2016

2017

Nominal GDP (mln USD)

13988.1

14377.9

15086.5 17596.6 3823.0

4398.8 4606.0

GDP per Capita (USD)

3754.9

3857.3

4046.8 4722.0 1026.7

1179.0

1237.0

GDP Real Growth 2.9% (%)

2.8%

4.8%

4.8%

5.0%

4.6%

5.8%

Inflation

4.0%

2.1%

6.0%

6.4%

-

-

-

FDI (mln USD)

1729.1

1650.3

1962.6

1 265.2 287.5

204.1

417.3

Unemployment Rate (%)

14.1%

14.0%

13.9%

12.7%

-

-

-

External Debt (mln USD)

4,314.9

4,515.7

5,177.4

5,434

5,388

5,438

5,355.6

Poverty Rate (relative)

20.2%

21.0%

22.3%

20.5%

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-

-

2018

2019 (I)

2019 (II)

2019 (III)


BUSINESS

GEORGIA TODAY FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

“Bricks Hotel” A Brand New Hotel in the Heart of Tbilisi ADVERTORIAL

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he newest, 4-star hotel in the historical center of Tbilisi is now accepting reservations from February 14. The 36-room hotel is housed within a four-storey building located in the very heart of Tbilisi, at 17 Wine Rise Street. The hotel features a rooftop terrace, which offers a luxurious 360° panorama view across the old city, as well as Bricks Restaurant, which serves both local and European cuisine, and the well-appointed rooms, equipped with all the amenities today’s travelers have come to expect. Bricks Hotel is surrounded by numerous historical architectural buildings, churches, and sights, among them the Metekhi Church, the Bridge of Peace, the Narikala Fortress, the Sameba Cathedral, the Armenian Church, and the Sioni Cathedral. The hotel is also conveniently located just 100 meters from Avlabari Metro Station, which helps tourists discover both the old and new parts

of the city within minutes. Bricks Hotel also offers city tours, an airport shuttle, buffet breakfast, and free wireless internet - providing guests with superior comfort and the utmost value they want out of their stay. “Bricks Hotel offers high quality, affordable prices and the best customer service that we believe will make our guests' travel unforgettable,” said Irakli Motsonelidze, Operations Manager of Bricks Hotel. Bricks Hotel offers various category rooms, including Standard Double Rooms, Triple Rooms and Deluxe Rooms with terraces. Each room is equipped with air conditioning, a private bathroom, a work desk, a flat-screen TV, safe, telephone and minibar. For meetings and conferences, the hotel offers a refined and flexible meeting space which is ideal for workshops, trainings, and presentations, promising clients an environment that encourages the process of creative thought. At this pet-friendly hotel, guests will appreciate the warm hospitality and exceptional value. So, if you are planning to visit Tbilisi, Bricks Hotel awaits!

Located in one of the oldest and most picturesque districts of Tbilisi, Mtatsminda and distinguished for its fairytale architecture, restaurant Funicular opened its doors to guests for the first time eight decades ago in 1938 and since then has hosted several honorable guests, from Margaret Thatcher to Indira Gandhi and Fidel Castro. If you are looking for authentic experience of Tbilisi, served with mouth-watering gourmet food and a memorable evening in an atmosphere that lets you travel back in time and experience best of what the city could offer, then Restaurant Funicular is a definite must visit place during your visit to Georgia. +995 032 2 98 00 00 +995 577 74 44 00 info@funicular.ge

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SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

UAE Unveils New Investment & Development Initiative to Build Connected & ‘Turbocharged’ Africa Driven by Youth

