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Issue no: 1017

• JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

• PUBLISHED TWICE WEEKLY

FOCUS

ON TOURISTS A look at what visitors really want out of a trip to Georgia.

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PRICE: GEL 2.50

In this week’s issue... Russia Ratifies Military Agreement with South Ossetia NEWS PAGE 3

Why are they tearing him apart?

POLITICS PAGE 4

Brian Whitmore on Saakashvili, Russia & Putin POLITICS PAGE 7

Virtual Office from Regus: Simplifying the Way Business is Done BUSINESS PAGE 9

Photo by Marta Mills

Tbilisi Mayor’s Office Starts Mandatory Registration of Taxis

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bilisi City Hall is to launch the compulsory registration of taxis, which means that people who want to be taxi drivers will have to apply for a special permit from Tbilisi City Hall. At the City Hall Wednesday Session, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze stated that the residents of Tbilisi and visitors to the capital deserve a high-quality, safe and comfortable taxi service. He believes the upcoming changes will also go some way to solving the issue of traffic jams. “Another novelty in the development of a very important transport system is to improve the quality of the taxi service and to establish certain standards,” he said, adding that the changes will be introduced gradually. “Tbilisi is set to become healthy, free from traffic jams and a city full of life,” Kaladze added. The Mayor also said that transit movement in Tbilisi is prohibited but some drivers violate the law and choose to pay the fines rather take another route. To avoid this, the Mayor’s Office is going to increase the transit movement fine up to GEL 500. Continued on page 2

Tamar “the Re-married” & The Compatibility of Georgians & Foreigners SOCIETY PAGE 11

James Blunt Concert to Include Performances with Georgian Rock Bands CULTURE PAGE 19


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NEWS

GEORGIA TODAY

JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

PM Summarizes Visit to Davos BY NINO GUGUNISHVILI

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rime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili summarized the Georgian delegation’s recent visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: “I think it was a very successful and productive visit. We had very specific, concrete meetings that were oriented towards very specific results. A tendency that we clearly saw is that every company representative, every investor we’ve met, considers Georgia as a correct place to open its representation in the region; it’s hugely important as we’re starting to implement the agreements we have with EU, China and other countries,” Giorgi Kvirikashvili stated. “We had specific meetings held; there were several big Indian companies as Wipro, which is considering opening a subsidiary in Georgia in order to offer its services to other countries from here as a base; there was a large American company, Hillwood, a leading player in the logistics sphere, which is considering Georgia for the company’s possible regional HQ. There also were political

meetings; we met with Maroš Šefcovic, Vice President of the European Commission. We have discussed regional projects in the energy sector and the steps undertaken after Georgia joined the Energy Union. We had a meeting with President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, which involved a very interesting conversation regarding our future projects. We also met with Prime Minister of Kirgyzstan” Giorgi Kvirikashvili stressed. “It is also very important that at the ‘Strategic Outlook – Eurasia’ panel discussion, every participant noted the progress of Georgia, and the importance of that progress, not only for the country, but for the region,” he said as he summarized the visit to Davos, also pointing out his meeting with the President of International Olympic Committee, and that Georgia “starts to prepare everything so that we are able to host the Winter Olympic Games”. “It will need considerable effort, but it will also bring new investments, new employment opportunities in Georgia, and will once again introduce Georgia on an international scale,” As Kvirikashvili pointed out, according to the comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Georgia is on the right track of development.

Tbilisi Mayor’s Office Starts Mandatory Registration of Taxis Continued from page 1

“This is already envisaged in the package of legislative amendments developed by Parliament,” Kaladze said. Former Mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, who ran the capital when the now-opposition, the United National Movement (UNM) was the ruling party, has slammed the move. Ugulava, who is now a member of the opposition European Georgia, says that the Mayor’s plan to modernize the transport system in Tbilisi is “superficial”. “If we look at this year’s budget for the capital, there is not enough money to

implement such a plan. The statement of the Mayor is more a wish than a real plan,” Ugulava stated. The ex-Mayor added that obligatory registration of taxis is “unacceptable” as it will leave many families without an income. Ugulava believes that the registration will be chargeable in the future, adding this will increase bureaucracy. “I wonder how frequently the sanitaryhygienic norms of taxis will be checked, or in-fact, who will check them, and also whether it will be a source of corruption or not. This reform will result in limiting competition and freedom,” he added.

Gov't to Set up Georgian Pension Agency

BY THEA MORRISON

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Pension Agency is to be created in Georgia to administer and manage the ‘Accumulated Pension System’ prepared by the Ministry of Economy with the Ministry of Finance and the National Bank of Georgia in November 2017. The legislative package on pensions, which consists of 11 draft laws, has already been submitted to Parliament. The draft law determines the rule and amount of pensions, and envisages establishment of a legal entity of public law: the Pension Agency, which will be administered by a supervisory board. The Supervisory Board will consist of three members of the Government of Georgia and a Chairman of the Investment Board. The Supervisory Board will appoint a Director for the Agency, who will be responsible for implementing the administrative activities of the agency, planning

of the budget and communicating with third parties, carried out in cooperation with the Supervisory Board. As a result of the planned changes, an Investment Council will be set up within the Pension Agency which will determine the investment policy itself. The Council will be composed of five members, with candidates elected by the Parliament of Georgia. The project states that the Investment Board is responsible for monitoring the activities of the investment and senior investment officer. It will also be tasked to monitor the activity of asset management companies in order to ensure the protection of pension assets. The new pension system will be activated in Quarter 3 of 2018 and envisages a cut of 2% of people’s monthly income and the saving of that money for their pension. Under the new pension reform, all employed citizens of Georgia up to 40 years (around 500,000 people), will transfer 2% of their untaxed monthly salaries to the state pension fund, with another 2% to be paid by employers and

2% by the state. This means that every month, 6% of employee's salary will go to a pension fund. The pension program covers citizens of Georgia, foreign citizens permanently residing in Georgia, or those having no citizenship but who are employed or self-employed and receiving an income. Self-employed people will have a choice to pay into their pension or not. After the money is accumulated in the pension budget, the money will be used by the State for investments within the country. When people reach pension age, 65 for males and 60 for females, they will have an opportunity to use the money, together with their state pension of (currently) 180 GEL. Georgia’s Economy Minister, Dimitry Kumsishvili stated that the pension reform will create the opportunity to accelerate the economic growth of the country and provide decent lives for old people. “This is one of the most important reforms to be implemented in Georgia,” he added.


NEWS

GEORGIA TODAY JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

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Russia Ratifies Military Agreement with South Ossetia BY TOM DAY

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n January 25, the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian legislative body, ratified the military agreement with breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia “on the procedure of inclusion of separate units of the armed forces of the Republic of South Ossetia into the armed forces of the Russian Federation.” The so-called parliament of Tskhinvali ratified the agreement on July 21, 2017. The agreement was presented for approval in the Duma by Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Nikolai Pankov and was signed on March 31, 2017. The purpose of the agreement is to regulate the service of the residents of the breakaway Tskhinvali Region in the Russian military, especially the military base which Moscow has stationed in the region. According to information shared by the Duma on January 18, it was made clear that “implementation of the agreement will allow the formation of a common defense space of the two states [Russia and South Ossetia], and inclusion of South Ossetian units into the system of training and application of forces of the Southern Military District.” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu explained when the agreement was signed in March, that the agreement "will affect the further strengthening of security in the region and will undoubt-

edly serve as another factor to ensure that what happened in 2008 will not be repeated.” The so-called Minister of Defense of South Ossetia, Ibrahim Gasseev, followed by expressing the great importance of the decision for South Ossetia. He said that when preparing the document to present to Russia, "a lot of productive work was done, and compromises were made on all important issues." “South Ossetia counts on this agreement to further strengthen the defense and security of the state, and strengthen ties with the Russian Federation,” he added. Tbilisi has repeatedly condemned the agreement, saying it is a “provocative step and unambiguous aggression” against the Georgia, and is deliberately destabilizing the uncertainty of the situation in the region. The Chief of the General Staff, Colonel Viktor Fedorov, said that when the South Ossetian servicemen enter the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, they will retain their titles and long service status. He added that “the servicemen who go into the service of the 4th Russian military base or other units of the Russian army will receive a relatively high salary in comparison with our standards,” and “in addition, they will receive the full social package Russian military personnel have.” He added on the same, that if there are no positions available at the 4th military base, then the South Ossetian service people can retain their employment in

Photo source: www.rferl.org

the Defense Ministry of South Ossetia. “We will exclude a serviceman from the lists of the Armed Forces of the Republic after the order on his enrollment to the Russian base appears. If he does not suit the requirements, he will serve in the Armed Forces of the Republic,” he said. According to Fedorov, the salaries of the military personnel of South Ossetia

will increase after induction into the agreement. It is also expected that the equipment used by the South Ossetian army will be upgraded to similar standards of the Russian military. The Russian federation recognized the independence of South Ossetia and the second occupied region Abkhazia in the wake of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

Since then, 20% of Georgian territories remain occupied by its northern neighbor. In November 2016, the Russian State Duma ratified a similar military “agreement” with de facto Abkhazia. In the case of war being declared, troops in South Ossetia would answer directly to the commander, appointed by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

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POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY

JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

Number of Georgian Asylum Seekers Increased to EU But No Threat to Suspend Visa Lib BY THEA MORRISON

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iplomats from the European Union member states, who discussed the first report under the suspension mechanism in Brussels on Tuesday, expressed concern over two countries in particular: Georgia and Albania. However, no country requested that the suspension mechanism be triggered for these countries. The information was released by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Brussels reporter, Rikard Jozwaik, who tweeted that the EU member states are worried about the increased number of asylum seekers from Georgia. “The EU aren’t happy with Ukraine’s draft law on establishing an anti-corruption court, but there is no real threat to suspend visa lib. EU member states are actually more worried about asylum seekers from Georgia,” Jozwaik tweeted. The first report of the European Commission under the suspension mechanism, which was issued on December 20, 2017, reads that the number of Georgian asylum seekers to the EU has increased. However, the report reads that between late 2016 and mid-2017, the trends for illegal stays and refusal of entry remained stable. The assessment also added that refusals of entry decreased by 39% and illegal stays by 3%, while asylum applica-

tions increased by 7.2% in the given period. The Commission also underlined that organized criminal groups (OCGs) from Georgia are still reported as one of the most frequently represented non-EU nationalities involved in serious and organized crime in the EU. “Georgian OCGs are highly mobile, are mainly involved in organized property crime (particularly organized burglaries and thefts) and are especially active in France, Greece, Germany, Italy and Spain,” the report reads. The fact that Georgia’s issue was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting by the EU diplomats raised concern among the Georgian opposition parties, who call on the government to ensure fulfillment of all benchmarks in order not to lose the benefits of visa-liberalization with the EU states. United National Movement member, Nino Kalandadze, says that the government needs to improve the economic situation in the country in order to prevent mass emigration of Georgians to the EU. “The government should create more jobs and improve living conditions in the country in order for our citizens to have a reason to stay in Georgia,” she stated. Another parliamentary opposition party, European Georgia, blames the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party for the increased number of Georgian emigrants to EU countries. “The GD is unable to create the good

Photo source: Debating Europe

economic conditions in Georgia that would stop the wave of Georgian emigrants to the EU,” Zurab Chiaberashvili, member of European Georgia, said. In response to the opposition’s criticism, the ruling party says there is no threat of suspending Georgia’s visa-

liberalization. Tamar Khulordava, Head of Parliament’s Euro-integration Committee, says Georgia continues to fulfill the benchmarks and there is no threat that the EU will reconsider the visa-free regime with the country.

“The EU assessed Georgia’s achievements very positively and there are no grounds that something will pose a threat to Georgia’s main achievement of the last year- visa liberalization,” she said. The visa-free regime for Georgia was activated on March 28, 2017.

