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Serious flooding in Tbilisi, with information still coming in. Check civil.ge, agenda.ge, and Democracy and Freedom Watch for updates. I’m home, safe and dry. I’ll post links to recovery efforts once they are available.

The most recent updates put the death toll at 19, with 3 still missing. The Tbilisi zoo was mostly destroyed and 66 animals were killed and many temporarily escaped, with one tiger still missing. Sadly, one white tiger killed a man while on the loose. The Tamaz Elizbarashvili Dog Shelter was also destroyed, with very few dogs surviving. Current estimates of the damage stand at 100 million GEL.

The community support in donations and volunteers has been overwhelming, but with this level of devastation, donations from other countries will be necessary. Below I have posted links to fundraising efforts by established, reputable organizations, as well as the information to volunteer or provide in-kind donations in Tbilisi. Please help as you are able.

Georgian Red Cross Fundraising Page

Fundraiser for the Tbilisi Zoo

IndieGogo Fundraiser for Tamaz Elizbarashvili Dog Shelter

Women’s Fund in Georgia Fundraising page (read their page for their plans for the money)

Fundraiser to Re-Build the School of Tomorrow

Fundraising Page on local crowdfunding platform wehelp.ge

The site itself is in English (click EN at the top left if you see the Georgian version) but the card information and bank confirmation is in Georgian. The following photos (courtesy of Remi Boissonnas) show how to complete the donation process.
STEP 1:
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STEP 2:

11535796_10100105429215822_3062208652494417545_n

STEP 3:

11391417_10100105429285682_1598125554616756916_n

Donation information from the Georgian Embassy in Washington

Dear friends,
You are probably aware of the extreme flooding and its consequences in Tbilisi, Georgia, that happened on June 13, 2015. The damage is still to be calculated, however some information is already known, 12 casualties, many missing, destroyed houses and destroyed Tbilisi Zoo.
If you are willing to assist those in need, below are the details of the bank accounts, where you can send the money.
We are grateful for your contributions and support!

Transfer of – USD, EUR, GBP:
JSC LIBERTY BANK
SWIFT: LBRTGE22
GE27LB0010045017001717

Transfer of USD; EUR
JSC TBC BANK
SWIFT: TBCBGE22
GE34 TB11 0000 0361 8088 08 – EUR
GE67 TB11 0000 0036 0820 20 – USD
NAME OF BENEFICIARY: ‘CHARITY ASSOCIATION TBC’ UNION

Donations to the State Budget: (info from agenda.ge)

People who wish to donate money to help Georgia recover from the disaster can transfer money to following accounts:

Intermediary:

FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF NEW YORK, USA (USD)

SWIFT CODE: FRNYUS33

Account number: 021087992 GEORG

Beneficiary’s bank:

NATIONAL BANK OF GEORGIA, TBILISI

SWIFT CODE: BNLNGE22

Beneficiary: MINISTRY OF FINANCE OF GEORGIA

IBAN: GE65NB0331100001150207

State Budget

Intermediary: DEUTSCHE BUNDESBANK, ZENTRALE FRANKFURT AM MAIN, DE (EUR)

SWIFT CODE: MARKDEFF

Account number: 5040040060

Beneficiary’s bank: NATIONAL BANK OF GEORGIA, TBILISI

SWIFT CODE: BNLNGE22

Beneficiary: MINISTRY OF FINANCE OF GEORGIA

IBAN: GE65NB0331100001150207

Scholarship in Memory of ISET Students Killed in the Flood (info from ISET)

By internal (Georgian) wire transfer:
Partnership for Economics Education and Research
ProCredit Bank, Central Branch
Account Number: GE57PC0233600100011081
SWIFT Code: MIBGGE22
By international wire transfer:
Partnership for Economics Education and Research (PEER)
Citibank NA
SWIFT code: CITIUS33
ABA#:0210-000-89
Further credit: Citibank FSB, Washington, DC, ABA #254070116
Account #:  9250388020
Account Holder: Partnership for Economics Education and Research (PEER)
By US domestic wire transfer:
Citibank FSB
Washington, DC
ABA#: 254070116
Account #: 9250388020
Account Holder: Partnership for Economics Education and Research (PEER)

Official Volunteer and Collection Point Information

Volunteers are needed at the spots pinned in red–the information shows (in Georgian) what time to report and how many volunteers are needed, and blue and green show what donations are needed and where they can be dropped off. So far only in Georgian, but Google translate is giving a good jist. Watch the page linked to above to see when and where hands and supplies are needed, both now and in the coming days. Volunteers are no longer allowed to help with the physical clean-up of debris, but they are still needed for tasks like sorting and packaging donated food.

