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May 28 2013

VIDEO: Impromptu Georgian Chorus at Kyiv Airport

A screenshot of a video with Georgian traditional singing and dancing at Boryspil

A screenshot of the video of the four Georgians singing and dancing at Boryspil

On May 21, YouTube user Yevgeni Melnik shared this video of a group of four anonymous Georgian men doing an impromptu performance of traditional Georgian singing and dancing at Terminal F of Kiev Boryspil International Airport. The video has gone viral among Ukrainian Internet users: as of May 28, it has been watched 47,450 times.

January 17 2013

Georgia's Gay Rights Activists Protest Broadcast of Secret Sex Tapes

On January 14, 2013, the Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia announced [ka] that the previous chief of the Military Police Megis Kardava, secretly filmed videos of public figures having sex with homosexual partners. The office alleges these videotapes were used to blackmail the public figures into cooperation with President Mikheil Saakashvili's government.

Prosecutors released blurred versions of the videos to Georgian TV stations, to dispel any doubts about the veracity of their claims. But their broadcast has sparked an outcry over invasion of privacy.

Image by Eric Politzer for Identoba. From their Facebook page.

Image by Eric Politzer for Identoba. From their Facebook page.

Despite the blurring, some say, the men in the videos can still be identified and minority rights groups argue in a highly orthodox country like Georgia, the videos could put those filmed at risk. 

Many human rights organizations, including LGBT Georgia [ka] have asked the officials to stop broadcasting the videos through TV channels:

 @Dato_Shubladze: The Association “LGBT Georgia” appeals to the Georgian President, Prime Minister, Public Defender and Prosecutor General. http://bit.ly/11yOttZ

According to Transparency International Georgia:

 In our opinion, there is no public interest in seeing these secretly recorded videos, while there is a strong interest of the people affected by this case to have their privacy protected.

The organization also claims that Georgia's TV stations failed to comply with the Code of Conduct for Broadcasters [pdf], according to which they:

shall not show sex in programs aired before midnight and shall only portray sex or discussions about sex between 20:00 and 23:00 if this is justified by public interested and edited in a proper form.

The code also stipulates when reporting on crime “broadcasters shall seek to balance the freedom of expression with the presumption of innocence and respect for the privacy of suspect, accused, convict, witness and victim.”

Following this criticism, on January 15, Archil Kbilashvili, the Prosecutor General of Georgia explained that the Prosecutor’s Office didn't violate human rights by showing the videotapes, as it was impossible to identify the people in the released videos.

Explanation is not a relief, on the contrary, existence of such incriminating videos is and always will be the reason for permanent fear for those who were taped and for those who are not taped as well:

 @lishtotah  Systemic homophobia - still alive RT@CivilGe: Public Defender criticizes release of ‘gay honey trap' videoshttp://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25644 … #tbilisi

LGBT organizations in Georgia scheduled a Facebook event [ka] to protest the blackmailing, entrapment and humiliation of people for their sexuality, in front of the Persecutor’s Office of Georgia. Recently, the Organization “IDENTOBA” [ka] also launched an online campaign “Trap Me” [ka].

August 01 2012

Georgia: Philanthropic Blogging

Net Prophet interviews Givi Avaliani, a Georgian blogger [GE] focusing on online campaigning and charitable activities, and who says that human rights protection and highlighting the poverty around him are his main inspirations. The Transitions Online blog says that more than 120,000 people have visited Avaliani's blog in the past year.

July 30 2012

‘Small' Georgia Takes on ‘Big' Russia with New Media

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

Georgia, located to the south of Russia, is your typical small state: it has a tiny population, a developing economy, and territorial disputes with its largest neighbor Russia. In August 2008 when, Russia briefly invaded the tiny country, no one was particularly surprised that Georgia was unable to counter this show of force.

A small state by definition cannot project sufficient military or economic power to meet a security threat. Since such “hard power” options are unavailable to them, small states are often left with “soft power” as an only means of influencing their adversaries. Soft power, comes in many flavors, not the least of which are public diplomacy and propaganda, traditionally costly endeavors. Fortunately for Georgia, soft power is easier to exercise in this global communication age.

For a politically hostile state (it wants to join NATO and has long opposed Russia's entry into the WTO), Georgia enjoys surpringly good standing among the Russian public. This is partly because of Russia's historical relationship with the country, and Russian affinity for Georgian food and wine. Another reason, however, is Georgian use of online communities to project soft power.

