Saturday, October 25, 2014


Georgia

Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia's Wild Card

Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili before his speech at his party's founding congress in Tbilisi.
Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili before his speech at his party's founding congress in Tbilisi.
By Daisy Sindelar
Bidzina Ivanishvili likes to portray himself as a simple man from humble origins -- even if it takes a glossy, Western-produced promotional video to do it.

"We now realize that I grew up in poverty and my village was very poor. I didn't see it that way in my childhood," Ivanishvili says.

"As soon as I learned to walk, I would run barefoot everywhere and didn't even feel that I was poor. But most importantly, I grew up free and I loved my childhood."

The video is part of a sophisticated campaign to propel the 56-year-old Ivanishvili and his fledgling Georgian Dream coalition to the forefront of Georgian politics.

Georgian Dream is vying for control of the country's 150-seat parliament, which for nearly a decade has been dominated by the United National Movement of President Mikheil Saakashvili.
It remains to be seen whether voters can embrace a candidate who practices yoga, goes to bed early, and maintains a private zoo of peacocks, penguins, and zebras.


Ivanishvili, who is Georgia's richest man with an estimated personal fortune of $6.4 billion, is angling to become prime minister.

But he has also surrounded himself with ambitious, respected politicians like former UN Ambassador Irakli Alasania and Tedo Japaridze, former head of Georgia's National Security Council and an ambassador to the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

With Georgian Dream less than a year old, detractors have pointed to Ivanishvili as dangerously inexperienced.

But spokeswoman Maia Panjikidze says the coalition's impressive roster of politicians speaks volumes about Ivanishvili's political savvy.

"He did something nobody was able to do before. He unified the opposition, the healthy part of the opposition, and now the coalition consists of six political parties," Panjikidze says.

"Ivanishvili is a person who can unify people and parties who maybe did not think before about following a [single] political direction. This is something that's a real sign of experience."

Peasant Roots

Ivanishvili was born into a large peasant family in the western Georgian village of Chorvila. After earning a menial wage as a custodian in a metalworking factor, he graduated with a degree in engineering and economics from Tbilisi State University.

From there, he went on to earn a doctorate in Moscow. And by the time of the Soviet collapse, Ivanishvili had launched a successful business career in Russia, first by selling computers, and then by co-founding a bank, Rossiisky Kredit.

His Russian-made billions have stirred frequent speculation that Ivanishvili is the Kremlin's inside man in the parliamentary race, a candidate ready to sell off Georgia's political independence and return to the Moscow fold.

But Ivanishvili denies any lingering connection to Russia. He has revoked his Russian citizenship, sold off most of his Russian assets, and has spent the last 10 years living in Georgia.

  • Bidzina Ivanishvili (front row, second from right) around the age of four with his family in the village of Chorvila, Imereti, where he was born on February 18, 1953.
  • Ivanishvili, seen here in an undated photo, graduated from high school in Sachkhere.
  • Ivanishvili (right) studied engineering and economics at Tbilisi State University.
  • Ivanishvili and Eka Khvedelidze at their wedding in Svetitskhoveli, on October 19, 1991.
  • Ivanishvili and his wife, Eka Khvedelidze, in an undated photo.
  • Ivanishvili with one of his sons
  • The couple with one of their four children
  • Ivanishvili's mother joins a birthday celebration.
  • The Ivanishvili family at their home in Tbilisi: the children, from oldest to youngest, are Uta, Bera, Gvansa, and Tsotne.
  • Ivanishvili before his speech at his party's founding congress in Tbilisi on April 21, 2012.

(From Rags To Riches: A Life In Pictures)

Moreover, he has spent much of his fortune on philanthropy in his native country -- including a full-scale makeover for his hometown, whose buildings now boast matching tile roofs and which is home to one of the most state-of-the-art hospitals in Georgia.

"In the past 20 years Ivanishvili has done more for Georgia than anybody else," says Panjikidze. "Somebody who is thinking only about his own country cannot be the project of a foreign government."

Ivanishvili's public spending has endeared him to many ordinary Georgians, who see him as a down-to-earth native son, despite his billions.

But in a country accustomed to Saakashvili's boisterous leadership, it remains to be seen whether voters can embrace a candidate who practices yoga, goes to bed early, and maintains a private zoo of peacocks, penguins, and zebras.

Ivanishvili, who has been married to his wife Eka, for nearly 21 years, is also fiercely protective of his four children, who rarely appear in public. Two of his children are albinos, including a son, Bera, who is a rap performer.