Because of tetanus concerns, volunteers are being given free vaccinations. Clinics offering this service are pinned on the map in aqua. For additional info, call the Ministry of Health hotline: 1505

Tomorrow–Sunday, October 27th–is election day here in Georgia.  This time, Georgia is electing a new President.  The primary candidates are Georgian Dream’s Giorgi Margvelashvili, UNM’s David Bakradze, and perennial political fixture Nino Burjanadze.  Margvelashvili is the favorite in the polls by quite a wide margin, but in order to win outright he will have to receive an absolute majority in tomorrow’s voting.  If that does not happen, a second round will occur between the top-two vote-getters, but Margvelashvili has announced that he will step down if a second round occurs, leaving some uncertainty.  (I would not have advised him to make such a statement, but for some odd reason, no one asked me).  So far, the election has primarily manifested itself with nothing more serious than bad traffic when a politician (or their musical supporter) makes an appearance.  For more detail on the elections and some opinions (I’ve tried to leave mine out of this), see these recent articles (and feel free to post others in the comments):

Bitter Feud Dominates Georgia Election (BBC 10/25/2013)
Saakashvili Era Ends as Georgia Heads for Presidential Poll (Financial Times 10/25/2013)
Loss of Power in Georgia can Bring Trial, or Worse (NYTimes 10/25/2013)
Georgia: Presidential Vote to Usher in New Political Era (EurasiaNet 10/25/2013)
Why threaten to drop out of a presidential election you are likely to win? (Washington Post 10/23/2013)
Georgia’s billionaire PM wants to give up office, but will he relinquish power?  (The Guardian 10/19/2013)
Georgia’s Surprising New Normal (Foreign Policy 10/18/2013)
Margvelashvili’s Free Textbooks (feradi.info 10/4/2013)

Happy Reading!

Many political analyses of Georgia conclude that what Georgia really needs in order to become a consolidated democracy is a boring election.  And so I wish you all a boring Sunday.  (I’m planning for a day of cooking and laundry, and hope that’s the all of it).

I’d been having a fantastic week this week.  On Thursday my team and I won a sporting competition at work–not only did I get the best souvenir ever (a medal in Georgian) but I made new friends with my teammates, had the incentive to exercise with a purpose, and made a good impression with our management.  A friend was in town from the village that evening, and he said he’d never seen me so happy.  Friday was also off to a great start–my first lesson went really well.  My students wanted to watch the news because the anti-homophobia (IDAHO) rally was quite important, so I agreed to let them watch if they would translate for me.  This spurred the kind of conversation that makes me love teaching–although there were differences of opinion, the discussion was respectful, and there was no hate.  Disagreements came from a place of mutual respect, and though no one changed their opinion, the phrase “You have a good point” came up–people were clearly thinking.  At the end of my class, I got some good news about my future working there, and as a little bonus for my great morning, all my favorite foods were in the cafeteria at lunch.  I was ecstatic when I left.

From there, things went belly-up.  As I was on the marshrutka to Job 2, I received a text message from S saying that the rally was not going well, and the protestors had been chased by an angry mob.  When I arrived there, my co-workers filled me in on the news updates and said how ashamed they were of their country, but I didn’t really realize just how wrong the situation had gone until after my lesson when my co-workers told me it wasn’t safe to take my usual route home.  “Not safe” is a phrase I had never heard before in Georgia, and I’d never felt unsafe before.

Advertisement for the IDAHO Rally from Identoba

That afternoon/evening I chatted with friends and read the news articles to find out what had happened.  (I recommend this article from EurasiaNet, and Mark Mullen’s spot-on reaction).  Note, though, that my friends who were near the action (who I generally trust and believe are reasonably good at counting) say that their impression was that the numbers of anti-homophobia demonstrators was closer to 200, not the 50 that most news stories attribute.  The most shocking thing to me, and I believe to most people, was the behavior of the priests: using vulgar language and advocating killing the LGBT supporters.  To me this is absolutely horrifying, and absolutely non-Christian.  Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love, and priests should be the ones at the forefront of that, not the ones committing such brutal violence.  I’m glad to say that MP Tina Khidasheli shares this point of view, and has been brave enough to say so publicly.  Good for her, and shame on the Georgian Orthodox Church.

