The Telavi Maoyr’s Candidate – Maya Purtskhvanidze and her family were threatened to death by “Georgian Dream”
Maya Purtskhvnidze is one of the most active citizens that we know in Telavi. Without her effort it would be impossible to have the level of democracy that we have now thanks to her project “Center for Civic (Democratic) Engagement“. If not for her we would never have public hearings of municipal budget with LG and civil society, discussing most painful challenges and local priorities to be resolved by government. She introduced novelty in political life of the region by putting around one table different political parties and discussing public policy priorities. During the last 5-6 years CCE in Telavi and democracy as such have become indispensible thanks to Maya’s professionalism and commitment to democratic development agenda.
Other than this Maya as an active member of United National Movement since 2011, who is lobbying for women’s political participation and tries to introduce strong measures to protect women in Georgia from domestic violence, from different forms of discrimination, has been trying to bring the voices of such women out to the public officials to hear them, to protect their rights, to ensure their full participation in political life. Unfortunately, many times people who try to protect others, who are considered active human rights defenders, often become victims themselves and sadly we as a country have not yet thought of developing systems not only to defend victims but also to defend human rights activists working on ethnic minority, women and sexual minority issues, opposition politicians and in general people with differing opinions. In many cases in our country human rights defender means an enemy to the state, because the “very traditional, self – contended” government officials think that speaking about problems and revealing human rights violation cases means betraying the country, by showing our society’s fault they feel the whatever surface democracy we have even that is being destroyed. So they blame the people who speak about problems and not the people who create those problems and do nothing to resolve them.
The result of such surface – façade democracy is the violence and discrimination against the very popular politician, civic activist and human rights defender – Maya Purtskhvanidze, that has been started since she declared she was going to run for elections.
In our interview with UNM leader Giorgi Botkoveli we will tell you what is going on:
– Everybody knows Maya Purtskhvanidze in this town, she is an active warrior and a decent politician, who believes in liberalism, democracy and pluralism. She is the type of woman politician who gives hope that participatory democracy and equal opportunities for all are achievable milestones for our country. We inside the party see her as a new type of politician without spoiled political past and clean reputation who will be able to ruin the existing system, nepotism and lack of qualification among politicians. As you all know, Maya has been actively lobbying for women’s participation in Local Governance, representation in legislative as well as executive governance, and what is most important she has been passionately working to reform local government systems, make them more modern, more decentralized and more democratic. Here the interests of government and the political activist contradict each other again, Georgian Dream government decided to go back to centralized system back and by this kill the main idea of democracy, for which Maya has fought so hard for so many years from different platforms.
– Mr. Giorgi, you have mentioned before that you and your party members are often terrorized by government, they try to corner you and your party members by exercising frequent bullying against them and their family members. This is especially true for women candidates, what can you say about such cases, are they or their family members protected from political repressions, what do you or the government officials do?
– We have reported many cases of violence against our party members during the last couple years, lots of them were covered by media, but government somehow thinks that this is a norm to oppress the opponents, that their criminal gangs (so called “zonders”) have all the right to terrorize, beat, kill and threaten other politicians with differing positions, opinions or political belonging, especially those from UNM. They never investigate such cases, they allow their criminal gangs to make video tapes depicting private life of our members, make audio records and then manipulate or blackmail them.
– What is your plan – how do you think to change this situation? It is a fact that UNM lost 2016 elections and could not take majority of sits in Georgian parliament.
– Only Giorgi Botkoveli cannot do this, this must be done by Georgian people, we are sure Telavi UNM will have a very successful candidate for LG elections and Georgian people will have a chance to elect female Mayor, she will be the type of candidate who actually has been a real people’s candidate, she has been the flagman of democracy in Telavi and in the region. I am more than sure, we together with Maya and myself will manage to change the system, to ruin the unfairness and ensure that rule of Law is winning.
-Have you heard about the facts of threats and violence against Maya Purtskhvanidze?
– Not only she has been the victim of consistant violence from GDs “zonder groups”, but whole family of hers is bullied and terrorized, they are something GD government tries to chew and they cannot digest them. They know that a candidate with such untainted reputation, and high qualification, running as mayor in their main opponenet political party – UNM, is going to make them miserable in LG elections, especially that we have quite strong support in the region. Unfortunately the ruling party is trying to use all the resources, including administrative and even violence, in order to ensure wining upcoming elections. Therefore they do not even hesitate to frighten, threaten, blackmail, insult and even discriminate our candidate. Luckily, we are so sure that Maya is a decent candidate, genuine face of UNM, and we are positive the victory will be on her side i.e. on our side. I can assure you it is not easy to be an opposition politician especially UNM member and moreover being a women candidate, we have witnessed her suffering many tough days, threats over the phone calls, gun pointing, but Maya is not going to step back. This is exactly why she is our candidate – she is strong, she has faith in us and she shares the same values as we do. She believes and has the ability to assure others that UNM is a progressive political force in this country.
– Could you, please, tell us more about the facts of violence against Maya and her family?