Image uploaded by Flicker user Summersso CC BY-ND 2.0

Image uploaded by Flicker user Summersso CC BY-ND 2.0

Even though most Georgians blog in Georgian, there is a sizable contingent of Russian speaking Georgians on Russia's most popular blogging platform LiveJournal (LJ) (a list of 200 such bloggers can be found here [ru]. If ever there is a poster boy of these bloggers, it's cyxymu [ru].) This Abkhazian blogger leaves an average of forty comments per day, which makes him a familiar “face” to followers of the RuNet (Russia's Internet).

cyxymu often engages Russian bloggers in polemics about Russo-Georgian relations. For example, he extensively covered the 2008 conflict, and has apparently made it onto someone's radar as a result. In 2009 his Twitter and blog suffered a DDoS attack,  in a similar vein to what Russian opposition members have recently faced.

Coincidentally, one member of the Russian opposition currently lives and blogs in Georgia, Oleg Panfilov [ru] (olegpanfilov2). His original blog was hacked by the notorious hacker Hell, he now writes seven posts a day, in which he either castigates the Kremlin, or extols the virtues of its Georgian counterpart.

In general, these and other bloggers give Russians an idea of everyday life in Georgia, often with pictures [ru]. Although some of them can be critical of the Saakashvilli government, they often give glowing reviews of the reforms it has initiated. Georgian bloggers are aware of their Russian readers, in fact, as described in a June 14th Tbilisi roundtable [ru], many of them write in Russian precisely to attract this audience.

Meanwhile, the Georgian government takes a different approach. Recently, top rated Russian photo-blogger Rustem Adagamov was invited to visit Georgia by the Ministry of the Economy. The several posts he wrote after his return are a mixture of travel writing and great advertisement copy for the revamped Georgian Justice Department and police force [ru].

Adagamov is just the latest in a steady stream of Russian bloggers invited to Georgia by various government agencies. The apparently corruption-free Georgian police is a particularly popular subject. Last year, another photo-blogger, zyalt, made a very similar post, [ru] which was collated from the posts of previous writers [ru], attracting accusations of blogging-for-hire.

Although the Georgian government seems to be following a conscious strategy of co-opting the Russian public through smart use of new media, it's unclear if it will soon see results. After all, public diplomacy works best under a functioning democracy.

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

June 28 2012

May 04 2012

May 02 2012

Georgia: Beyond Tbilisi

Beyond Tbilisi says that local authorities plan to clean up a river full of garbage in June. The blog run by Transparency International Georgia hopes to report on issues outside of the capital and is available in Georgian and English.

March 31 2012

Georgia: Tongue-in-cheek development forecast

A satirical video posted on YouTube takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the development of Georgia ahead of parliamentary elections later this year and a presidential vote in 2013. With the current president, Milhail Saakashvili, unable to run for a third term in office it foresees him following in the footsteps of his nemesis, Russia's Vladimir Putin, by becoming prime minister as Georgia joins NATO, regains the lost territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, hosts world famous rock bands in seaside resorts, launches a space programme, develops a small town to take the place of Amsterdam as a sex-capital, and much, much more.

March 14 2012

Georgia: Bloggers assaulted

Shota tweets that two bloggers were physically assaulted allegedly by representatives of Tbilisi University's Student Union, itself reportedly controlled by the ruling party of power in the country. News of the alleged attack [GE] was spread on Facebook and in the form of a video report by Net Gazeti on YouTube.

February 08 2012

Georgia: Independent Media Gone Mobile

Following the removal of traditional newspaper booths in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, and out of concern that the independent media will suffer as a result, Democracy and Freedom Watch reports that newspapers are now being sold via mobile newsstands including those attached to bicycles. A video report [GE] is also available here.

November 16 2011

Georgia: Voting in absentia

Tamada Tales comments on a video posted on an online site of parliamentarians voting for absentee colleagues. The blog notes that while the practice is common elsewhere, it is taken to new levels in Georgia with one parliamentary faction leader even having his vote made by an underling sitting next to him.

