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Locals praising Georgian PM in video found to be government employees

17 July 2023
Gulnaz Goletiani speaking to Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili in the video. Screengrab from video, Georgian Government/Facebook

Footage purporting to show Georgia’s prime minister being praised by residents of a town in western Georgia was found to in fact show the same group of civil servants at different locations in the city. 

In a video published on the Georgian government’s Facebook page on Saturday, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili was shown visiting the town of Tsageri in Racha–Lechkhumi, following the rehabilitation of the city’s central streets. 

In the footage, Gharibashvili is seen interacting with people on a street, in a market, and in a park, all of whom are presented as passing citizens, with the video’s description also stating that the prime minister met with local residents. 

However, five of the people who meet him were found by opposition-aligned TV Pirveli and Mtavari Arkhi to be civil servants, with all five appearing at multiple locations within the same video.  

At the beginning of the video, Gharibashvili visits Lado Asatiani park in the city centre, and is greeted by a woman who is presented as having been in the park at the time by chance. 

TV Pirveli identified the woman as Gulnaz Goletiani, an employee of the municipality’s cultural centre. 

‘Thank you for coming. Thank you for peace in Georgia on behalf of all Lechkhumi women’, says Goletiani. ‘Thank you for making everything much prettier here and opening a great facility. This was a problem for a year — [but now] they have beautified Lado Park, which is important to us’, Goletiani says in the video.

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In the same section, Tsageri library director Bela Saginadze, city council member Marika Kopaliani, and civil servant Marina Svanidze are amongst the crowd. 

In a later section of the video, the Prime Minister visits Tsageri’s central bazaar, and once again meets with Goletiani and Saginadze, who are presented as being bystanders at the market. 

‘Thank you so much. This is your team’s achievement’, says Goletiani.

Walking along a street, the prime minister is greeted by Megi Murtskhvaladze, an employee of the city’s gardening service, who shouts ‘may your every step be blessed’ while filming Gharibashvili on her phone. 

Megi Murstkhavaladze filming Gharibashvili. Screengrab from video, Georgian Government/Facebook

In a later scene in a park, Murtskhavaladze again films Gharibashvili, while shouting ‘bless you, bless you, we love you very much’. 

In footage of Gharibashvili’s departure from the city, Goletiani, Kopaliani, and Murtskhavaladze are present, with the latter once again filming the prime minister.

‘We love you very much’, says Goletiani, while shaking the Prime Minister’s hand. 

Some opposition figures have commented on the video, with Tazo Datunashvili, a member of the Lelo party’s political council, comparing Gharibashvili to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and accusing the prime minister of having a ‘very deliberate anti-Western policy’. 

‘Georgia’s prime minister has become a character as shameful as […] Mr. Lukashenka, who sometimes makes performative speeches, pretending to meet people, while in reality, civil servants wave on the street instead of [ordinary] people’, said Datunashvili. 

Beso Namchavadze, a senior analyst at Transparency International Georgia, wrote on Facebook that in Tsageri, ‘where a show to thank the Prime Minister was held’, 53% of the population lives below the poverty line. 

‘That's why they carried the same people around to say thank you’, wrote Namchavadze.

Read in Russian on Jnews.