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he UAE’S Consortium for Africa, a new initiative with a committed investment of $500 million to help fulfill the vision of a ‘turbocharged’ and connected new Africa, driven by its youth, has been unveiled at the African Union (AU). The UAE Minister for International Cooperation and Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai, Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, told members that the Consortium would be a long-term builder of human capital on the continent, with two immediate priorities: digitalization

and youth. She said the Consortium would align the UAE government and its private sector’s commitment to Africa, combining ambition for progress and resources to support it, into one focused entity to assist development and investment, contributing to an optimistic new future vision for Africa and Africans. “More than simply a donor or a provider of concessionary loans, the UAE understands that real value lies in the long-term building of human capital,” Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy explained. “We are committed to help-

ing deliver the apparatus in which startups can thrive, entrepreneurs can lead, and young people can look forward with optimism to a future that is firmly in their control.” The focus on digitialization and youth would ensure that “our young and talented populations are not overwhelmed by, but embrace, the opportunities of the future,” Her Excellency added. “We have listened closely to what you have told us, as a continent represented by the African Union, and as nations that make up its member states. And we have heard your call to the UAE: to

Honestly: Etseri, Svaneti BLOG BY TONY HANMER

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ne of those weeks. Where do I start on this rollercoaster ride? We have the vanguard of yet another work team here with us now: old friends come to prepare the way for the rest who arrive at the end of the week. Then two more weeks of pottery, including firing it in the big ol’ Svan stove, and other art activities, chiefly for children but by no means leaving out any parents who want to participate too. Photography, snow sculpture, music, perhaps some origami, we’ll see what works. Should be awesome; the children are already excited and waiting for it all to start, like it did last year at about this time. They were being not only permitted, but encouraged, to get their hands into wet clay, and they loved it, and made all sorts of cool things, both by hand and on the visiting potter’s wheel! This time there are two wheels for twice the fun. However… a cold snap has left us without half our water upstairs; at least downstairs it’s running fine. But two bathrooms for 12 people might be a squeeze. The weather will soon warm up a bit, and things might thaw out up there. Frustrating thing is, the very day before the advance quad’s arrival I tested everything upstairs: all running just fine. We’re stretched for heaters in rooms, but putting one in the main offending bathroom overnight might give the needed result. Yesterday, I got the news that a LONGawaited publication has just happened, of an article of mine in a recreational mathematics magazine which had humbler beginnings in three issues of GT in November 2017. It’s about a family of infinite sets of tiles of squares and triangles, and can be found online here now: https://content.sciendo. com/configurable/contentpage/journals$0 02frmm$002f6$002f12$002farticle-p49.xml

(Please note, the novel word “farticle” near the end of the link is not one I chose, but is probably intended to be short for “fractal article”.) So that at least was some highly encouraging information. Now we’ll see what happens as a result, how long it takes for someone to take the gauntlet and run into further infinity-ward findings based on what I’ve begun. Today, I was returning on foot from picking up a small frozen food order for the shop, the 1 km from the highway to home, backpack laden. On the way down, I only met a couple of sharp barks from a pair of dogs known to be bothersome on the road. Walking back up, it was just as well I had a stick with me, as they both attacked me at full volume and fury, even trying to bite the stick out of my hand. I yelled even louder and more furiously for the master to call them, tie them up, whatever: the owner of such aggressive canines has no business letting them be loose. I’ll feel sorry for them later: at the time I was only regretting not having taken my pepper spray, not that I usually do but maybe I should! It’s more the owner’s fault than theirs—are they not just being themselves? One of these times, a child is going to fall down and get mauled or something. Now the sun emerges, and it feels like things could be worse. But the emotional ups and downs of daily or weekly life sometimes could do with describing to help one free oneself of them. Done, and I hope the rest of the week will even out a bit. And that yours, dear reader, will be more highs than lows or terrors. Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/ He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti

draw on lessons learned through our own development, and to target the UAE’s investment into Africa’s digital economy,” Her Excellency continued. The UAE has been an active partner on the continent throughout its 49-year history, investing billions during that time, and by 2016 was the second largest investor country in Africa, with support for a wide variety of projects, including roads, bridges and ports, schools, clinics and hospitals. The Consortium for Africa would ensure a more consolidated, adaptive and impactful support in the future, said