September 26 2011

Georgia: Virtual Parliament Speaker Election

Ahead of a parliamentary election in Georgia set for October 2012, David Bakradze, Chair of the current Parliament, is currently the most active member of the ruling party on Facebook. His official page, with 27,526 likes at time of writing, includes photos of visits and meetings as well as of his family. Bakradze has also launched a game called Elections where each person liking his page can run for position of virtual parliamentary chair.

From David Bakradze's Official Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/dbakradze

The rules are simple: One can register as a candidate or vote for another, with those intending to run for the position able to fill in a brief bio and invite friends to elect them. The candidate attracts the most votes will become the virtual parliament chair with four runner-ups ‘elected' as virtual vice-speakers.

Bakradze is one of the most Facebook-friendly members of the ruling party. In August, 2011, Bakradze invited the most active members of his page to parliament for an informal meeting and a guided tour, and last month Bakradze invited ten more to his office. Bakradze told journalists that the game aims to attract the interest of youth in election and to encourage communication between the government and citizens.

Nevertheless, reaction from public seems to be mixed with some thinking that the initiative is good while others say that it's a waste of time. One comment on Facebook, for example, simply said that “soon we'll elect the president with “Likes” while others thought it “a step forward in the governmental penetration of Facebook.”

Chiti” (Bird), the Georgian equivalent of The Onion News weighed in with its own satirical coverage.

თბილისი, 21 სექტემბერი – სოციალურ ქსელ Facebook-ზე პარლამენტის თავმჯდომარის ინიციატივას, “ვირტუალური არჩევნები,” მხოლოდ სიმბოლური დატვირთვა არ ექნება. პარლამენტის აპარატის მიერ გავრცელებულ განცხადებაში ნათქვამია, რომ თამაშში გამარჯვებული ადამიანი, დავით ბაქრაძესთან ერთი დღის გატარებასთან ერთად ხელფასსა და პენსიასაც მიიღებს.

Tbilisi, 21 September - The Facebook initiative of the parliamentary chair - “Virtual Elections” will not have a symbolic meaning only. According to a statement by Parliament Apparatus, the winner of the game will spend a day with David Bakradze and also get a salary and pension.

At present, 760 people have joined in the virtual election and the ‘candidate' currently holding first place has 328 votes. More significantly, perhaps, the move marks continuing efforts by the Georgian government to harness the power of social media.

June 20 2011

Georgia: Government 2.0

Various agencies and officials in the Georgian government are increasingly embracing social media and Web 2.0 tools in order to communicate with the country's computerized population. As the technology develops and more Georgians join social media sites, it becomes clear that the government intends to directly connect with its citizens. The leading reformer in the region, Georgia follows a world-wide trend of digitization and e-government by taking concrete steps online.

For example, citizens can download the driver's license preparation test from the website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, register and declare their property on the Revenue Service's website and, in February this year, Transparency International Georgia, with the support of the Eurasia Partnership Foundation in Georgia, launched Chemikucha.ge, a local version of the British FixMyStreet.com, an online platform enabling citizens to report problems such as potholes or garbage collection.

Chemikucha.ge – chemi kucha means “our street” – is designed to help and encourage residents of Tbilisi to report local problems on their street to City Hall. The reports are located on a map and can be viewed and discussed by residents, stakeholders and representatives of the competent government authority. The platform, launched through a year-long project, enables the public to monitor the competent authorities reaction to a reported issue of concern. Chekikucha is an adaptation of the open-source FixMyStreet concept and can also be accessed at FixMyStreet.ge.

[…]

The goal of www.chemikucha.ge is to create an online platform that facilitates direct communication on local problems between citizens and the city of Tbilisi's administration. Furthermore, we want to encourage citizens to report issues in their neighborhood they are concerned about by lowering the barriers to get active, share and discuss problems with others and monitor the authorities' reactions.

Consequently, the project aims to create more public awareness and debate about dangerous problems on the streets of Tbilisi. By bringing people's concern about local problems into the public sphere, we hope that competent authorities will be able to address and solve those issues more quickly and effectively.

Reports of problems on the streets of the capital will make Tbilisi City Hall officials more responsive to problems that are reported by citizens.

Reports are directly sent to the Tbilisi Municipality and 556 problems have been reported so far, with 344 already fixed. As mentioned above, the Georgian government has been active with social media for some time. Most recently, on 9 June, Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava held a live conference via LiveStream. Citizens were able to ask questions through the Mayor's official Facebook page. Around 500-600 people watched the live conference, the first of its kind in the country with similar events promised in the future.

