What started as a brawl following a Georgian TV talk show has taken a definite turn for the surreal now that one of the central figures in the controversy has fled to Tskhinval , of all places. Even before this latest development, the situation was quite confusing.
The TV station in question was Kavkasia TV – generally sympathetic to Georgia’s opposition. The talk show featured a live debate over recent confrontations between radical Orthodox Christians and their critics.
The person who has now fled to Tskhinval is Malkhaz Gulashvili, co-founder of the radical People’s Orthodox Christian Movement.
More Church influence in society has generally been something advocated for by parts of the opposition.
And indeed on 7 May, Gulashvili had told his supporters that his newly found movement aimed to rid Georgia of the Liberty Institute, cornerstone of Georgia’s Rose Revolution government.
But during the brawl outside the TV studio, sympathisers of Gulashvili not only attacked his secular opponents during the debate, but also TV staff, including the station’s founder Davit Akubardia.
And afterwards, several opposition politicians condemned the attacks, expressing their belief that the authorities were covertly supporting the activists.
And Gulashvili has in the past had business links with the Davit Bezhuashvili and his Georgian Industrial Group, controversial for allegedly controlling large parts of Georgia’s media landscape for the government.
Whatever Gulashvili’s true allegiances, none of them seem to square with fleeing to South Ossetia. The South Ossetian authorities are normally quick to arrest Georgians found trespassing their border, but they will have been very happy to be able to grant him political asylum. Gulashvili said that he had been forced to flee after his son had been assaulted, with the supposed intention of rape. He again accused the Liberty Institute for being directly responsible, and claimed that the fight outside Kavkasia TV had been staged by the station itself, and that it worked for the Interior Ministry.
To top this all off, Gulashvili is the owner of the Georgian Times media holding – the Georgian Times being a major Georgian newspaper.