Open Letter to the International Community

The Problem of Values in Georgia:

Letter by Founders of Broadcasting Company Rustavi 2

 

We, Jarji Akimidze and David Dvali are the founders and the former owners of one of the major independent private TV companies in Georgia, Rustavi 2.

We are writing this letter, because of the latest developments around this TV channel and on which a hearing was held in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (Application No 16812/17. Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company Ltd v. Georgia). The recent processes have directed the focus of national and international attention to the values on which the Georgian Democracy and society are based. Therefore, we, as the founders of Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company, consider as our obligation to clear some major misconceptions and to contribute to the understanding of the truth.

 

We are writing this letter, because the latest disturbing events made it clear to us that the long story of injustice with Rustavi 2 that started in 2004 with the government of Georgia forcefully taking the company away from us, evolved in something well beyond the story of “ordinary” injustice. There is a sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the understanding of the concepts of truth, justice and Western Values in general in the current opinion-forming circles of Georgian Society, with virtually almost no exception in major political circles and/or non-governmental organizations that have publicly expressed their opinion or conducted an action about these matters.

This letter, therefore, is our attempt to contribute to the truth.

Some Pre-History

In early 90-s, being young enthusiasts, we, together with our co-founder Erosi Kitsmarishvili, have created the company from scratch, fully relying on our own resources. The shortage of finances was compensated by our technical and innovative skills, unlimited energy and enthusiasm. Despite of the pressure from the government we – with the help of the support from international community that included US Embassy in Georgia – managed to create an independent, pro-Western TV company that rapidly became very popular in the country. The independence of our TV company played the major role in the success of so-called Rose Revolution as a result of which the party of “National Movement” came to power. Just like many, we were expecting from the new government the change towards more democracy and towards strengthening of the Western Values.

In early 90-s, being young enthusiasts, we, together with our co-founder Erosi Kitsmarishvili, have created the company from scratch, fully relying on our own resources. The shortage of finances was compensated by our technical and innovative skills, unlimited energy and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, the sense of hope was replaced by the sense of disappointment almost immediately. It became clear that the new government had chosen the following innovative strategy: While declaring the adoption of the Western Values and desire of the Euro-Atlantic integration on the international front, at home they started an absolutely vicious consolidation of power and wealth, using the whole spectrum of methods for silencing their opponents. These methods would vary from most straightforward use of brute force to much more sophisticated blackmail, bribe and other forms of “softer” pressure. Throughout the years, an enormous number of such cases have been documented and reported in various media and human rights reports. They have also been reflected in the international lawsuit cases against the Georgian government.

 

Such a strategy, on the one hand, requires to have a loyal press that would constantly support the actions of the governing party and would present them in a favorable light of democracy. On the other hand, one needs to silence the opposition – and most importantly – the Independent media. However, all the above had to be done with the minimal damage to the international image and the declared Western Course.

Obviously, it is fundamentally impossible to fully reconcile the external image of democracy with the totalitarian style of internal governing. Thus, as the “optimal” solution the following “hybrid” scheme has been adopted by the government of “National Movement”: Gather all the major media coverage in loyal hands, but in the same time keep some opposition media alive. However, the latter should be maintained at the minimal level. On the one hand the independent media must be weak-enough to have a minor internal impact, in order not to represent any significant threat to the governing party. On the other hand, it must be visible enough to the western partners in order to justify the adopted image of the country as of pro- Western Democracy.

 

Of course, in a nutshell all the above represented a most straightforward and cynical betrayal of the values of the Western democracy, but the “National Movement” government did not care as long as this betrayal was not noticeable for the Western partners. In order to mask it, the whole set of strategies (or rather tricks) were constantly developed and carried out. One of such simple but surprisingly efficient tricks, for example, is to non-stop repeat using all possible means that the government is a pro-Western democracy, while in the same time keep accusing critics of being opposed to democracy. This is the strategy which is virtually impossible to counteract: An individual or a small group of intellectuals is essentially unprotected against a propaganda machine that is accusing them in exactly what they are trying to criticize. In addition, such accusations were supplemented by other forms of pressure, ranging from job-denial all the way to physical brutality and jailing under pretext of invented criminal cases.

Being the largest truly pro-Western and independent TV company, with the major coverage in the country, Rustavi 2 was an ideal prey and was the first victim of the above hybrid strategy. Being an independent medium, our TV company did not have any supporting political force or other strong groups of influence. In fact, in the existing political climate, an independent media was not a very likable entity. Hence, paradoxically, being a major pro- Western force we became completely unprotected against the government that formally declared adoption of the Western Values.