Why Are They Tearing Him Apart? OP-ED BY NUGZAR B. RUHADZE

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he American President greeted his friends and foes on the recent holiday thus: ‘Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.’ A typical remark from him, said the liberals, and not the best way to kick off the New Year. The Trump-hating liberals have no idea how to deal with Trump’s kicks and kinks. They wonder day and night how to handle the lethal consequence of their historic loss in the last presidential elections. Trump is in excruciating controversy with liberals and the mainstream media both at home and abroad, and this unheard-of contradiction between the American President and the liberal part of American society is based on Trump’s irreconcilable attitude towards what he found happening in America when he came to power. The problems perched on his illustrious presidential desk in the Oval Office, as an Obamoid legacy, sit heavy in Trump’s hands, but this extraordinary American president has managed to notably reinvigorate the American economy and continues to do so, having lowered taxes, created two million jobs and reduced unemployment to four percent. He has done this much good in just a year’s time. The paradigm of good leadership is burgeoning in his presidency as an exam-

Photo source: Time Magazine

ple for other world leaders. The liberals want to vilify him and make fun of him, but he is too big a piece to swallow without chewing on him good and long. The liberals are so annoyed at Trump’s achievements that they take it as their own failure. Creating a monster out of him is their treasured objective, though they seem to

have no idea that they are trashing the American President as such, not just the irritating image of a hateful Donald Trump. Media and liberals together cannot find a more attractive topic to deliberate on than Trump’s ways and means, both personal and governmental; and yet are not even able to have at least a minimum

effect on his determination to bring back the famous land of opportunity. Trump’s America First motto irritates them to death. They fight him as if they want to bring down Saddam Hussein, not the President of the United States of America. And they have a reason for this: through Trump’s absolutely unexpected

victory, they have incurred innumerable irreversible losses in the political process because most American people now understand where the American dream is smiling back at them from. Liberals will never digest the inevitable loss of the pie they had their fingers in, because they do not want to live without the surfeit of social programs which conservative America has always been negative about. The hope of the healthier part of America to render the nation good and strong, as it once was, is not dead of course, and is shining through the words of the new chief dweller of the White House: ‘Eventually, we’re going to get something done and it’s going to be really, really good’. The context that this phrase is snatched from does not really matter much because it reflects and symbolizes the spirit of current American times. The strongest corroboration of the above is the recent 336-page publication by Michael Wolff that appeared in America. The book that became an overnight bestseller is about Donald Trump and his family. America has never seen a book trashier than this. I commented on the ‘masterpiece’ in my latest TV show, International Panorama on the newly born Internet television POSTV, in which I could hardly desist from giving due evaluation to the liberal political venom. Liberal politicians and media are poised to tear President Trump apart. I wonder if they have any solid reason for doing so. They might, but I strongly doubt that their motives serve the most elevated interests of the American people, and the world, if you want.


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POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY

JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

On Patrol with the EUMM BY VAZHA TAVBERIDZE

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s we dutifully reported in our paper’s last politics issue, GEORGIA TODAY and Panorama Talk show teamed up to join the European Union Monitoring Mission’s (Mtskheta Field Office) patrol on New Year’s Eve. Here are the takeaways from that journey, as told us by the members of the EUMM patrol and inhabitants of the village that we visited, Petriani.

PETRIANI AND ITS INHABITANTS The so-called ABL is invisible here – as in, there is no sign of the menacing barbed wire that has been synonymous with the “creeping occupation”. The roads are terrible (that one is hardly Russia’s fault though), people get kidnapped, and the ABL cuts through the village cemetery. People, while thankful to the EUMM for all they do, are hardly of the optimistic view. Our usual questioning commences and, once again, we discover that the meaning of monitoring mission, try as hard as they might, is sometimes hard to grasp for the local population. Take this man, for example. Zaur Jiquri, a resident of the village of Petriani, told us: “Our everyday life is not as it used to be. Everyone had a job back then. Now, hardly anybody does. People need to eat, clothes to wear. If they don’t work, how will they do it? We hardly get enough pension for daily sustenance.” We asked what he and the villagers thought of the EUMM presence. “They come and go. They ask us some questions. How can they help us? They don’t have resources for that. On the upper side of the village there are Russians stationed about 200-300 meters in. If you go to the upper side of the village, they will take you.” Tea Saltkhutsishvili though, also from Petriani, is of a different mind. “We thank the EUMM. They help us in every possible way. We’re very grateful. It’s hard for us - we can’t go to the cemetery. My husband was detained three years ago, my son-in-law was detained there, too. Because of this we cannot bury our dead there. My father-in-law is buried there but we couldn’t bury our grandma because it was impossible to get in.”

THE MONITORS Well, it isn’t easy to be one. Aside from

being far from home and such sentiments aside, it requires rigorous preparation and training, just as Codrut Pandelea, an EUMM monitor from Romania, eagerly attests when asked what it means to be a Monitor in the EUMM and the difficulties faced. “If I were to describe the EU Monitoring Mission monitors, I would say that we are professionals coming from different European countries, dedicating our knowledge and experience to actively sustaining the implementation of the Mission's mandate. Of course, it is a difficult job; we face a lot of challenges, from road and weather conditions, to working away from our families. Nevertheless, we are prepared for these challenges and we are very well trained for any situation. For example, although I have a police background and I was trained in my home country, I received additional training when I was deployed in the Mission. In addition, I can say that the training received here was very

complex, ranging from driving 4x4 vehicles, to orientating in the field using maps, GPS and other sophisticated devices.” Some of a more old-fashioned mind might say ‘it’s a man’s job,’ but they couldn’t be more wrong, as Dora Alves from Portugal tells us, beaming with pride, that’s she was one of the members of the 60,000th EUMM Patrol. “Of course, all of us would like to be with our families, especially at this time of year. However, it’s not my first time spending the holidays away. The important thing is that they fully support me, and I feel that they are always with me. I feel them in my heart. I actually consider it a privilege to be working in such a beautiful place.” We asked her if she had any particular memories while she was on patrol with her EUMM colleagues. “They’re like a family to me. When we’re on patrol, I know I can rely on them and they on me. There is a strong

sense of trust and support between us. I had the pleasure of being part of the 60,000th patrol of the EU Monitoring Mission. It was in October 2017, nine years after the first monitors went on patrol in this same area. It was a milestone for the Mission and an honor for me to be part of it.” Codrut then told us about people’s reactions when they see the EUMM presence. “People always greet us with a smile. I was pleasantly surprised to see how open and friendly the people here are, always waving at us. They see us monitoring the situation along the Administrative Boundary Line and ask us where we come from, and if we like Georgia. We have different professional and cultural backgrounds, and the people we meet are always interested in hearing about our home countries.”

GEORGIANS AT THE EUMM 144 of the EUMM staff are Georgian

and there’s hardly a more difficult task among them than that of being a field interpreter. Nino Mkheidze has served as a communicator between locals and the EUMM foreign staff for almost ten years. “My work as an interpreter gives me the chance to take part in the EU Monitoring Mission`s daily activities. My responsibility is to facilitate communication between Monitors and the local population in Georgia. The EU Monitoring Mission is vitally important for the local population, and they generally understand the Mission`s role in the overall security situation very well. On a personal level, communication with people on a daily basis is very emotional. Each of them has a personal story, which they share with our Monitors. From a professional perspective, I think that my work is dynamic and very interesting. I’m proud that I contribute towards the implementation of the EU Monitoring Missions’ mandate.”

The President: Reduced to a Handshake

OP-ED BY ZAZA JGARKAVA

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he presidential elections will take place this autumn. There’s quite some time before the main political event of the country, but the preparations have already begun. The current President, Giorgi Margvelashvili, is a good example, whose public messages clearly speak of his future plans. Presidential ambitions can be read in the rhetoric of the current Prime Minister, too, not to mention the oppositional parties, where every leader is getting ready to be the future presidential candidate. It’s obvious that an intense and

passionate political autumn is on the horizon. However, the main intrigue of the marathon this time won’t be who the future president will be, but why there will be one at all. It can be said for sure that the new president will definitely be the last one elected by general public vote as, in 2023, the next president will be elected by the 300-strong “Voters Assembly.” According to that same constitution, the president doesn’t even have the function of an honorary notary. The position is to be completely deprived of any political content and all that is left for the role is merely a “handshake.” At first glance, it seems strange. Why would any active politician want to become a “handshaker”? But if we look

more closely, we should consider the fact that this year’s elections will take place before the parliamentary elections of 2020. Hence, in reality, the presidential elections gain a deeper meaning, as they can be regarded as an attempt for a future alternative to the Georgian Dream as well as a demonstration of the “turning point” for the country. It is safe to say that the parliamentary elections of 2023 will be won by the party which is best able to “put through” their candidate for the presidency now – regardless of how symbolic that post is in reality. If the Georgian Dream loses these elections, this will be the beginning of their inevitable end! It is easier to guess what the current President, Prime Minister and various party leaders are preparing for. Now the main issue is who’ll be with whom and why? I’m sure you’ll agree that Mr. Margvelashvili will cease to be the Georgian Dream candidate. After refusing Mikheil Saakashvili’s pardon, he will be the candidate “above” the party. In the most

extreme case, he will agree to be the candidate of a coalition of pro-Western parties, but not that of the United National Movement or European Georgia. At the other extreme, there will be Aleko Elisashvili as the “people’s” candidate. And like the last attempt for the Major’s post, he will try to run independently, as a representative of “ordinary people.” Although, society has become tired of political parties and politicians, it is still not to such an extent as to give Elisashvili a serious chance, or even a chance to repeat the success he attained during the last elections, when he, completely deservedly, came second place. That happened because, in the eyes of the masses, the Major of Tbilisi is rated by a more “utilitarian” and “working” criteria. Therefore, the candidate is also ‘different”, while the traditional “image” or “notion” of president is quite different, for which Aleko isn’t “good enough.” Who the governmental candidate will be is also very interesting. Who will be chosen by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili?

We saw that Margvelashvili didn’t manage to fulfill the expectations of the informal “head of the country,” therefore, the new candidate will be chosen with more caution. The current Prime Minister would make a wonderful “handshaker,” but, following the unforgettable incident of public swearing in Parliament, his candidacy has undergone “inflation”. Maybe that is why he categorically denied being a future presidential candidate. Minister of Healthcare, Mr. Sergeenko, is rumored as an alternative, who is also categorically denying his participation in the marathon, but if we take into consideration the typical ways of the government, Ivanishvili might still decide on one of these two. As for the main oppositional party, the United National Movement, they do not have grounds to complain as they have completely different problems in not knowing who their candidate will be, and all this will become clearer once the current processes taking place in Ukraine come to an end.


POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

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Brian Whitmore on Saakashvili, Russia & Putin INTERVIEW BY VAZHA TAVBERIDZE

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f you follow Kremlin politics and the postsoviet space in general, then Radio Free Europe’s Brian Whitmore and his brief but punch-packing Power Vertical feature is must-watch material. Mr. Whitmore was kind enough to find time for a brief interview with GEORGIA TODAY, talking (what else?) about ExPresident, Ex-Governor, part-time entertainer Mikheil Saakashvili and his eternal nemesis, the Tsar of all Russia.

LET’S START BY DISCUSSING THE SAAKASHVILI SAGA. WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THE POLITICAL TURMOIL SURROUNDING HIM? There are different processes going on in Ukraine and Georgia. I think the whole saga is destabilizing both countries. And the only person who it is getting a smile out of it is Vladimir Putin.

SAAKASHVILI ALWAYS MENTIONS OF PUTIN IN HIS SPEECHES. DO YOU BUY SAAKASHVILI’S NARRATIVE THAT ALL PROBLEMS (IN UKRAINE AND GEORGIA) HAVE BEEN CONCOCTED BY THE KREMLIN? No, I don’t, but I think the Kremlin exploits the situation as it exists, and it is an easy situation for them to exploit!