Ugulava has a Twitter account too. Launched in May, 113 tweets have been sent and there are 194 followers at time of writing.

Ugulava is not alone on Twitter either. The Prime Minister, Nika Gilauri, and the Minister of Education and Science also have  Twitter accounts. Georgia's first lady, Sandra Roelofs, was also one of the first to use social media, couple of days ago she posted this humorous photo on Facebook.

"You know I am promoting ROAD SAFETY, but last Sunday, when I saw this on the highway between Gori and Tbilisi I got confused….. A COW IN A LADA 07 !!"

Ministries and governmental agencies also have their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and although it appears many of them have same administrators based on the content shared, they are updated daily. Most of these accounts don't encourage discussion, however. One of the youngest faces in Georgian government, Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development Vera Kobalia also posts job announcements on her Facebook profile, where she has 4143 friends and 907 followers on Twitter.

@VeraKobalia: At the UN climate change conference. No wifi anywhere on site! but lots of smart minds :)

It has to be noted that Facebook pages of governmental officials are actively advertised under sponsored links:

David Bakardze, the chairman of the Georgian Parliament.

It is unknown why the President, Mikheil Saakashvili, does not follow an example of his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, and open either a Twitter or Facebook account, but given the popularity of social media in the region this might change. With 621,640 Facebook users in the country, Georgia boasts the largest penetration for the social networking site in the region. Facebook is the most popular site according to Alexa.com with Twitter the 13th. Internet penetration is also believed to stand at more than 40 percent although most of the users live in the capital Tbilisi.

June 05 2011

Georgia: Sharon Stone seducing the nation

The most popular topic for discussion on social networks, as well as by the online and traditional media, this weekend was the premiere of Renny Harlin's movie about the 2008 Georgia-Russia war, called “5 Days of August.” Not only was the director himself in town for the event, but so were the film's actors Andy Garcia, Dean Cain and others. However, the most important guest invited for the premiere was Hollywood actress Sharon Stone.

Flying in from Moscow where she attended the Muz.TV Awards, Stone arrived a day before the film crew who flew all the way from Los Angeles. Preparation and media coverage days before her arrival fed the online commentary.

უკვე რამდენიმე დღეა, რაც თბილისი შერონის ქალაქად ან “შერონსთაუნად” (“Sharon’s town“) არის ქცეული. ჩვენ შერონით ვსუნთქავთ, შერონით ვხედავთ, შერონით გვესმის და შერონით განვიცდით.

For several days Tbilisi has turned into “Sharonstown” (”Sharon's town“). We breath with Sharon, see with Sharon, hear with her and feel with Sharon.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili even hosted the actress on her first night, introducing her to night views of Tbilisi from the Presidential Palace. The tour of his official residence also turned out to be fun for the host as well as the guest. Footage was widely aired on Georgian TV and shared on social networks.

Before attending the premiere of Harlin's movie today, Stone even met with the country's spiritual leader, the Patriarch of Georgia, and was also spotted on the streets of old Tbilisi by many people.

bicyclemark: Ran into Sharon Stone twice today on the streets of Tbilisi. We looked at each other for 2 seconds and then went back to being tourists.

bicyclemark: right after she walked passed me some old american couple greeted her, shook her hand and side bye. hmm could have done that.

lakobukia: I am gonna see Sharon Stone tonight, OMG I AM SOOOO EXCITED

mziakupunia: Crowds gathered at Rustaveli cinema greeted Sharon Stone and Andy Garcia with loud cheers and applauds.

Meanwhile, a group of students gathered in front of the Radisson Blue hotel where the Hollywood stars were staying, protesting what they considered to be pompous arrangements for the premiere, holding posters reading “Basic instincts against basic values”, “Enough, give money to refugees,” and “Cheap propaganda is not art” in a less than veiled reference to criticism of Harlin's movie by some film critics. News agencies reported and Forum.ge picked the topic up with further discussion.

Doin.ge, whose extended post criticizes local media coverage, also predicts that it will get worse after the Hollywood actress leaves Tbilisi.

