Georgia

By Luisa Frey
Will the Palestinian economy ever be able to break its isolation? The past two decades’ rounds of failed peace talks didn’t manage to build an independent Palestinian economy which can break free of Israel – the question is now if a new $4bn plan to revive the economy will be able to change that.
♦ Tests taken from Yasser Arafat’s corpse have shown high levels of radioactive polonium-210, suggesting the former Palestinian leader could have been poisoned. Arafat’s widow describes it as “the crime of the century”.
♦ External pressure is also threatening Georgia. The FT’s Neil Buckley reports about the “borderisation” of South Ossetia.
Greece may be the next Weimar Germany, says Greek professor Aristides Hatzis. The parliament contains neo-Nazis, Stalinists, Maoists, populists and defenders of conspiracy theories. Although there is a strong coalition government, failures in implementing reforms seem to be outweighing successes.
♦ Meanwhile, “power, prestige, and influence of the United States in the broader Middle East is in a death spiral”, writes Bob Dreyfuss. He argues in Le Monde Diplomatique that the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s economic crisis and the Arab Spring contributed to the decay of American influence.
♦ The future of the US-Egyptian relationship is also in focus. Washington’s establishment of relations with former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel al-Nasser “can serve as the most promising template for a stable and productive relationship between the two countries today”, says Robert Springborg in Foreign Affairs.
♦ Peter Baker, from Foreign Policy, writes about how the warm Russian-American relationship became icy. Through interviews and secret notes and memos, he reconstructs the story of former President George W. Bush’s pas de deux with Vladimir Putin, offering lessons for Obama as he struggles to define his own approach to Russia.

It’s a competition with some questionable talent, scorned for its lack of taste, and yet the Eurovision Song Contest has an audience of 125m and brings pundits out in force to discuss what it says about the state of Europe today. With this year’s final coming up this Saturday in Malmö, Sweden, we give you the best pieces on how it works and why Europeans care, so that you can mingle with confidence at Eurovision parties.

 

Here’s our reading to take you through to the weekend  

Neil Buckley

Georgia's former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili arrives for questioning at an Interior Ministry building on December 7 (IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/AFP/Getty Images)

Former Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili arrives for questioning on December 7 (IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/AFP/Getty)

A spate of arrests and investigations of members of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s party since the October election victory of billionaire premier Bidzina Ivanishvili is causing a headache for western officials over how to respond.

On the face of it, the legal campaign seems to follow the typical winner-take-all logic of elections in post-Soviet states. It looks similar to how Mr Saakashvili’s government treated former associates of his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze. It also looks rather like the Ukrainian authorities’ pursuit under president Viktor Yanukovich of former premier Yulia Tymoshenko and her allies. 

Neil Buckley

Georgia’s first parliament session on Sunday since the shock election victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili was a slightly sour affair. But three weeks into the country’s latest democratic experiment, the worst fears of western capitals have not been realised – though a worrying clash may loom over Georgia’s central bank governor. 

Here’s today’s menu for you:

Esther Bintliff

Bidzina Ivanishvili speaking at his residence in Tbilisi in October 2011. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Until last year, many voters in Georgia hadn’t even heard of Bidzina Ivanishvili. He is now set to become the country’s next prime minister, after his Georgian Dream coalition trounced the incumbent party of president Mikheil Saakashvili in Monday’s election. So how did a reclusive billionaire businessman with no political experience capture the public imagination in such a short period of time?

In the FT

  • An excellent introduction to Ivanishvili is this profile by Courtney Weaver, who interviewed him in his futuristic Tbilisi “home-cum-office” in September. “A billionaire who accrued most of his wealth in Russia in the 1990s, Mr Ivanishvili has been content to live mostly unseen, amassing an art collection – Lichtenstein, Freud, Hirst – and quietly spreading his wealth across Georgia through charitable vehicles. That was until last October, when Mr Ivanishvili literally came down from the mountain.”
  • While Ivanishivili had been building support throughout the past year, he got a significant boost in the middle of last month, when the government of Saakashvili was thrown into crisis by the emergence of videos showing Georgian prisoners being beaten and raped. Saakashvili quickly issued a statement condemning the acts as an “horrific affront to human rights and dignity”, but the brutal images brought thousands onto the streets in protest, and undermined the faith of many in the government.

 

Here’s what we’ve been chatting about today:

We’ve got plenty of brain food for you today: