Few Westerners doubt the South Caucasus country of Georgia’s commitment to eventual integration with Europe. But as a massive currency devaluation tightens the squeeze on Georgia’s relatively fragile economy, calls are increasing for ordinary Georgians to reconsider the actual benefits of that commitment.
The European Union is making a push to raise its profile in two trouble spots in the South Caucasus, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Brussels insists its forays in the region are nothing more than routine diplomacy. But some observers believe the EU is hoping to push back against Russia’s troublemaking in Ukraine.
Georgian cinema has the wind at its back once again after spending a lengthy period in the creative doldrums. With two films short-listed for an Oscar, one of which is also up for a Golden Globe, Georgian directors have risen from the ashes of a collapsed film industry, showing that even with limited resources it is possible to make world-class films.
The Russian-owned mining company RMG Gold this past Saturday, December 13, overlooked an earlier court order and went ahead and started working a piece of Georgian land, Sakdrisi, that many archeologists claim contains the world’s oldest known gold mine. Opponents to the mining operation are putting up a fight, but, as yet, the economic odds appear stacked against them.
The battle began in July 2013, when Georgia’s Ministry of Culture abolished Sakdrisi’s seven-year-old status as a permanently protected historical site. The decision produced a sharp reaction from local civil society activists and international academics.
In June, the Tbilisi City Court overruled the Ministry of Culture’s decision about Sakdrisi’s status, putting a hold on mining operations. RMG Gold and archaeologists were supposed to discuss a compromise, but, apparently, matters were taking too long for the mining company, believed to be one of Georgia's largest taxpayers.
Unexpectedly, the culture ministry late last week gave the green-light for mining operations to start up again.
The archeological site sits on a 22.24-acre plot of land believed to contain 75 percent of an estimated 20 tons of gold. At $38.83 per gram, that’s nothing to sneer at.
Gold happens to be one of Georgia’s top ten exports and brought in $3.52 million in 2013, or 2.9 percent of the country’s total export earnings. As of earlier this year, RMG, which owns the plot of land on which Sakdrisi stands, has invested $300 million into the cash-strapped Georgian economy, according to Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili.
A decade ago, it was just another down-at-heels vacation destination. But the Black Sea resort town of Sochi has been transformed by hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics. And now, it aims to become a Russian version of Monte Carlo.
When Rasulov Bakhtier arrived in Abkhazia in 2012 as a migrant laborer, he had no idea he would be prohibited from returning to his native Uzbekistan via Russia. As a result, Bakhtier, a construction worker and father of two, now finds himself among hundreds of “guest captives” in the separatist enclave.
The booming rhythms and bass beats of electronic music go on for 24 hours a day in a small village on Georgia’s Black Sea coastline, and the reverberations are being felt across this South-Caucasus country.
Below Tbilisi’s Rose Revolution Square and its shiny Radisson-Blu Hotel lies a crumbling, urine-dappled, underground labyrinth with bunker-like hideaways blaring Turkish and Middle Eastern dance music. Some allegedly are not just venues for drinks and stripteases.
His nom de guerre is Omar al-Shishani (Omar the Chechen), and he has gained a fearsome reputation as a commander in the dreaded terrorist jihadi group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But al-Shishani is no Chechen. His birth name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, and he is a citizen of Georgia from the Pankisi Gorge, a remote corner of this South-Caucasus country.