“შერონის პირველი დღე თბილისში”, “შერონის მეორე დღე თბილისში”, “შერონი ქართულ რესტორანში”, “შერონმა წაუცეკვა”, “ჰოლივუდის ვარსკვლავს მშვიდობის ხიდი მოეწონა”, “შერონი მხარს უჭერს საქართველოს სუვერენიტეტს და ტერიტორიულ მთლიანობას”, “შერონი გმობს პუტინის ოკუპანტურ რეჟიმს”, “შერონი ჩაფრინდა და იწერება – კარგად ვარო”, “შერონს ქართული სუფრა ენატრება” და მრავალი.

“Sharon's first day in Tbilisi,” ”Sharon's second day in Tbilisi,” “Sharon in Georgian restaurant,” “Sharon dancing,” “Hollywood star liked the new peace bridge,” “Sharon supports Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” “Sharon condemns Putin's occupational regime,” “Sharon flew back and says she feels good,” “Sharon is missing Georgian Supra” and many others.

Sharon Stone leaves Georgia on Monday.

May 24 2011

Georgia: Tolkienesque Clashes on the Streets of Tbilisi

On 21 May, 2011, just days before the 20th anniversary of Georgia declaring its independence from the former Soviet Union, protests organized by the opposition People's Assembly accusing President Saakashvili of monopolizing power became the main focus on social media sites.

As many as 10,000 people, who gathered first at the central Freedom Square, later marched on the Public Broadcaster demanding that the protest be broadcast live.

Channel 2 aired the demonstration, complete with Bella Ciao, an old Italian partisan song that has become almost an anthem for the protests, repeated nearly constantly in the background. An independent journalist who runs his own personal news blog uploaded a video:

The following morning, however, saw the situation turn ugly when protesters clashed with police. Attacking them with plastic flagpoles, the police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd and several minor injuries were reported on both sides.

A second clash also occurred when a group of unknown people with similar poles attacked protesters resulting in a minor skirmish on the streets.

While some bloggers reacted to the protests with critical comments, others used more visual ways of expressing themselves, recreating scenes from several famous movies from photos of the events:

The clashes reminded some of Star Wars.

The clashes reminded some of Star Wars.

This image parodying the dwarf from Lord of the Rings was widely shared on Facebook.

This image parodying the dwarf from Lord of the Rings was widely shared on Facebook.

A tongue in cheek representation of a protester as Mel Gibson from the film Braveheart.

A tongue in cheek representation of a protester as Mel Gibson from the film Braveheart.

Some were having fun recreating reality, others seemed simply bored with the latest political developments broadcast live on television:


May 21 2011

Georgia: Beyoncé's girls rule an apocalyptic… Caucasus?

The premiere of American singer Beyoncé's “Run The World (Girls)” video on May 18 evoked much debate among bloggers and social media users in Georgia. The reason for this was not that she had fans in the country, that it was the first single from her highly anticipated new album, or even because of its “women empowering” and aggressive nature, but rather a simple road sign that was visible 1 minute and 50 seconds into the video.

Dressed in Givenchy with two chained hyenas, Beyoncé was “set in an apocalyptic African landscape with a Tbilisi sign in the background (?)” as Giovanna Badilla, seemingly also confused, mentioned on The Wild Magazine blog. Moreover, not only did the sign point to the Georgian capital, but also Gori, a city bombed during the August 2008 war with Russia and Tskhinvali, capital of the breakaway territory of South Ossetia.

The appearance of the road sign prompted a lot of speculation, as The Young Georgians explains.

It is unknown why did Beyonce use this sign or what is the message but many in Georgia talk about its link with the August 2008 war.

Some of those commenting on the post were happy, surprised or even insulted.

Lala: I really doubt there is a message behind it. She probably has no idea what it is and just liked the “exotic” alphabet.

@lala I totally Agree with u, And i Think that this is very disrespect of our nation….what the hell is doing georgian road sign in desert…i dont get it, no, useless, pointless..

One Facebook user had one take.

she may have no idea what this is all from. My guess it is some designer & choreographer that put this together…. follow the money to that. Just my speculation.

Some did “follow the money” and suggested that the Georgian government paid for the “product placement,” but others also considered that it could have been because of the Georgian alphabet used on the sign as a comment on Cyxymu's post said:

мне кажется, что для всего остального мира очень необычно и красиво выглядит грузинское письмо =)

I think that to the rest of the world Georgian writing seems very unusual and beautiful =)

Some suggested that maybe Georgian graphics designers were involved in the making of the video, or at least in its post-production, and decided to include it. However, others speculated that Beyoncé's new video was either related to, inspired or from the soundtrack of Renny Harlin's new film about the 2008 war, “5 Days of August” as one Facebook user somewhat sarcastically wrote.

