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Issue no: 919

• FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

• PUBLISHED TWICE WEEKLY

PRICE: GEL 2.50

In this week’s issue... Russian Diplomat Says Georgians Should Not Expect Visa Requirements to be Lifted NEWS PAGE 2

Towards a New Security Strategy for Georgia

POLITICS PAGE 5

FOCUS ON EUROPE'S DECISION Concerns at home and a mixed reaction away PAGE

4,5&7

Modern Slavery? Fresco Employees Claim Working Conditions Violated BY NINO GUGUNISHVILI

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mployees of the Fresco supermarket chain this week used social media to expose their belief that their rights are being severely violated. In a post published on Facebook, the Fresco workers say the treatment of Fresco towards its employees can be considered “inhuman” and an example of “modern slavery”. The post then goes on to state that although the Georgian labor code sets the legal working week as a maximum of 48 hours, the Fresco employees say they work for 60 hours and are not paid for the overtime, with a minimum salary of just 400 GEL. The list of employee complaints moves on to talk of the prohibition of cellphone use, even during breaks, “cutting them off from the outside world with no possibility to communicate with their family members for 12 hours a day”. Continued on page 3

Nicolai on Georgia, Europe & Visa Liberalization POLITICS PAGE 7

Swiss Ambassador: The Swiss Should Be Inspired by the Georgian Flexibility & Adaptability SOCIETY PAGE 9

Torch this Place: Svaneti SOCIETY PAGE 11

Presentation of Book: Unknown Sergo Kobuladze CULTURE PAGE 12

TBC Gallery to Showcase Restored Pirosmani Paintings CULTURE PAGE 13


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NEWS

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Discount Week Launches in Kakheti Hotels

Russian Diplomat Says Georgians Should Not Expect Visa Requirements to be Lifted BY THEA MORRISON

Discount Week Cover. Source: GNTA

BY NINO GUGUNISHVILI

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he first ever discount week is to launch in Kakheti region, Georgia, as part of a promotionof tourist destinations and services. The initiative is being run by the Georgian National Tourism Administration.

Discounts of 25% or more will be available in Kakheti hotels from February 13- 27 for both local visitors and tourists. The project aims at boosting the popularity of one of Georgia’s regions, through attracting tourists during the off-season period. Kakheti is one of the world’s oldest winemaking regions with a tradition of wine production dating back to 6000 BC, which has earned it a place on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

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t his meeting with the Georgian Prime Minister's Special Representative for Relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, on Tuesday in Prague (Czech Republic), Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, stated that Georgians should not expect a lifting of visa requirements from Russia. "We are not against a visa-free regime, but we do not have diplomatic relations… We first need to calmly discuss all measures concerning the security of the two countries in the framework of the respective agencies," Karasin said. Russian news agency Tass says that the diplomat welcomed the decision of the European Parliament to lift visa requirements for Georgia once a suspension mechanism goes into force. “He voiced hope that this will help to solve the issue on ‘unblocking’ the citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway republics recognized by Russia as independent states in August 2008,” the article reads. Moreover, Tass reports that Abashidze said Georgia is ready to welcome Russia’s steps aimed at easing visa restrictions or even waiving visas. "If Russia takes further steps to ease visa restrictions or even waive visas for Georgian citizens, we will welcome it, but we understand that it’s for the Russian authorities to decide," Abashidze said. “However, the absence of diplomatic

Zurab Abashidze and Grigory karasin. Source: vestikavkaza.ru

ties between Georgia and Russia has nothing to do with lifting visa restrictions,” he added, pointing to the fact that in March 2012, Georgia unilaterally waived visas for Russian nationals. “We abolished the visa regime for Russian citizens even without diplomatic ties with Russia,” Abashidze said. At the meeting, Russia’s Karasin also raised the issue of Georgian Vice-Colonel Giorgi Tsertsvadze, accused of murder and wanted by Interpol on Russia’s request. "Gia Tsertsvadze’s case concerns a criminal offense committed on the territory of Russia in 2003. We have the documentation. We do not send unfounded requests to Interpol,” he said. Abashidze argued that the case does not fit the format of the meeting, though he himself raised the case of Georgian Giorgi Giunashvili, who was sentenced by a so-called Tskhinvali court to 20 year’s imprisonment for alleged military activities against South Ossetian soldiers. Trade-economic issues, transport com-

munication, certain humanitarian and customs monitoring problems were also discussed during the three-hour meeting. Despite some contradictory statements, both diplomats agreed that the meeting format helps to normalize relations between Georgia and Russia and Abashidze noted that the regular dialogue with Russia had helped Georgia to achieve progress with the EU with regards visa liberalization. “Georgia’s European partners support the Georgia-Russia dialogue and recognize its importance in maintaining stability in the region,” he said. Karasin and Abashidze agreed to hold another meeting in two months. The first Abashidze-Karasin meeting took place in Geneva on December 14, 2012. Since 2013, the meetings are being held in Prague. The meetings constitute a direct dialogue between the two countries’ officials following the 2008 RussianGeorgian war.

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NEWS

GEORGIA TODAY FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

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Modern Slavery? Fresco Employees Georgia and France Claim Working Conditions Violated Expand Cooperation Continued from page 1

Some salaries are said to have been reduced by 50 percent and in other cases by more than the previously agreed 20 percent, with no clear answer given as to why, though the employees suspect they may be fines and penalties. However, no official documentation has been provided to justify the salary cuts by Fresco management. The employees also allege that anyproducts returned by customers are then cut in value from their salaries. Bar codes show different prices when scanned, the employees claim in their Facebook post, misleading the customers. During the New Year period, the

employees say they were made to work 12 hours a day without a break, and instead of being paid the expected 40 GEL overtime, they claim were paid just 18 GEL. The fines and penalties – from 10 to 100 GEL - placed on the employees are “unfair,” they say, for example, an employee who hangs his coat on a hook instead of in the cupboard will be issued a penalty of 20 GEL. When one of the Fresco branch employees decided to leave in November, they were told their CV would be “black-listed”. Fresco management are denying all the accusations. “Compared to our competitors, Fresco employees have beneficial working conditions with high salaries, promotion possibilities and free meals,” they stated. “Fines and penalties are applied as disciplinary sanctions on the employees for violating rules- not coming to work on time, not serving the customers in a good and timely manner, not displaying

the product prices correctly, etc.,” Mariam Apridonidze, Marketing and PR representative from Fresco, told news service Tabula, pointing out it is not stated at the time of applying the penalty exactly which rule the employee broke. “Employees are aware which penalties are issued and for what, and know that these amounts will be taken off their salaries.” Apridonidze outright denied that Fresco employees are forced to work overtime hours, claiming that overtime only happens when mutually agreed beforehand. She went on to refute all other accusations against the company. Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Maintenance said it would investigate the case and inspect the working conditions in the supermarket chain. Ministry representatives planned to meet both employees and managers and look over the agreements. If labor law violations were found, it said the case would then be sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. At the time of going to press, it was announced by Imedi news that Health Minister Sergeenko is claiming no violations were found at Fresco.

CNN’s List of 20 Travel Destinations Includes Old Tbilisi Baths BY THEA MORRISON

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NN’s list of 20 Travel Destinations includes Georgia’s capital Tbilisi and its famous Abanotubani thermal baths. "Situated on the south side of Metekhi Bridge, its low cupolas house baths where water bubbles from the earth at about 90 F (32 C),” writes CNN. The article goes on to explain that Tbilisi was named for the water: “Tbilisi gets its name from the Old Georgian word "tbili," meaning warm, due to its hot, sulfurous water." The article cites Sarah Freeman, photojournalist, who claims Tbilisi is "a new European city brimming with East-meetsWest culture and natural sulfurous waters that give the Cagaloglu Baths a run for its money" and goes on to recommend a visit to the Georgian capital's bath quarter, Abanotubani. "When I went, I sipped on Turkish tea

The Tbilisi bath houses. Photo: Roedolf Thorpe

and indulged in a massage from one of the mekise (masseur)," Sarah is quoted as saying.

Other destinations on the list include: Indonesia, Egypt, Namibia, Canada, Brazil, and Montenegro.

Georgian Foreign Minister meets with representatives of the Georgian Diaspora in France

BY THEA MORRISON

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he French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Jean-Marc Ayrault, this week conf irmed that France supports the ongoing reforms in Georgia and the country’s European integration, and is ready to further expand co-operation between the two countries in a number of areas. Ayrault made the statement on Tuesday, during a meeting with his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Janelidze. The French Minister congratulated Janelidze on the European Parliament’s decision to lift visas for Georgian citizens and the Georgian Foreign Minister in turn thanked his French colleague for his active support of Georgia. The officials discussed existing relations between the two countries and expressed readiness to further expand cooperation in the economy sector. Janelidze informed his French colleague of the Georgian government’s priorities in tourism, energy, infrastructure and agriculture, and outlined prospects for mutual relations in these areas. The sides also discussed cooperation in the areas of defense and security. Georgia’s Foreign Ministry (MFA) reports that the French Foreign Minister reaffirmed France’s strong support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, being firmly against any attempt of annexation of the territories of sovereign countries. “Jean-Marc Ayrault stressed that France finds inadmissible the so-called agreements signed by Russia with Georgia’s occupied regions,” the Ministry reports. The French Foreign Minister thanked Georgia for contributing to international security and underlined the importance of Georgia’s participation in the peacekeeping missions in the

Central African Republic and Mali. The sides also spoke about Georgia’s participation at the Bordeaux-based Wine Civilization Museum and agreed to work closely to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, with Janelidze inviting Jean-Marc Ayrault to take part in the anniversary events to be held in Georgia. Prior to meeting his French counterpart, Janelidze held a meeting with the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly, Elisabeth Guigou, in which they focused on the security situation in the region, including in Georgia’s occupied territories. The sides expressed their readiness to further deepen cooperation in economy, tourism, infrastructure, agriculture and other sectors. The Georgian Foreign Minister also met with the Secretary of State for European Affairs of France, Harlem Desir, who expressed his interest in Georgia’s energy, infrastructure, tourism and agriculture sectors. The officials underlined the importance of the South Caucasus Office of the Agency of French Development (AFD) in Georgia which will contribute to the attraction of French investments to Georgia. Janelidze then visited representatives of the Georgian diaspora in Paris to discuss the Georgian government’s policy with respect to Georgian citizens living abroad, including projects and programs the Ministry plans to carry out to involve the Georgian Diaspora in the development processes of Georgia. Before completing his three-day visit to France, the Georgian Foreign Minister was invited to speak on Radio France Internationale about the main agenda of his meetings in France. “Our ultimate aim is full membership of the European Union,” Janelidze said in his interview, stressing that the Georgian people had made a choice to return to the European family, “where they always belonged”.


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POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Parliament Approves Majority MP as Constitutional Court Judge BY THEA MORRISON

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he Parliament of Georgia on Wednesday approved the majority MP and former Pa rl i a m e n t S p e a ke r, Manana Kobakhidze, to take up the position of Constitutional Court Judge. 101 MPs voted for Kobakhidze with only 10 against in the 150-seat legislative body. Kobakhidze’s responsibilities as an MP

were simultaneously suspended with her new appointment. The position in the Constitutional Court became vacant in September 2016 when Judge Ketevan Eremadze’s 10-year term expired. Kobakhidze’s candidacy was submitted to the parliament on January 24 by the ruling party Georgian Dream (GD), which has 115 MPs and makes up a constitutional majority. The new judge thanked the majority MPs for their support and said that she will help to establish constitutional order. “Any political ties are left in the past,”

she said. “My decisions will be based only on the principles of the Constitution and the circumstances of the cases.” The opposition criticizes the ruling party for supporting Kobakhidze and says the government aims to influence the court by appointing their own member.

Parliamentary minority party, Movement for Freedom-European Georgia, says that Kobakhidze is politically biased and does not fit the position. Former ruling party United National Movement holds the same position. The majority, however, claim that Kob-

akhidze is an experienced professional and insist she will be a successful judge. The Constitutional Court seats nine judges. The President, Parliament and the Supreme Court each appoint three members of the Court for a 10-year term.

The Awkward Truth that Georgians Don’t Get: Ogden on the Visa Liberalization OP-ED BY TIM OGDEN

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eorgia's visa liberalization with the European Union has been unanimously welcomed all across the country; as well as having the very obvious benefit of allowing Georgians to travel to the Schengen Zone without needing to apply for a visa, it has also shown that the EU has – finally – kept its word. Georgians are now understandably clamoring to take advantage of the cheap Wizz Air flights out of Kutaisi at the first opportunity, and those of us with Georgian spouses rejoice at the thought that we will no longer need to go through any ridiculous European visa process for a five-day holiday. A celebratory mood is in the air, God is in his heaven, and all seems right with the world (with the exception of the lunatic inhabiting the White House, Britain's uncertain future, and the wholesale slaughter going on down in Syria). I, however, the cynical Englishman sitting on Georgia's shoulder, have some reservations. In 2012, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream party defeated the United National Movement government in Georgia's parliamentary elections; anyone present in Georgia at the time will remember the almost fanatical (and frankly

frightening) passion of Bidzina's supporters. People voting for unqualified or unusual political choices invariably have a reason behind their choice, and if their motives are impossible to condone, they are at least able to be understood. I would not cast a ballot for Labor's Jeremy Corbyn

under any circumstances whatsoever, but I can see why a left-wing voter might support him; I find the man and his ideas ridiculous and unrealistic, but I could say that about almost any socialist figure. Even (some) Trump supporters based their choice on a few ideas (loosely) resembling

policy: immigration, crime, security. Georgians voted for Bidzina Ivanishvili because they thought he would share his wealth with them. I know this because I had many Georgians tell me so at the time, and when contradicted they told me that he had performed many acts of charity and built Sameba Cathedral (wow!). When I pointed out that his construction of the church had done little to ease the plight of the beggars lying at its gates, I was told I didn't understand Georgia (this, by the way, is a blanket defense used by Georgians when faced with an awkward truth they would prefer not to admit). Already I have had similar sentiments expressed over the EU's visa liberalization. Many people seem entirely unaware that Europe's offer does not extend to labor, while others shrug off the fact that they are not entitled to work, and point out that Germany has accepted millions of Syrians and Iraqis and let them settle, as though that has anything to do with it. Attitudes of this kind are hardly rare in Georgia. Many times, I have heard 'I will go to live and work in Germany/ Canada/England/America. My friend is there, they will help me'. When pressed for exactly how a work visa will be achieved, or how they can hope to work in a country in which they do not speak the language, I have always been met with a shrug and subsequent hostility over criticisms of their flawless plan.

Others have openly stated their intention to illegally immigrate, and given little thought to the consequences. Brussels dragged its feet over granting Georgia access to the Schengen Zone solely due to the fact that various EU countries could not agree on a Suspension Mechanism, ie. the kill switch Brussels can use if Georgians fail to play by the rules...and given that the Georgian government, busy trumpeting its own success, seems to have done little in explaining exactly what the new visa regime entitles Georgians to, I'm fairly confident that many Georgians will deliberately or inadvertently violate the agreement. I even heard of some people who thought that the visa-free policy came into effect this week; whatever information campaign the government has launched, it is clearly not informative enough. After the recent release of the shocking details over the amount of traffic collisions in Georgia, a friend of mine (who has driven in this country for years and its sufficiently traumatized) told me that he thinks Georgians simply cannot be trusted with cars; having written about this some weeks ago, I find it hard to completely disagree. While nobody will die from any violation of Georgia's wonderful new visa regime with the EU, it is more important than ever for Georgians to show that they can be responsible. I wish the government good luck, I have a strong feeling they'll need it.


POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

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Towards a New Security Strategy for Georgia

BY LINCOLN MITCHELL

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ike many Americans who study, or if you prefer, kibitz about Georgia, I have recently been contacted by quite a few people in Georgian media, government and civil society who are concerned about how the election of Donald Trump will effect Georgia and what Georgia can do to ensure its survival and security given the rapid and not quite predictable pace of change in the US, and globally. As I begin to answer these questions, I am struck by how many Georgians expressed similar concern about President Obama when he was elected in 2008. Nobody thought Obama was erratic or dangerous, as they do about Trump, but many in Georgia believed that Obama, as a liberal Democrat, was somehow insufficiently committed to American security and to Georgia. Before we turn to what Georgia can do to survive the Trump era, it is worth noting that during his eight years in office, President Obama was a pretty good friend to Georgia. There is no reason, at least for the moment, the same can be said of President Trump. It is therefore of the utmost importance for Georgia to craft a strategy that reflects the evolving political dynamics and that this strategy go considerably beyond hoping that Georgia’s friends in the US will succeed in influencing the new administration. For years, Georgia’s long term security strategy has been built around the hope of joining the NATO alliance at some point in the not too distant future. While it would be foolish to abandon that aspiration entirely, that aspiration looks a lot different today than it did a year or two ago for two distinct reasons. First, Georgia’s chances of getting into NATO are significantly less than they were a year ago. NATO, in general, is likely entering a period of chaos as the American role in, and commitment to, NATO is in question for the first time since the alliance was founded. In this context, there will be little desire for expansion, and whatever desire for expansion within the alliance there is will likely get very little traction from most of the member countries. Additionally, it is hard to imagine that the US will continue to be a strong advocate for Georgia to get into NATO. The best Georgia can expect from

the US is a kind of benign neglect, but even that may be optimistic. Without strong support from the US, Georgia’s prospects for NATO membership will drop substantially. Second, even if, through some set of unforeseen circumstances, Georgia was able to advance its efforts to get into NATO, it could turn out the prize is ultimately hollow. Although there is no doubt that it is better to be in NATO than not, it is equally beyond doubt that membership in NATO would mean a lot less to Georgia today that it would have one, two, five or ten years ago. Georgia’s security now depends on pivoting away from a NATO-centric approach and instead seeking to become part of a more global political environment. The Georgian government’s successful effort to deepen its economic ties with China should be seen in this regard. While this is primarily, at least on the surface, an economic strategy, it has national security implications as well. If China is heavily invested in Georgia, that means there is one more powerful country that does not want to see Russia invade or otherwise destabilize Georgia. Even good strategic relations like this one, however, offer little guarantee in this changing environment. For years, Russia has cultivated, and at times exaggerated, the existence of a MoscowBeijing axis that is a global counter to American power. With an American President who campaigned on economic saber-rattling towards China, and who is at best more sympathetic to, and at worst a stooge of, Russia, Moscow may be less concerned with China’s view on a potential incursion into Georgia. Nonetheless, on balance, creating conflict with China for any reason is still not a wise move for Russia, so a stronger GeorgiaChina relationship is a sound strategic move for Tbilisi. It is not, however, enough. China, like most western countries, would be very unlikely to provide military support should a Russia-Georgia conflict occur, and would be only slightly more likely to rupture its economic relationship with Russia over Georgia. Georgia can help itself by trying to build more bilateral economic ties of the kind it is developing with China, but this kind of advice is a bit like telling a poor person that to solve their problems, they just need more money. Drawing foreign investments, generating trade and the like is difficult work, and work that Georgia has sought

Georgia’s chances of getting into NATO are significantly less than they were a year ago. NATO is likely entering a period of chaos as the American role in, and commitment to, NATO is in question for the first time since the alliance was founded to do, with varying degrees of success for almost three decades, simply hoping that Georgia gets better at it, is not a plan. Despite this, by strengthening its ties to China and other non-western powers, integrating more into the new Silk Road, Silk Belt and the like, Georgia can gradually remove itself from the crosshairs of the US-Russia binary dynamic that has framed most of its recent history. Even when this dynamic is straightforward and the US position has been clear, it has not been easy for Georgia. The current complexity and possible dramatic shift of the American position in the bilateral US-Russia relationship underscores the necessity for Georgia to be perceived, and to indeed be, something other than a pawn in that great powerlove-hate relationship. There are some things Georgia can do to increase the likelihood that its international alliances and relationships will be an important part of its security structure, but there are no guarantees. Accordingly, Georgia must pursue other directions as well. The most obvious direction is to position Georgia so that if Russia were to invade, the world’s sympathies would be with Georgia, not Russia- and more dauntingly, that the world would

care. This is a difficult, but not impossible task. The first step Georgia has taken to this end is to position itself as the reasonable one in this dispute. While those who are paying attention see Russia moving border fences, seeking to strengthen their ties to the breakaway regions and wreaking havoc in eastern Ukraine, Georgia’s rhetoric has been strong but calm, and not threatening. This has been a difficult balance for the government to achieve, but it has been reasonably successful. This all points to the need for Georgia to develop a national security strategy that has a global perspective, but that also takes into consideration Georgia’s broader geographical context, regional considerations and the evolving geopolitical environment. Some caution is required here as for too long many in and around Georgia have believed that its unique location is the key to its future prosperity and national security. At times this has veered in intellectual laziness and magical thinking. After all, every country has a unique location and can tell a story about why its location is critically important to global, or at least regional, trade and stability. This may, in fact, be more true of Georgia than most countries, but that alone is not enough. Nor are good but still limited ideas like a new Silk Road enough. Instead, Georgia’s longer term security rests on positioning itself in a complex and rapidly changing region. In the past, Georgia sought to do this by becoming one of America’s strongest allies in the region, but that is no longer enough. As the US-Russia relationship changes, Iran simultaneously becomes more open to trade with much of the world and a possible target of the next American war, conflicts in Syria and Iraq show little signs of abating, the Ukraine conflict goes on and international Islamic movements take new forms and move in new directions, Georgia must also rethink its place and create a role for itself where it is more valuable to both Russia and the West as a functioning sovereign state than yet another conflict region. Again, this suggestion will be very difficult to implement, and more importantly to even think through, but this is precisely why it is important. In today’s world, simply pushing as hard as possible for NATO and hoping for the best is no longer the best strategy or even one that is possible. The soft bipolarity of politics in the Caucasus in recent years may have created problems for Georgia,

but at least it brought clarity and made Georgia’s options relatively straightforward. It also no longer really applies. The sooner Georgia is able to recognize that and adapt accordingly, the more easily it will be able to address its security related challenges. This may mean building new relationships, thinking of strategic relations differently, and changing the way international affairs are discussed domestically in Georgia. Just as Georgia’s foreign policy must become more complex and multi-vectored as it has been doing in recent years, domestic politics that are too often contests to see which party can announce its pro-west orientation the loudest, will be decreasingly relevant. The Georgia Analysis is a twice monthly analysis of political and other major developments in Georgia. Lincoln Mitchell is a political development, research and strategic consultant who has worked extensively in the post-Soviet region.

Georgia [needs] to develop a national security strategy that has a global perspective... tak[ing] into consideration Georgia’s broader geographical context, regional considerations and the evolving geopolitical environment


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POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Parliament Overrides Presidential Veto on Judicial Reform

The Great Alania BY THEA MORRISON

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he Majority MPs of Parliament rejected President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s recommendations over judicial reform and by 97 votes, the President’s veto was overridden late on February 8. The parliamentary opposition United National Movement (UNM), Movement for Freedom-European Georgia and the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia (APG) supported the president’s motivated remarks, however, as the ruling party Georgian Dream (GD) has a constitutional majority in the parliament with 115 MPs, the veto was easily overridden. The President vetoed the bill on January 24, saying the legislative package included a number of provisions that contradict the principles of judicial independence and the impartiality of the judges. He offered six recommendations to the parliament in order to improve the legislation: • Court Chairs should be elected by the judges and not by the High Court of Justice. • One and the same person should not be a chair-

person of the Court and Chamber at the same time. • Judges should have the opportunity to be represented in the High Court of Justice as the court chairs will no longer be able to be members of the council. • Rules about collecting and spreading information on each candidate in the process of selecting judges should be specified. • A judge should not undergo a three-year probation period before being appointed to the position. • The number of Supreme Court judges should be defined by law. Giorgi Abashishvili, Head of the Presidential Administration, said he cannot understand why Magvelashvili’s remarks would be rejected. “The President’s remarks were aimed at increasing the independency and quality of the judicial system and were mainly based on the Venice Commission's opinions,” he said. Majority member Mamuka Mdinaradze says that the veto was overridden because the President’s remarks were not well-grounded. "We are carrying out an unprecedented judicial reform, which is called the Third Wave. This reform will have a positive effect on our country and people,” Mdinaradze affirmed.

OP-ED BY ZAZA JGARKAVA

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ccupied South Ossetia is waiting for another referendum. While many fled the territory following the ethnic cleansing, the population currently residing there must now decide whether they want the name of the Republic of South Ossetia to be changed to the ‘Republic of South Ossetia-Alania’. The so-called President Leonid Tibilov has already signed the Referendum decree and it will be held on April 9 along with the so-called Presidential elections. Naming the occupied territory ‘South OssetiaAlania’ is a longtime dream of the separatists, a term historically mentioned a quarter-century ago, in the very first days of the conflict, when the separatist leaders announced the “Holy War” against Official Tbilisi in the name of the revival of the “Great Alania”. Notably, the Autonomous Republic of North Ossetia, which is part of the Russian Federation, has been called the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania since 1994. The so-called “Great Alania” is all about the unification of the South and North Ossetias, as well as being directed towards joining the Russian Federation. In the occupied South Ossetia, as well as in North Ossetia, the scheduled referendum is considered a prospect for the establishment of the United Republic of Alania as an integral part of the Russian Federation. Despite such accord, in reality there are quite earthly intentions hiding behind the publicized “Great Goal” of the referendum. On April 9, the so-called Presidential elections will be held together with the referendum. Allegedly, the de-facto President Tibilov will be running against the main creator of the 2008 August War – Eduard Kokoity. The latter, and his supporters, are categorically against giving up what they gained during the August War. Therefore, they desperately oppose joining the Russian Federation and the proposal of renaming South Ossetia.

Kokoity’s participation in the so-called elections has yet to be confirmed, but surrendering independence to Russia has a great number of opponents. They say in Tskhinvali that appointing the referendum is a PR stunt designed to gain votes and in reality has nothing to do with the notion of Great Alania. Correspondent of Echo of Caucasus, Zhana Tarkhanova, disagrees, writing that though some might believe the referendum to be a publicity stunt, in fact this idea has quite a lot of supporters in both South and North Ossetia. Despite the power struggle inside the de facto regime, Official Tbilisi has responded to the initiative of changing the name of the occupied territory through the referendum. Prime Minister Kvirikashvili hailed it another step towards Russia’s annexation of Ossetia. “This referendum once again reveals the real intentions of the occupational power, which is to turn Georgia’s inseparable regions into its own integral part. According to international law, holding a referendum in a region which is effectively controlled by occupational powers and from which tens of thousands of locals have fled as a result of ethnic cleansing is illegal and completely unacceptable,” read the Prime Minister’s announcement. The oppositional parties also believe that the socalled referendum is backed by Moscow rather than Tskhinvali. Paata Davitaia, the head of European Democrats, believes that adding the name Alania to occupied South Ossetia is an attempt to unify it with North Ossetia. He adds that the situation in South Ossetia differs from that of Abkhazian and that the population is in favor of unification with the Russian Federation. “Unlike Abkhazians, local Ossetians favor joining Russia. However, Russia has itself refrained from holding a referendum on South Ossetia joining Russia, because the business is not settled in Abkhazia yet. Therefore, the issue of Alania is a new scheme planned against Georgia, which focuses on changing the name in the first place and later on unification. Let’s see how things develop,” says Paata Davitaia.

RFERL Reporter Says Georgia’s Visa Liberalization to Enter into Force in Late March BY THEA MORRISON

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ikard Jozwiak, Reporter of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFERL), says that Georgia’s visa liberalization with the European Union (EU) will likely enter into force on March 29. The reporter released the information in a Twitter post on Thursday. Joswaik said the EU ambassadors would approve the visa liberalization for Georgia and the suspension mechanism on February 22. As for Ukraine, Jozwaik reports the trialogue on visa liberalization for Ukraine between the European Parliament, Commission and Council is set

to take place on February 28. The correspondent says Ukraine’s visa-liberalization will go into force on June 12, 2017. The European Parliament (EP) voted in favor of visa-free travel for Georgian citizens to the Schengen Area at a plenary session on February 2. The visa-free regime between Georgia and the EU will go into force as soon as the suspension mechanism is activated. When the process is complete, biometric passport holders will be able to enter the Schengen area, which includes 22 EU member states (excluding Ireland, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria) in addition to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, for 90 days within any 180-day period for a holiday, business or any other purpose, except work.


POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Nicolai on Georgia, Europe & Visa Liberalization

INTERVIEW BY TEONA LAVRELASHVILI AND VAZHA TAVBERIDZE

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he visa liberalization decision taken a week ago in Brussels was indeed a historic moment for Georgia, long awaited by Georgians, and if the bulk of those waiting Georgians are to be believed, a long overdue one. Although the decision was approved by a large majority, skeptics were pointing at the possible risks and dangers. Therefore, we thought it worthwhile to analyze the arguments from naysayers, and to draw some conclusions on how to proceed for the mutual interests of Georgia and the EU. The very first guest of Panorama TV’s brand-new feature, Talks from Brussels, was Ms. Norica Nicolai, Vice-Chair of ALDE Group, The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and a VicePresident of the EU-Georgia Friendship Group in the European Parliament. GEORGIA TODAY presents you the print version of the interview.