As the first step, we were directly told to abandon the ownership of our TV channel in favor of someone loyal to governing party. When we refused, the pressure intensified and soon became unbearable. Finally, we were forced to abandon the company for a laughable “compensation”. We shall not describe here the details of the story. The case has been fully documented with the supporting evidence, including the witness accounts, and was later filed to the prosecutor’s office.

Paradoxically, being a major pro- Western force we became completely unprotected against the government that formally declared adoption of the Western Values

Presumably one of the factors that speeded up the extortion process was our idea to distribute the company shares among the staff of Rustavi 2. Obviously, the last thing the government needed is to obtain an independent broadcasting company that would be collectively-managed by its staff. Such a company would be essentially impossible to control.

The filing of the case took place in 2012, after the government of “National Movement” was out-voted in the wake of a so-called “Prison Scandal” in which large amount of absolutely shocking and disturbing material, allegedly describing massive and systematic torture and rape of prisoners, was revealed by journalists and other sources. (Paradoxically, as immediate reaction the responsibility for “misconduct” was partially even accepted by the “National Movement” government, but no political statement of apology was ever made.)

One of the slogans of the new governing party, called “Georgian Dream” which came to power in 2012, was “restoration of Justice”.

Thus, in 2012 upon the change of the government we immediately appealed to the Prosecutor’s office of Georgia with the demand to investigate the crime committed in 2004 by the “National Movement” government against the founders and the owners of 60 percent share of Rustavi 2, Akimidze and Dvali. The fact of committed crime demonstrated in abuse of power, coercion and extortion from then highest government officials (article 333, 150 and 181 of Criminal Code of Georgia respectively).

Although an investigation was launched, evidences had been gathered, dozens of witnesses had been interviewed and the fact of crime has been clearly demonstrated, the investigation authority has not charged any person committing the crime until now. Moreover, the prosecutor’s office until now has not come up with any conclusion of the investigation. Without such a conclusion it is impossible to move the case into the Georgian court. Therefore, the State violated Article 13 of European Convention on Human Rights, according to which everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.

The lack of any concluding statement from the prosecutor’s office after almost five years creates a legitimate thought that the present government wants to delay or simply stop the process of the appeal. This fits into the unified picture that we shall describe below.

New Protagonists

Meanwhile, some parallel processes have been initiated. The point is that, after being taken from us, the Rustavi 2 TV company changed hands several times both during and after the governance of “National Party”, but every time to an owner evidently loyal to this party. Whenever a loyalty of a particular owner would become questionable, the company would change hands almost immediately.

In 2014 a lawsuit was filed by one of the temporary owners (Kibar Khalvashi). The claim of this owner that widely went through the media coverage constitutes the statement that the property was taken away from him as a result of an unfair deal, presumably after his loyalty to the governing “National Movement” party became questionable.

We must stress that it is not a goal of this letter to question the legitimacy of the claims of this particular person. It would be absolutely compatible with our knowledge of the methods by which the “National Movement” operates, that Kibar Khalvashi fell as one of the victims of their conduct. In this respect, we sympathize to all the victims of the unfair and brutal schemes of the “National Movement”.

This misrepresentation has the far-reaching goals and its purpose is to by all means prevent the unwinding of the chain of injustices committed against free-media first by “National Movement” and later by “Georgian Dream” government all the way to the first victims: to the founders of Rustavi 2

However, the restoration of justice with respect to Rustavi 2 cannot be concluded by restoration of the rights solely of an intermediate link in the long chain of injustice and illegal suppression of the freedom of media and property rights that was initiated by “National Movement” by taking away independent Rustavi 2 Broadcasting Company from us and by converting it into the source fully loyal to their party. Therefore, the restoration of property rights of Kibar Khalvashi could only be considered as the first step towards the restorations of rights of the founders of Rustavi 2.

That the latter is a common sense is demonstrated by the public statement by Kibar Khalvashi that he would be ready – in case of his victory – to deliver 50 percent of shares of the company to its founders. Although, this declaration carries no legal weight per se, it is highly informative for understanding the ethical side of the case.

Our goal is to help in shedding light on the truth. One of the problems with the truth in the Rustavi 2 case is the following. With the conclusion of the latest lawsuit by Kibar Khalvashi the media has literally been flooded by statements that represent a complete shift and misrepresentation of the meaning of the Western values.

This misrepresentation has the far-reaching goals and its purpose is to by all means prevent the unwinding of the chain of injustices committed against free-media first by “National Movement” and later by “Georgian Dream” government all the way to the first victims: to the founders of Rustavi 2.

