Former AC Milan defender targets political goals in Georgia
LETTER FROM GEORGIA:Kakha Kaladze swapped the pampered life of a soccer star for tough politics in his homeland
FOLLOWERS OF Georgia’s colourful political world will have found familiar faces among the new ministers nominated by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, a week after his Georgian Dream coalition secured a stunning election victory over the party of President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Georgia’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania, was named defence minister; his sister-in-law Maia Panjikidze, a former envoy to Germany and the Netherlands, will be foreign minister; and Ivanishvili’s right-hand man, Irakli Garibashvili, will be interior minister.
For those not acquainted with Tbilisi’s political movers and shakers, only one name would have stood out: Kakha Kaladze, former AC Milan defender, twice winner of the Champions League – and now deputy premier and minister for regional development and infrastructure.
Kaladze (34) spent a decade at AC Milan and then played for two seasons at Genoa before swapping the pampered existence of a Serie A star for life on the campaign trail back in Georgia.
The decision of a national footballing hero to back Ivanishvili was a huge coup for the formerly publicity-shy tycoon.
But though many ordinary Georgians were thrilled by his decision to enter public life, not everyone made Kaladze feel welcome when he returned home.
A court fined him more than $10 million and ordered his homes and cars to be impounded for his alleged use of his private fortune for campaign funding.
Kaladze denounced the charges as part of a government plot to undermine the opposition, and refused to pay the fines. In similar cases, which raised concern among some democracy watchdogs, Ivanishvili was fined tens of millions of euro for supposed campaign irregularities.
In a bitter campaign battle between Saakashvili’s allies and Georgian Dream, Kaladze endured “a year of fighting, with some people throwing stones at me, cursing me, spitting on me”.
“But most people had a positive feeling towards me and Bidzina Ivanishvili and Georgian Dream. People always had a good feeling when they saw me and most still do,” he said.
“When Bidzina Ivanishvili came into politics, the people saw hope and so did I. We met, talked about things and found we had common ground. We both want Georgia to be part of the EU and Nato. So I had to support him.”
Saakashvili claims Ivanishvili will undo the modernising reforms of the last decade, and restore the power of Russia and organised crime groups over Georgia. Yesterday, however, Ivanishvili restated his desire for Georgia to join Nato.