Category Archives: Life

Tbilisi Hangout 013 … and 012

Hey everyone,

So if you can’t wait to listen to the Tbilisi Hangout tonight at 8 p.m. on Radio GIPA 94.3, you can watch it now on YouTube. This week we talked about Georgian wine returning to Russia, cameras returning to the courtrooms, but Akhalaia doesn’t want a jury in there and much, much more.

Also, in case you missed last week, well, I forgot to post it, so here it is!

‘Georgia for Georgians’ Returns to Tbilisi

This week I was strolling around Hero Square between meetings and saw some fresh graffiti in one of the stairwells adjacent to the zoo.

In English it was scrawled: “Georgia for Georgians.” The whole descent on the stairwell was decorated with swastikas, SS symbols and other phrases like “Fuck Niggers” and “We’ll rise again.”


These Nazi and openly racist statements are likely more shocking to most Western readers, especially Americans, who have a long and painful history with the N-word.

I, however, was struck most by “Georgia for Georgians.” It’s hard to find any European city these days without a bit of neo-Nazi vandalism. Those swastikas and racial slurs could have just as easily been found in Paris or Vienna as Tbilisi.

But, “Georgia for Georgians” has a more specific, dark history in this country. It was one of the loudest cries of Georgia’s chaotic rebirth as an independent post-Soviet state. That slogan and the policy implications behind them played a major role in the young country’s descent into civil war, poverty and anarchy throughout the 90’s. In fact, those words are so iconic that they have their own Wikipedia page.


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Three Kings is Back!

TKlogoIt has been nearly a year and a half since you’ve heard from me on these pages, and boy have those been a journey.

In those eighteen or so months, my former employer, Kanal PIK, has risen and fallen, I’ve gotten legally married and Georgia has a new government, just to name a few.

For me, I’ve gone from editing endless news bulletins in the shared offices of PIK and Mze TV, to working from home — a spacious former komunalka — freelancing for various places, but primarily chasing financial news for Mergermarket, a newswire owned by the Financial Times Group.

Oh, and my hair has grown much, much longer.

Part of what took me so long to get Three Kings up and running again was that I wanted to make sure I had a good slate of content coming your way and I wouldn’t be merely faking you out with an “I’m back!” post followed mostly by silence.

The other reason is that it has been so long that I’ve grown unfamiliar with all this web hosting stuff and am having to teach myself how to run a site again. Once I do, expect Three Kings’ look and layout to change, because change is good.

For now, I have some good stuff coming up for you — a testimonial from a young Iranian on the impact of sanctions on the economy and youth, an analysis of Georgia’s sacrifices in Afghanistan and a full inside look at the fall of Kanal PIK, my former employer.

Keep up by following me on Twitter @ClaytonNicholas and on Facebook here, there’s a lot on the docket!

Kanal PIK, bringing the Caucasus to you, and you to the Caucasus

Hey all! So as you have clearly noticed, my deplorable neglect of Three Kings has continued. Launching the English edition of Kanal PIK, working out the inevitable bugs, and keeping it fresh with content and commentary have been not only a full-time job, but a full-life job. Luckily, sometime very soon, I’m getting myself a deputy. When that happens, you will finally see a return of content to this space.

Until then, check out the fabulous new site and tell your friends. While you’re there, register and start a blog. Already the posts by the two experts we’ve lined up have been the most popular content on the site, so you guys should join in too! You’ll get a heck of a lot more hits than Three Kings gets!

Long hiatus, new job

Hey Three Kings fans! I hope you haven’t forgotten about me, despite my long absence on the world wide web. It has been an eventful month of work, play, vacation, illness, more work, and a new job that I will be beginning Monday.

I’ve had a lot of good work in the pipeline that just hasn’t made it out quite yet so keep tuning in, the backlog is about to rush forth.

But first, a quick explanation of my new job: Monday is my first official day in the position of Senior Editor of PIK Television’s English Service. I will be disseminating my own multimedia journalistic work as well as managing and supervising the content of the soon-to-be-launched English version of the website. I’ll no doubt have plenty of updates on PIK as I settle and will be sure you let you all in on some of the exciting new projects I know are on the horizon.

News and other stuff you should be reading (when you’re not reading Three Kings)

Remember that country we created? – First of all, Global Post has been virtually the only news organization that has taken a seriously look at the fact that the United States continues to support the Kosovo government, which, as recent allegations allege, is led by mafiosos who are managing drug, internal organ and sex trafficking on the side. I have made my thoughts on this overlooked scandal quite clear in several posts (click here for Three Kings’ past Kosovo coverage). Global Post has done great work pulling together the facts in a three-part series called “Kosovo’s ‘Mafia.’” Everyone should check it out.