THERE WERE TWO DIFFERENT PORTRAYALS OF EUROPE IN THE SPEECHES HEARD AT THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ONE OF CLOSED DOORS AND ANOTHER OF OPEN. WHICH IS THE REAL EUROPE? These speeches are borne of months and years of fighting. We started this fight a few years ago, and it’s a first step for Georgia’s real European integration. Georgia, for me, is a European country, no matter if it is in the Caucasus. And if the population of this European country isn’t allowed to travel freely to other countries, this keeps this population in what I’d call a modern Gulag. The EU should remain an open territory with the privilege of freedom of movement. But Europe changes quickly, by the year. And this time, Europe is in crisis – economic, politic, social, you name it. And the migration period we just had I believe influenced many of those speeches. The [European] politicians have become less open, less tolerant. They think and behave not as one space, but rather in terms of

second value, which I call national interests. It’s a turbulent period for us and that’s the reason we heard so many different speeches. But anyway, the vote in favor was huge and that was a statement of our support towards Georgia.

THERE HAVE BEEN SOME CONCERNS THAT THE COUNCIL MIGHT DELAY THE FINAL APPROVAL BECAUSE OF THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS IN FRANCE AND GERMANY. WHAT IS YOUR FEELING ON THAT? I know that there are some countries which aren’t very pleased with this visa liberalization, especially Germany, which sometimes tries to have an agenda different to that of the EU, an agenda based on national interests, not on the interests of the EU. I can understand Madame Merkel. She has elections this year and it’s not decided whether she’ll remain [in power]. But I believe that this will not {result in] postponing the liberalization decision.

WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THOSE WHO VOTED AGAINST, CITING FEARS OF “CORRUPTION, ORGANIZED CRIME, TERRORISM”? GEORGIA HAS THE BEST INDICATION IN EASTERN EUROPE IN THE CORRUPTION PERCEPTION INDEX 2016- EVEN BETTER THAN YOUR OWN COUNTRY – ROMANIA. ARE WE DEALING WITH DOUBLE STANDARDS? Corruption doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a matter of tradition, of history, cultural approach, how strong or weak the state is… For the benefit of the EU, these kinds of things should disappear, but I can say neither Georgia nor Romania face such a phenomenon of corruption, so it is a double standard.

“A PERIPHERY, SERVING AS MERELY A ROAD TO EUROPE” AND “SHARING A BORDER WITH TURKEY” WERE SOME OF THE MOST SCATHING REMARKS THAT CAME FROM THOSE WHO VOTED NO. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THESE ARGUMENTS? It’s a totalitarian approach. They talk about peripheries, including Romania

and Bulgaria, and they consider Georgia, which is farther away than us, a periphery, too. This is arrogant. It’s nothing but hate speech. But remember that people who give such speeches are people of and for a moment: they aren’t people for history. Ignore it – you have a way ahead. Georgia is a great country. If you are confident in the future of your country, these people are marginal; they don’t matter.

WHAT CAN YOU TELL US OF THE ROMANIAN-MOLDOVAN EXPERIENCE SO FAR? WHAT LESSONS FOR GEORGIA? WHAT PRECAUTIONS? I believe that now you have a stable political leadership, the main issue now is how to set up an institution dealing with this, how not to turn this institution into political, party-based leverage.

ANY TALK ABOUT GEORGIA’S EUROPEAN ASPIRATIONS WOULD BE INCOMPLETE WITHOUT MENTIONING ITS NORTHERN NEIGHBOR WHICH IS SO UNWILLING TO SEE THESE ASPIRATIONS MATERIALIZE. HOW SHOULD GEORGIANS DEAL WITH RUSSIA? AND WHAT STANCE SHOULD THE EU TAKE? Unfortunately, we often have to pay because of geography. Historically, Georgia is where it is and it’s always been a problem. It’s a neighbor and although we must privilege good relationships with neighbors, Russia has yet to understand that neighborhood doesn’t mean domination. Friendship and collaboration, economical included, must be to the benefit of both parties. Georgia can’t ignore Russia and I believe it explains why Georgia isn’t in NATO yet. But Russia can’t put a stop to the aspirations and that’s crucial.

WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP FOR GEORGIA TOWARDS ITS EUROPEAN ASPIRATIONS? WHAT ARE THE NEXT BENCHMARKS GEORGIA WOULD HAVE TO FULFILL TO GET CLOSER TO EUROPE AND WHAT CLOSURE WOULD THAT BRING? The next steps would be to consolidate the economy, be a competitive economy, strengthen political institutions, better education for people – and that’s it. Keep doing this and we’ll be expecting Georgia in the European Union, as soon as possible!

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BUSINESS

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Is the Hidden Hand of the Bank of Georgia behind the Rustavi Nitrogen Ownership Change? BY VAZHA TAVBERIDZE

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ew details of the Rustavi Nitrogen (Azot) ownership change are coming to light, this time concerning a number of shady dealings between the factory’s former owner, Roman Pipia, the new owners EU Investments, and the National Bank of Georgia. Several media outlets have already reported on the issue, but it was Commersant.ge that revealed most details of the deals going on behind the scenes. Given a recent surge in society’s interest towards it, GEORGIA TODAY offers its readers a short retelling of Commersant’s investigation. The company that acquired the Rustavi Nitrogen factory recently fired up to 350 of its workers amid furious protests. The workers demanded an explanation for their dismissal and unconditional restoration to their posts. On February 2, the tensions reached a peak with the factory’s new owner calling on the police to disperse the protestors. But what really happened (and is still happening) in the 50-year-old facility, which remains the sole producer of nitrogen-based fertilizer in the Caucasus, is something of a mystery. According to information spread by media, behind EU Investments, the factory’s new owner, is the Bank of Georgia, which allegedly used a whole range of non-transparent, shady and arguably illegitimate actions to acquire the facility. Roman Pipia cannot boast an immaculate business record either, having made Rustavi Nitrogen a hostage of his creditors at a certain point in the past. All this begs the question: Has Rustavi Nitrogen become yet another of Bank of Georgia’s “non-core assets”? Various media outlets claim that in summer 2014,

Loyal Capital Group, owned by Roman Pipia, received a $100 million standby loan from a Luxembourg-based bank. Apparently, the purpose of the loan was to purchase the fertilizer factory’s stocks. At the time, Pipia already possessed 55% of shares. However, events took a different turn when $40 million from the loan was almost immediately transferred elsewhere, to a completely unrelated company’s account. Pipia refused to comment on

the fact, although it was later discovered that the “unrelated” company that received the $40 million was also affiliated with him, with its Luxembourg office registered in the same building as that of Loyal Capital Group. According to widespread information, after Pipia ceded almost half of his $100 mln loan, he tried refinancing it in 2015, but was unable to do so. Loyal Capital Group failed to pay back the loan after its grace period expired, and the bank in Luxembourg took the matter to court. At that time, the price of Rustavi Nitrogen’s chief product (ammonium saltpeter) on the world market was in decline, while the price of natural gas, its primary input resource, remained largely the same. Most of the factory’s means of production was mortgaged to the Bank of Georgia and could not be utilized to overcome the crisis. This resulted in the factory’s already numerous problems becoming very acute; its working assets shrunk and wage arrears began to occur. It was at this difficult moment that the Bank of Georgia decided to auction off the factory’s mortgaged resources. During the auction period, everything was apparently done to disregard other creditors’ interests,

especially those of the Luxembourg bank that sought repayment of its loan, as well as those of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which was involved in the refinancing of problematic loans. Both banks were unceremoniously sidelined, even prevented from participating in the auction. Eurobank is said to have received information of the September 1, 2016 auction only two days beforehand. Further, the message informing interested parties in Europe about the auction was published in the Georgian language only. As a result, EU Investments, a company associated with the Bank of Georgia, took ownership of Rustavi Nitrogen and all its means of production. The future of Rustavi Nitrogen, the country’s largest chemical factory, is murky at present. Considering that the price of natural gas is now growing, while the value of ammonium saltpeter remains low, it is unlikely that the factory can expect sizeable income in the near future. There is also a high probability of the factory ceasing production altogether, meaning the 2000 workers that survived the first wave of lay-offs may also be facing unemployment.

New Web Portal Launched to Serve Construction Sector BY NINO GUGUNISHVILI

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he new innovative web portal construct.ge was presented at the Tbilisi Tech Park on February 8. A joint project of the Infrastructure Construction Companies Association (ICCA) Viseil LTD, and Modulator LTD, it aims to create a system for buying/selling construction products as well as for the study of market prices in the construction sector. The web portal is to assist production, construction, architectural and expertise companies to facilitate any of the issues related to their services. With the newly launched platform, construct.ge, companies will now have the opportunity to buy and sell any construction product wholesale through a fully automated process. They will also be able to create an entire catalogue of Georgian and foreign distributors and producers, and an indexation of prices for tenders or other budget estimates. Through the web portal, the companies will have easy access to the construct.ge system, helping them to promote their products, consequently stabilizing and expanding the market, and developing healthy competition. “We plan to have 1300 users registered within 12

months of the launch of the platform. Now we have approximately 1000 products listed, which is quite good as a starting point,” said Gigi Gachechiladze, Executive Director of construct.ge. “Our approach will be different- focused on real market prices”. “It’s an innovative web portal for market price indexation and for buying and selling construction materials that will primarily help construction companies, importers, and distributors,” said Ana Sabakhtarishvili, ICCA Executive Director. “Focused on wholesale, with the price indexation simultaneously available, this is an innovative B2B platform that has no analogue in the region”.


GEORGIA TODAY

SOCIETY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Swiss Ambassador: The Swiss Should Be Inspired by the Georgian Flexibility & Adaptability INTERVIEW BY MANUELA KOSCH

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eorgian-Swiss relations go back to the 19th century when Swiss farmers and traders settled in Tsarist Georgia. For Georgians striving towards Europe and eager to share its values, Swiss features such as professional skills and a passion for quality and perfection are more relevant now than ever. GEORGIA TODAY met the Swiss Ambassador to Georgia, H.E. Lukas Beglinger, to find out where Georgia-Swiss relations stand and what the two countries can exchange.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF GEORGIA? I like living and working in Georgia very much. It’s a very hospitable and versatile country; and the population is sociable and open for dialogue and exchange, which makes it easier and rewarding for a diplomat to do good and sustainable work.

