Saakashvili razzle-dazzles voters with tax-paid grand party

A grand concert has rocked the Republic of Georgia. But with the economy struggling and unemployment running rampant, some Georgians question how their president managed to cough up the cash for such a spectacle.

The state-funded pop concert in Batumi, which featured some big names, like Enrique Iglesias, has certainly hit the MTV generation. And it was not the first time the President has cozied up to stars to try to win popularity.

“Mr. Saakashvili is a very smart specialist of modern PR. He knows how to establish an autocratic regime inside the country, but at the same time how to make propaganda for Western diplomats and governments,” explains Kakha Kukava from the opposition Free Georgia political party.

The PR-conscious president has often used music as a political weapon. His office commissioned a pop song about him ahead of the 2008 presidential election. It has the humble title Misha is Cool.

“Do you know any normal countries where the pop singers sing about the president?”
Kukava asks.

All these high-profile publicity stunts though come at a cost.

“I don’t know where they got the money to bring such stars to Georgia or pay for the equipment, because government funds come from the money of taxpayers like me, and according to law you can’t take money from such funds,” says investigative journalist Irma Zarnadze.

But whilst the concert adverts will certainly have gained attention in the West for the country, Georgia is still a place where human rights violations are not uncommon.

International groups such as Human Rights Watch say that the government was responsible for widespread abuses last year. Police brutality, forced evictions of internally displaced people, bans on free assembly, media censorship and abnormally high conviction rates in courts are cited as serious concerns.

Police tactics were evident recently when a protest in the center of Tbilisi was violently dispersed. The incident sparked international calls for an independent investigation. But whilst none has been forthcoming, the government has found time to plough money and energy into hosting the pop concert.

And as the stars take to the stage, police brutality and lack of government accountability are issues seemingly being brushed under the red carpet.

It has been called the biggest party Georgia has ever seen, but critics of the event are quick to point out that all that glitz and glamour cannot distract fully from the very serious issues that still need to be addressed in the country.

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