Georgia is on the brink of revolution

For weeks, the Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi has looked like a battlefield. Thousands of protestors, mostly in their twenties, have been met by riot police armed with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. On the face of it, the protest is about a new repressive bill in its final reading in the Georgian parliament. In reality, it’s the struggle between a government that is turning towards Moscow, and a citizenry who by and large believe the future lies with Europe. The crunch point comes next week when the Georgian parliament will vote on a bill which, if passed, would label as a ‘foreign agent’ any political or civil society

Is Georgia’s future with Europe, or Russia?

On Wednesday, Georgia’s government came one step closer to realising its desire to embed the country deeper within Russia’s sphere of influence. A year after mass protests forced them to pull the plug on a controversial ‘foreign agents’ law, the Kremlin-sympathetic ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party is once again trying to force this ‘Russian-style’ legislation through parliament.  While the bill was undergoing its first reading in parliament, 20,000 Georgians turned out onto the streets to demonstrate. Several thousands protested in Tbilisi alone. Shouts of ‘No to the Russian law’ rang out alongside renditions of the Georgian national anthem and ‘Ode to Joy’, the EU’s official song. Once again, like last

The magic and mystery of Georgia: Hard by a Great Forest, by Leo Vardiashvili, reviewed

In my drafts folder there languishes an email to The Spectator pitching a letter from a then-forthcoming trip to Georgia. That was, alas, the spring of 2020. So when I saw Leo Vardiashvili’s debut novel billed as ‘a winding pursuit through the magic and mystery of returning to a lost Caucasian homeland’, I leapt at the vicarious travel opportunity. Fleeing the disintegrating post-Soviet republic in the early 1990s, Irakli Donauri and his sons (though not his wife) arrive in London – Tottenham, specifically – where they are surprised to find ‘no top hats, no smog and no afternoon tea’. The boys grow up; two decades pass; their mother never joins

Will the Caucasus ever be tamed? 

How to get your head around that searingly beautiful but complicated land that lies between the Caspian and Black Seas? The early Arab historian Al Masudi called the Caucasus jabal al-alsun, the mountain of tongues, and through the centuries the place has certainly seen its fair share of peoples, many of them troublesome, many of them troubled. Indeed, for somewhere you might think would be a transcontinental backwater, its outcrops, secluded valleys and expansive plains usefully separating its formidable neighbours – Russia to the north, Turkey and Iran to the south – it’s proved remarkably busy over the centuries; also persistently relevant. The turbulence of the region is rarely far

A 1,000-mile trek through the Caucasus finally clears the mind

It takes a brave writer, even in an age transfixed by the workings of our inner woo, to bare their soul on the page. Tom Parfitt, a former Moscow correspondent, was scarred by the horrifying Beslan school siege and massacre which he saw unfold in North Ossetia in 2004. For years he was haunted by a recurring dream of ‘endless purgatory’ in which a grief-stricken woman, who has just learnt that her child has been killed in the terrorist attack, falls through the air, groaning like a wounded animal. There are scrapes and scares – how could there not be? Wolves, bears and dogs are regular worries An outdoors type

Could Stranger Things inspire your next American getaway?

Great TV shows have a knack for immortalising their locations. Think what Fargo did for the otherwise unloved Dakotas, or Vince Gilligan turning New Mexico into the heart of the 21st century’s greatest neo-Western with Breaking Bad. While the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things might have secured its place on the podium of brilliant box-sets, could it also inspire your next US getaway? Admittedly, a show revolving around a terrifying alternate dimension might not seem a natural candidate for inspiring wanderlust. Yet Stranger Things’ captivating blend of retro Americana and inspired cinematography have helped give the show an irresistible aesthetic, turning heads towards its primary filming location – the southern US