THE SWISS FIRST TROD GEORGIAN SOIL IN THE 19TH CENTURY TO WORK IN COMMODITY TRADE AND DAIRY FARMING. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT IT? Swiss-Georgian relations have an interesting past, with parallels to the present. This year, it is 200 years since the first German settlers came to Georgia. The aftermath of the Napoleonic era and a volcanic eruption in Indonesia led to a hunger crisis in large parts of Europe in 1817. Here in Georgia, it was the era of the Tsar, who was interested in attracting well-educated people from Western Europe. And even back then, Swiss and Germans had good professional skills which enabled them to contribute to Georgia’s economic development. In the late 19th century, the Russian government offered Swiss farmers land for farming and they came and settled here in Georgia, particularly in the region of Bolnisi and Marneuli. Tragically, during the first World War, they were attacked by bands of robbers and when the Red Army came a few years later, the Swiss had to leave. Since the 1990s, Swiss citizens have been coming back to Georgia with a similar purpose as in the 19th century. To this day, we aim to improve the farming and professional skills of people working in agriculture and related sectors; we want to pass on our expert knowledge and promote an efficient and competitive agriculture where 50% of the active Georgian population is employed.

HOW ARE THE CURRENT SWISSGEORGIAN RELATIONS? The bilateral relations between Georgia and Switzerland are friendly, close and trusting. This is illustrated by our protecting power mandate for Russia in Georgia and for Georgia in Russia, as well as by the regular high-ranking meetings between our countries. The Georgians are also aware that Switzerland has a lot to offer in important fields such as vocational education, innovation and quality standards.

HOW HAS THE RELATIONSHIP CHANGED OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS? HOW WILL THE FREE TRADE AGREEMENT BETWEEN GEORGIA AND THE EFTA-STATES, SIGNED LAST YEAR, AFFECT THE RELATIONSHIP? Switzerland has adjusted its strategy of development cooperation and engagement in peace policy to the current situation. The economic exchange, including tourism, has developed positively, as it has in the field of science and culture. But in all of these areas, there is still a lot of development potential. The Free Trade Agreement with Georgia will be an important tool to harness this potential : it puts Switzerland and the other EFTA countries on a par with the EU in their trade relations with Georgia, and it will contribute to Georgia’s integra-

tion efforts in relation to Europe and the world economy.

YOUR PREDECESSOR, GÜNTHER BÄCHLER, MET THE RUSSIAN SECTION IN TBILISI EVERY WEEK TO DISCUSS CURRENT ISSUES. DOES SUCH A MEETING STILL TAKE PLACE? Our embassy maintains an intense exchange with the Russian Interest Section. Due to Switzerland’s protecting power mandate, the Russian Section is formally a part of the Swiss embassy. The contacts do not only take place at my level, but also at the level of my staff.

THE SWISS DON’T KNOW A LOT ABOUT GEORGIA. IS THE REVERSE ALSO TRUE OF GEORGIANS? The Swiss reputation in Georgia is excellent; to a certain extent, Switzerland is seen here as a “dreamland”. Swiss enterprises and their products and services stand for quality, accuracy and reliability. However, only a minority can afford a trip to, or a longer stay in, Switzerland. The Georgian policy-makers particularly appreciate the long-lasting mediation of Switzerland between Georgia and Russia.

GEORGIA WANTS TO STRENGTHEN ITS TOURIST SECTOR. ARE THERE SPECIAL EFFORTS THAT CAN ATTRACT SWISS TOURISTS? Primarily, it is the business of the responsible Georgian stakeholders to promote Georgia in Switzerland, though Swiss travel agencies are also involved. Undoubtedly, tourism is an important and promising field for the Georgian economy. Luckily, the current government is aware of this fact and acts accordingly. In line with the development of our cooperation with Georgia, we facilitate the sustainable development of tourism. We have financed signs and infrastructure for hiking trails, we support alpine farming, we are involved in the training of mountain guides and are ready to share our general experience and expertise in mountainrelated tourism with the Georgian government. In the 1990s, Swiss mountain guides started to train Georgian mountaineers according to Swiss standards. A group of guides went to the Swiss mountains to gain skills. At the moment, Georgia has around a dozen certified mountain guides but there are also guides without adequate qualifications. That’s something we would not accept in Switzerland. Now, the Georgian government is supporting the establishment of an Adventure Tourism School and considering the introduction of legislation regulating the guide profession with the support of Swiss experts. That is a good example of concrete and effective cooperation based on European standards.

WHAT CAN THE SWISS LEARN FROM GEORGIANS AND VICE VERSA? The Swiss should be inspired by the improvisation skills, flexibility and adaptability that Georgians require to survive. In Switzerland, people often complain despite excellent living conditions, which bear little comparison to the situation here in Georgia. Georgian citizens demand development in almost every sector, and they can learn a lot from a politically and economically successful country like Switzerland. For example: our practice-oriented education system, professional working and production methods, constitutional and democratic processes and emancipated citizens.

THE GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCED AN EDUCATIONAL REFORM IN 2016. WHAT WILL THIS CHANGE? When Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili took on his position, he announced that education would be one of the four most important topics on his

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Swiss Ambassador to Georgia, H.E. Lukas Beglinger

agenda, particularly vocational education, as he announced his plan to adopt the German dualeducation system, which is comparable to the Swiss system. I commend the government for its recognition that education is a key challenge for Georgia which needs to be addressed as a priority. The diagnosis is done, but the therapy is harder and will take time. The government will have to take reform measures at all levels of the education system- something which can be expected to meet a lot of resistance. It won’t be easy to re-establish a high-quality vocational education system, but it is necessary if Georgia wants to successfully develop its economy and create enough jobs for its population. Switzerland and other international donors support Georgia in this endeavor, for instance through our projects in the field of rural development. Swiss enterprises working in Georgia also make valuable contributions by training their local staff. But the Georgian government must do the main part, which, of course, requires political will, a long-term strategy and stamina.

LAST AUTUMN SAW THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS HERE IN GEORGIA. HOW DID IT AFFECT YOUR WORK? Georgians realized that the elections were a test of the democracy here. And because they have the ambition to join the European Union and enter NATO, democratic standards are essential. For me as an ambassador, the election period was very exciting because I met numerous parties, NGOs, journalists, etc. and got a better insight into how

the country works. Switzerland contributed to the election monitoring. Election day was intensive for our Embassy, but this was equally true for the full four months of the election campaign in which we maintained contacts with all the important stakeholders. The continuity of the government and parliament facilitates the smooth continuation of our bilateral relations and of our well established cooperation in many important fields. The government has a clear mandate to carry on its reform and development policies, and it can count on our steady support in this regard.

THE SWISS EMBASSY ORGANIZES EVENTS IN THE FIELD OF CULTURAL EXCHANGES. WHAT ACTIVITIES ARE PLANNED THIS YEAR? Like every year, we will organize several cultural events during the French language month, the Italian language week and in the week dedicated to the German language. Switzerland also participates in Georgian film festivals and contributes to the promotion of the cultural scene in Georgia. A good example is the Tskaltubo Art Festival: having been set up with Swiss support in the past years, it will take place for the 5th time in September 2017 and give visibility to the energies and competences of Tskaltubo's inhabitants which include thousands of IDPs from the Abkhazia conflict. It allows for an exchange of artists between Switzerland and Georgia and involves collaborative workshops and performances in fields such as dance, music and visual arts. Participation and interest from the side of local population, in particular local youth, is usually very high.

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SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Making Science Fun at Snow School INTERVIEW BY NINO GUGUNISHVILI

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ested in the outdoors and get them active.

WHY DID YOU THINK THE SNOW SCHOOL WOULD WORK IN GEORGIA?

r. James Frankenfield, an American scientist, ava l a n c h e c e n t e r founder, and now Snow School Director, came to Georgia almost three and a half years ago to spend a summer hiking. But, as it does many a foreigner, the country grabbed his heart and now he’s here to stay. GEORGIA TODAY met him to find out more.

It seemed like a good idea for this country for several reasons. One is that there’s a real need for innovation in education, and last year we organized a trip with kids that were half public and half private school. I really like that public schools could have something that is new and different and gets the children more motivated.

HOW DID YOU END UP IN GEORGIA?

Although it’s only a short program, we hope it will help improve science education. The outdoor part of the program is one-day, but we have a science lesson in the classroom. We expect we’ll have to work with the teachers until they learn what we’re teaching. We teach some topics before and then we go and spend a day outside, and children can put their snowshoes on and travel around, dig a hole in the snow and look at the layers, or they can study how much water there is in the snow- one topic is understanding where our drinking water comes from and how to estimate how much water we’ll have for the next year. We measure how much water is there in the snow and talk about it. Another aspect that’s very important here, and that I hope we can help them to appreciate, is where the water comes from, that trash should be disposed of responsibly- there’s too much trashdumping that goes on in winter, a big problem in this country. There’s no short-term solution to it- we

I originally came just for the summer and even had a return ticket, but then I found a few teaching jobs that interested me and decided to stick around. While I was working with schools and various ages groups, I kept up my outdoor work in the United States. I used to do mountain guiding, and I’ve been running an avalanche center for many years.

TELL US ABOUT THE SNOW SCHOOL PROGRAM I knew of a program called Snow School in the United States. The program itself is very small, with its main office in Idaho supporting the program all over the country. They have different field locations and each location can have different activities and different lessons which the central program helps support with lesson plans, trainings, and equipmentsnow shoes for winter walking and the like. It’s fundamentally a science program but we also hope to get students inter-

HOW DOES THE PROGRAM WORK IN PRACTICE?