Critics of Ivanishvili have suggested that his brief political resume may put Georgia's fragile democratic progress in peril. Saakashvili himself has argued that a vote for the United National Movement is the only way to keep the country on a forward path toward Western integration, NATO membership, and a clean break from Russia.

Not everyone agrees. Lincoln Mitchell, an associate research scholar with Columbia University's Harriman Institute, who appears in Ivanishvili's promotional video, tells RFE/RL that Saakashvili's regime has run its course, and that it is Ivanishvili who can help ease the country into its first political transition since the Rose Revolution.

"Ten years from now, if Georgia's economy is stronger and they're in NATO, that's a home run. But this [the administration's current actions] is not the path to get there," Mitchell says.

"They're better off with Ivanishvili if they want to get into NATO. Because at least then it shows that hey, they can have a transition of power. I think Alasania and Japaridze are better architects for that goal than whoever's trying doing it on the other side, and they've got a better track record."

Daisy Sindelar

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ben
September 30, 2012 13:54
Daisy,little flower! Of course you have "bleeding hart" of the liberal and you are for the "social justice"! But why the billioner? As the "social justice" embodiment? Look,your photographer trys hard:have made t him almost with blue eyes and almost light hair!
In Response

by: Sey from: World
September 30, 2012 15:50
What does having light features has to do with anything? As an example, many incredibly poor Afghans have blue eyes and light hair. I've seen members of the Taliban who in other conditions could be male models.

About Ivanishvili? Well, at least he married a Georgian....you know what I mean?
In Response

by: Martin from: front of computer
September 30, 2012 18:31
Ben Gurion, I guess you should start preparing yourself to accept that your friend Saakashvili will be soon gone..

by: Jack from: US
September 30, 2012 14:25
US foreign policy is about to suffer humiliating defeat in rump republic of Georgia. Republic of Georgians now associate thugs from Saakashvilli clan who brought down rump republic to a level of corruption and poverty worse than in Africa with US government which bankrolls and props up Saakashvilli clan. In a current situation in the rump republic any outcome is good for Russia. If Saakashvilli rigs elections (like he did last time) Georgians will hate him and regime and US government even more and at the end the regime will be overthrown and Misha will end up dying in a cave among Muslims and piles of extrements like his predecessor Gamsakhurdia did. The next ruler will realize he has to kick US government out before things can get better in that pitiful country

by: ebenezer from: canada
September 30, 2012 15:01
I am glad at least Georgians are opening their eyes. This guy is trying to hang to the power by changing the system from presidential to parliamentary system. In 2011 and till march 2012 almost all the western media including, bbc, cnn guardian and many more European and American media organizations spread propaganda saying Putin played foul by switching jobs from president to prime minister. But now those same media organizations are saying Saakashvili is trying get the real democracy to Georgia true double standards. Either EU or US are trying to keep a puppet in power in Georgia for the sake of political influence and control the global influence with them. Not only Georgia most of the countries in eastern Europe including Russia are culturally, socially, religiously and economically same. It is better for all those countries to live in peace and harmony with Russia instead of looks at far away mountains. "grass on the other side of the river looks green" you don't know what bad is there until you go there. Georgia is a small country and it needs the benefit from neighbor not the fight from the neighbors. It is high time for US and EU and back off and pack up.
In Response

by: Rasto from: Paris
September 30, 2012 18:28
Ebenezer, look I guess it is not up to you or EU or USA, how average Ggeorgian should feel about their neighbours, particularly Russians. EU or US geopolitical activities or opinions of RFERL readres have nothing to do with that. Russian army is waiting 70 km from Tbilisi, and servant of US puppet Saakashvili, Giga Bokeria 2 days ago met Medvedev in Moscow. Gossips are saying to negotiate trade - proposing Moscow to accept independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia for Russian support if violent conflict ( between Ivanishvili sympatizants and Saakashvili National Movement) will be provoked within Georgia.
In Response

by: Ben
September 30, 2012 20:08
RFE readers are the bizzare misture of the maniac haters of everything and propagandists online.It`s not always easy to tell them as in Jack from USA case and not all of the are so fanny as the Jewish leftist Yasha.

by: Rasto from: front of my comp
September 30, 2012 19:22
Media in Georgia ( no governmnetal) are reporting threats and violence against candidates of Georgia's dream, particularly in Kakheti region. Cars are stopping front of houses of Georgia's dream supporters and people in cars are shooting to the air or in worst cases throwing Molotov's coctails at houses. A candidate's ( from Georgian dream) sister toddler was kidneaped. Supporters of GD have been beaten or jailed since the information about torturing in Georgian prisons leaked.

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