Georgia: Cyanide and mystical stories

Lasha Tughushi, “Liberal Academy Tbilisi” Foundation (Georgia, Tbilisi)

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A detective story with a medieval twist including intrigues, poison and an attack on the most important institution of Georgian society, the Church, has become the hottest news of the month.  It overshadowed even the long-awaited visa-free regime granted by the European Union.

Domestic Policy: An attack on the Church according to a medieval scenario

«A treacherous attack on the Church has been prevented. Our country has averted a major disaster» – said the Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili. This was a sudden and sharp response to the arrest of a priest suspected of plotting to poison a top figure in the Georgian Church.

On February, 10 the Prosecutor General of Georgia announced the arrest of the Archpriest Giorgi Mamaladze who had close contacts with the Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II. Mamaladze is accused of attempting to board the flight to Berlin with a deadly poison, sodium cyanide, in his luggage. The chief prosecutor stated that Mamaladze was planning to poison a  «high ranking Church official» who had not been identified.

It was then assumed that it was Patriarch Ilia II who might have been the target. The Patriarch was being treated and underwent a surgery in hospital in Berlin.

Mamaladze heads St. Joachim and Anna Medical Centre owned by the Patriarchate – the governing body of the Georgian Orthodox Church. A year ago he was appointed Deputy Head of the Patriarchate Property Management Service. 

The arrested archpriest was notified of the formal charges against him as the court put him in pre-trial detention. However, he pleaded not guilty. Later the prosecutor’s office specified that, according to their version, Mamaladze was attempting to kill Shorena Tetruashvili, the Patriarch’s secretary. 

This incident shook the media landscape in Georgia. The situation became tenser over the course of open discussions between high ranking church officials regarding the internal problems of the Church. One of the archbishops, Petr Tsaava called

Ms. Tetruashvili a «grey cardinal». At the same time a letter written by the accused Mamaladze was published, shedding light on internal corruption schemes.

Opinions are often expressed that this was a plot against the Patriarch who is a uniting and consolidating figure in Georgia. According to conducted research, the Patriarch of Georgia Ilia II wields significant influence and trust in the society. The majority of Georgians express their special sentiment for him. Therefore, it is not surprising that black clouds strangely gathering over the institution forming Georgian identity, the Georgian Orthodox Church, have become reason for serious concerns in the society.

The investigation continues. Where will unravelling this tangled web of poisonous intrigue lead, who is behind it and what is the goal of this strange medieval mystical story – this is what triggers people’s interests in Georgia.

Economy: The sixth million tourist

The video about the sixth million tourist arriving in Georgia last year, which has recently been uploaded by the Georgian National Tourism Administration, has become viral in mass media and the Internet. The lucky tourist was given local wine as a gift while in the evening there was a surprise in store for him — a dinner with the Prime Minister.

Tourism in Georgia is developing rapidly and becoming an even more important sector of economy. The year of 2016 registered a record flow of international visitors that reached a historical maximum and exceeded the number of 6 million people.

The developing aviation market is a growth engine for local tourism, where cheap service has become of special importance. Apart from its initial flights to Budapest, Vilnius, Warsaw and Katowice, the International Kutaisi airport has offered cheap flights to Berlin, Memmingen, Dortmund, Milan, Thessaloniki, Larnaca and Sofia since last September. The  new flights are available at the price of 25-40 euros.

The issue of visa free regime with the European Union for the citizens of Georgia was finally solved

In February it became known that Kutaisi International Airport is to add a new terminal due to a growing passenger flow. It is also expected that transport connection between Tbilisi and Kutaisi will grow.

The industry boasts high competition both among airlines and airports. The airlines are optimistic about the Georgian tourism market. According to a Wizzair representative, the airlines annually fly approximately 250 thousand passengers. Tourists make up 30-40 per cent out of that number, that is about 100 thousand people. All in all, this means a 30 million investment in Georgian tourism.

Foreign Policy: Long-awaited visa free regime

At the end of February, as a result of all necessary yet enduring procedures, the issue of visa free regime with the European Union for the citizens of Georgia was finally solved. Tbilisi celebrated and rejoiced. There were live streams from European capitals in the daytime and fireworks with champagne and greetings at night.

Starting from the end of March the citizens of Georgia will be able to travel to Europe without visas. However, despite the overall feeling of happiness, local executive authorities have already started to warn Georgian citizens about the documents which are needed in order to cross the border with Europe so that a smiling European customs officer relying on their sense of reasonable suspicion does not send them back to Georgia.