HAS WESTERN SUPPORT OF SAAKASHVILI DIMINISHED? I can’t speak for everybody in Europe and USA, but personally speaking, I’d say his prestige has

certainly diminished in recent years.

WHAT DOES HIS POTENTIAL EXTRADITION TO GEORGIA SPELL FOR GEORGIA AND UKRAINE RELATIONS? HOW WILL IT AFFECT THE IMAGE OF THE COUNTRY? My fear is that it may be potentially very destabilizing for Georgia. He still has supporters in Georgia, and if you extradite him to Georgia for trial, it may lead to instability. People would take to the streets. It’s a very dangerous game to play, as much for Ukraine. These are two important countries struggling between two systems of governance right now: the western and the eastern.

FREEDOM HOUSE’S RECENT REPORT SAID VERY LITTLE GOOD ABOUT THE SITUATION IN UKRAINE AND GEORGIA, CLAIMING THE NEXT YEAR WILL BE DECISIVE FOR GEORGIA AS TO ITS DEMOCRATIC PATH. AS AN INDEPENDENT INTERNATIONAL OBSERVER, WOULD YOU SAY GEORGIA IS STAGNATING IN ITS DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES? I see some signs that worry me. Particularly the recent constitutional reforms, but I think Georgia is on a democratic path.

ALEXEI NAVALNY WAS BANNED FROM THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE, DESPITE BEING (AS YOU SAID) A REAL RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER. DO YOU THINK NAVALNY, HAD HE BEEN PRESIDENT, WOULD EVER HAVE RECONSIDERED THE OFFICIAL RUSSIAN STANCE TOWARDS GEORGIA’S BREAKAWAY REGIONS?

PM Talks about Relations with Russia - Eurasia Discussion in Davos

BY NINO GUGUNISHVILI

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rime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili participated in Strategic Outlook –Eurasia panel discussion, together with Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, Erbolat Dossaev, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Jean–Yves Charlier, Group Chief Executive Officer, VEON, and Jonathan Tepperman, Editor-in-Chief, The Foreign Policy Group, the discussion held yesterday, within the framework of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Unfortunately, we have a legacy from 2008,

and we still have to address the issues inherited by Georgia, not only from 2008, but from the beginning of the 90’s. The occupation of two of our historic territories is a big problem, and of course we have to deal with this issue with a constructive approach, but also with a principled approach, which means taking into account the consistent policy of Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration, and the policy which is based on certain values. We still need to look for the zones or areas with Russia which can serve as a base point in the future, to start positive discussions about the political resolution of the conflict”, the PM said, answering Jonathan Tepperman’s question on Georgia’s recent relations with Russia.

I think it’s highly unlikely that anything would have changed. Mr Navalny does not speak very much on foreign affairs for a good reason – he does not want to take unpopular stances. So, I certainly wouldn’t have expected the Russia position to change after Navalny. Remember, the Abkhazian and South Ossetia conflicts began under Yeltsin, not Putin. I would not expect the hypothetical president Navalny to have approached these conflicts differently.

WHAT WOULD NAVALNY’S RUSSIA BE LIKE? WOULD WE SEE A MORE WESTERNIZED RUSSIA? It’s highly unlikely that he'll be the president any time soon. Right now, he is the opposition leader. We really don’t know what Navalny’s Russia would be like, we don’t know what kind of president he would be in reality.

PUTIN WILL MOST LIKELY END UP BEING PRESIDENT AGAIN. IN RETROSPECT, AS HE NEARS THE TIME WHEN HE HAS TO PICK HIS SUCCESSOR, WHAT DO YOU THINK IT SPELLS FOR THE POST-SOVIET SPACE AND PARTICULARLY EAP COUNTRIES? Putin is entering his lame duck period. We can predict that he is going to win the election in March, but there is growing consensus in Moscow that this is Putin’s last term. What will happen next, people can only guess. As a result, the elite and clans and leaders in the Kremlin are going to start positioning themselves ready for the post-Putin world. We know from experience that when that happens, Russia can get very unstable. Think about last couple of years of the Yeltsin period and its clan warfare. Think about 2007, when it looked like Putin was leaving after two terms: we had the Silo-

viki wars. So, I think we’re in for a period of turbulence in Russia which happens when the elite is unsure of the future. There’s a lot of discussion now on creating a post-presidential position for Putin, described in Russian media as the Russian ‘Ayatolla.’ They could do some kind of constitutional reform to keep Putin after his next term. He’s a male role-model; he can take his shirt off and ride a horse if he wants! But the feeling in Moscow right now is that his presidency is coming to an end. This election is about the end of an era, though, not really about the beginning of something new. And when we get in such periods, Russia becomes unstable.

MANY GEORGIANS IDENTIFY RUSSIA WITH PUTIN AND THINK THAT TROUBLE WITH RUSSIA IS GOING TO END WHEN PUTIN ENDS PHYSICALLY, OR HIS REIGN ENDS. HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK THAT ASSUMPTION IS TRUE? I think Russia will still be Russia. Putin’s Russia is a bit more aggressive than, say, Boris Yeltsin’s Russia. But remember the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts began under President Yeltsin. Anybody who thinks that Georgia or other neighbors will see an end to their problems when Putin leaves is just fantasizing. I don’t think that’s the case at all. What happens periodically with Russia is that it weakens and is forced to look inwards. And when it looks inwards, it gives its neighbors a chance to defend themselves more. That may happen under Putin or after Putin. But the issue is whether Russia is feeling strong or weak. I think the Russian economy could create problems and Russia will have to look inwards at some point. I do not expect problems to automatically disappear when Putin is no longer there.


8

POLITICS

GEORGIA TODAY

JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

Another Round of Abkhaz Instability

government to warn its citizens to take care when travelling to the breakaway region. Abkhazia lacks internal stability because the ruling politicians often lack money and experience to effectively manage the region, while the opposition forces are strong enough to stage manifestations and even cause resignations. An example of the complicated situation is the recent return of Ankvab to Abkhazia. Khajimba’s government, fearful of the reaction and not being strong enough, could not prevent his election to PM. Without doubt, Moscow oversees all

major processes unfolding in Abkhazia. In an earlier article for GEORGIA TODAY, T I laid out those geopolitical imperatives which drive Russia’s stance on the region. Here, it would be fair to mention only some of them for the general context. For Moscow, Abkhazia is one of three major routes through which Moscow can physically enter the South Caucasus region. Russia has consistently dominated those three access points over several centuries and, when threatened with western encroachment, it has been open to using military force, just as it did in 2008 when there was a real possibility of Georgia moving closer to NATO or, more generally, to the EU. The control of the Abkhazian route allows Russia not only to quickly deploy its forces in the breakaway region but, in case of urgency, to also threaten Georgia’s entire Black Sea coast. That is what happened in 2008 when Russian forces entered Poti and other Black Sea locations. Moscow understands that without control over Abkhazia, it would have been shut off from processes in the South Caucasus. Thus, this projection of military power serves the basis of Moscow’s foreign policy whereby NATO powers are quite hesitant to engage Moscow directly. Considering that, one can only wonder how watchful the Russian officials are of events in Abkhazia. The Russians would also support the perennial instability of Abkhazia in order to avoid any kind of powerful Abkhaz nationalistic opposition to Russian influence.

“For Georgia to economically progress and create national economic wealth, we have to invest more in the quality of education, starting from pre-school until university level - that should be the focus of our policy making and partnership with different stakeholders. I am using the year of 2018, with every single public announcement, to highlight that even though we have fewer challenges in terms of accessibility, in order to ensure that we have quality of education, we need more financial resources for the system. Georgia has almost doubled its investments in the education system, but still, we need more financial resources to ensure that our education is state of art and based on the latest evidence; to make sure that the teachers have the relevant qualifications, and that the teachers dealing with children with disabilities have the necessary skills and are sufficiently re-numerated; to ensure a continuity of more resources leading to more progress in this country. While we do have all the basic parameters and inputs to make a breakthrough effect, we definitely need more resources to support and ensure the quality of our education system. Fifteen years ago, when the education reforms started, they were extremely pertinent, and they really resulted in substantial progress in terms of a minimization of corruption, and having an important influx in the new energy and process. Even though we are improving in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, that doesn’t represent the average learning outcome of every child in this country. If you look at the analysis of the segregated data, we have substantial inequality in both access and outcomes between the ethnic minorities, as well children with disabilities,

for example, even though through the support of UNICEF, World Bank and others, we have made substantial progress. Still we are lagging behind. We need to do more in the practical application of knowledge… we have to focus more in transforming both the teaching and learning processes in schools,” she said. Regional Director of the World Bank for the South Caucasus, Ms. Mercy Tembon, expressed her joy at the progress that she has seen, while acknowledging that there is still a long way to go. While Georgia has made education a key point in its four-point plan, “there is still a long way to go, but I know that the government is willing. Where there is a will, there is a way. I know that the government is willing; we have to find a way to make it happen.” Tembon added that it was extremely important that the findings of the report were applied to Georgia in a contextually appropriate manner, “The big question is asking the right questions and finding the right solutions for the right context. You cannot take something from Finland and apply it to Georgia - it just won’t work. That constant inquiry, that constant searching for solutions, is where learning to learn is important; what we learn from experience. What we are saying is be able to adapt to your community… It is important to know how to learn, and I think that this is the main take away from this report. What can we take away from these results and apply to Georgia? That is why I pushed to have this presentation here, so that we in Georgia can pick what is relevant, adapt the knowledge that we get from this report to the Georgian situation, so that tomorrow Georgia will be quoted as the country that knows how to learn.”

OP-ED BY EMIL AVDALIANI

A

t the beginning of 2018, the Russian-controlled Georgian region of Abkhazia was hit by a new round of political crisis. The opposition in Abkhazia demands the resignation of the current “president,” Raul Khajimba. On December 25, 2017, Khajimba released from prison Giorgi Lukava, an ethnic Georgian. Lukava was arrested by the Abkhaz side seven years ago and had been given a 20-year prison sentence for alleged attacks against various Abkhaz separatist leaders while he was a member of the now-disbanded Georgian partisan military group Forest Brothers. Abkhaz security forces tried to explain that Lukava’s release was part of a tripartite prisoner exchange process, initiated “in response to the request of the authorities of the Republic of South Ossetia,” with its major phase taking place in March 2016. This did not, however, forestall the mounting crisis in the breakaway region. The Amtsakhara party (which, in fact, supported the ousted president, Alexander Ankvab) called a political council meeting on January 2 and announced a rally in front of the building of the “presidential administration” on January 3. Later on, the Abkaz opposition parties created a union of various entities with the aim of ending Khajimba’s rule. “Our

Photo source: jam-news

purpose is to create a situation where the head of state voluntarily steps down,” members of “the union of political parties and public organizations of Abkhazia” said during the new entity’s first press conference on January 23. Abkhazia is no stranger to intermittent political crises. Khajimba himself came to power on a wave of widespread protests. Since his election, Khajimba has experienced much political turmoil and numerous street demonstrations from the opposition. In mid-2017, the opposition forces in Abkhazia mounted a fullscale campaign against Khajimba’s gov-

ernment and began asking for his resignation. This not to say that the development is in itself a new one, but rather it comes on top of an already fragile internal situation and the official understanding between the separatist government and the opposition force Amtsakhara. Abkhazia faces several fundamental problems which make stability in the breakaway region very unlikely. Unemployment is high and this in turn facilitates high levels of crime. One Russian tourist was killed several days ago in Abkhazia, even causing the Russian

BUSINESS

Learning to Realize Education’s Promise: Presentation of World Development Report 2018