Femen protesters in a demonstration against "all forms of patriarchy."

Flashing for feminism – Elsewhere, my friend, Emily Channell, has a very interesting post at Facile Gestures Blog (which you should all be reading as well) about Femen, a fascinating organization of feminist activists in Ukraine. Rightly or wrongly, Femen is most well known for their topless protests in public places. While focusing on that particular tactic belies some of the overarching points Femen is making, it brings about an interesting discussion. By making their bodies — both the subject of objectification by men and submission by the state — into the vehicle for their protest are they successfully appropriating their sexuality and subverting the perversion of the masculine state? Or, as others argue, are they continuing their subordination and objectification through this method and giving the world “a lasting picture what a Ukrainian girl is: beautiful, slim and ready to undress as soon as a camera is pointed at her”? Give it a read.
When diplomats keep it real – And finally, back to Georgia. Last week offered one of the unfortunately rare examples of foreign diplomats in Georgia taking on the role of public truth-sayers. First, French Ambassador to Georgia — and fabulous saxophone player — Eric Furnier slammed the Georgian government in a public forum for failing grasp and implement the EU’s policy suggestions. The CE News Blog had a rough translation:

“It seems like all the efforts of the European Union have been like pouring water in the sand, that we are making absolutely no progress, and that the European Neighbourhood Policy is maybe empty or not European at all, because, what is left of the European values in what we heard? Almost nothing. Lack of freedom of media, total contempt for labour and trade unions, lack of progress in economy. It’s a disaster.”

“I’m afraid after hearing you, I have the impression of getting a description of a neo-bolshevik state with absolutely no freedom. And when I heard that there is now young people for stealing 8 [Georgia lari’s worth of] goods, throw them into jail, it is absolutely scary. [...]”

“[...] So I think it’s about time we maybe organise more seminars of this kind, but maybe putting on the table concrete steps to change the situation. Because what you have just been telling us is – I’m sorry – very depressing for any European citizen. Thank you”

In the middle he was making reference to the story of a teenager in Gori who was thrown in jail after stealing a box of pens. Apparently he was offered to pay an exorbitant restitution amounting to thousands of lari, instead got locked up for several years.
Following on Furnier’s tirade, Hansjörg Haber, head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) — a notoriously quiet and passive bunch — dished out some tough truth at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Rose-Roth Seminar in Tbilisi on March 23. He said the peace process with Russia was “not progressing.” He also agreed that Russia had in the past used Abkhazia and South Ossetia to leverage Tbilisi for more influence, and therefore, Moscow lost what cards it had once it recognized them as independent. Now, the Russians “are at a loss how to re-establish their influence over Georgia,” and so far their approach is “not very imaginative.”

But, Georgia’s policy isn’t much better, he said.

“Basically it consists of using international leverage to demonstrate the continued character of the principle of territorial integrity, which of course we all support and therefore additional confirmations of the principle of territorial integrity tend to demonstrate the principle of diminishing returns,” Haber said. [...]

He cited an example of Georgia’s demand in respect of Russia’s WTO bid, wherein Tbilisi in exchange of its consent for Russia’s WTO entry wants to have some sort of control over the trade at the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sections of the Georgian-Russian border.

“Legally this is certainly justified demand,” Haber said, but added that even if this demand would materialize “what is going to change in terms of ultimate Georgian objective of reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?”

“I do not see any contribution towards this national goal”.

“So there is really question of whether Georgia wants to win diplomatic battles to underscore again the principle of territorial integrity or whether it wants to promote reintegration,” he added.

After his speech, Giorgi Kandelaki, an MP on the foreign relations committee, spoke and defended the push for customs agents as it would add a “political dynamic” to the issue. But that is exactly what many European diplomats have told me is the problem. Rather than moving towards resolution, Tbilisi remains committed to politicizing and polarizing the peace talks with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in pursuit of small, short-sighted victories.

Haber wasn’t finished. He also argued, like me, that the Georgian government needs to engage directly with Sokhumi and Tskhinvali.

In this context he said that the Georgian authorities’ treatment of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali as mere Russian puppets was further pushing the two regions “deeper into Russia” and such approach was not advancing the cause of reintegration.

He also spoke of “notable differences” between Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“South Ossetian diplomacy,” he said, “is angry; it’s passionate; it’s exaggerating, but they are still closer to Georgia.”