Her Excellency, who was the first UAE Minister to address the AU with a speech to its Executive Council at its headquarters. The Minister also heralded the first participation of the African Union at a World Expo, showcasing the continent’s rich history and many achievements within its own pavilion. For the first time in World Expo’s 169-year history, every single participating nation, a recordbreaking 192, will be represented with an individual pavilion of its own at the World’s Greatest Showcase of human brilliance and achievement. Some 25 million visits are expected at the first World Expo in the Middle East, Africa and South Asian region (MEASA). Located in Expo 2020’s Opportunity District, the African Union Pavilion will explore the speeches of Africa’s great leaders, illustrating just how much the institution has achieved since its inception as the Organisation of African Unity in 1963. Millions of visitors will step into a colorful, borderless space, where they will discover Africa’s vast potential and optimism for the future, reflected in its Agenda 2063 aspirations that address agriculture, transport, science and technology, and health. For six months, from 20 October 2020 until 10 April 2021, the UAE will host the world’s largest meeting of minds, welcoming creative critical thinkers to a powerful platform that will shape our future and reveal a raft of opportunities to be explored by, and in, African countries.


SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

EU Positively Assesses Ongoing Education Reform in Georgia

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he EU report on the implementation of the Association Agreement by Georgia in 2019 positively assessed the complex education reform ongoing in the country, says the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of Georgia. The report on Georgia's fulfillment of the Association Process obligations covers advancements in all levels of education. “The European Union has welcomed the state's prioritization of education and the provision of an ever-increasing budget for the sector. The amount spent on education by 2022 will be 6% of the GDP," reads the Ministry’s report. According to the report, a new law on vocational education is vital as it enables lifelong learning and new career opportunities for both youth and adults. Georgia also continues to successfully participate in the Erasmus + program in higher education. As for the area of science and innovation, Georgia has begun implementing the recommendations developed in the framework of the Policy Support Facility (PSF). The recommendations provide

for identifying promising research areas; marking priorities; supporting science and business links; strengthening institutional capacity and encouraging a result-based funding model. The document also mentions a largescale campaign in the field of culture (Georgia, Europe) aimed at raising awareness of the European Union in Georgia

and preparing for the country's participation in Europalia. This year's annual report of the European Union is the fourth official working document since the Association Agreement came into force in 2016. On the basis of the mentioned report, the existing EU-Georgia Association Agenda will be updated for the years to come.

17th Branch of Luca Polare Opens on Aghmashenebeli Avenue negotiations have already begun and we will see Luca in neighboring countries in the very near future”. Georgian ice-cream parlor network Luca Polare offers customers 60 varieties of ice-cream and exclusive coffee. The Ice-cream The ice-cream and sorbets are produced in Georgia, using natural products of fresh fruit and milk. None of the Luca Polare products contain artificial additives or preservatives. The Coffee A mix of 100% premium quality Arabica grains, collected in South America and roasted in Germany with traditional methods, is exclusively sent to Luca Polare customers in Georgia. In its 11 years, Luca Polare has become a favorite for both the young and not so young thanks to its high-quality products, friendly service and focus on customer demandsall keys to the company’s success.

ADVERTORIAL

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nother spot for delicious coffee and the best icecream has just been opened 38 Aghmashenebeli Avenue. In 2008, a small 20 sq.m. ice-cream parlor was opened on Leselidze Street. It was the first branch of Luca Polare, and it was fast to take off. The Georgian brand is now represented in three cities across Georgia, with 12 branches in Tbilisi, four in Batumi and one in Kobuleti. “Luca Polare continues to develop at a rapid pace throughout Georgia. This year, besides Tbilisi, we are planning to open new branches in other cities too,” says Tea Tabagari, the Director-General of the brand. “In addition, we plan to enter the international market this year:

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CULTURE

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

WHAT’S ON IN TBILISI THEATER

TBILISI ZAKARIA PALIASHVILI OPERA AND BALLET THEATER 25 Rustaveli Ave. TEL (+995 32) 2 99 04 56 February 14, 15, 16 THE SLEEPING BEAUTY Pyotr Tchaikovsky Ballet in three acts Choreography by Marius Petipa Staging by Nina Ananiashvili and Alexey Fadeechev Staging Conductor: Alevtina Ioffe Scenography and costumes by Anatoly Nezhny Tbilisi Opera and Ballet State Theater Orchestra Conductor: Papuna Ghvaberidze Start time: February 14, 15-19:00, February 16-14:00 Ticket: 20-70 GEL GABRIADZE THEATER 14 Shavteli Str. February 14, 15 STALINGRAD Revaz Gabriadze Directed by Revaz Gabriadze English Subtitles Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 20, 30 GEL February 16 RAMONA Revaz Gabriadze Directed by Revaz Gabriadze English Subtitles Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 20, 30 GEL MOVEMENT THEATER 182 Agmashenebeli Ave. February 14 ASTIGMATISTS Silent Movie Directed by Ioseb Bakuradze Composer: Sandro Nikoladze Artist: Bidzina Sidiani Cast: Ana Talakhvadze, Lekso Chemia, Michel Zakhaidze, Mariam Balakhadze, Ucha Mjavia Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10-15 GEL

February 15 SILENT, REHEARSAL! Directed by Kakha Bakuradze One-act spectacle that is behind the scenes. Performance consists of various short novels: "Good Morning", "Cinemat", "Welcome-Host", "Shirley Beis", "Painter", "Bohemian Rhapsody" Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10-15 GEL February 16 THE STORY OF A MURDERER Directed by Kakha Bakuradze Music: Sandro Nikoladze, Davit Kakulia Language: Non-verbal Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10, 15 GEL February 20 IGGI Based on Jemal Karchkhadze’s story Directed by Kakha Bakuradze Music: Sandro Nikoladze Language: Non-verbal Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10, 15 GEL Every Wednesday A LO CUBANO NIGHTS Cuban dancers masterclass Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10 GEL SHALIKASHVILI THEATER 37 Rustaveli Ave. TEL 595 50 02 03 February 14, 15 KRIMANCHULI A performance of comedy genre novels based on Georgian national motives Pantomime novels: ‘Review’, ‘Cinema’, ‘Sailors’, ‘Today is a football’, ‘ Fire, Chichetura’, ‘Vineyard’, ‘Krimanchuli’, ‘Bath-house attendants’, ‘Final’. Language: Non-verbal Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10, 15 GEL

MUSEUM

GEORGIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM SIMON JANASHIA MUSEUM 3 Rustaveli Ave. TEL (+995 32) 299 80 22, 293 48 21 www.museum.ge

created by the Vortex, deform the image of yourself in the Mirror Room, free yourself in the Infinity Room, resist the laws of gravity and size, and take selfies in every possible pose. Enjoy the collection of holograms and discover optical illusions. GALLERY

Exhibitions: GEORGIAN COSTUME AND WEAPONRY OF THE 18TH-20TH CENTURIES NUMISMATIC TREASURY EXHIBITION STONE AGE GEORGIA ARCHEOLOGICAL TREASURE NEW LIFE TO THE ORIENTAL COLLECTIONS IOSEB GRISHASHVILI TBILISI HISTORY MUSEUM - KARVASLA 8 Sioni St. TEL (+995 32) 2 98 22 81 February 7-19 PERSONAL EXHIBITION OF ABSTRACT PAINTER AVTO MOSIASHVILI For his 80th birthday 30 artworks representing his individual sharp vision and unique mastery as one of the first abstractionists in the Georgian art space. February 8-18 DMITRY BRICKMAN’S EXHIBITION ‘JERUSALEM IS NOT JUST A CITY’ MUSEUM OF SOVIET OCCUPATION 4 Rustaveli Ave. TEL (+995 32) 2 99 80 22, 2 93 48 21 www.museum.ge The exhibition hall is equipped with monitors, where visitors can see documentaries of various historical events. MUSEUM OF ILLUSIONS 10 Betlemi Str. Discover the Museum of Illusions Be brave and jump into an illusion

THE NATIONAL GALLERY 11 Rustaveli Ave. TEL (+995 32) 215 73 00 GRAND MASTERS FROM THE GEORGIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM COLLECTION XIX – XX CENTURY Until February 29 Georgian National Museum and the Embassy of Italy in Georgia present the exhibition ROMA AETERNA. MASTERPIECES OF ROMAN SCULPTURE FROM THE DINO AND ERNESTA SANTARELLI FOUNDATION National Gallery features 33 sculptures depicting the stages of artistic or stylistic evolution from the Roman Republic to Neoclassical era.