BY MÁTÉ FÖLDI

T

he 2018 World Development Program is the first of its kind, devoted entirely to education. On January 24, the World Bank Group and the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia co-hosted the presentation of the report, at an event that brought together experts, donor agencies and leading policy makers for a high-level dialogue about the challenges facing Georgia’s education system and the possible remedies for it. Mr. Halsey Rogers, Co-Director of the report, highlighted the key findings of the project. “Schooling without learning is not just a wasted opportunity, but also a great injustice. The children whom society is failing the most are the ones in greatest need of a good education to succeed in life. Without learning, education fails to deliver fully on its promise as a driver of poverty elimination and shared prosperity. Within countries, learning outcomes are almost always much worse for the disadvantaged. In Uruguay, poor children in grade 6 are assessed as “not competent” in math at five times the rate of wealthy children. Moreover, these results are for children and youth lucky enough to be in school. Many aren’t even enrolled in primary or secondary school, with members of disadvantaged groups - poor

children, girls, children with disabilities, ethnic minorities - most likely to be out of school. Together, these severe shortcomings constitute a learning crisis,” he said. There are three dimensions to a learning crisis, Rogers explains. Firstly, it is the poor learning outcomes themselves, which result from low levels of learning across the world (not just in the poorest countries), high inequalities in the learning outcomes, and the sheer amount of time it takes to improve systems of learning. The second dimension pertains to the immediate causes, like children arriving to school unable to learn, “Malnutrition, illness, low parental investments, and the harsh environments associated with poverty undermine early children learning. Poor developmental foundations mean that many children arrive at school unprepared to benefit fully from it, with poorer children’s cognitive skills falling well behind in the years before primary school. In some countries, the gap between rich and poor children’s ability to recognize letters of the alphabet doubles between the ages of three and five.” Teachers lacking in sufficient motivation and skill to perform effectively constitutes another part of the second dimension, as do poor management and governance, and inputs often failing to reach the classroom or affect the learning. As Rogers said, “Public discourse often equates problems of education quality with input gaps,

such as a lack of textbooks or educational technology. Devoting enough resources to education is crucial, but resource shortages in the system explain only a small part of the learning crisis. One reason is that inputs often fail to make it to the front lines. In Sierra Leone, for example, textbooks were distributed to schools, but follow-up inspections found most of the books were locked away in cupboards.” The final dimension to a learning crisis is the deeper systemic causes that distract key players from a focus on learning. Many of these deeper causes are often political as the actors have interests that do not overlap with learning, Rogers noted, “Politicians act to preserve their positions of power, which may lead them to target certain groups (geographic, ethnic, or economic) for benefits. Bureaucrats may focus more on keeping politicians and teachers happy, than on promoting student learning, or they may simply try to protect their own positions." There are, however, three policy actions to address the crisis, “To do better,” Rogers continued, “a nation must assess learning, to make it a serious goal; act on evidence, to make schools work for all learners; and align actors, to make the system work for learning.” Chair of Parliamentary Committee on Education, Science and Culture, Ms. Mariam Jashi, present as a member of the speaker’s panel, stressed the importance of Georgia to continue its progress in improving the quality of its education systems.


BUSINESS

GEORGIA TODAY JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

9

Virtual Office from Regus: Simplifying the Way Business is Done the world can take advantage of the Regus membership card ‘Business World’. This feature means that card-holders need not spend a lot of time thinking about which hotel or cafe they need in order to find a fast Internet connection and/ or work environment, because they can easily find any Regus branches through the application. ‘Service Offices Provider’, an International Company, and Tbilisi's most prestigious, active and dynamic part of Free-

ADVERTORIAL

V

irtual Office - a project that allows business men and women to reach and connect with partners around the world without the need for face to face meetings. In fact, Regus Virtual Office offers the ability to access different businesses and offices to anyone with this system already established around the world. ‘Regus’ Virtual Offices are already available in Georgia, and offers other innovative possibilities all within the scope of the program. Why should one choose Virtual Office? The answer is the simple - it's innovative and affordable. As Regus clarifies, the draw is the simplicity of it; and defines

modern innovation. The Virtual Office service includes a combined service package. It continuously monitors incoming calls and e-mails. The user has access to all of the online meeting rooms, internet, Regus business lounges and more. "Virtual Office - This is any given organization's virtual representation in said country. However, we have expanded this component to give our customers the opportunity to have a business and legal address in a different country, with a postal code to register a new business lounge as well as meetings rooms. If you have a virtual office in Georgia or in any other country, you will be issued a Gold Card, and you will have access to more than 3,000 business lounges around the world, "said Rusudan Chakvetadze, representative of Regus in Georgia. Business people who travel a lot around

dom Square (Leonidze Street #2, Business Center Tabidze 1, 4th floor) offers customers the ideal place for a comfortable and ideal work environment. Regus was founded in 1989 in Brussels, Belgium. Its head office is located in Luxembourg. The company network comprises of more than 3,000 business centers located in over 120 cities in 120 countries. Regus is presented at the London Stock Exchange. Regus can be used for all types and sizes of business. Flex-

ible and easy-to-use A-class offices, flexible and simple conditions of payment, modern and secure IT infrastructure, meeting rooms, common work spaces, administration services, access to 3,000 branches around the world, these are important services that help towards small, medium and large business success. Original Georgian text translated by Tamzin Whitewood


10

SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY

JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

LNG Russian Gas Arrives in Boston BY DIMITRI DOLABERIDZE

T

he‘Gaselys’ vessel, made by French company Engie, has transported the first batch of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Russia, and has now arrived in Boston, according to data from the Global Positioning System of Ships. In early January, the media reported that the United States would supply the first batch of gas from the Yamal LNG plant. The Gaselys vessel was due to arrive in Boston on January 20. However, the day before the expected arrival in Boston, the tanker headed for the Spanish port of Algeciras. Engie later explained the change was due to a trajectory in the

weather, noting that the vessel will eventually arrive in Boston. According to media reports, the United States purchased blue fuel from Russia because of the increase in gas prices on the East Coast of the country to $6.3 thousand per thousand cubic meters. The increase in the cost of raw materials was caused by weather conditions. The Yamal LNG project envisages the construction of a liquefied natural gas production plant at the resource base in the Yuzhno-Tambeyskoye field. The shareholders are French Total (20%), Chinese CNPC (20%) the Silk Road Fund (9.9%), and Novatek (50.1%) “Russia's largest independent natural gas producer, and the seventh largest public trade company globally by natural gas production volume. The company was originally

Traffic Fines to Be Raised in Tbilisi BY TOM DAY

T

he Mayor of Tbilisi Kakha Kaladze announced this week that traffic fines will be raised to 500GEL, from their current figure of

20GEL. He justified the decision by saying that he believes the through traffic rule is violated often because the fine is too small. "As you know, transit traffic is prohibited in Tbilisi, as well as in all major cities, but when there are small fines, the

drivers often violate this rule. We think that this should be increased to 500 GEL,” he said. The change is set to take effect in the near future. “This is already envisaged in the package of legislative amendments developed by the Parliament,” the Mayor added.

known as OAO FIK Novafininvest. Novatek is based in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region in West Siberia,

and has a sales office in Moscow”, The project will see the construction of three technological lines with a capacity of 5.5

million tons each, and one with an additional one million tons. LNG production began in December, 2017. Initially, Novatek stated that the first batch of LNG would go to the Asian market, with a possible buyer being the Chinese CNPC. However, after the launch of Yamal LNG “Novatek” Head, Leonid Mikhelson said that the first batch will go to Novatek Gas & Power. Later, Novatek reported that the consignment will be shipped to the daughter company of the Malaysian Petronas (Petroliam Nasional Berhad - Petronas is the 12th most profitable company in the world and the most profitable in Asia). Earlier, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that Russia does not have feelings either way about the delivery of liquefied gas to Boston, since the LNG market is global.

Georgian Military to Use Javelin Missiles BY TOM DAY

T

he Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria has said that the Georgian Military has completed the first stage of purchasing Javelin antiarmor missiles, which have now been stored in “a safe place.” Defense Minister Levan Izoria spoke with the US Ambassador to Georgia after the meeting on Tuesday, noting that the Georgian soldiers will undertake special training in the coming months to learn the necessary skills for operating such weapons. The US Department of State made the decision to approve the sale of the missiles to Georgia back in November 2017, estimating it to cost around $75 million.

The Georgian Defense Minister said that the transaction would happen in two stages. Javelin is refered to as the most lethal one-man-portable anti-armor weapon

system in the world by its US-based producer - Raytheon/Lockheed Martin Javelin Joint Venture. It is widely used by the US Army and the US Marine Corps.


SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

11

Tamar “the Re-married” & The Compatibility of Georgians & Foreigners

It might seem odd, then, the reverence of Tamar the remarrying queen, an Orthodox saint popular with Georgians who value their history

gian Orthodox Church, which goes to show that even the Patriarchate is onboard, and who can blame them? She oversaw Georgia’s Golden Age, gave the Turks a kicking and greatly expanded her territory. Damn fine (although with the Western liberal standards of today I’d say it’s only a matter of time before she’s branded a murderer and a warlord; they’re saying similar about Nelson, after all). But I wonder if they know (or really think about) the fact that Tamar divorced her first husband and remarried? This is still something of a cardinal sin – I have known a number of women to find themselves unlucky enough to land in abusive marriages here, only to be encouraged by their families to stay in them so as not to incur the stain of divorce. It still staggers me that Tamar’s personal life isn’t a shining example of how leaving a miserable relationship and pursuing true love is an absolute must. It might seem odd, then, the reverence

of Tamar the re-marrying queen, an Orthodox saint popular with Georgians who value their history. The only explanation I can suggest is that Georgian traditions are not Georgian in nature at all, and not even as closely connected with Orthodoxy as many might believe; Georgian social culture is still markedly different from other Orthodox countries such as Greece, Serbia or Russia. After the shine of Georgia’s Golden Age had faded, Muslim invasions and occupations came to dominate matters for centuries until Georgia’s incorporation into Imperial Russia, and at the risk of thunderous denunciation, it is from these times that I believe Georgia’s ‘traditions’ originate. Casual sexism is still rife throughout Georgia, and to some visitors it only brings to mind the societies of the Middle East. There is plenty more to write and debate about this, but the word count has crept up on me – if there is enough outrage, I will gladly expand on this another time.

OP-ED BY TIM OGDEN

I

n a recent conversation with a female Georgian friend, she felt the need to tell me “I don’t think relationships between Georgians and foreigners can work.” Not the most tactful thing to say, you’ll agree, since I myself am married to a Georgian (albeit one who is proud of her portions of Ukrainian heritage), and you might think that my friend was trying to needle. I don’t, personally; I’ve just noticed that if Georgians believe something strongly enough they’ll air their views regardless of their audience, company or common sense: I once saw one try to brazenly argue his bizarre opinion about the Second World War with an Englishman who has a PhD in the subject and has written several books about it. Likewise, an inlaw once asked me, a diehard boxing fan, how the heavyweight champions of today would fare against Mike Tyson, before telling me I was wrong, even though he had not heard of any of the names I listed or seen them in action. You get the point. So, I don’t really believe that my friend was deliberately trying to be unpleasant – at least not in the Western, bitchy way that seems to have become the fabric of society and the backbone of recycled Hollywood romcom dialogue. However, I will concede that there was perhaps just a hint of grim satisfaction in her tone as she looked at me, as if she was looking into my future and seeing divorce, ruin, and the TV being forcibly removed from my house by court order. I might be doing her a great injustice, of course, and may have imagined it, but it is certainly consistent with my debates with Georgians about any topic over the last eight years; the little private grin, the shake of the head, the flat restatement of whatever they believe. I eventually asked her how she had come to this conclusion, hoping that she didn’t know the full extent of the long trail of romantic havoc I have wreaked during my occupation of this country. I didn’t think she was aware of all the years of outraged mothers, murderous brothers and jealous husbands, but even if she was, her view that foreigners and Georgians are incompatible would still be wrong; if