1. სიმღერა იმ ფილმის საუნდტრეკია

‎2. ვიდეო იმავე პავილიონშია გადაღებული, რომელშიც ფილმი, თანაც რომელიღაც შუალედში, ფილმის ტიპები ლანჩზე როცა გავიდნენ

1. The song is from the soundtrack of the movie

2. The video is shot in the same set, as the movie was shot, while the movie crew went out for lunch

Being unable to find a real explanation, the online community started to joke about the political message of the road sign and started referring to Beyoncé as “Mother of Georgia” as the picture below shows:

Beyonce - Mother of Georgia

Beyonce's couture outfit replaced with the Statue of Mother of Georgia also is a symbol of patriotic mothers, raising warrior kids to defend their country from the enemies

A Facebook group, now unavailable, to this effect was even set up while one user perhaps jokingly thanked the singer for her contribution to the development of their country.

Georgia Loves Beyonce

Beyoncé helps us in uniting Georgia.

March 19 2011

Georgia: Journalists dismissed because of Facebook hate speech

Written by Mirian Jugheli

On 18 March 2011, the Georgian Public Broadcaster dismissed two of its journalists, Giorgi Tukhareli and Giorgi Gabrichidze, because of offensive comments they made on Facebook against homosexuals as well as the Vatican and the Catholic Church. The journalists wrote the remarks on the wall of a page, I don't love my Patriarch, but even if the comments later disappeared, someone managed to take a screenshot to post on the Internet.

According to reports, Gabrichidze and Tukhareli resigned themselves, and Vakho Sanaia, the anchor of a program they worked on, personally met them. He said that it would be impossible for him to work with them again in the future. “Their comments are incompatible with our values and work style,” Vakho Sanaia told Media.ge. “The journalists quit themselves, and that's what I wished.” Sanaia also said that he would not have worked with them from the beginning had he known that they were homophobes.

“I'm shocked. I could not believe until I saw it with my own eyes. Both Gabrichidze and Tukhareli were some of the best journalists and they have proven that many times by risking their lives to cover recent events in Egypt. Despite all this, program has its image, which has been jeopardized. We condemn this kind of action from journalists even if they write it on their Facebook wall,” Rusudan Vashakidze, the Producer of the program, told onlinenews.ge.

According to Netgazeti.ge, Vashakidze talked to Gabrichidze over the phone and later denied claims that his profile had been hacked, while those responsible for the program they worked on said that Facebook is a public space and journalists had to understand that everything they wrote would negatively affect them. Gabrichidze and Tukhareli violated the Georgian Public Broadcaster's code of ethics and therefore had to quit.

Meanwhile, with 516,300 Facebook users in the country, the largest penetration for the social networking site in the region, many agree with Vashakidze, saying that Facebook is indeed a public space and what Gabrichidze and Tukhareli did was wrong. Vakho Sanaia's Reportage is a weekly overview of events and subjects in and outside of Georgia. Gabrichidze joined the program a year ago, and Tukhareli was hired in September.

February 03 2011

Georgia: Blogger action in support of evicted IDPs

Written by Mirian Jugheli

Four months ago, on 11 October 2010, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who fled the wars over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia began to protest government's indifference towards them. Tented in the yard of the Ministry of IDPs from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia, several IDPs have been demanding that the government halt evictions which have seen over 80 families so far removed from temporary accommodation and to provide them with proper housing.

However, not a single official has come to talk to them about these issues and their concerns that alternative accommodation offered to them by the government is located in villages isolated from regional centers and which lack proper schools and hospitals. Online publications such as EurasiaNet have already reported about conditions in such locations, noting that accommodation often lacks windows and basic amenities such as water, electricity and gas.

As a result, bloggers Besik Liparteliani and David Chikhladze have created a Facebook group called One night in a tent with IDPs, attracting 387 people in one week.

Every night approximately 3-5 bloggers stay in a tent with IDPs. They bring food, clothing and medicines with them, writing their impressions and posting them online when they return home.