“Abkhazia is different – they are more moderate, but… they are completely cold with respect to Georgia,” Haber said.

He also said that both Abkhazia and South Ossetia “need strong gestures from Georgia to consider alternatives to the present relationship with Russia.”

It’s a shame these sorts of signals are only sent to the Georgian government publicly when they are coming from the mouths of delegates on their way out of the country.

Just for fun – Not to pile on or anything, but in another healthy sign of political competition from Georgia’s rowdy opposition, two major opposition figures got into a brawl in the Munich airport. Like a lot of things in Georgian politics, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Photo a day: March 18-21, 2011

My first photo is of some exotic honey my roommate brought back from a peace-building training session in Bakuriani.

I have yet to verify that it is not poison.

The talk of the town this weekend however, was the Moon. Apparently, on the 19th, the Moon was the closest it has been to earth in 20 years. Georgians, naturally, panicked, and I was told by several people that this close proximity would and was causing everything from earthquakes to Alzheimer’s. Earlier in the day, Georgia defeated Russia in rugby 15-9, and thus at least Georgians were ready to die happy.

Shot at an angle for dramatic effect.

Since it was such a momentous and harrowing lunar moment — and because it was really dark out — I had a little fun and drew the letter “N” with the moon.

Not quite dark enough for the full name. Shucks.

And finally, Monday the 21st was the first day of Spring! Apparently, Mother Nature is actually on schedule in Georgia. It has finally warmed up and the sun even appeared for a couple of visits this weekend.

Take a sniff.

I’ll be back with a few more visual aids to my life in a few days probably.

Armenians head to Kansas to learn about policing

A delegation of Armenian police officers got a stroll around the town of Lawrence in my home state earlier this month to learn about how community initiatives can aid in police strategy and reduce crime.

“In Kansas, we’ve discussed ways in which they are involved in community policing,” Armenian police Col. Karen Mehrabyan said through an interpreter. “And besides being involved in studying community policing, we’ve been involved in studying the entire police system.”

Since March 8, the delegation, which visited the state through the Kansas National Guard’s state partnership program, has met with police departments in Kansas City, Kan., Overland Park, Wichita and Park City and toured the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in Hutchinson, a unit of KU’s continuing education program.

The news article spends far less talking about the program itself and more time describing the delegates visits to the pride of Lawrence — the University of Kansas’ artificial turf American football stadium.

Kansas Memorial Stadium, the "Colosseum" courtesy of Wikimedia commons

In fact, it opens:

As five Armenian police leaders followed Brad Nachtigal into Memorial Stadium Friday afternoon, they suddenly stopped to examine the artificial FieldTurf surface.

It was not grass, and was unfamiliar territory for the delegation visiting Lawrence.

“This is rubber, rubber pellets,” said Nachtigal, a Kansas University associate athletics director, as the members of the delegation crowded around him.

Col. Mehrabyan, however, suggested that the tour wasn’t totally irrelevant to the work of police.

To Mehrabyan Memorial Stadium was “impressive.” He said Armenia has an interest in building more sports facilities to keep young people engaged in sports activities and off the streets where they can get into trouble.

Photo a day: March 15-17

Ok, so I haven’t gotten out much this week. But, by popular demand I’m putting up some more snapshots of the party last night. I’m no longer putting personal photos up on facebook, but there’s just too much good stuff from Liis’ birthday.

Someone let a cowgirl into the party.

The theme actually was supposed to be either pink, or something beginning in the letter “L.”

This guy started out dressed as Lawrence of Arabia, but by this point he was just a guy with a beer singing and swinging a wrench around.

Guess which one is the birthday girl!

I'll give you a hint -- she's blonde.

Photo a day: March 11-14 Weekend edition

I’m just going to go ahead and stop apologizing for not updating this on time. This is Georgia.

Here I document bits of a fun weekend that culminated in continuing festivities for a certain Estonian’s birthday. Terviseks Liis!

I was chilling at home with this plant on Friday while resting up for the festivities to come.

Then Saturday rolled around, which meant chopping, braising and cooking the thousands of little bits of goodness that make up ratatouille a la Nick. Alas, this process was not nearly as photogenic as Pam’s presentation of Liis’ (known in hashdom as Pink Labia) birthday cake.

Not pictured: the rest of the party. This is a family blog after all.

In a late morning stupor I then got a shot of one of the many stray cats that have been wandering around on my roof occasionally now that it is getting warmer.


And as a carry-over from the weekend, below is me trying to work Monday morning after an eventful birthday/hashing weekend.

TGINM - Thank God it's no longer Monday.