I have known a number of women to find themselves unlucky enough to land in abusive marriages here, only to be encouraged by their families to stay in them so as not to incur the stain of divorce

anything, my sordid past sort of proves the opposite, from a certain (jaundiced) point of view. “I have six friends who had foreign boyfriends,” she said. “It all ended badly. They were bad girls, though, and they had no traditions.” At this point, you may wonder what she was talking about. If you are new to the country, you may not be aware that in romantic contexts, whenever ‘traditions’ are mentioned, it usually refers to sex – if a girl is traditional, they are perceived to adhere to the Church-supported doctrine of no bedroom gymnastics before wearing a piece of metal on the finger and with a view to increasing the population. Likewise, a non-traditional type is (to the liberal mind) easy-going, anti-Church and not against slapping the mattress, or (to conservatives) a hell-bound whore who will surely burn, but who might make a nice change from the wife. Georgian men, of course, are free to pursue anyone they

like, which they do with vigor but indifferent success. What those fellows need is a series of cold baths. But as you’ll gather, it did start me thinking about what is meant by ‘traditions’, and specifically how they affect the lives of women, not least because there have been a series of reported domestic violence cases over the last few weeks. The growing divide of Georgian society into an increasingly vocal liberal minority and religious/nationalist conservatives is something I’ll address another time, but these much-discussed traditions are connected with history, and I wonder if many people appreciate this, especially with regards to one of its icons (and that word is well chosen, as you’ll see). Queen Tamar is often talked about by traditionally-minded Georgians, and it is not hard to see why: she might fairly be compared with Catherine the Great, Joan of Arc, Lakshmibai of Jhansi or Elizabeth I. She was also made a saint of the Geor-

Illustration by Mihály Zichy - Shota Rustaveli presents his poem to Queen Tamar (Vepkhistkaosani)


12

SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY

JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

Leli Blagonravova & Her 23 Years of Universal Photography BY BEQA KIRTAVA

A

stonishment hits like a hurricane when you realize that someone as young as Leli Blagonravova has been a full-fledged photographer for over two decades, and through those years she’s exceled at nearly every prominent genre of the field: landscape, portrait, studio, fashion, conflict - you name it, she’s shot it. “Shooting everything is not a good idea. I wouldn’t advise it to anyone,” she tells me; “We were simply raised this way. Back in the days [of the late 90s] there were only a handful of photographers in Georgia. Therefore, we had to be ‘universal’ and shoot in every possible scenario.” Before gaining full versatility, Leli worked for a weekly local magazine called “24 Hours”, “I had a Zenit (a mechanical, soviet camera manufactured by KMZ since 1952). The working process used to be very different; in today’s world everything needs to be done instantly. Back then, I shot, processed and printed all the photos myself and brought them to the editorial office each week.” Such dedication to photography was prominently caused by the desire of becoming a journalist, a photojournalist to be specific. “Journalism was an extremely popular profession back then, and I wanted to apply to a very prestigious college abroad. So, my father bought me an electronic camera, my very first one. Unfortunately, I wasn’t accepted to the aforementioned university. Nonetheless, I still decided to learn how to use the newly gifted Canon and went to the

“Photography is thinking. Anyone can press a button and take a picture. But what you’re shooting, the essence of it that’s what really matters.”

only place in Georgia where they could explain its operational basics. That camera became a real jumping ramp for my professional career.” Leli soon started working at “Sakinform”, a State Agency. The company’s photographers shot everything, “whether it was an army riot, a bomb drop, or a special event, we were required to be there. Our team served as both photojournalists and President Eduard Shevardnadze’s personal photographers.” Despite mastering a vast array of photography styles over the years, photojournalism has remained Leli’s primary motivator; “It’s a genre which gives you the power to initiate change. You can depict a problem, show it to the right audience and play a key role in taking the sting out of someone’s difficult condition. If you have already done such a thing, you naturally get the desire to do even more.” Apart from her compassionate nature, ambition also drives her in this direction: “I know how much a single photograph could be worth. When you have the feeling that the picture you took is timeless and will remain a valuable document for future generations, you want to be the author of more such records.” It’s also a genre that helps you grow, she says, “when you’re a photojournalist, you have to take interest in things outside of your everyday scope: history, ethnography, culture, etc. you learn a lot.” Today, Leli serves as President Giorgi Margvelashvili’s personal photographer and a lecturer at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA). She tells me one of the biggest moments in her career actually happened during one of her lectures; “It was the infamous 07/11/07,

didn’t allow me to photograph from afar.” November 7th was definitely not the most stressful or perilous day in Leli’s life, as she was the only female photographer who depicted the events of 2008 Russo-Georgian war. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that most people saw the conflict through her lens. “I believe my photos became tremendously famous because they were the first onlocation images seen by the public. The shock made it impossible for anyone to look away, or forget those pictures.” Although her experience of shooting conflicts helped, Leli says nothing can compare to actual warfare; “I remember arriving in Gori… I got out of the car and saw some men with cameras. “What’s going on guys?” I asked, “That’s what’s going on,” they pointed at the sky, as an aircraft soared through the clouds, and the bombing started.” You’d be surprised to know that there are some pictures that she didn’t take, “The day I got there was the day some of our soldiers were returning from the frontlines, I will never forget their faces, I couldn’t photograph them, that was the moment when I realized that our situation was as dark as it could get.” A bit of disquiet takes over her radiant personality as she continues talking about the events of August 2008, “when I came back to Tbilisi I was so traumatized I was practically bedridden for three days. I am half Russian and that war was mightily affective for me. Though I feel, in a way, it helped me understand who I really am and how I want to live.” She says she would like to shoot more wars, “just not in my country. Not because I wouldn’t care about people of other nationalities, but only because when you hear the cries for help in your own lan-

I was at the university, delivering a lecture, all dressed up, in high heels,” she laughs, “I remember looking at the TV, which just happened to be on, and realizing things were about to get bad. I thought: I am a photojournalism lecturer and I’m not there. What kind of an example do I set for my students?! I didn’t even have a camera on me, but luckily, I remembered that someone else, who was also in the building, did. I borrowed it and started running up the street that led right to Rustaveli Avenue. I met another photographer who was going in the opposite direction. He told me it was too dangerous, but I kept on going and dived right in the middle of the clashes. Needless to say, I got hit with a stone, then got poisoned with gas… It was rough. I learned that you should always try to take photos of such clashes from sidelines, but back then the camera I had

guage, it just adds an extra layer of strain that is unbearable for me.” According to Leli, communication is an important factor in becoming a great photojournalist, “Be conversational. You can’t afford to be reserved and uninterested. Same goes for other fields as well. Even if work in a studio, you’ll often have to shoot people, mostly strangers. You should try your best to make them feel at ease, help them understand the concept of the photoshoot. They see a camera as big as this one,” she points at her gigantic Canon that’s on the table and laughs, “they get really tense.” However, studio photoshoots are a lot more relaxing than making photo documentaries, she says, “I can work in a studio for 4 hours, take things slow. Same does not apply to covering events; “I don’t know where to stand”, “I don’t know what to photograph” - that’s simply unacceptable

when it comes to photojournalism.” Being the president’s personal photographer, the pace is always up for Leli. “I think journalistic experience is absolutely necessary when you’re the personal photographer of any politician, let alone the president. Sometimes I have less than 30 seconds to take a very important picture. You must understand what’s going on, what you’re shooting.” She says photographing president Margvelashvili is a vastly different experience from taking photos of Eduard Shevardnadze, “The protocol was extra strict back then. No new angles, no experiments, no original ideas. I truly love my job today, because I feel the president’s trusts, as he allows me to try different approaches and go past the accepted standards.” You may be surprised to learn that female personal photographers are a rarity when it comes to the leaders of the world. “I have been to many regional forums as the only female personal photographer; there were like 125 guys and me,” she laughs. “I do understand why. It’s a very physically demanding job. I usually have about 18 kilos of photo equipment on me. Running around with heavy weights is no piece of cake.” Nevertheless, there is certainly no lack of Georgian photographers in general. “Over the past few years photography has become one of the most popular professions in Georgia. But the overall level is deeply subpar. If earning money is your only motivator, you will never be proficient enough. I know plenty of people, who are photographers now, but will no longer be in about two years, because they’ll go tired of it, or someone new will appear with better technical skills and equipment. Not many people understand that individualism is the most important part of photography, not owning a very expensive camera.” Leli herself is involved in raising the country’s future talents; “It’s hard to teach photography when there are only 2 major festivals each year in this field and about 7-8 exhibitions at best. Young people don’t have the opportunity to go to galleries and see what other local and international photographers are doing, what’s trendy, or what’s new. Social media can partly make up for it, but we have to reach beyond Facebook, there are plenty of other social networks where one can see a bigger and better collection of photos.” Unsurprisingly, hard work and

“If the audience emotionally connects with a person you photographed, if we can feel their pain. Then you’ve played your part perfectly.” dedication is what turns an emerging talent into a professional, she says, “I tell my students to take photos as often as they can. If you cannot shoot on a given day, surf the web, look at other people’s work, see different kinds of art… Make photography a part of your daily life.” Turns out there are some genres of photography that Leli hasn’t tried, “I would like to do astrophotography, macrophotography, even underwater photography,” she tells me. But as for the imminent future, Leli might just move from photojournalism into the world of fashion photography, much like her current obsession, the legendary Helmut Newton. “It would be a dream come true to work for a company like Vogue, or Harper’s Bazaar. When you’re shooting for fashion magazines, you’re the director of your art. Photojournalism has a different approach, you usually work with a big team, your pictures must have some sort of a news value, etc. I would love to photograph the world’s leading supermodels, when I watch how they work with photographers and how they contribute to the overall creative process, it seems so thrilling to me.” Whether it’s fashion or journalism, Leli will continue showcasing the world through her lens for many years to come. “I usually get bored easily. Photography is the only thing that hasn’t managed to bore me, even after 23 years, it’s unbelievable.”


SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

Cycling to Juta BLOG BY BILLY MARTINSKY

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ometimes you plan and research a place before visiting. Other times, someone suggests a place you've never heard of and you just say, "sure, I'll go." As you can guess, I am about to talk about the latter. I first heard of the village Juta just about an hour before I set off to go there. This was shortly after my initial arrival to Georgia and I had spent the previous day hiking around Mt. Kazbek. I still had an extra day in the area, and one of my friends who came along for the trip suggested we rent bicycles and ride to the only other thing written on the map: Juta. Within the hour, we (two friends and I) got the bikes and were off. We headed along the main road following the signs that read ‘Juta’ and ‘Sno Valley.’ About ten minutes into the journey, we turned down a side road and passed through a small village. A few quaint houses were scattered here and there, and a few cows roamed about. As we continued, signs of civilization grew fewer and further between, until they eventually disappeared altogether. To one side of us, there was a calm, blue stream, to the other lay fields of every shade of green imaginable, and surrounding everything were the giant mountains of the greater Caucasus. While this was an incredible environment to be in, there was unfortunately one thing that vanished along with civ-

The "road" to this village was uphill and littered with rocks and plant growth. It was not going to be a simple, joyful ride, but I had grown hungry by this point and the village was the closest source to food

10 Galaktion Street

ilization: paved roads (and for that matter, even solidly packed dirt roads). All that was there leading us to the town was this semi-existent trail of dirt and rocks, which, as we soon found out, was nearly impossible to ride on, especially when going uphill. The hot sun shined down upon us in the clear blue sky, causing us (well, me at least) to sweat uncontrollably, but we persisted. One hour passed... and then two. Here and there, we would see animals and abandon-looking farm buildings, but no sign of a town or village. We began to wonder whether it existed at all, and debated turning back since neither of us had eaten for hours. The area was beautiful, but sometimes necessity takes over. Thankfully, about 30 minutes later, we saw it: a few, small tucked-away stone and wooden buildings and houses, nestled within the valley. It looked as if it were a place outside of time but was not in any way worn down or in a state of disrepair. If fact, it looked pleasant and welcoming. There was only one problem though. The "road" to this village was entirely uphill and littered with rather large rocks and plant growth. It was not going to be a simple, joyful ride, but I had grown hungry by this point and the village was the closest source to food. Another half hour passed until we finally made it. I was pretty soaked in sweat, but that didn't seem to matter. I was in a remote Georgian village, away from cities, cars, noise, and tourists. All

I needed was coffee and lunch for everything to be perfect, and there just so happened to be a small cafe right in the center. (Well, it looked much more like someone's living room, but the sign said cafe, so we entered.) I sat down, and to my surprise, I was handed a huge menu with about 6-7 pages

Tel: (995 32) 2 45 08 08 E-mail: info@peoplescafe.ge

worth of items. I wanted to look through it all, but by this time, the hunger had taken over and sustenance was urgent, so I chose soup and an eggplant dish on the first page that looked nice. Using Russian as a mutual second language, I asked the waitress, but she shook her head. "Нет. У нас нет." (No. We don't

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I ended up ordering the Khachapuri with two cups of coffee, wondering why they bothered to use such an extensive menu if they only had one item to cook have it). I then chose a dish of Georgian dumplings, Khinkhali, and again was met with the same response. Finally, I asked what they did have, and she replied, "Khachapuri." I asked if there was anything else and she said no, so I ended up ordering the Khachapuri with two cups of coffee, wondering why they still bothered to use the extensive menu if they only had one item to cook. Nonetheless, the Khachapuri soon came and it was delicious, so I guess I can't complain. The layout of the place was about as comfortable and relaxed as you could possibly imagine. The tables, chairs, walls and floor were all a dark brown wood and the small kitchen reminded me of the house where I grew up. We hung around for another hour, savoring the peace, quiet, and coffee, before finally deciding it was time to go back (which turned out to be much easier since this time it was all downhill). I said goodbye to the village for now, probably to return another day.


