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Interview with Levan Ioseliani

By Levan Abramishvili and Oliko Kiladze
Wednesday, May 15
The Messenger continues the coverage of the developments in the by-elections of the Parliament of Georgia, which be held in on May 19. Today we spoke with one of the candidates for the mandate of Mtatsminda district lawmaker in Tbilisi. Levan Ioseliani represents the Civil Movement, an NGO established by himself and Alexander (Aleko) Elisashvili.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Youíre a successful lawyer, what made you decide to get involved in the politics?

I have been a lawyer for many years. I received education in Georgia and then in the U.S. I have been involved in politics indirectly, when Alexander Elisashvili won Sakrebulo elections in 2014, I was the director of his office. Even though I was in the U.S. at the time, I was still actively involved in the 2017 elections. After Alekoís results, we held meetings in Brussels, where EED [European Endowment For Democracy] took an interest in financing a movement that would advocate civil ideas and would help new people get involved in the politics. Our second donor is NED [National Endowment for Democracy]. We established the Civil Movement with Alexander Elisashvili. Our organization is non-governmental and isnít political, but we think that if we find enough human resources, we will take part in the 2020 elections. We didnít want to skip this by-election and introduced a candidate that was less-known in the society and didnít have a corrupt political reputation. We went door-to-door in the Mtatsminda district to learn more about the problems that people living there face. Most of the people weíve met showed disappointment due to the current political climate and disregard of their problems from the politicians.

What are some of the main problems that people in Mtatsminda face that you learned during your campaign?

As I have mentioned, they are disappointed. Most of them live in an environment that is unimaginable for most, in the city center people have toilets and even kitchens outside their homes. Most of the buildings need underpinning and the communication system needs to be changed. To improve the situation, we need to come out of our comfort zones, because great things are only done when youíre not in your comfort zone. We need to shift the political paradigm to gain the trust of the people that are affected by politics. We have a plan, Revitalization and Development of Historic Tbilisi, to help people in Mtatsminda to use the touristic potential of their district.

What does the Revitalization and Development of Historic Tbilisi entail?

It was developed by our team to preserve the cultural heritage and help the authentic population in the district use the touristic potential, therefore keeping them in their historic homes. Initially, the government has to invest in Mtatsminda homes so the people interested in tourism business can use their homes for rent. One-third of the Mtatsminda population has the potential to make USD 1000 a month from renting their apartments. This might be a big number, but what it means is renting apartments for USD 33 a day, which is a very reasonable price for the center of the city. For this, according to our plan, approximately GEL 500 million is needed from the government to do the underpinning and communication system renovation. The investment will generate GEL 50 million a year and will circulate back in the budget in 10 yearsí time.

You spoke about shifting the paradigm. One example of this is that you donít put your posters up in the streets; instead, you started planting trees. What made you decide this?

The use of the posters was useful maybe in the 19th century. We are a century behind the rest of the world, since we are still massively using posters. In the era of the internet, putting posters up should be an embarrassment. They stay up for years and deface our streets. We are trying to become an example for the next elections, so others can follow our precedent.

People have different expectations for the district lawmakers. Some of them expect huge involvement from them in their day-to-day lives. In reality, this doesnít happen most of the time. What are your thoughts on the obligations that the district lawmakers have?

The government spends money so that each of the district MPs have their offices, staff. What is the reason behind this? For the people to go there and express their concerns, so that the district MP can be their voice in the Parliament. We have a different situation Ė the offices arenít working most of the time and you certainly wonít see the members of the Parliament there. I think that after the elections, they should be obliged to go door-to-door every six months or so, to find out the problems of the population that they are responsible for. My main promise is that I will continue meeting with the Mtatsminda population after the elections and will be their voice in the Parliament.

How do you think that this by-elections will influence the 2020 elections?

The interim elections are very important for 2020. The government is practically thinking this is the first round of the 2020 elections. In reality, the more violence they use, the sooner they will lose their mandates. Unfortunately, Georgian Dream couldnít learn from the previous government and is going down the same road that they did. I donít think they have resources to offer anything tangible to the population in 2020.

Your organization is called Civil Movement. As you mentioned, you go door-to-door and have direct communication with the society. What else are you doing to keep your organization open to the public to justify your name?

Aside from Tbilisi, we opened four offices in Batumi, Kutaisi, Telavi and Zugdidi. We are mainly focused on being watchdogs, our regional representatives are observing the spending and activities of the government, which are, most of the times, unlawful and irresponsible. On our Facebook page, we have a registration form, where thousand people have already registered and their number is growing. We hold meetings and have constant and direct communication with them. We want these people to be engaged in the decision-making process and if we create a political party, everyone will be involved in the policymaking process. We are currently looking for the human resources to make this a reality. There are many young, talented, motivated people who are disengaged from the political processes. They are doing their jobs in offices, but this job [politics], unfortunately, stays up to uninformed people. We want to take these people out of the offices, at least partially, and tell them that our everyday lives are worsened by our inactiveness and offer them to do something together, to agree that making money isnít our objective. Our goal is developing this country step by step. This is what we all want.

Interim elections in the Mtatsminda district will take place on May 19.