In Georgia this April was marked by the violent clashes between the residents of the Pankisi Gorge and the police, the beginning of the tourist season, and the verbal exchanges of the presidents.
Clashes in the Pankisi Gorge
On April, 21 55 people, including 38 policemen and 17 civilians, were injured in a clash in the village of Birkiani. The residents of the Pankisi Gorge protested against the hydropower station construction on the Alazani River. The protesters burned and damaged the MIA’s vehicles and equipment.
In the evening Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia Georgy Gakharia, Deputy Prime Minister Maya Tskitishvili, and Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture Levan Davitashvili arrived in Pankisi. The representatives of the authorities started negotiations with some of the protesters in the village of Jibakhevi. According to the participants, they reached an agreement on suspension of the construction until the majority of the population accept it. Also, the MIA withdrew its special forces from the Gorge.
A great part of the local people has been protesting against the construction for a long time, being concerned about its impact on the environment. Some ecologists believe that the HPP construction could threaten water supply of the villages, as well as pastures, and the entire gorge ecosystem.
This opinion is not shared by the executive authorities and the construction company. The situation is quite tense, given the Minister of Internal Affairs promise on the air to bring to justice all the participants of the fight with the police equipped with the stones and sticks . Nearly the entire gorge population was engaged in the action, while the rest of the country watched it live in horror.
The Pankisi Gorge, where the Kists (or Georgian Chechens) live, is a particularly sensitive place. During the Russian-Chechen war, the Kists often sheltered some Chechen militants from Chechnya persecuted by the grim realities of war. The population of ten villages of the charming little gorge is the Kists professing Islam. Unlike other ethnic minorities living compactly in Georgia, Kists are fluent in Georgian. And they have always been loyal to the Georgian state. At the same time, several dozen of Kists left to fight for the Islamic State, a lot of them being killed.
The Georgian government is interested in implementing some special social programs in the gorge, but it is not easy to do in such a tense situation.
More tourists — more money
In the first quarter of 2019, the foreigners spent in Georgia 439.02 million lari ($162.29 million) just from payment cards. That is almost 28 million lari ($10 million) more than during the same period a year before. According to the official statistics, the number of foreign visitors in the first quarter increased by 4% compared to the previous year. And with the start of the tourist season in April, even sharper increase in the number of visitors is expected.
As for the international transfers in USD, within the first three months of 2019 $51.77 million were transferred abroad. Most of the funds were sent from Georgia to Russia ($17.7 million in cash payments, which is 34.2% of the total volume of transfers). The second place in the first quarter was taken by Turkey, where $6.53 million were transferred. And Ukraine took the third place with $6 million payments transferred from Georgia.
Presidents and trolls.
The echo of the presidential elections in Ukraine reached Georgia too. The Russian President Vladimir Putin once again “hurt” his former colleague, the ex-president of Georgia, the former governor of Odessa Region, and a former citizen of Georgia and Ukraine, evicted from both “motherlands” Mikhail Saakashvili.
Putin advised the newly elected President of Ukraine, Volodymir Zelenski, to return the passport of Ukraine to Saakashvili: “As for the freedom, this is also an important point. In this sense, it is probably better to start not from Russia, not from Russians, but, let’s say, from Georgians.
The former Georgians. For example, it would be fair to return the Ukrainian passport to a person who was Georgian in the past and today considers himself a Ukrainian. I mean Saakashvili”.
In response, Saakashvili recalled on his Facebook page that it was Putin who in December 2017 at a press-conference publicly demanded from Poroshenko to expel the ex-president of Georgia from Ukraine (and Poroshenko did so a month later). According to Saakashvili, Putin demanded Mikho to be banned from entering not only Georgia, but also Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
“And now, the newly-made troll Vladimir Vladimirovich, I am experienced enough to see your policy of double standards for these maneuvers—to demand from an opponent, whose answer to your statement on the Russian passports distribution in the occupied part of Donbas was so strong, to return me, hoping that he will be afraid to do so”, wrote Saakashvili.