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SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY

JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

Adventure, Culture & Good Food: What Foreign Tourist Expect from Georgia ences, especially if it benefits local communities. Safety, sustainability and interaction with local people are important”. Their main motivations to venture to new destinations are hiking, trekking, unspoilt nature, wildlife, the uniqueness and the “authentic experience” – that opportunity to see, smell, taste and experience the local nature, culture and cuisine.

BY MARTA MILLS

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ver the last few months, several articles have been published in worldwide press praising Georgia as an emerging tourism destination and encouraging tourists to come and visit Georgia now. Lonely Planet, National Geographic, BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Financial Times and Bloomberg to name but a few. Only last week, CNN, the Austrian Bergwelten and the Korean Herald also wrote about Georgia. What do these articles have in common? What did the journalists think would appeal to their European, American or Korean readers to make them consider coming to Georgia? There is a number of common themes listed below, based on the analysis of several recent articles. This will bring up the issue of foreign tourists’ expectations and motivations to travel that are often not very well understood by many local people working in tourism, and provide a variety of services (accommodation, food, transport etc), particularly in the rural areas of Georgia. • Nature: the beautiful, dazzling, snowcapped Caucasus mountains, glaciers, green valleys, pristine rivers, small and remote villages against the dramatic mountain backdrop. As the Guardian put it, “superb scenery, utterly unspoilt and great for trekking”, • Culture: old churches and monasteries, watchtowers, museums, galleries, UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Ushguli’s appeal as “the highest village in Europe” can be found in most articles), but also intangible heritage like folk

MEETING THE EXPECTATIONS

Photo by Marta Mills

songs, dances and local festivals. • Food and wine: unique, different, authentic and very tasty. • Isolation, remoteness and the opportunity to disconnect (to an extent, however, because having good working Wi-Fi is also very important for tourists. • Sense of adventure: dangerous road to Tusheti, trekking in remote areas but also off-piste or heli-skiing (off-trail, downhill skiing or snowboarding that is accessed by a helicopter). • Hospitality of the local people, usually connected with the vast amount of local food and drink, and the opportunity to interact with them (often), despite

the language barrier. • Ease to travel: no visas for the majority of countries; many more budget flights from Europe initiated. • Safety to travel into and around Georgia. • Great nightlife and plenty of things to see and do in Tbilisi (vibrant, modern, cosmopolitan, but also with a beautiful Old Town, traditional balconies, old churches etc). • There is also a sense of urgency that comes from most reports: come right now before it is too late, before it gets spoilt (ironically, by the very same people who are being encouraged to come now!)

MOTIVATIONS OF THE WESTERN TRAVELLERS In October 2017, the CBI (the Agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands) published an interesting analysis on the trends in the European outbound tourism market that perfectly sums up the points listed above: European travelers “are looking for authentic experiences in non-traditional destinations where travelers can interact with local people (…) and “destinations in developing countries with their unique cultural and natural resources” (…). A growing number of travelers are willing to pay for unique and authentic experi-

In addition to the need for life-changing experiences through immersion in Georgian nature and culture, there are also more basic needs of tourists once they have arrived (and, consequently, these are the things they mostly complain about if the expectations are not met). According to several employees of the Tourist Information Centres around Georgia I regularly speak to, the foreign tourists want better quality, clean accommodation; more public transport options; more diverse product offer (more “things to do when it rains”); better customer service; more food options for vegetarians; safer driving by marshrutka drivers; no smoking in public; and, last but not least, better Wi-Fi. The number of curious and adventurous tourists arriving to Georgia is growing – but only meeting these needs will ensure that they leave satisfied. Marta Mills is a Sustainable Tourism Specialist for the Caucasus region, advising international organisations and tourism businesses on how to manage tourism responsibly to protects its natural and cultural assets, and benefit the local population in Georgia. She writes her own blog on sustainable tourism: oneplanetblog.com and tweets at @oneplanetblog

Nikora Employees Become Company Shareholders

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n 2018, food production company Nikora turns 20 years old. To celebrate their anniversary, the company decided to congratulate all employees, around 4000 people, by offering them shares in the company. The company says its employees greatly contributed to Nikora’s development, adding that their work must be appreciated. “At present, Nikora is the leading company in the food industry. We managed this together with the help of 20-years of work from our employees. Our employees are important to us. Therefore, to mark our 20th anniversary, company shares have been given to every employee of the Supermarket Chain- JSC Nikora Trade, said Irakli Bokolishvili, CEO of JSC Nikora. Bokolashvili said that last year, Nikora had over 43 million customers, adding that in order to form closer relationship with its customers, the company is ready to offer them shares also. People interested in purchasing shares should apply to the company head office. The term of the offer will run through April 1, 2019. The terms of the offer and the further information about the company (JSC Nikora Trade), is available on the website www.nikora.ge In 2016, JSC Nikora Trade placed $5 million worth of bonds on the stock exchange, while in 2017, it placed $10 million worth of bonds by JSC Nikora. Nikora is one of the most successful food producers on Georgian market. The company was founded in 1998 and soon gained the leading position in Georgia. The company released the information on January 24, 2018 at a press conference at the Radisson Blu Iveria Hotel. The purpose of the press conference was also to better inform the public about current schemes, and what positive results can be brought to the country as well as for the company.

Within the press conference, Nikora's future plans were reviewed. Currently, the supermarket stocks meat products, ready-made produce, fish, dairy

products, ice cream, bread and cakes, frozen and fried food and salads. In addition, one of Nikora’s subsidiaries, Intrade is the exclusive importer of

many food products and beverages in Georgia. In the near future, the Nikora supermarket network plans to increase its shops from 220 to 600. ‘Nikora’ is one

of the first among Georgian food producers who have achieved ISO status in the following fields: ISO 9001: 2008; ISO22000: 2005 – HACCP.


SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

15

Things I Love about Svaneti BLOG BY TONY HANMER

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pause at the beginning of the year, back from snowless Kakheti holidays to snowbound home, to remind myself WHY. The stuff coming off the roof on the relatively sunless north side had built up high enough that the living room got hardly any window light, prompting me for the first time ever to get out there and shovel it down. However, so far, it’s also the first winter in which our water pipe to the house hasn’t frozen, nice and mild in spite of all the snow, so one cannot simply hate being here. What do I love? This place, much more than equally wintery but much-readier-for-it Canada, teaches me the infinite immutability of water’s forms, especially the solid ones. Snow and ice are art in nature. Flakes, icebergs (remember the unsinkable Titanic!), glaciers, frost flowers on windows or in mud or covering whole fields or even, I have seen it, blooming up from a tray of ice-cubes! Icicles forming off roofs, but changing their angle from vertical to inward-bending as the snow behind them slowly pushes them around: they end up resembling a wonderfully scary set of rows of fangs. The deadly tone of blue from light coming through a thickness of snow, the very hue of fierce cold for me. The miracle of still ice forming across a flowing river – how? The towers, thousand-year-old witnesses to a history largely unwritten, so tall and straight and silent. What have they seen? Svan salt, the real thing in all its local variations, not the ones you buy in big city markets but from all local ingredients, its smell evoking its origin for me anywhere in the world. The landscape, dominated by Mt. Ushba, in any season. Speaking of seasons, their strong separation into a set of four, presided over by winter’s length but each distinct. The treasury of art in Svan churches and museums, from a time when this was the uninvaded safe place for Georgia. Ditto the language, preserving more of the ancient proto-Georgian than any other member of the Kartvelian family, much too incomprehensible to other Georgians properly to be called

a mere dialect, indeed having four dialects of its own, with eighteen vowels scattered among them! The smell of pine resin, and also its taste, because where else would they dare or want to make crystallized pieces of it “Svan chewing gum”? K’ubdari, the meat pie which crowns Svan cuisine: sorry, vegetarians, but there are other dishes here for you. Ingredients for the liqueurs I make: rose petals and hips, blackberries, elderflowers and berries, a local marjoram, dandelion flowers and roots, double distilled honey vodka as a base, pears, cherries

Taking Craft Wine to the UK: English Grapes in Georgian Qvevri

BY ROBERT EDGAR

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t’s becoming almost impossible to get a beer or a gin and tonic in a London pub without first having to sift through the various ‘craft’ and microbrew varieties on offer. Indeed, there has been such an explosion of independent breweries and distillers offering a greater complexity of flavour than your standard pint of Carlsberg or Gordon’s gin and Schweppes tonic that the big names like Heineken are getting behind

the trend with their own versions of IPA and pilsner, even going so far as to purchase the Californian craft-brewer Lagunitas in May last year. Beer and spirits have been at the forefront of the craft trend, but the concept hasn’t really caught on here in terms of viniculture. There are a couple of reasons for this: English wine is notoriously difficult to produce due to our frequently inclement, mutable weather; and the amount of space, time, and care required to make production economically viable vastly exceeds that needed for a microbrewery or a brewpub. Continued on page 16

both sweet and sour, plums, sour plums, apples, walnuts and hazelnuts. I do make other varieties using non-local flavors, but these are some of the ones I have tried here. The Svan men’s skull-cap, of thick felt, in traditional colors of gray, black, white or brown, each with its special meanings: thick and solid! Svan polyphonic song and dance. These art-forms are, of course, different in every region of Georgia, and one’s tastes will determine why this is preferred over that, when they’re all wonderful. Overall, the constant inspiration for creativity

which this place infuses into me. I was a photographer, a writer and more before I came here, but Svaneti simply has given me more for these expressions than anywhere else. I owe a debt. 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 1800 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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SOCIETY

GEORGIA TODAY

JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

Night of Charitable Revelry in Tbilisi to Honor Scotland’s Most Famous Poet BY CHARLIE REID

