Ivanishvili—billionaire and possible candidate for president of Georgia

The 2012 campaign for president should be interesting enough to merit several blog posts. I’ll start by making three points about Bidzina Ivanishvili.

First, he is a billionaire philanthropist. According to Forbes, in 2011 he was worth $5.5 billion (http://www.forbes.com/profile/boris-ivanishvili/). To put that in context, the GDP of Georgia in 2010 was $12.8 billion, and the GDP per capita was $3,000 (http://www.gfmag.com/gdp-data-country-reports/269-georgia-gdp-country-report.html#axzz1b2CrtpR4).

So what does Ivanishvili do with his money? Students and faculty members at CSJMM say that he supports the arts in Georgia; in fact, he may have paid the salaries for theater, opera, philharmonic and other arts-oriented personnel for the past ten years. People at CSJMM also believe that Ivanishvili has paid for the renovations to all of the buildings where arts performances are held. He is also very generous with people in his hometown.  According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “In recent years, Ivanishvili has financed hundreds of charitable and small-business ventures in Georgia and transformed his native region of Sachkhere into an oasis of prosperity in Georgia’s desolate and economically moribund hinterland” (http://www.rferl.org/content/reclusive_georgian_billionaire_hopes_to_enter_politics/24356547.html).

Second, Ivanishvili wants to buy a television station. Georgia has three national TV stations and they all support Saakashvili’s government. Tbilisi residents can also watch two local stations, Maestro and Kavkasia, which generally support the opposition. Ivanishvili offered to pay 3 times the market value for any TV station and then 2 years later return the station to its original owner for the symbolic price of 1 lari. Ivanishvili then kicked a hornet’s nest when he implied that Maestro and Kavkasia are only pseudo opposition stations, and, therefore, they would not accept his offer. Stay tuned for news of whether Ivanishvili buys a TV station for his election campaign.

Three, Ivanishvili’s son, Uta, a pop/rap singer, created a campaign video for his father. On Friday Uta wrote on his Facebook page: “Today I finished writing a song ‘Georgian Dream’, which I dedicate to my father’s decision” to go into politics. The video is in Georgian, but it doesn’t need subtitles. I like it, but watch it and let me know your opinion.

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

15 Responses to Ivanishvili—billionaire and possible candidate for president of Georgia

  1. geo says:

    we have to get rid of this modern day stalin

  2. sherry says:

    I really liked the video in spite of not knowing the words. I think Bidzina conveyed a hopeful, fresh, youthful Georgia. I cannot speak to the issues of the day, but he certainly managed to avoid the traffic you so poignantly battled in another blog moment.

    PS…..your birthday serenade was the delight of my day.

  3. bazian says:

    Bidzina wants to overpay for TV stations and then return them back free of charge in 2 years when the elections are over. Coincidence?

    • keithrkenney says:

      Of course it is no coincidence. In my opinion, Bidzina is clearly saying he will buy a TV station in order to get elected. You can think of his actions in one of two ways: a) his TV station will become a propaganda tool; or b) his TV station will be less biased in favor of the current government. I predict that if he buys a TV station it will be quite biased and his rationale will be “you need to fight fire with fire.”

      • bazian says:

        I’ll go with option A.

      • keithrkenney says:

        I agree. Bidzina will probably buy a TV station and use it as a propaganda tool. That’s a bad thing. It’s also bad that his actions would imply that he can buy people/things for money—that everything (everyone) is for sale. Let’s not even try to make excuses for him. But, I’d like to make one point. If the President already “owns” three national TV stations (because they are faithful supporters), then I think Georgian voters are in the position of choosing the lesser of two “evils” (it’s an expression), or the lesser of two problems.

  4. bazian says:

    I agree, but…. Saakashvili is more predictable. I am not too enthusiastic about Bidzina. He smells Russian, for Georgia it means “death”.