CAVEA EAST POINT 2 A. Tvalchrelidze Str. February 14 GIA KANCHELI’S MUSIC AND MOVIE SCREENING: ANGELS OF SORROW Genre: Documentary Directed by Teona Jorbenadze Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 20 GEL MUSIC

REPUBLIC 1st Republic Sq. February 14 VALENTINE'S DAY WITH MF ROBOTS Georgian DJ, Audio Space will also perform on stage Start time: 22:00 Ticket: 40-150 GEL DOORS 26 Tsintsadze Str. February 14 STEPHANE & LIVE BAND Start time: 23:00 Ticket: 50 GEL

SPHERO City Mall Saburtalo, Veranda, II Floor

TBILISI STATE CONSERVATOIRE 8 Griboedovi Str.

SPHERE A domed cognitive-entertainment space where you can become part of an impressive 360-degree panorama image. For all ages.

February 14 ANGELES & GEORGIAN FRIENDS On St. Valentine's Day pianist Angeles Iglesias will be joined by her Georgian friends to perform a concert with pearls of the classical repertoire. Start time: 18:00 Ticket: 25-55 GEL

TBILISI DIGITAL SPACE Tbilisi Mall The first museum of digital art in Tbilisi, where you will meet three different spaces: Vazha-Pshavela's "Dried beech", the world of torches, and a digital space decorated with various graphic and visuals effects. In the main hall decorated with video projections and mirrors you will discover that there is no boundary between Man and nature. DIGITAL SHOW OF GUSTAV KLIMT Ticket: 5-20 GEL

February 15 BEETHOVEN AND HIS ERA The concert is inspired by Beethoven’s 250th anniversary A large-scale event that unites musical, theatrical and choreographic directions. Start time: 18:00 Ticket: 5 GEL LE PONCHIK 32 I. Abashidze Str. February 15 NODARIKO KHUTSISHVILI Start time: 21:00 Ticket: 30 GEL MONOHALL 2 D. Bakradze Str. February 15 FORKALO MonoHall unites leading Georgian musicians of our time to raise money for 20-year-old Mariam Kalomletsevi, who is fighting for her life against stage 4 brain cancer. Participants: GIORGI ZAGARELI, TOBACO TWEEN, KORDZ, DRO, EREKLE DEISADZE, NIKAKOI, TUSIA BERIDZE, SVANSIKH, ANUSHKA CHKHEIDZE Let's help her to win this fight #ForKalo Start time: 21:00 Ticket: 25-40 GEL MOVEMENT THEATER 182 Agmashenebeli Ave. JAM SESSION Impro music Every Tuesday Musical director- Sandro Nikoladze Start time: 21:00 Price: 10 GEL


CULTURE

GEORGIA TODAY FEBRUARY 14 - 17, 2020

11

Meet the Producer of ‘And Then We Danced’ EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

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t seems like international society’s interest in the 2019 Swedish-Georgian drama film And Then We Danced, directed by Levan Akin, is as strong as ever, as months after its initial premiere at the Cannes Festival, the movie is being taken to movie theaters worldwide and is drawing critics from international magazines, from Vogue to the New York Times, to write reviews about the film, and interview its cast and crew. Right now, the movie has a 8.1 IMDb rating and 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. GEORGIA TODAY sat down with Ketie Danelia, the producer of And Then We Danced, the first Georgian movie about gay love featuring Georgian national dance. With us, the producer and production manager, who also worked on movies Partisan (2015) and Dede (2017), Danelia talks about the challenges, reactions to and hopes for And Then We Danced.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE WHILE WORKING ON THE MOVIE? Each movie you work on has its own challenges, which makes the project somewhat more interesting. However, we didn’t have just one challenge while working on the movie And Then We Danced, we faced lots of them, much more than I ever had to overcome in the past with other films. From locations to copyright issues of Georgian music – we had lots of problems. We had to remake and create many songs because they weren’t giving us the right to use them. However, despite all this, I am very pleased with our final product. Even if there had been more difficulties, I would still have made this movie.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR BEST MEMORIES FROM WORKING ON IT? In the process of directing the movie, while working on set, we had a very friendly environment; had it been otherwise, I don’t think we would have been able to make it. On the set, especially when working on a project that is this problematic, it’s crucial to have a strong support system in the group. Of course, the working process always comes with some disappointment, and demotivation, but the feeling that you are making something important and interesting doesn’t allow you to give up on your work, and that feeling makes the hard work fun. That feeling never left us.

WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE MOVIE’S THEME? WHERE DO GAY LOVE AND GEORGIAN TRADITIONAL DANCE MEET? The starting point of director, Levan Akin’s inspiration was what happened in Tbilisi on May 17, 2013 [50 people in Tbilisi organ-

ized a Pride parade, which would have been Georgia’s first, and they were attacked by thousands of people in a counterdemonstration that was organized by the Orthodox Church and some far-right groups]. But of course, that’s not all. There are a lot of social topics demonstrated in the film that bother us all. We wanted to share these issues with people, and to address them thoroughly. The problems weren’t the only thing we showed with the movie, we also gave the audience the greatest love.

IF YOU HAD TO PRODUCE THE MOVIE NOW, GOING BACK, WOULD YOU HAVE CHANGED ANYTHING? Yes. I guess there will always be some details that, after finishing the project, you want to go back and change. But I don’t see any problem in that. In the working process, too, with the experience I have now, I would have reconsidered many things. Above all, I would have liked more funds, a larger budget to shoot the movie with.

TICKETS SOLD OUT IN A BLINK OF AN EYE IN GEORGIA. DO YOU THINK THAT HAD IT NOT BEEN AN LGBT-THEMED MOVIE, THE FILM WOULD STILL HAVE SPARKED SUCH INTEREST FOR ITS ARTISTIC VALUE AMONG GEORGIAN SOCIETY? I’m not sure how to determine that if we take the context out of the film. If the theme wasn’t that, it would have had a different artistic approach, and would have ended up being a completely different film. There are many gay lovestory movies, but are they all equally successful?

nothing in the movie that is not happening in our everyday lives; it is not anything we haven’t heard of, at least. The film is just a reflection on the screen, the reflection of reality. Some people have a hard time facing reality. That’s why it was hard for them to accept this movie.

TELL US ABOUT THE COMMERCIAL SUCCESS OF THE

MOVIE INTERNATIONALLY. The movie has received 50 awards, and has been screened at up to 80 international festivals. And the festival life still continues! What’s more, the movie will be shown in the theaters of up to 40 countries. And Then We Danced is currently in the theaters of the US, nationwide, and in March, it will arrive in the United Kingdom.

IN YOUR OPINION, HOW BIG WAS THE INFLUENCE OF THE MOVIE ON GEORGIAN SOCIETY AND HAS IT CHANGED ANYTHING IN THEIR MENTALITY? While watching people watch the movie, I was surprised to find tears in the eyes of so many. This alone makes me believe that there can be change.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BEST WAY TO REMOVE THE STIGMA THAT SOME GEORGIANS HAVE TOWARDS THE LGBT COMMUNITY? IS CINEMA ONE OF THE BEST WAYS? Of course. Art, and for me personally, cinema art. Because it is a great facilitator of self-dialogue for the audience, cinema is a great tool to defeat and overcome stigmas, phobias towards different groups of people, and other cruelties.

REMEMBERING THE PROTESTS THAT FOLLOWED THE DECISION TO PREMIERE THE MOVIE IN GEORGIA, WHY DO YOU THINK THE FILM WAS SO SCANDALOUS FOR GEORGIAN SOCIETY? WERE THERE ANY SUCH CASES ABROAD? DID YOU EXPECT THIS REACTION WHEN SHOOTING THE MOVIE? Obviously, we were expecting some reaction. Maybe for some part of society, the film turned out to be painful, I wouldn’t say scandalous, because the movie was like bumping into the reality they are living in but are refusing to face. There is

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Profile for Georgia Today

Issue #1227  

February 14 - 17, 2020

Issue #1227  

February 14 - 17, 2020

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