Snow School Outdoors. Source: Gvantsa Akiashvili (Iris Group)

just have to teach children that water is a resource and important for Georgia’s economy, tourism and winter sports. After the outdoor class, we head back indoors, take the numbers we wrote down outside and calculate how much water there is. We also have a simple fun test to show them what they’ve learned. We don’t grade them- that’s for the teachers to do if they want. My goal is a program that makes science and the outdoors interesting, and supports the teacher. I’m not interested in coming in and taking over a science class for a year or a term, but I hope this can help make their classes better or give them ideas for other topics. We had two schools participating last year and hopefully they will both do it again separately. We worked with the Georgian-American high school and they’re planning to do it again this year; they’re all very excited about it!

WHAT IS THE AGE OF THE STUDENTS INVOLVED IN THE SNOW SCHOOL PROGRAM?

Last year we had best luck with Grade 8. We had some students from Grade 9, but they were a little less interested, though it could be different with other schools. This year we’re looking at grades 7 and 8 as a focus. In the US some of the old participants return for more- some even become volunteers and help with the program.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE AMERICAN AND GEORGIAN APPROACH IN TEACHING SUCH A PROGRAM? Well, this is something I need to learn from doing this project. Part of the goal is to work with teachers in the classroom before and after. I think in the USA science teachers are more trained on the curriculum and you give them a lesson plan and they can prepare children for the field day themselves. Here, I think teachers need more preparation; I need to learn more about the curriculum and what they cover in each grade. I’m also working with the brand

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new Adventure Tourism School (in Gudauri)- they were very enthusiastic about supporting the program, so we should be able to use some of their facilities and equipment. Last year, we also had students from Public School 54, and they were very, very good. This year schools became a little less hesitant, now they have more of an idea what we’re about. It’s an experiential program; children are experiencing the outdoors and observing things. We want them to make enquiries, to ask questions and think of possible solutions.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO FOCUS ON PUBLIC SCHOOLS? Well, we’re working with both. I myself went to a public school in America, and to me public schools are the cornerstones of the education of a country. Throughout Georgia, most students go to public schools. I’m not interested in training future scientists in this program, I just want kids to understand why science is interesting.

FLIGHT NUMBER

TK 387 TK 385 TK 383 TK 386 TK 384 TK 382

WEEK DAYS

DEPARTURE

ARRIVAL

EVERYDAY

05.50 11.45 18.10 01.40 07.30 13.55

07.25 13.25 20.00 04.55 10.50 17.15

07.40

09.00

20.45

00.10+1

17.50 13.55

19.10 16.55

TK 381 EVERYDAY TK 380 TK 393 TK 392

EVERYDAY


GEORGIA TODAY

SOCIETY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

11

Torch this Place: Svaneti BY TONY HANMER

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ff the rant roll of the past couple of weeks for now and on to much more agreeable things. Last Sunday, the February 5, was Lamproba in this part of Svaneti; elsewhere up here in the mountains it's celebrated on different dates and in slightly different ways, and may be remembered by Svans in other parts of the country in addition. But I find myself best able to enter into the spirit of this particular local holiday with full gusto here in Etseri. Lamproba, the Festival of Torches, commemorates a centuries-old military victory achieved through the lighting of said torches to surprise and overwhelm the enemy. When? Who? Lost in the mists of time which were Svaneti in the silent Middle Ages. But the skeleton of the tale, and its remembrance, lives on. Men make birch torches, one for each living male family member of any age, by splitting one end of a cut bough repeatedly with an axe until it fans out slightly and is much easier to burn. Before sunrise on the appointed day, once a year at about this time, they gather by hamlets in agreed places, bringing their already lit torches in procession, then assembling them in the snow into a magnificent bonfire. They also bring small round loaves of special bread, and toasting drink, either moonshine or wine. The hamlet's elders hold these offerings aloft as the sun rises and pray a blessing for the men of each family there represented. The fire burns for some hours, and all gathered try to prolong this until the torches are entirely consumed, often melting the snow under them down to the ground in the process.

Then they head off to the home of whichever family has the task that year of providing the hamlet's supra, or feast, and things proceed as they usually do at such events in Georgia, only without undue emphasis on the dead, who, at this event, only get the obligatory remembrance toast or two, nothing more- the emphasis here is on blessing! I have participated in Lamproba or its similar versions in Etseri's hamlets of Iskari (where our house is) and Ladreri (from where I was introduced

to the village in 2000), as well as in Mestia and Ushguli when I lived there. But my original hosts from 17 years ago in Ladreri have always, every year, made my torch, and it burns there, with or without me. This means a lot, and I try to be there and nowhere else for the event, to show respect and appreciation for this honor. It's strictly a men's event, and one which unites us in brotherhood, friendship, neighborhood and more. We cherish it. One of the many joys I have living

here is also the opportunity, as the years build up, to compare not only successive days, but repetitions of annual or frequent events to each other. And I may say that Lamproba has never let me down; it's a good one. An important ritual, simple but profound, the contrasts of fire, pre-dawn, cold, snow and heat, and sunrise all playing off one another as we enter in. As they say for all such positive holidays, mravals daestsarit, may you meet many such: in other words, may your life be both long and good, meas-

ured in these high points! Bring on the lit torches! Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance� Facebook group, now with over 1350 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/ He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti


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CULTURE

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Presentation of Book: Unknown Sergo Kobuladze BY MAKA LOMADZE

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ebruary 7 is the birthday of the eminent Georgian painter, Sergo Kobuladze, wellknown painting master and the author of the famous muse curtain that was restored several years ago to adorn the stage of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater. Bilingual (Georgian-English), the book comprises Kobuladze’s lesser-known works, as well as his theoretical works and documents, including diary entries and the memories of his contemporaries. The edition was put together by Giorgi Chubinashvili of the National Research Center of Georgian Art History and Monument Protection, and published with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection and Tbilisi City Hall. “There has not been such extensive material about Sergo Kobuladze compiled in one edition to date,” said Mikheil Giorgadze, Minister of Culture. “We, the ministry, are glad to have been given a chance to assist in the work. In Kobuladze’s private archive was found never-before-seen material. I believe that this book will raise a great interest not only among art-critics, but also in wider society.” “I would like to thank the Ministry of Culture for

their support,” Marika Didebulidze, Director of the Research Center, said. “Sergo Kobuladze was not only a painter and graphic artist but a big thinker and theoretician who created a laboratory of photo fixation that achieved unique results for the Soviet Union. This book we are presenting today is the fruit of tremendous work.” “I was called to this work by the soul of the artist these past two years,” said Mariam Gachechiladze, the project manager, with pride. “We heard Kobuladze’s studio was being sold and the next day wrote a letter to the Ministry, who replied the same day asking us to write a project proposal. We organized a memorial office in the Academy of Fine Arts named after Sergo Kobuladze where we placed the objects from his studio. The painter left us a very well-ordered chronological archive. All nations able to boast such a great painter tend to cherish them to the highest level and we Georgians should do the same.” Gogi Tsereteli, famous graphic artist, said: “Congratulations to all on Sergo Kobuladze’s birthday! I personally believe that he deserves a separate museum and further volumes to be written. I am grateful to the Minister. This is a book that will be useful for all generations.” Radish Tordia, painter, concluded the book presentation with these words: “I could never have

Sketch for the Opera Theater curtain, one of Kobuladze's better-known works

imagined the restoration of Kobuladze’s famous curtain and thank god we found a way through new technologies. Kobuladze was before now rather under-appreciated. Michelangelo once said that it

is not merely enough to be an artist but one has to be a scientist at the same time. If Italians are proud of Leonardo Da Vinci, we should be proud of Sergo Kobuladze.”

Sharjah Children’s Book Illustrations Exhibition Receives 1,500 Submissions

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he Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) announced it received 1,500 works of art from 44 countries for the sixth edition of the Sharjah Children’s Book Illustrations Exhibition, which takes place annually in April. Organized by SBA as part of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival, this year’s exhibition has attracted 9% more works compared to last year, which saw 1,378 submissions received. The Sharjah Children’s Book Illustrations Exhibition was launched in 2012 under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, with the aim of highlighting distinguished illustrations in children’s books. The previous five editions of the event attracted a total of more than 2,500 artists from 40 countries. Through its organization of the Sharjah Children’s Book Illustrations Exhibition, SBA seeks to develop the children’s book industry and provide a platform for illustrators, authors and publishers, as well as other children’s book arena stakeholders. The event is designed to give artists an invaluable opportunity to meet authors and publishers and to open the door to collaboration between them in order to achieve the goal of producing premium quality creative children’s books.

Topping the list of Arab countries taking part in this year’s Sharjah Children’s Book Illustrations Exhibition are the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Morocco. The list of non-Arab countries participating is headed by Spain, Italy, Ukraine, Lithuania, Germany and Romania. “The Sharjah Children’s Book Illustrations Exhibition receives hundreds of pieces of artwork from across the world each year, with the artists behind them all vying to display the most remarkable talents in the field of visual arts. The premium quality of illustrations and the innovative techniques used to create each piece enriches the exhibition and brings into the children’s book arena skilful artists who can contribute significantly to the industry in the future,” said Salim Omar Salim, Director of Sales and Marketing at SBA. “The large number of submissions received so far for this year’s edition of the Sharjah Children’s Book Illustrations Exhibition highlights the success of its vision and mission and underscores the goal of Sharjah’s cultural project.” he added. SBA will give cash prizes to participants who win the first three places: the first prize winner will get $8,000; the second $6,000 and the third prize winner will get $4,000. There are also other prizes worth $1,000 for different categories.