Africa’s lessons for Ukraine

Kenya During Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 I got a close look at Moscow’s troops and their kit. These contractniki were a ragged bunch with rotting teeth, bad boots and homemade tattoos, using weapons and vehicles that seemed like hand-me-downs from a failed state in Africa. I had expected them to be much smarter. Recently my spooky friends told me that Putin’s military invading Ukraine was now a modernised, well-trained force. Instead it appears that Moscow’s generals have stolen the diesel, supplied the mechanised brigades with ageing knock-off Chinese tyres and sacked all the dentists. I haven’t visited Luhansk and Donetsk, but I bet they are a version of

Britain’s duty to the Black Sea

With Russian troops massing on Ukraine’s borders, the Black Sea is looking choppy. While that may seem to have little significance for us, in an age of globalised supply chains, international security commitments and Britain’s ‘tilt to the Indo-Pacific,’ that matters more than we might think. However, there is also an opportunity for the UK. In a report for the Council on Geostrategy that was published this week, I, James Rogers and Alexander Lanoszka, suggest that the Black Sea region is at risk of becoming an anarchic environment where insecurity reigns amid Russian domination. This matters. Rather than being seen as some distant periphery, at best a ‘flank’ of Europe,

Most people who call themselves Caucasian know nothing about the Caucasus

The Caucasus, a popular saying goes, is a ‘mountain of tongues’. Describing this region requires a strong constitution, determination and brilliance because, as Christoph Baumer writes in this magnificent book, ‘in many ways, the Caucasus region is a puzzle’. That is something of an understatement. For one thing, the mountains usually referred to as the Caucasus are in fact part of two geologically distinct ranges: the Greater Caucasus that is around 100 kilometres wide and ten times the length, spans the land between the Black and Caspian Seas and acts as a climatic valve, blocking off like a plug cold Arctic air from passing south; and the Lesser Caucasus, that

A defeated Armenia descends into turmoil

Ever since its disastrous military defeat at the hands of Azerbaijan last year, Armenia has suffered from a wave of political unrest, with rallies and protests continuing sporadically. The principal demand of the protestors has been the resignation of the incumbent Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, whose agreement to a ceasefire favourable to Azerbaijan following his country’s defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh was viewed as a national betrayal. However, the most serious declaration of opposition to the Prime Minister came on Thursday, when the general staff of the armed forces, Onik Gasparyan, joined in the calls for Pashinyan to resign. Gasparyan was prompted by Pashinyan’s dismissal of his deputy, who had publicly ridiculed

The West should worry about Georgia’s broken democracy

It is the first display of political instability in the Caucasus in 2021. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia on Thursday announced his unexpected resignation. Although his successor has yet to be confirmed, his replacement will be the country’s sixth Prime Minister in eight years. All, including Gakharia, have been members of the same party, Georgian Dream, that has held parliamentary control since 2012. The founder of the party, the formerly reclusive billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, was the first Georgian Dream Prime Minister. He only held the post for a year, claiming he had achieved his political objectives after twelve months. This was treated with a degree of scepticism that was later

Trump has given the Democrats a chance in Georgia

Senate runoffs are being held today in Georgia, due to a peculiar state law which says that if no candidate gets over 50 per cent of the vote (as neither seat did in November), the top two go on to a second round. It’s the first time ever that two Senate runoffs are being held on the same day – and the first time a runoff will decide which party controls the Senate. Polls close at 7pm local time (midnight in the UK), with results coming in the following hours, though the large volume of mail-in votes, as in November, could mean a close race remains uncalled for days. Both

Gorgeous and electrifying: And Then We Danced reviewed

The film you want to see this week that you mightn’t have seen if you weren’t stuck at home is And Then We Danced, a gay love story set in Tbilisi, Georgia, and it is truly wonderful and gorgeous. Every cloud and all that. However, in my area the demand on broadband is so high that all I get is buffering, buffering, buffering, like it’s 1996, so the only way I could watch this in its entirety was by getting up at 5 a.m. And if it was an absolute pleasure then, it’ll be an absolute pleasure anytime. It passed the 5 a.m. test, you could say. Some scene are