– As far as I am informed first threats against her came through phone calls: once in May 2016, but then she did not run for elections and it stopped, then in January 2017. Other than this she had been warned to stay away from UNM by high level officials “in a friendly manner”. After 2012 when the governance in our country was replaced in a democratic way through elections, there came government who warned Maya that all UNM supporters/members will soon disappear from government jobs and even other jobs. In 2014 she was told that her husband’s job could be at risk because of her political affiliation and one day they could lose everything they possessed, unless she would stop her political activism. I clearly remember the month of December of 2013, namely day 17th, the second day after I resigned from the post of Deputy Governor of Kakheti and there was appointed former member of our party and UNMs district coordinator (during elections) – Irakli Shiolashvili, who betrayed his party and by that time had moved to Georgian Dream. This ugly – “wonnabe” politician Mr. Shiolashvili called Maya and her colleague to his cabinet and demanded from them not to cooperate with UNM, not to let their party members in their offices and not to allow them to any public meeting or roundtable that would be planned in the CCE. He said: standing with UNM is a very bad choice from Maya’s side. He dared criticizing her political taste.
– But this was not enough reason for Maya to stop her activism, if I got this right?…
– OF course she did not stop, as I said she is free person, raised on western values, being a very responsible citizen and qualified politician. She like each one of us in UNM believes that the future of our country lies with liberalism, and a PP who carries liberal ideology, respect for basic human rights and not with a so called political coalition that has not even defined its ideology, political platform and is comprised of people selected based on friendship, relationships in a word just nepotism.
– Mr. Giorgi, there were rumor during the parliamentary elections in 2016, that your candidate would be Maya Purtskhvanidze, but finally you ran for the elections.
– In May 2016 Maya refused to run for October parliamentary elections, because she believed her strength is Local Governance, and that she knows local issues very well, she knows the LG reform and its strategic objectives, she is highly respected locally and she know this gives her a chance to be a successful candidate, therefore she will run for 2017 elections, that is her desire and we respect that. She has all the support from party members, especially within UNMs women’s organization in Telavi and they have already started promoting her candidacy.
What do you think – does current government feel the risk that Ms. Purtskhvandize may become Mayor of Telavi?
– They realize there is a clear chance for Maya to become a Mayor and make very risky movements, they are aggressive and demonstrate violence time to time, try to show strong feast to our candidate, especially the last couple months. On January 23, 2017 several gunned men attacked Maya near her house and it was connected with her participation in UNM congress held in Tbilisi on January 20 2017. The attack was preceded by the anonymous phone call and threats to “stop her with force” unless she would quit UNM.
– What does the police do, do they investigate?
– All the above threats were reported to the district police department in Telavi by the victim, but no reaction so far from their side.
And this is only part of the story of violence against Maya. In 2017 as you know the government announced that they want to cancel the LG reform and planned to unify the decentralized municipalities. i.e. go back to pre-reform status and make LG more like soviet “raion-s” controlled by the center. This will be very bad not only for democracy but also for election process. Maya as an expert on LG and a citizen as well as candidate who’s right of passive election is at risk, contradicts the idea, she organizes round-tables, invites government to introduce their arguments, gives her own arguments she prepared a petition and engaged civil society in resisting the decision, her protest against the GD initiated amendment is motivated by the fact that she is committed to making the LG reform a success and now because of narrow political aims of GD such a great idea is going to die. Her open protest together with UNM leaders, already resulted in a very pathetic outcome: last month her husband was dismissed from the position of regional manager of JSC “Bank of Georgia”, he was delivered the letter of separation on March 1, and on March 3 their family dog – a German Shepherd family’s favorite pat was killed under undefined circumstances. Obviously it was meant to stress out and keep Maya’s family silent about previous violence. We discussed everything with Maya and she plans to bring the fight till the end nevertheless. Unfortunately we currently do not have any influence over police or other government institutions to make the process transparent, our lobbying power is still very weak, but we are sure all of this will change after we win the elections and come back to power.
-And did the police investigate killing of the dog?
– This happened during the night and most dangerous was the fact that the next morning, already stressed out family beyond limits, discovered a note on their gates saying: “this is just a begining”. Of course Ms. Purtskhvndize and her husband reported the case to the police, but it looks like they are not going to investigate anything neither dogs killing, nor other threats against her. Now you know more or less what’s happening to one of our candidates and ask the police what is the status of investigation?
And again this is not all – on March 6 2017 her husband – Grigol Gogishvili was severely bitten up, the case has not been investigated, no matter the family was inquiring intensively the status in Tbilisi, where the crime was committed as well as in Telavi, where they were directed by Tbilisi police department. The victims provided additional details, factual information related to the crime. Only during the period from March 6 till now the family has been in contact with the police about 5 times, but still no reaction, therefore we do not even hope anymore there will be a fair investigation and somebody will be punished in line with the law.
And still Ms. Purtskhavndize has decided to run for 2017 LG election as a Mayor of Telavi
– Yes, she continues her political activism and we sincerely hope after 2017 Telavi will have a very qualified, woman candidate, a decent politician and highlyrespected person who will do everything to meet the expectations of her constituents .
Maka Mosiashvili talked to Giorgi Botkoveli