Here is how this is done: First, by simply avoiding any discussion about the initial injustice of 2004, the entire accent is artificially limited solely to the case of Kibar Khalvashi. This is achieved by either not noticing our existence, or by cynically dismissing our role. A clear example of the latter conduct is the recent public statement by the current acting director of Rustavi 2, who is also an ex- prosecutor of “National Movement” government, that he is not taking “these subjects” (us, the founders) seriously. This limitation of the frame allows to create a view of the case in which the original founders of Rustavi 2 are taken out of the equation. The impression achieved in this way is that the entire story is reduced to the conflict between the present owner (i.e., “National Movement”, which is anti-government) and one of the former temporary owners. It is also presented that Kibar Khalvashi benefits from some hidden sympathy (if not from a hidden support) from the current Georgian government of “Georgian Dream” party. Meanwhile, almost nobody is asking to investigate how an independent private TV company started its migration in 2004 away from its founders towards the present owner.  

Creation of such a stage allows to completely confuse the true essence of the story. This artificial confusion is needed in order to develop a line of thought that creates an impression as if in the case of Rustavi 2 there exists a profound conflict between the property-right and the freedom of speech. This false impression allows to take the entire discussion away from the essence of the Rustavi 2 case.

  In reality, all the above artificially-limited truth evaporates once the factor of the founders of the Rustavi 2 company is put back into the equation. In case of Rustavi 2, there exist no conflict between the above-mentioned two rights: Both rights were equally and cruelly violated in 2004 against its founders!

In case of Rustavi 2, there exist no conflict between the above-mentioned two rights: Both rights were equally and cruelly violated in 2004 against its founders!.

By taking away the independent media company Rustavi 2 from us, we, the founders of Rustavi 2, were the first clear victims of cynical violation by the government of “National Movement” of both, the property rights as well as the rights of the free-media and the free- speech. The reality is that the company that under our ownership represented an independent pro- Western media was taken away from us in 2004 by violation of all the rights of property and of the free-speech. Despite this widely-known fact, it remains essentially un-reflected in statements by the key political, media and non-governmental organizations and figures in Georgia. The pattern of avoiding any mention of the property rights and the rights to free-speech of the founders of the company is extremely clear. This is highly surprising and worrisome and – as explained above – represents the major shift in values from the side of the organizations and personalities that are obliged to support these values. The property right and the right of free speech is the basic value of modern Western Civilization, fully shared by the constitution of Georgia. It is also a simple common sense, that one cannot substitute these basic rights by anything else. It is impossible to build any entity that could serve to Western Values of democracy and freedom if any of the two of these basic right is violated. In this light the emergence of the following clear pattern is extremely worrisome. The fact is that from all the statements that have been made by the President of Georgia as well as by other representatives of the Government as well as by huge number of non-governmental organizations, there was never a slightest accent made on the property rights of the founders of company and possible violation of their rights of the freedom of the media. The minor exception known to us is the brief mention of recommendation to investigate 2004 case in the statement by the Ombudsman. There could have been other cases, but they clearly did not manage to anchor.

  This approach, on top of being unfair and damaging to our case of Rustavi 2, is devastating to the fragile Democratic Values of our society, as it propagates the feeling that a Just Society can be built by forgetting the past injustices. It creates a false impression as if some abstract freedom of speech and/or other democratic values can be achieved without restoring the justice with respect to the founders of the company who – despite of enormous pressure – have created the private TV company that under their governance served to freedom of speech and to true Western values. The purpose of this letter is to urge you to take into the account the fact that an independent and pro-western TV company was taken away from their founders in 2004, by the violation of the basic rights of the property and free-speech and that there is a clear pattern of avoiding any serious discussion of this fact by the key political and non-governmental figures in Georgia.  

The Latest Events

First of all, the process of re-distribution of the plundered property – the broadcasting company Rustavi 2 – continues.

This is not new: Since the very moment when the Broadcasting Company Rustavi 2 was forcefully taken away from its founders and the legitimate owners in 2004 by the “National Movement” government, the effort of distancing company from its founders continued almost non-stop. The purpose of the process – as this is the case for any other stolen property – is to make the return of the company back to its legitimate owners virtually impossible.

Up until now this effort has been conducted in a rather straightforward way: By the frequent changes of the fictitious owners by means of largely illegal deals and transections. However, very recently the process acquired a new flavor. First of all, the number of actors participating in Rustavi 2 drama got increased.

One of the factors contributing in this increase is due to internal political processes that lead to a split of the “National Movement” party into the two fractions. Without an insider information it is hard to judge how deep is the split, but it has been officially formalized. Therefore, it was a matter of time before the two fractions would express their desire in taking the control of Rustavi 2. This is what we are witnessing today.