GEORGIA TODAY

CULTURE

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

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TBC Gallery to Showcase Restored Pirosmani Paintings

Georgians to Hit the Made in New York Jazz Competition OP-ED BY NUGZAR B. RUHADZE

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ecently, a world renowned online musical competition was held named ‘The Made in New York Jazz”, one of the most significant international jazz events in the States if not in the world. Among this year’s finalists are numerous legendary jazz artists, including our darling Maia Baratashvili and our renowned Mania Quartet: Vazha Mania (vocals), Papuna Sharikadze (piano), Giorgi Kapanadze (drums) and Giorgi Kiknadze (bass). Throughout the past twenty years, I have never tired of listening to outstanding Georgian vocalist Maia Baratashvili, the famous jazz soloist of the celebrated Big Band of Tbilisi. That I am a big fan of jazz is no surprise because we have all grown up enjoying jazz whenever and wherever we were lucky enough to catch a chance – nothing was easy in those weird soviet times, but not anymore! Welcome to the free world! So, frankly, I wasn’t surprised to hear the news of Maia – she long ago earned the honor of being able to triumph in a grand jazz competition. And the Quartet is just as praiseworthy. Speaking about the competition itself, it has attracted a worldwide audience of jazz fans as well as a huge number of musicians from tens of nations. I heard that ‘Made in New York’ in just three years counted over two million video loads and has more than 30,000 registered jazz musicians and fans from 55 countries. The uploaded music videos have received three million hits and those numbers are ceaselessly increasing This is what our Maia and the Quartet participated in! And very successfully too, with the Quartet winning a final participant’s ticket to America, where the International Jazz Gala is scheduled for May 20 at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. .

‘The Made in New York Jazz Competition’ is the world’s first and fastest growing online jazz competition. Competition entrants upload video performances in seven jazz-genre categories. Registrants then vote for their favorite performances. Finalists are selected through a combination of online votes and the Competition’s Board of Members, which is comprised of highly regarded jazz musicians like Lenny White, Randy Brecker and Mike Stern, with Mario Biondi as the company’s first International Artistic Advisor - a familiar name and presence in Jazz industry circles. The Competition also recently announced its European expansion, allowing more musicians from around the world to share their talents at live concerts. Having all this in mind, I can only conclude that music is a genuine international language which unites the world. The ‘Made in New York Jazz Competition’ hosts international jazz, folk jazz and new flavor jazz artists, all sharing the stage together. This is exactly how vibrant the jazz scene is on an international scale. The way to that already famous music contest in the States is now open for the Vazha Mania Quartet and Maia Baratashvili. To say I’m proud of this would be a real understatement, and to say I’m excited about this new chance for Georgia to continue shining on the world map would not be an overstatement. Just think about it: what would help most Georgia’s naturalization in the European family of nations? Only victories such as this, better and stronger than any political effort, will make this country one of those who can qualify as truly Western. And the artistic talents of Maia Baratashvili and the Vazha Mania Quartet are those who will realistically promote this cause. As the competition’s brand ambassador, Tea Grigolashvili says, Georgia may be the next platform for holding the Made in NY Jazz festival.

BY NINO GUGUNISHVILI

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wo of the recently restored Niko Pirosmani paintings; Queen Tamar and Shota Rustaveli are to be exhibited at the TBC Art Gallery Tbilisi from February 3-16, alongside the artist’s other works that were previously kept at the Pirosmani State Museum in Mirzaani. Initiated by the Ministry of Culture and Monument Protection of Georgia, and the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation, the restoration of Niko Pirosmani’s paintings was financed by TBC Bank.


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CULTURE

GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

WHAT’S ON IN TBILISI THEATER

GEORGIAN STATE PANTOMIME THEATER Address: 37 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 99 63 14 February 11 THE KNIGHT IN THE PANTHER'S SKIN Shota Rustaveli Directed by Amiran Shalikashvili Start time: 19:00 Ticket: 20 GEL Venue: Marjanishvili Theater TBILISI VASO ABASHIDZE MUSIC AND DRAMA STATE THEATER Address: 182 D.Agmashenebeli Ave. Telephone: 2 34 80 90 www.musictheatre.ge February 15 PILLOWMAN Directed by Davit Doiashvili Musical Start time: 19:00 Ticket: 15-20 GEL GRIBOEDOVI THEATER Address: 2 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 93 43 36 February 10 THE ELDER SON Alexander Vampilov Directed by Giorgi Margvelashvili Language: Russian Start time: 18:00 Ticket: 10 GEL February 11 THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR Nikolay Gogol Directed by Avtandil Varsimashvili Language: Russian Start time: 18:00 Ticket: 10 GEL February 12 TALE OF KING SALTAN Directed by Avtandil Varsimashvili Language: Russian Start time: 12:00 Ticket price: 10 GEL GABRIADZE THEATER Address: 13 Shavtelis St. Telephone: 2 98 65 93 February 10 RAMONA Rezo Gabriadze Directed by Rezo Gabriadze

English Subtitles Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10, 15, 20 GEL February 11 STALINGRAD Rezo Gabriadze Directed by Rezo Gabriadze English Subtitles Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10, 15, 20 GEL February 12, 16 MARSHAL DE FANTIE’S DIAMOND Rezo Gabriadze Directed by Rezo Gabriadze English Subtitles Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10, 15, 20 GEL MOVEMENT THEATER Address: 182, Aghmashenebeli Ave., Mushthaid park Telephone: 599 555 260 February 10, 11 INTRO Directed by Kakha Bakuradze Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 15 GEL February 12 IGI Jemal Karchkhadze Directed by Kakha Bakuradze Start time: 21:00 Ticket: 15 GEL STATE SHADOW THEATER “BUDRUGANA-GAGRA” ABKHAZIA Address: 17 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 72 68 68 www.rustavelitheatre.ge February 11 ISN'T THIS A LOVELY DAY Performance based on a Jazz Music Directed by Gela Kandelaki Start time: 19:00 Ticket: 6-10 GEL CINEMA

AMIRANI CINEMA Address: 36 Kostava St. Telephone: 2 99 99 55 www.kinoafisha.ge Every Wednesday ticket price: 5 Lari February 10-16 FIFTY SHADES DARKER * Premiere Directed by James Foley

Cast: Bella Heathcote, Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan Genre: Drama, Romance Language: Russian Start time: 11:45, 16:30, 19:15, 19:30, 22:00 Ticket: 8-14 GEL LA LA LAND Directed by Damien Chazelle Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical Language: Russian Start time: 22:15 Ticket: 10-11 GEL February 14 Event Cinema MACBETH Directed by Eve Best Cast: Joseph Millson, Samantha Spiro, Stuart Bowman, Finty Williams Genre: Drama Language: English Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 17 GEL RUSTAVELI CINEMA Address: 5 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 55 50 00 www.kinoafisha.ge Every Wednesday ticket: 5 GEL February 10-16 FIFTY SHADES DARKER Premiere (Info Above) Start time: 14:30, 17:00, 19:45, 22:30 Ticket: 9-14 GEL THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE * Premiere Directed by Chris McKay Cast: Jenny Slate, Will Arnett, Ralph Fiennes Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure Language: Russian Start time: 12:15, 14:45, 17:30, 20:00 Ticket: 8-14 GEL RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER * Premiere Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson Cast: Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Ali Larter Genre: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi Language: Russian Start time: 12:15, 14:45, 17:30, 20:00 Ticket: 8-14 GEL

MUSEUM

GEORGIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM SIMON JANASHIA MUSEUM Address: 4 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 99 80 22, 2 93 48 21 www.museum.ge PERMANENT EXHIBITION: GEORGIAN ARCHAEOLOGY FROM 8TH MILLENNIUM B.C. TO 4TH CENTURY A.D EXHIBITION OF GEORGIAN WEAPONRY NUMISMATIC TREASURY THE TESTAMENT OF DAVID THE BUILDER AND THE NEW EXHIBITS OF MEDIEVAL TREASURY The exhibition showcases: the fragment of the only surviving testament of David the Builder; a copy of its glass negative made by Aleksandre Roinashvili in 1895; paleographical blades of David the Builder's handicrafts created by Sargis Kakabadze in 1911; the richly embellished gospel "Ceremonial" (Sazeimo) which in all likelihood belonged to Queen Tamar, and more. September 27 – September 22 (2017) EXHIBITION STONE AGE GEORGIA January 16 - February 16 EXHIBITION UPLISTSIKHE 60 See artifacts from archaeological excavations at Uplistsikhe. The exhibition is dedicated to the 93rd anniversary of the birth of the Georgian archaeologist David Khakhutaishvili. MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS Address: 1 Gudiashvili Str. EXHIBITION “LADO GUDIASHVILI AND GEORGIAN MONUMENTAL PAINTING” IOSEB GRISHASHVILI TBILISI HISTORY MUSEUM - KARVASLA Address: 8 Sioni St. Telephone: 2 98 22 81 February 3 – 14 EXHIBITION LIFE THREATS BY ROCKO IREMASHVILI A multimedia project by Rocko

Iremashvili, a successful Georgian contemporary artist, which reflects common philosophical threads of human existence: erroneous rearing methods, and false values and stereotypes. A teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts, Iremashvili has participated in numerous projectsand group exhibitions. His works are kept in the private collections of different countries. MUSEUM OF SOVIET OCCUPATION Address: 3 Sh. Rustaveli Ave. PERMANENT EXHIBITION Visitors can discover the State's personal files of "subversive" Georgian public figures, orders to shoot or exile, and other artifacts representing Soviet-era cultural and political repression in Georgia. GALLERY

THE NATIONAL GALLERY Address: 11 Rustaveli Ave. www.museum.ge PERMANENT EXHIBITION January 10 - February 24 EXHIBITION OF ALEXANDER BAZHBEUK-MELIKOV'S ARTWORKS Dedicated to his 125-year anniversary Alexander Bazhbeuk-Melikov is a prominent representative of 20th century Georgian art. An ethnic Armenian, he spent his entire life in Georgia and formed a basis for the development of modern Georgian painting. ZURAB TSERETELI MUSEUM OF MODERN ART Address: 27 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 14 84 11, 2 98 60 04 www.momatbilisi.ge SPORTPHOTO 2016 PHOTO EXHIBITION MUSIC