Georgian bloggers at an IDP tent in Tbilisi, Georgia. From http://gabo.ge/archives/1294

So far, solidarity from the bloggers has only received exposure from the online media with Netgazeti [GE] regularly reposting their impressions, Liberali [GE] featuring it, and major online TV outlet itv.ge reporting in video [GE].

One of the bloggers involved in the action, Lilac.ge [GE] writes:

უკვე 4 თვეა ასე, ღია ცის ქვეშ ცხოვრობენ და არც იციან, ამას ბოლო როდის მოეღება. ხანდახან ძალიან შიათ, ამ დროს კი ”ლტოლვილთა და განსახლების სამინისტროს” თანამშრომლები საკვები პროდუქტებით დატვირთულები მშვიდად და გულგრილად უვლიან გვერდს.

შეშა არ ყოფნით, კარვებში წვიმა ჩასდით, მათი მინისტრი კი შორიდან უთვლის: ”არაუშავს, არც ისე ცივი ზამთარიაო”.

It has been four months like this. They live roofless and don't know when this will end. Sometimes they are very hungry while ministry employees pass by with food in their hands. They don't have enough wood (to burn to warm themselves) and rain leaks into their tents while the Minister tells them “it's okay, it's not that cold a winter.”

Indeed, Gabo.ge [GE] writes about the case of one woman who killed herself in desperation.

4 თვის განმავლობაში ამ საპროტესტო აქციის შესახებ მწირი ინფორმაცია ვრცელდებოდა. ეს ფაქტი მედიასაშუალებების ყურადღების მიღმა დარჩა. მიუხედავად იმისა რომ მოხდა ერთი უბედური შემთხვევაც. სამინისტროს მხრიდან გულგრილი დამოკიდებულების გამო ერთმა ქალბატონმა თავი ლტოლვილთა და განსახლების სამინისტროს ეზოში დაიწვა და 25 დღის შემდეგ გარდაიცვალა.

For four months little information has been spread about this protest. The media doesn't pay attention to it, despite the fact that there has been one fatality. Because of indifference from officials one woman burned herself in the yard of ministry and died 25 days later.

Blogger Tiko Gabunia [GE] also writes about the conditions of IDPs.

არის დევნილი, რომელსაც ორივე ფეხი ომში აქვს დაკარგული, ერთ ბატონს ცალ ფეხში ძვლის მაგივრად რკინა აქვს(დანარჩენები ამბობენ, რომ ღამე ეყინება, პარკებს იხვევს და ჩანთაში დებს). კარგ მდგომარეობაში ნამდვილად არც ერთი მათგანი არ არის, მაგრამ ზოგის მდგომარეობა გაუსაძლისია.
ღამით გავიგეთ, რომ ყველა კარავში წყალი ჩადის. ასევე, არ აქვთ საკვები, საჭიროებენ ჰიგიენურ ნივთებს, შეშას (შეძლებისდაგვარად იქნებ დავეხმაროთ).

There's an IDP who is disabled. He lost both legs in a war and another man has metal instead of bone in his leg (others say he wraps it in plastic bags and puts it in a handbag not to get it frozen at night). None of them are in a good condition, but some are worse [than others]. We found out at night that all the tents leak, they don't have food, need items for personal care and hygiene, and wood (let's help them with whatever we can).

Vakhushti Menabde [GE] writes about the desperation and hopelessness in the IDP camp.

უკვე რამდენიმე საათია აქ ვართ და პირველივე, რაც შევნიშნე სრული უიმედობაა. დევნილებს არ სჯერათ რომ მათი ბედი ვინმეს ანაღვლებს. ყოველდღე უყურებენ სამინისტროს თანამშრომლების ნაწილის (თავად ასე ამბობენ) ცინიკურ დამოკიდებულებას, გული წყდებათ, რომ ნაციონალური მედია არ აშუქებს მათ პრობლემას. მათ  შესახებ რამდენიმე კვირის წინ გახდა ცნობილი, არადა უკვე მეოთხე თვეა აქ არიან. აღარც უფლებადამცველი ორგანიზაციების სჯერათ, არც საერთაშორისოების.