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lways a unique and cherished occasion on Tbilisi’s social calendar every year, the 9th Tbilisi Gala Benefit Burns Supper and Ball is to be held at the Funicular Ballroom on February 3. Three charitable causes – Temi Community (caring for a wide range of vulnerable people), Catharsis (helping the homeless elderly by providing hot meals) and Dog Organization Georgia (providing shelter for stray animals along with sterilization, vaccination and adoption programs) - will benefit from a fun and culture-packed event which last year raised over 70,000 GEL. Burns Suppers are staged all across the world on or around January 25, the birthday of Robert Burns, a revered Scottish poet of the 18th century. The Tbilisi edition started up in 2010, and was arranged devotedly by the bonnie Fiona Coxshall for eight years. When Fiona departed from Georgia last year, she left colossal footsteps in which to follow. Indeed, the organizational duties have been spread among an international committee of three comprising Maite Iniesta Ortiz of Spain, Sara Anna Modzmanashvili-Kemecsei of Hungary, and Alastair Watt of Burns’s native Scotland. A night of sumptuous food, drink, and dizzy dancing will be relished by over 200 guests to celebrate the life and works of Burns whose poems and songs have entertained and inspired for centuries. Dotted throughout the evening are a handful of traditional toasts, among them the Address to a Haggis, a poem Burns wrote about his affection for the Scottish delicacy of spiced sheep innards, to be delivered by Jeffrey Kent. The Immortal Memory, a highlight of any Burns Night, will be delivered this year by the brave Gvantsa Shengelia whose knowledge of Scottish TV crimes

series “Taggart” and comedy “Rab C. Nesbitt” has already impressed the organizers. There will also be some humorous exchanges between the genders as the Address to the Lassies (women/girls) is swiftly replied to in the Address to the Laddies (men/boys). The protagonists this year are Tyler Green and Mila Lahue. Keeping everyone in check throughout will be the master of ceremonies Francesca Huemer Kelly, who, suitably, is of Scottish descent. This will be the fourth year in a row that the Tbilisi’s Burns Supper, of which the main sponsor is KPMG, is being held at the Funicular Ballroom, where head chef Jorge de Silva has again prepared a mouth-watering menu to be washed down with Georgian wine and Scottish single malt whisky. Once a delicious four-course meal including the aforementioned haggis has been consumed, guests are summoned to the dance floor by Nicol McLaren and the Glencraig Band for some Scottish country dancing. Breaking from the Gay Gordons and Strip the Willow (these are names of dances), an auction and grand prize raffle are held with numerous exciting items

and prizes to be bought and/or won, while the revellers then return to the dance floor to get down to some more modern musical hits. As promised on the ticket, the event usually runs into “the wee hours” of the morning. The main sponsor of the 9th Annual Tbilisi Gala and Benefit Burns Supper and Ball is KPMG. Also contributing kindly to the event are the following: Marriott Hotels; Funicular Restaurant; Sheraton Metechi Palace; American Medical Center; NineOaks Estate; PMCG. *A LIMITED NUMBER OF TICKETS ARE STILL AVAILABLE. Email: burnstbilisi@gmail.com

Taking Craft Wine to the UK: English Grapes in Georgian Qvevri Continued from page 15

‘Project Marani’ is a venture by Artisan Cru which aims to redress the balance. Founded by Henry Mchedlishvili, Ian Cole and Joe Simms, they have correctly realised that the Georgians have an 8,000 year tradition of what could anachronistically but effectively be marketed as ‘craft’ wine production, and seek to create a hybrid wineusingEnglish-growngrapesfermented in Qvevri. It is an unusual idea but it ticks the right boxes: the British market has become far more open to difference and quirk in terms of wine-making; the method enables the wine to be produced without the addition of preservatives; and consumers are more and more comfortable eschewing mass-produced fare in favour of products made by plucky underdogs with an endearing narrative behind them. With regards to the difficulties explained above, Artisan Cru have gone some way towards mollifying them by teaming up with the British-Georgian Chamber of Commerce, Chris Foss: head of the wine department at Plumpton College, and the renowned Georgian vintner Giorgi Barisashvili. The BGCC have acted as intermediary and have developed an exchange programme for students

between Plumpton College and the Free University Georgia, whilst Barisashvili has overseen and advised on the process from start to finish. It’s yet another example of the imagination and vision that exists in Georgia and the UK which is always encouraging. All well and good, but the important question is what does the wine actually taste like? It’s a tricky one to answer: at the project’s launch on 22 January it was explained that thanks to that scourge of the grape – the capricious British climate – the harvest had been of insufficient quality to make an acceptable wine and it was instead made from grapes imported from Puglia. It’s at a very early stage and the wine has not yet matured, but they have proved that it is possible to produce a drinkable Qvevri vintage in the UK using European grapes. It was fascinating to taste it at its early stage of development, the flavours stood out individually, not having had the time to coalesce properly, but – especially concerning the Montepulciano and the Merlot – it was clear that the disparate elements will come together over time and produce something really special. In each wine I noticed an appealing earthiness to the flavour which betrayed the hallmarks of

the Georgian method. Alas, my palate is woefully underdeveloped: I’m exactly the sort of person who buys a £10 bottle of Australian Cabernet Sauvignon over something more potentially exciting (but more risky), however it’s not just my word you have to take. I spoke to a well-known and established sommelier in attendance who explained that – thanks to advances in technology – it’s entirely possible to create a decent tasting wine from the most paltry of origins. With the Qvevri method though, there is nowhere to hide. Unusually, each wine’s body and flavours are already significant at this very early stage, just needing a little more time to develop and my sommelier thought that in a blind taste test, given the age of the vintage (2017), most people would wrongly assume that there was some contemporary wizardry behind it. It is hard to tell where this enterprise might lead – it is still in its research and development stage after all – but the care and devotion given to the project is palpable and there are plans to open a public bar in London alongside partnerships with interested restaurants. Whatever they decide to do with it, I await the opportunity to buy a bottle with relish.


CULTURE

GEORGIA TODAY JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

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TunaShark: Crossing the Atlantic to Make a Splash in Georgia’s EDM Scene BY MÁTÉ FÖLDI

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he electronic dance music (EDM) scene in Georgia is infamous for being awesome, in the classical understanding of the word. It offers a safe haven to many of the marginalized minorities to express themselves, as well as an escape route for anyone looking to break from the notoriously conservative cultural norms and expectations of the country. It is a social movement fighting for change and a more tolerant society. Be it as participant or performer, Tbilisi’s nightlife has drawn in many a local and foreigner alike. TunaShark, duo Jack Hub Hubbell and Saba Iordanishvili, took the unconventional route of coming back from America to become a part of Georgia’s unique social revolution.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND, HOW YOU MET, AND WHAT YOU DO Saba: We met at a computer art class at Denison University in Ohio, where we were both stu-dying. At the time, I was in a band playing the bass guitar, and in the second year we got Hub to join us on the lead vocals and guitar; we played together until the end of college, and we also lived together for our final two years. Hub: Right now we’re mostly just writing songs. It’s difficult to pigeonhole the exact genre of our tracks, but definitely it falls under the umbrella of EDM. We’re exploring a variety of different styles within EDM, so it’s difficult to put a label on it just yet; it’s hard to tell what’s what these days.

WHY GEORGIA? Hub: Our time together in that band during college saw some of the best moments of my life, and I think I just kept on chasing that. Initially, we started collaborating online: I’d send Saba something, he’d send something back and we’d put it together and play around with it on Logic or Apleton. We’d make tracks just like that, but they weren’t very cohe-

It isn’t looked at as a form of cultural subversion. I think it’s the opposite : in Georgia everyone loves music

sive; back then, we were even more scattered about our genre. Eventually, I was just like “this isn’t good enough; I want to be a part of this in a more holistic manner”. I’d seen this documentary about Berlin in the 1980s, which reminded me of Tbilisi today, and it spoke to me. I thought that I could live like that, that we could be in the same room again combining our creative energies working on these tracks together. It was really just about our friendship and our mutual love of music that brought me back to Georgia.

WHERE DID THE NAME TUNASHARK COME FROM? Hub: The name actually came from a playlist that Saba was making. I liked it a lot because it’s a playful name and we really don’t want to take ourselves too seriously.

WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE GEORGIAN MUSIC SCENE? HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE AND CONTRAST IT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE/ HAD IN THE US? Saba: For the kind of music that we make, the situation in Georgia is perfect. The

music scene here and the one in the US are completely different. What they lack is a proper electronic culture; I mean they do have many good artists, but it’s not really popular. Hub: Exactly. It’s not that underground electronic music doesn’t exist in America: some of the best artists have come from the US. Unfortunately, it’s just very spread out and hard to reach the people. This isn’t something that the internet can spread to the masses because you really have to go to an awesome club to get the full experience and there just aren’t enough underground clubs there. Saba: In Georgia, on the other hand, we pretty much only have electronic music, though now that’s changing too. We’re starting to get more concerts, more live bands- rock, jazz, et cetera -but not nearly as much as in the US. Hub: I really miss going to jazz clubs or rock concerts on the weekends. You just can’t do that here: it’s only techno!

The fact is that you can’t make a lot of money out of it, even out-side Georgia; few do and become crazy rich and famous. So I think that that has a lot to do with the cooperative spirit here. Hub: There definitely is a huge difference. Stateside, bands can get really competitive and hostile with each other — it’s very much an “us vs. them” mentality. Here, it’s the opposite: one big community of musicians looking after each other, and that’s beautiful. I don’t think that anyone is trying to get famous, especially in the electronic scene; it’s not about that. From what I’ve seen, in Georgia it’s more about the experience: capturing a moment of time in some kind of orb that you can just hold and look at and enjoy. It isn’t about crushing your competition, and preventing others from enjoying success. So in it’s own right, the music scene in Georgia is more of a social movement, a way for people to express themselves.

AND HOW DOES THAT REFLECT ON THE COMPETITION THAT YOU’RE DEALING WITH HERE?

AS A GEORGIAN MAN, SABA, DO YOU EXPERIENCE ANY CULTURAL CONFLICTS OR PREJUDICE AS A RESULT OF BEING INVOLVED WITH EDM? IS THERE A NEGATIVE

Saba: I really don’t see it as competition; it’s more people working together towards a shared goal. One big family, if you will.

IMAGE ASSOCIATED WITH IT, A FORM OF CULTURAL SUBVERSION IF YOU WILL? No, definitely not. Everyone in my family and all my friends support it. It isn’t looked at as a form of cultural subversion; I think it’s the opposite. In Georgia everyone loves music.

THAT SAID, WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELVES IN THE NEAR FUTURE ? WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS? Saba: Our first goal, and will see where we go from there, is to have 10 or more top quality tracks that we really like, in a more or less similar style. This would gives us a platform to start performing at clubs or festival. What happens after that, we’ll see. Hub: Another short term goal that I’d add is to move to away from the computer a little bit more. We’ve been working on that, ordering a new synth that I’m really excited about. More live music and less DJ-ing: instruments, synths, analogues, drum machines, things like that. We’re slowly working towards acquiring all the necessary equipment to be able to do that and wean ourselves off the laptop.

Georgian Film Wins at Sundance Film Festival BY NINO GUGUNISHVILI

F

ilm ‘Sovdagari’ (The Trader), by Georgian filmmaker Tamta Gabrichidze, has won a Short Film Jury Award in the nonf iction category at the Sundance Film Festival. The 23-minute film tells the story of Gela, a man who sells second-hand clothes and household items from the

back of his minibus while traveling around Georgia. Tbilisi born Tamta Gabrichidze graduated from the Film and Theatre University, Tbilisi, with a Bachelor’s degree, and also studied public relations at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs. She is now working on a new documentary ‘MUGAMATI’, and on her first fiction film ‘September’ The Trader (Sovdagari) was recently acquired by Netflix, and will be launched globally on February 9, 2018.