    • keithrkenney says:

      I agree that Saakashvili has a track record; we know what’s he’s done and we can use his past to try to predict the future. Bidzina has no track record as a politician, so it is difficult to predict what he’ll do. But, Misha can’t run for president. Who will run from his party? Do you think it will be the mayor of Tbilisi? If so, he has a track record.

      Lots of people say that Bidzina may be a tool of the Russian government, or that he’ll favor Russia, or that he’ll be soft on Russia. I understand why people may have these fears. But let’s see if he does as he promised; let’s see if he sells his Russian assets. Let’s see if he remains critical of Russia’s operations in Abkhazia and Ossetia. When Bidzina says that Georgia need to improve relations with Russia, I say he is being pragmatic. When Bidzina says that Misha provoked Russia into the 2008 war, Bidzina is saying nothing different than what the EU Commission said.

      After saying all of this, I must admit that I’m quite ignorant of both Misha and Bidzina. I have not been following Georgian politics for a long time. I welcome our discussion.

  5. bazian says:

    I am for gradual rapprochement with Russia. However, at this time Georgia has to have completely unbiased (esp. towards Russia) leader, who can assess all the pros and cons of severed relations with “big brother”, and come up with a roadmap aimed at eventual normalization of relations.
    Russia has no intention whatsoever to make concessions to Georgia. The problem is not with Saakashvili. They even disliked Shevardnadze (former Soviet Foreign Minister). My point is that any Georgian president, who refuses to blindly follow Russian directions, falls into the category of “political corpse”.

    • keithrkenney says:

      I believe we agree. I am also for gradual rapprochement with Russia. I also believe that Georgia needs to have an unbiased leader towards Russia. I also agree that Russia has no intentions to make concessions to Georgia. But I’m not sure what you mean by this: ” My point is that any Georgian president, who refuses to blindly follow Russian directions, falls into the category of “political corpse”. Does it mean that a president who is unbiased or hostile towards Russia cannot be elected? If so, then how do you explain Saakashvili’s elections?

      Finally, I believe that Ivanishvili is a viable candidate and I believe that Saakashvili should let him run. I believe that Saaksashvili and his party should attempt to defeat Ivanishvili fairly. I don’t believe that Ivanishvili is a Russian agent. I don’t know if Ivanishvili would make a good president. Let’s see how he campaigns in relation to others.

      Thanks for writing.

      • Anonymous says:

        Dr. Kenney,
        I mean that Russia refuses to cooperate with any president who does not agree to blindly follow its directions. Remember, Medvedev labelled Saakashvili “political corpse” after August war, meaning that no future relations with Georgia are possible until Saakashvili resigns.
        As for Ivanishvili, he should run.

      • keithrkenney says:

        Ahhhhhh. You see, I didn’t understand the history of “political corpse.” I agree that Russia refused to cooperate with any president who does not obey. I’d hate to be any Georgian president because I’d have to deal with Russia but I couldn’t deal with Russia. What an impossible situation!

        Come see me at GIPA.

  6. Lasha says:

    Hi everyone my name is lasha and i am a native georgian who grew up on england . Although i am not a big fan of russia and i support my country till death i have to admit that a one of the biggest reasons for the 2008 war was our president. I support ivanishvili because you have to see what he has been doin for georgia behind the scenes. He has been double nearly the pensions in georgia plus he has been paying well enough for the artists of georgia who are out of jobs, he has been payng out of his pocket. So onr thing i can see in his actions is that he loves his country , and he doesnt want to be a preaident to have power, bielive me with his connections in russia and france he has enough power and wealth he only wants to come into goverment to save our native land, i dont know what he will do as a politician but georgia right now needs a white night if i may say so .

    • keithrkenney says:

      First, thanks for writing.
      Second, I agree that Ivanishvili does not need money or power. Nor does he need or want fame. Therefore, it seems that he truly wants Saakashvili’s party out and either his party or an acceptable opposition party in government.
      Third, I knew about him supporting Georgia’s artists, which is wonderful!

      Fourth, and here’s my primary purpose, did he really spend his money to raise people’s pensions? How do you know? I’m very interested in learning more.

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