  Finally, in order to complete our cast of characters, we need to mention yet another side that emerges as a powerful player in the competition for taking control over Rustavi 2: The current “Georgian Dream” government. A clear evidence that this side is very far from being neutral in this game is provided by the fact that it is effectively blocking the release of any concluding statement by the prosecutor’s office of Georgia on the case of 2004 charges of extortion and abuse of power by then government officials, which we have filed in 2012. It is evident that the very latest events around Rustavi 2 are driven by the forces of “National Movement” and the “Georgian Dream” government. In order to explain these events, we need to understand what the goals of each of these parties are.

The goals of the two fractions of “National Movement” are clear: They both want to keep the control over Rustavi 2 for the advancement of their own political agendas.

On the other hand, what the “Georgian Dream” government wants is to have a controlled opposition TV. Of course, they understand that to get a complete control over Rustavi 2 at this point is not realistic, and moreover, they do not need it, because the goals of “Georgian Dream” and “National Movement” partially coincide.

 

The goals of “Georgian Dream” and “National Movement” partially coincide. The key point is that neither of them wants the existence of a strong, independent and impartial TV company in the country!

The key point is that neither of them wants the existence of a strong, independent and impartial TV company in the country!

As they both understand very well, the only way for Rustavi 2 to once again become such an independent media company, is to restore the legitimate rights of their founding owners, i.e., us. Therefore, both sides will try their best to never allow such a restoration of our rights. One of the necessary condition for achieving this is to by all means deflect the attention of public from any discussion about the violation of rights of the founders of the company. As described above, there is a crystal clear pattern of this deflection of attention from both sides. We can now understand the latest events around Rustavi 2. The essence of these events is the following: The set of political parties, consisting primarily of “Georgian Dream” and at least one of the fractions of “National Movement”, are trying to strike a deal on sharing the control over Rustavi 2. The scale of the hidden financial side of this deal can only be guessed from the public statement of the acting director of Rustavi 2 about an offer of 10 million made to him in exchange of the control of Rustavi 2. The most cynical part about this deal, done over a plundered property, is the way it is portrayed as a democratic distribution of the company’s shares among its staff members. As if, one can build anything democratic by redistributing the stolen property. Just like the distribution of the plundered property to “everyone” by the Bolshevik party never lead to anything just or democratic, such declarations are simply pretext for a group of individuals with a clear political agenda to seize the control over company in the name of “everybody”. In addition, in order to strengthen the false image of democracy an “independent” board of trustees will presumably be created. In reality, the end result of this distribution will be that the company will become controlled by a group of people fully loyal to the rules of the political game agreed among the “National Movement” and “Georgian Dream”, since no decent person will ever agree to take a stolen share. We hope that, despite the political pressure, the opinion-makers will stay out of this deal and sooner or later the discussion about the 2004 crime committed by the government of Georgia against the founders of Rustavi 2, will be given a proper response. Before this happens, any discussion about the free media and just society in Georgia will be false.  

Our Appeal to International Community

 

We would like to urge you to view the case of Rustavi 2 in the above clarifying light in order to avoid possible further misrepresentation of the facts and the basic values. We, the founders of Rustavi 2 suffered a devastating blow from the Georgian government in 2004 to our basic rights to the freedom of speech, free media and the property rights and any discussion about these values and a Just Society in Georgia would be false without restoration of our rights. As one of the concrete measures by which the international community could help us in protecting the basic rights of property, free speech and free media in Georgia is by demanding from the Prosecutor’s Office and the Government of Georgia the public release of the results of investigation and of the respective concluding statement on the case of Government actions against Rustavi 2 in 2004. Needless to say, we would be very happy to provide all the needed facts and further supporting evidence that we may have at our disposal upon the request. There were some facts, such as the tragic and unexpected death of Erosi Kitsmarishvili well after his key witness statement to prosecutor office. These facts are extremely important per se, but were not included – for avoiding defocusing – in the above discussion the goal of which was to expose the massive (and possibly coordinated) neglect of our role by the political and non- governmental circles and their controlled media.

The fact that they were so far ignoring the existence of the founders of Rustavi 2 is a clear indication that in Georgia something is terribly wrong with the sense of the justice and truth!.

As a final remark, of course, we understand that after this letter will become public, some of the Georgian participants of this “drama” that were desperately trying to avoid discussion about us, may feel the need to reply. One of the well-known strategies for suppressing the truth is to dilute it. We therefore will not be surprised to get in response to this letter a flux of all possible accusations and misinformation from seemingly very different sources. Of course, the bet is that in such a case the one that has more voices wins and we are clearly out-numbered. However, we have a small advantage. The fact that they were so far ignoring the existence of the founders of Rustavi 2 – irrespectively what they are going to say next – is a clear indication that in Georgia something is terribly wrong with the sense of the justice and truth.

Sincerely, Founders of Broadcasting Company Rustavi 2

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