TBILISI STATE CONSERVATOIRE Address: 8 Griboedov St. Telephone: 2 93 46 24 February 15 CHARITY CONCERT FOR KONSTANTINE VARDELI Start time: 19:30 Ticket: From 10 GEL MOVEMENT THEATER Address: 182, Aghmashenebeli Ave., Mushthaid park Telephone: 599 555 260 February 14 LIVE JAZZ EVENING WITH REZO KIKNADZE Start time: 21:00 Free entry February 15 MILONGA, LA CUMPARSITA ARGENTINE TANGO DANCE NIGHT Start time: 21:00 Tango Lesson: 5 GEL DJANSUG KAKHIDZE TBILISI CENTER FOR MUSIC & CULTURE Address: 125 Aghmashenebeli ave. Telephone: 2 96 12 43 February 11 Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra In program Georgian composers VAZHA AZARASHVILI’S, ELIZBAR LOMDARIDZE’S AND ZURAB NADAREISHVILI’S WORKS Conductor: David Mukeria The soloists: George Khaindrava, Tamar Bulia, Irakli Djaparidze, Tornike Getsadze. Start time: 19:30 Ticket: 5-14 GEL


CULTURE

GEORGIA TODAY FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Anita Rachvelishvili Nominated for 2017 Opera Awards

Aida at the Tbilisi Opera INTERVIEW BY MAKA LOMADZE

Anita Rachvelishvili. Source: Teatro Alla Scala Website

BY NINO GUGUNISHVILI

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eorgian Mezzo Soprano, Anita Rachvelishvili, was nominated for the best female singer at the 2017 Opera Awards. The finalists were selected for their achievements throughout 2016. Other nominees in the best female singer category

include: Maria Bengtsson, Stéphanie d’Oustrac, Christiane Karg, Anna Netrebko, and Daniela Sindram. The winner will be announced on May 7 at the London Coliseum. Founded in 2012, the International Opera Awards were created to increase the recognition of opera as an art form, to reward successes in opera, and to provide support for aspiring talent from around the world.

A

fter 14 years of stagnation at the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater, namely in the section of opera, there is good news for Georgians: Badri Maisuradze, a new and very motivated, patriotically disposed, highly professional, world-acclaimed tenor, has been appointed to the post of Artistic Head. For many this means the best days are ahead, perhaps even the renaissance of the old Georgian opera glory. And so it begins: in March, opera-lovers will have a wonderful opportunity to visit six performances of the immortal Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, to be staged by living legend, Franco Zeffirelli. This is an unprecedented performance in scale and artistic level. Like all Zeffirelli’s works, this is a masterpiece. Thanks to the great reputation of Maisuradze, the staging agreement was reached in less than three months. GEORGIA TODAY met Badri Maisuradze to find out more.

THERE ARE FOUR WORLD RENOWNED VERSIONS OF ZEFFIRELLI’S AIDA. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS VERSION (FIRST STAGED IN PARMA FOR THE FESTIVAL OF GIUSEPPE VERDI)? There are far more than that but we chose this one because it best fits our opera and its capacities.

WHO WILL PERFORM THE MAIN PARTS? On the very first night, we will offer a Georgian cast to the audience. Iano Tamar will be Aida, Anita Rachvelishvili will sing the part of Amneris, and Giorgi Oniani will be the Georgian Radames. Giorgi Gagnidze will personify Amonasro, Giorgi Andguladze will play the role of Ramfis and Ramas Chikviladze – the King of Egypt. The performance will be conducted by our special guest for the opening night – outstanding conductor Daniel Oren. On May 5, a mixed troupe will be presented. Together with opera soloists, Khatuna Mikaberidze, a Georgian female singer leading a career abroad, will step forward together with the famous tenor

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EDITORIAL DEPARTMENT:

Editor-In-Chief: Katie Ruth Davies

Journalists: Tony Hanmer, Zaza Jgarkava, Maka Bibilashvili, Karen Tovmasyan, Dimitri Dolaberidze, Maka Lomadze, Tim Ogden, Joseph Larsen, Vazha Tavberidze, Nugzar B. Ruhadze, Nino Gugunishvili, Thea Morrison, Natia Liparteliani

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Badri Maisuradze, Artistic Head of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater

James Lee. The conductor will be Marco Boemi. On March 7, foreigners will perform alone. Aida will be played by Cellia Costea, whilst Radames will be performed by Rudy Park and Amneris will be embodied by Sanja Anastasia. Other characters are to be played by: Giacomo Prestia (Ramfis), Mattia Denti (King of Egypt), Filippo Micale (Messenger), Gonca Dogan (Voice of the High Priestess), and Giulio Boschetti (Amonasro). This day’s conductor will be Marco Boemi. On March 12, 15 and 18, the Tbilisi opera soloists will take part in the performances, conducted by Zaza Azmaiparashvili. In all six performances, the orchestra and the choir of the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater will be present. The Assistant Director to the foreign troupe will be Stefano Trespidi – a very well-known Italian director and a most trusted person of Franco Zeffirelli. He’ll be personally in charge of decoration and performance development.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE? As you know, within the past 14 years, there was a long stagnation. After 25 years, I came back from the Bolshoi Theater to restore the rich traditions of our opera. We plan to revive the opera life that is so much anticipated by Tbilisi opera lovers. For the coming year, we will offer three new performances to our respected audience: two Georgian classical pieces: Victor Dolidze’s ‘Keto and Kote,’ Paliashvili’s ‘Daisi’, and also Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’.

YOU’VE HAD AN EXTREMELY ACTIVE AND BUSY INTERNATIONAL CAREER SINCE THE 1990S. HOW COMPATIBLE WILL THESE TWO SERIOUS OCCUPATIONS BE? Believe I can, and try my best to do both. However, my number one mission at present is to restore the opera repertoire as its glorious past and our audience deserve. I will do my best to be very supportive to our cast and indulge them with new performances and the chance to use their musical potential, be it as soloists or choir members. WHERE: Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theater, Rustaveli Ave. WHEN: On March 4, 5, 7, 12, 15, 18

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GEORGIA TODAY

FEBRUARY 10 - 13, 2017

Chekhov’s Three Sisters: A Bitter-Sweet Choreo-Drama on the Georgian Stage BY MAKA LOMADZE

F

oreigners are fully entitled to love theater, but because of the language barrier, cannot indulge themselves in Georgia much in this regard. Fortunately, there is now a space for them: the Music & Drama State Theater offering the choreo-drama The Three Sisters according to Chekhov, in one act. Solitude, not isolation from society, but existing in it and still being alone… Thinking that you were perhaps born in the wrong time, wrong place and wrong environment…Dreaming and hoping that there is a “Moscow” somewhere out there, where you can find your deserved place in society…completely ignoring the possibility that this “Moscow” can be so close, among those with whom you feel so alone. Anton Chekhov is thought to be a magician of dramaturgy. Expressing feelings and thoughts by discovering and using extremely precise words and phrases is the main key to his magic. “Each choreo-drama is interesting and requires more responsibility because in this case, we, actors, do not speak the same text that was written by the author, but convey it through gestures instead,” said actor Achiko Sologhashvili, who plays the role of the Staff Captain Vassily Vasilyevich Solyony. “If the gesture

is not exact, you can totally change the essence of a character and the whole performance, too. And we can’t anticipate how the public will receive it. It’s dangerous when a spectator has not read the play, even one so famous as “The Three Sisters”. But we keep all kinds of spectators in mind, aiming to bring every detail and nuance to light for them.” Eka Demetradze is one of those doubles who plays Natasha, a lover and, later, wife of Andrei Prozorov, the three sisters’ brother: “It was extremely interesting as this is a totally different genre for me. The mere task of conveying the drama via physics, even more so that we are not professional dancers, is a new type of challenge. One has to retell the traits of a character through gestures and mimics. I aimed to make a synchrony between the physical movements and Natasha’s inner world.” Konstantin Purtseladze is a choreographer who would never have staged this but for Davit Doiashvili, the artistic director of the theater, who insisted on it. “After Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome’ and ‘Carmen,’ this is the third play I’ve staged as a choreographic drama.” He says the working process itself was not so difficult as the actors used to be his students. “Of course, there were other kinds of difficulties. This is Chekhov, where the text matters very much. The main challenge was to transform the words into movement. I believe that it

has proved intelligible, as at every festival we take it to, it is seen as a play. People were telling me: ‘Have you gone nuts? How can you stage Chekhov wordlessly?’ Another challenge was that, according to Chekhov, all the culmination actions occur in the backstage – the fire, the duel, Masha’s love scene with a lover, etc. We had to imagine how these scenes could happen and play them on stage,” Purtseladze told GEORGIA TODAY. The director listened to many pieces of music before choosing Alfred Schnittke, which very harmoniously fits in with the visual sublimity and transparency of the whole facture. The performance is as light as Chekhov, who tells of tragedies so easily that sometimes it is difficult to understand the bitterness. The music itself, just like the play and life, is bitter-sweet. “I plan to maintain this direction, as I like this genre very much, which is neither a ballet, a pantomime, nor mere dancing. This is story-telling in motion. I think it is the most topical in the world because it implies no language barrier. This is still a novelty for Georgia and our art critics are sometimes reluctant to write anything,” Purtseladze confides. The Three Sisters was staged in 2015 and premiered at the Tbilisi International Theater Festival. In 2016, it won the grand-prix at the international festivals in Romania and Turkey. “When we showed this performance to an

international jury at the Tbilisi Festival, it provoked a shower of business cards from producers. They had no idea that we could retell Chekhov wordlessly, via plastics, in an hour. They began inviting me to different festivals. I was a lit-

tle bit embarrassed,” the choreographer recalls. To see the trailer, go to this link: h t t p s : / / w w w. y o u t u b e . c o m / watch?v=wTVQ-gsZvDU

Issue #919  

February 10 - 13, 2017

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