The population wants to join the EU, but the government is becoming more and more critical of Europe.
Hundreds of people gathered in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi for a demonstration in solidarity with Ukraine. “Georgia and Ukraine have the same enemy – Russia,” says demonstrator Gio. “We are protesting here because the Georgian government is a puppet of Russia.”
80 percent of people want to go to the EU
Georgia recently made global headlines: massive protests forced the government to withdraw a new law that critics saw as repressive and a threat to the country’s ambitions to join the EU. The government has been increasingly authoritarian and Eurosceptic in recent years, but in Georgia 80 percent of the population supports EU membership. Despite this, the ruling party has remained the strongest force in the country for years.
A popular thesis in liberal circles in Georgia is that the government of the Georgian Dream party is controlled by the Kremlin. There is no evidence of this, but the government is becoming increasingly authoritarian, blocking Georgia’s path to its long-term goal of becoming a member of the EU. Nevertheless, the party dominates Georgian politics, in certain parts of the country it reigns supreme. For example in Sachchere.
The ruling party won 80 percent of the vote
In the town of 6,000, about a two-and-a-half hour drive north-west of the capital Tbilisi, the ruling party recently won over 80 percent of the votes. This is no coincidence: Bidzina Ivanishvili, the richest man in Georgia and founder of the “Georgian Dream”, was born in a suburb of Sachkhere. Ivanishvili has demonstratively invested part of his fortune in his home region.
“Before Ivanishvili, there was nothing special here,” says young Levan, whom we meet at the market in the town center. He points to the medieval fortress perched on a cliff above the city. “He had our landmark restored, that’s reason enough for me to choose his party.” But anyway, according to Lewan, the opposition is unelectable for him. “They want to drag us into a new war,” he says. “Of course I support Ukraine, but the opposition demands that Georgia open a second front against Russia. I can’t support that.”
Other worries in Sachkhere
Lewan is repeating the ruling party’s agitation against the opposition. The memory of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 can fuel fears. Unlike in Tbilisi, few people see Ukraine as a priority here. But that doesn’t just have to do with fear of Russia.
In Sachkhere the people have more pressing concerns. The region is among the poorest in the country, and it soon becomes clear that Ivanishvili’s investments have done little to improve life here.
“Many of my acquaintances have moved away, many still plan to do so,” says a woman named Tinatin. “We are concerned with the economic situation. I want to leave too, but if possible I’ll come back to give something back to the city.”
Despite the “Georgian Dream” it doesn’t get any better
Almost everything can be bought at the market, from fresh bread to leather goods to electronic spare parts. Eka runs a toy stand. In the last elections she voted for the governing party. “Next time I’ll probably not vote at all,” says Eka. “Every time we chose the ‘Georgian Dream’ and hoped that something would get better. But nothing happens. But who else can you choose? I don’t trust the opposition.”
The visit to Sachkhere shows that the government is succeeding in discrediting the largely divided opposition. Nevertheless, even in their stronghold of Sachkhere there is hardly any enthusiasm for the ruling party, which calls itself the “Georgian Dream”.
The party itself does not comment on this. In the town hall of Sachkhere, where she naturally also dominates the local government, nobody wants to speak to Radio SRF.