18

CULTURE

GEORGIA TODAY

JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

WHAT’S ON IN TBILISI THEATER

TBILISI ZAKARIA PALIASHVILI OPERA AND BALLET THEATER Address: 25 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 99 04 56 January 27, 28, 30 ROMEO AND JULIET Ballet in 3 Acts By Sergei Prokofiev Conductor- Alevtina Ioffe Start time: January 27, 30- 19:00, January 28- 14:00 Ticket: 60-70 GEL GABRIADZE THEATER Address: 13 Shavtelis St. Telephone: 2 98 65 93 January 26, 27, 31 RAMONA Rezo Gabriadze Directed by Rezo Gabriadze English Subtitles Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 20, 30 GEL January 28 STALINGRAD Rezo Gabriadze Directed by Rezo Gabriadze English Subtitles Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 20, 30 GEL SHALIKASHVILI THEATER Address: 37 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 595 50 02 03 January 26, 27 Roma Rtskhiladze and Pantomime Theater Along with electronic music present: WISH TREE Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 19 GEL MOVEMENT THEATER Address: 182, Aghmashenebeli Ave. Telephone: 598 19 29 36 January 26 RECITATIVE IN THE CITY El banda del "მუდო"Kakha Bakuradze, Sandro Nikoladze, Irakli Menagarishvili, Simon Bitadze, Dato Kakulia Special guest: famous Georgian actor Merab Ninidze Start time: 21:30 Ticket: 10 GEL

January 26 LABIRINTH Directed by Kakha Bakuradze One Act Mystery, with Live Music Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 10, 15 GEL January 27 INTRO Directed by Kakha Bakuradze Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 15 GEL January 28 DON JUAN Directed by Kakha Bakuradze Start time: 20:00 Ticket: 15 GEL CINEMA

AMIRANI CINEMA Address: 36 Kostava Str. Telephone: 2 99 99 55 www.kinoafisha.ge Every Wednesday ticket price: 5 GEL January 26-February 1 MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE Directed by Wes Ball Cast: Rosa Salazar, Thomas BrodieSangster, Dylan O'Brien Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller Language: English Start time: 19:00 Language: Russian Start time: 16:00, 22:15 Ticket: 12-17 GEL DARKEST HOUR Directed by Joe Wright Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas Genre: Biography, Drama, History Language: Russian Start time: 21:30 Ticket: 13-14 GEL THE SHAPE OF WATER Directed by Guillermo del Toro Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy Language: Russian Start time: 22:00 Ticket: 17 GEL THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US Directed by Hany Abu-Assad Cast: Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, Beau Bridges Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama Language: Russian Start time: 13:30 Ticket: 12 GEL

PADDINGTON 2 Directed by Paul King Cast: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy Language: Russian Start time: 19:05 Ticket: 13-14 GEL JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE Directed by Jake Kasdan Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy Language: Russian Start time: 14:00 Ticket: 12 GEL RUSTAVELI CINEMA Address: 5 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 55 50 00 www.kinoafisha.ge Every Wednesday ticket: 5 GEL January 26-February 1 MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE (Info Above) Start time: 13:45, 16:50, 19:15, 22:20 Ticket: 9-14 GEL THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US (Info Above) Start time: 22:30 Ticket: 10-11 GEL THE GREATEST SHOWMAN Directed by Michael Gracey Cast: Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical Language: Russian Start time: 16:45 Ticket: 13-14 GEL CAVEA GALLERY Address: 2/4 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 200 70 07

THE SHAPE OF WATER (Info Above) Language: English Start time: 19:10 Language: Russian Start time: 22:55 Ticket: 16-19 GEL MOLLY’S GAME Directed by Aaron Sorkin Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera Genre: Biography, Drama Language: Russian Start time: 13:30 Ticket: 11-15 GEL THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (Info Above) Language: Russian Start time: 19:45 Ticket: 16-19 GEL JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (Info Above) Start time: 22:15 Ticket: 16-19 GEL MUSEUM

GEORGIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM SIMON JANASHIA MUSEUM Address: 4 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 99 80 22, 2 93 48 21 www.museum.ge Exhibition GEORGIAN COSTUME AND WEAPONRY OF 18TH-20TH CENTURIES Exhibition NUMISMATIC TREASURY Showcases a long history of money circulation on the territory of modern Georgia from the 6th century BC. to 1834.

January 26-February 1

December 29 - January 30 EXHIBITION: THE GEORGIAN CHURCH 1917-2017

MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE (Info Above) Language: English Start time: 12:45, 19:15 Language: Russian Start time: 16:00, 22:30 Ticket: 15-19 GEL

IOSEB GRISHASHVILI TBILISI HISTORY MUSEUM - KARVASLA Address: 8 Sioni St. Telephone: 2 98 22 81

DARKEST HOUR (Info Above) Language: Russian Start time: 17:10 Ticket: 14-19 GEL

January 20-30 EXHIBITION OF ZAIRA NADIRASHVILI'S ARTWORKS "NEW ME" The series ‘New Me’ includes paintings, installations and

video-art, seeing the author expressing her alternate vision, where philosophy, painting and psychology are transformed into one aesthetic integrity. These artworks introduce Zaira Nadirashvili as a seeker and aspirant artist and present another view of the artist's creative values. MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS Address: 1 Gudiashvili Str. Telephone: 2 99 99 09 December 14 – March 14 ANNIVERSARY-RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION GIGO GABASHVILI 155 This retrospective exhibition showcases various paintings and graphic works, manuscripts and electronic versions of his photographs. The exhibition also features a reconstruction of the artist's room with his furniture and personal items, some displayed to the public for the first time. MUSEUM OF SOVIET OCCUPATION Address: 4 Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 2 99 80 22, 2 93 48 21 www.museum.ge PERMANENT EXHIBITION Discover the State's personal files of "subversive" Georgian public figures, orders to shoot or exile, and other artifacts representing Sovietera cultural and political repression in Georgia. GALLERY

DIMITRI SHEVARDNADZE NATIONAL GALLERY Address: 11 Shota Rustaveli Ave. Telephone: 215 73 00 26 January – February 25 Georgian National Museum and Stedley Art Foundation present Solo exhibition CARDBOARD. WOOD. STONE BY CONTEMPORARY UKRAINIAN ARTIST ALEXANDER ZHYVOTKOV The exhibition features the series: "Roads", "Kyiv. 2014", "Motherboard", "Variations in Stone," and "Vengeance Is Mine," which includes over fifty works created over the past five years. MUSIC

DJANSUG KAKHIDZE TBILISI CENTER FOR MUSIC AND CULTURE Address: 125 Aghmashenebeli ave. Telephone: 2 96 12 43 January 27 TBILISI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Under the batton of Maestro Vadim Shubladze The soloist: Georgian pianist, Professors of Tbilisi State Conservatory, Nino Katamadze. The program includes: overture for the opera “Oberon” By Karl Maria Weber, 5th symphony by Franz Shubert and 2nd concerto for piano and symphony orchestra By Ferenz Liszt Start time: 19:30 Ticket: 1o-28 GEL MZIURI Address: Mziuri Cafe January 28 SAKVIRAO Entertainment program for children Start time: 12:00 FABRIKA Addresss: 8 Ninoshvili Str. January 28 CHARITY CONCERT FOR TUTA Start time: 20:00 Tickets: 20 GEL


CULTURE

GEORGIA TODAY JANUARY 26 - 29, 2018

19

Musical Wish Tree on Pantomime Theater Stage do that? It inspired me greatly. My late elder brother would encourage me to stage it. Only after his death did I manage to do so, and naturally, it is dedicated to his memory. Roma Rtskhiladze was his friend. So, I made my brother’s wish come true by calling Roma, who sings live in the performance.

BY MAKA LOMADZE

S

ince our early childhood, we, Georgian kids, have been accustomed to fastening pieces of colored paper or tissue onto trees referred to as ‘Wish trees’. Everyone who has been to Turtle Lake, or on excursions to the countryside, will have seen these beautifully decorated trees, usually in the vicinity of churches. And any Georgian who was a child in the 90s will remember well that Roma Rtskhiladze, famous pianist, singer and composer, had an ensemble and a song by the same name ‘Wish Tree’. The premiere of the namesake performance took place at Tbilisi Event Hall. However, in January, the Wishers returned to their native stage at the pantomime theater. GEORGIA TODAY interviewed Davit Shalikashvili, director of the show.

WHAT IS THE MAIN MESSAGE OF ‘WISH TREE’? I can’t imagine not a single person without wishes. Wishes are what cheer our lives up. They give us hope, whether or not they can come true, and motivation Once I was in Kakheti as a pilgrim to one of the monasteries. The locals told me that one of the local Wish Trees died eight years previously. But, it was a beautiful tree. Me and my friends were the first ones to fasten the tissues on it. Later, when I called my Kakhetian friend, he told me that the tree was already heavy with pieces of colorful handkerchiefs. In the performance, the Wish Tree is cut down, but another rises in its place. The main message is that generations come and go, but Wish Trees are something deeply rooted in our psychology and a permanent feature in our lives.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR ‘WISH TREE?’ It came from a number of things. However, the major role in the conception of the performance was Rtskhiladze’s song. I used to go to Manglisi a lot, which had its own Wish tree. I used to fasten a piece of tissue on it every time. Of course, we’re not small kids who believe that it will make your wish come true, but it was a kind of ritual. Once,

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE SHOW? when I was passing by place, I saw that the tree had been cut down: it was lying there, as if mocking at our wishes. Who else but a real sadist could

First, to distract the audience from everyday problems. It is visually very colorful and beautiful, lit with neon lights. I want to enliven the children in all of the spectators; those who once tied their own

wishes to trees. I want to make them want to do the same again. The performance is interactive, and the audience is allowed to fasten tissues to the tree during the performance. It does not matter whether we believe or not that the wishes will come true, but even the mere instant of making a wish itself and tying it on is something magical that will pull them out of everyday life. If this one hour is spent pleasantly, and if they will think about the performance another hour after leaving, I will say that my goal has been achieved.

THE AUDIENCE SITS ON THE STAGE. WHY? One of the reasons is that there is a lot of scenery and a lot of actors and, therefore, there was not enough space on stage. The spectators watch not only pantomime, but also dances. As I mentioned above, Roma Rtskhiladze sings live. The original electronic music belongs to Dato Sanikidze. Live music accompanies the performance from the beginning to the end. I’m turning 40 soon. Life isn’t easy, but I found a kind of refuge in Wish Tree which calms me. Life is so much more than the material things. Tickets can be bought on tkt.ge or on at the booking office When: January 26-27, at 8 PM Where: Pantomime State Theater, Rustaveli Avenue 37 (opposite Rustaveli Metro)

James Blunt Concert to Include Performances with Georgian Rock Bands

ADVERTORIAL

G

eorgian rock groups, Young Georgian Lolitaz and Loudspeakers, are to collaborate with James Blunt at his concert in May. The famous British popstar James Blunt will visit Georgia during his world tour. The festival will be held on May 26, on Georgian Independence Day, at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium. The singer and composer will perform songs from his latest album "Afterlove". The event is organized by New International Promotion Company Black Pearl Live. Tickets can be purchased on tkt.ge. Those who will buy festival tickets, before the 31st of January, will have the chance to meet James Blunt - 30 lucky ones will be selected and will get the opportunity to meet the favorite singer. The organizers promise you an unforgettable show on May 26. Fans will have the opportunity

to listen to their favorite hits, including his last single, ‘Love Me Better’. "We are honored that the concert also makes Georgian Independence Day”, says Kuun de Beer. The company has ambitious goals for the Georgian market. Black Pearl Live plans to turn Georgia into a host country of real cultural significance. "Yet, everything depends on how things will develop, how we will work today to achieve success in the future. We have the opportunity to arrange worldclass events, and research has shown that Georgia offers a real unique opportunity, with the country showing great potential, "said Kuun de Beer. The Parlotones - a Rock Band from Johannesburg (South Africa), will also perform at the festival, with their songs relating to both love and life. Also performing at the event will be rock groups Young Georgian Lolitaz and Loudspeakers. Young Georgian Lolitaz are the first all-male band from Georgia, who participated in Eurovision 2016. The Loudspeakers are a famous Georgian rock band that has gained tremendous popularity at the Tbilisi Altervision Music Festival.

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Issue #1017  

January 26 - 29, 2018

Issue #1017  

January 26 - 29, 2018

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