It's been several hours since we've arrived and the first thing I've noticed is the hopelessness. IDPs don't believe that anybody cares about them. Everyday they see the cynical attitude displayed by the ministry employees (they say so) and they feel bad that the national media does not come to see them. We found out about them a couple of weeks ago, but they have been here for four months already. They don't believe in human rights and international organizations either.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that in the fall of 2008 at a donor conference in Brussels $4.5 billion was raised, of which €74.5 million ($102.7 million) was earmarked for housing displaced persons. The European Commission also allocated €51 million ($70.3 million) in the summer of 2009 for the permanent housing of IDPs. (source). Amnesty International has also issued a statement urging the Georgian government to comply with international standards on eviction.

Global Voices will continue to cover the protest and updates will be posted shortly.

January 07 2011

Georgia: Policeman fired after being identified on Facebook

By Mirian Jugheli

More than dozen veterans of Georgia's wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia began a hunger strike on December 27 demanding that the government address their social problems and restore their medical discounts. Camping out in front of a monument to fallen soldiers on Tbilisi's Heroes Square, the ex-soldiers said that they would anyway leave on 6 January, the date of the Georgian Orthodox Christmas Eve.

Tamada Tales, a EurasiaNet blog, outlined their demands.

Demanding state benefits and a change in the government's allegedly “undignified” attitude toward them, a handful of veterans of the 1990s separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia had camped out for over a week at a war memorial to fallen soldiers at downtown Tbilisi’s Heroes Square. Their state perks are essentially limited to a monthly utilities allowance that amounts to about $12 and a free public transportation pass.

However, on 3 January, dozens of police officers broke up the strike just hours after protesters allege the presidential escort passed them by. Without proper warning, some veterans were arrested and excessive force was used. In particular, an employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) punched Eka Matiashvili, an opposition party activist who was there to lend her support to the protesters.

Although Georgian TV had aired footage of a protest from Moscow the same day, there was little to no coverage of the Tbilisi incident. And with no official acknowledgement from the government, parliament members said that they didn't even know it had occurred. Instead, images were spread immediately online with videos were uploaded to Youtube and shared on Facebook. Many were outraged.

The U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, John Bass, condemned the use of excessive force by police, and Facebook user Arachveulebrivi Gamofena (Unusual Exhibition) posted screenshots from the video. The images were re-shared by many who wanted to identify the policemen responsible for the violent acts during the dispersal.

After sharing on Facebook, the person responsible for hitting Matiashvili was identified as 26-year-old Otar Gvenetadze. It was only then that Interior Ministry  released an official statement [GE] regarding the break up. According to MIA's website, Gvenetadze was then relieved of his duties for violating the police's own ethical code.

However, Gvenetadze was not the only one who was responsible for attacking protesters, but no others were mentioned in the official statement. Through a Facebook page, Amoicani Mishas JALATEBI !!! [GE] (Identify Misha's Executioners), users are now trying to identify them.

The topic, along with a poll, was opened on forum.ge [GE], the largest in Georgia, where one user posted excerpts from Georgian Constitution illustrating which articles had been violated by the police. Out of 229 votes, 192 supported one opinion expressed and demanded that the MIA investigate the case.

ყოველივე ზემოაღნიშნულიდან გამომდინარე, მოვითხოვ დაიწყოს სისხლისამართლებრივი დევნა პოლიციის იმ თანამშრომლების მიმართ, ვინც მონაწილეობდა ამ დანაშაულში [..] და დაისაჯოს უკლებლივ ყველა, კონსტიტუციით აღიარებული ნორმების ფეხქვეშ გათელვის გამო, [..] ან გამოდით და თქვით, რომ თქვენი ხელდასმით მოხდა ეს ყველაფერი და ბიჭებს საშობაო პრემიები ჩამოურიგეთ.

After mentioning everything above, I demand, under criminal law, to prosecute everybody who participated in this crime [the break up], and I want you to punish each and last one of the policeman who violated their constitutional rights, or come out and tell us that you ordered the break up and the boys received Christmas bonuses.

The InterPressNews online news agency also created a poll and, out of 1495 people, 84.3% supported the view that police should not have broken up the demonstration. Other polls also indicated that many people believed Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili should apologize to the veterans.

Meanwhile, with 457,680 Facebook users in the country, and the largest penetration for the social networking site in the region, many considered that the campaign to identify those responsible for the violence was a significant development and step forward for online media.

Reposted bykellerabteil kellerabteil

October 24 2010

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