I was quite upset and spent the evening in a bit of a funk–decompressing with friends, and listening to 60s and 70s protest music on YouTube.  (Someone mentioned that this is Georgia’s version of the US in the 60s, and Neil Young’s “Southern Man” was striking a chord with me).

Fortunately, on a personal level at least, my day ended happily.  A former student invited me to join him and his friends for khinkali–my reflex was to refuse and stay at home watching YouTube and chatting with my friends.  But I hadn’t seen this student in a long time, and I realized that it would be good for me to be reminded that although there was a lot of hate on Rustaveli, it is not representative of the majority of Georgians.  Hopefully the good, kind Georgians will prevail.

So that, ultimately, Friday’s events can have a happy ending for others, I’m linking here to two organizations fighting the good fight here in Tbilisi who I think could use some support.

  • Identoba, the organizers of the peaceful demonstration. (English website temporarily down)
  • Women’s Fund in Georgia, another NGO working to fight sexism and homophobia

It also helps to remember, that despite the hate, there were tens (or hundreds) of people who were brave enough to stand up for what is right. Though the struggle is different in America, Georgia’s LGBT community isn’t alone in their fight against ignorance and fear.  Love is love is love is love.

May is a month of holidays in Georgia–we started of the month with Orthodox Easter, went back to work for two days, then had a day off for Victory DayIndependence Day is coming soon, and there are some important Saints’ Days as well, which I have not yet determined if I have the day off for yet or not.  Holidays in Georgia are always interesting–some involve big celebrations, and some come as a total surprise (Oh, I have the day off work tomorrow? That’s nice!).  The BBC posted an interesting video piece about Georgian Easter traditions (though oddly no one speaks Georgian in the whole thing–it’s all English or Russian).  Last Easter I stayed in my town and experienced the festivities.  This year I did something entirely different, which I’ll post about as soon as I get my act together after all these holidays.

Unlike Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on SNL, I honestly can see Russia from my house, as it turns out.  It’s been amazingly clear the last few days (moving my roommate S to wax poetic).  Sunday afternoon we realized that off in the distance, past the edge of Tbilisi, behind Jvari and Mtskheta, far far off on the horizon, we could see snow-covered peaks, and thought it must be the Greater Caucasus themselves.  Lo and behold, it was!  The past few days have offered stunning glimpses of Mt. Kazbegi and the other Caucasus peaks roughly 150 kilometers to the North.

View from my apartment, Metekhi Church and Presidential Palace in foreground, Greater Caucasus in background

View from my apartment: Metekhi Church (left) and Presidential Palace (right, behind roof) Greater Caucasus in background

 

Focus on the Greater Caucasus, from our apartment window

Focus on the Greater Caucasus, from our apartment window

 

(Photos taken and post updated May 21, 2013)

Friday morning my commute went horribly awry.  I left the house at the usual time, and went down to the street to wait for my marshrutka.  There were plenty of marshrutkas running, but mine was nowhere to be seen.  After 30 minutes (far longer than I should have waited), I realized that waiting for my normal marshrutka was futile, so I ran up the hill across the river to try and catch the other marshrutka which comes more frequently (but which I usually don’t take because it requires starting my morning with a steep uphill trudge).  After another 10 minutes without seeing that marshrutka (at which time there were only 35 minutes left to make my usually 45 minute commute), I hailed a cab and parted with a substantial amount of lari to make it to work on the far end of Tbilisi.  As we were approaching my office, we drove along Kerchi Street in Gldani and saw quite a kerfuffle–crowds of people milling around, and the police holding them back to keep the road passable.  I knew something was up.

Of course, as soon as I got to work, I asked my boss what in the world was going on.  She told me that the marshrutka drivers were on strike–starting in Gldani, where we work.  (This is why many marshrutkas passed me, but not mine–the Gldani routes stopped first. so central routes, such as most of the ones near my house, were still running).  The Gldani marshrutka routes were all shut down, and the drivers were picketing at the bus station on Kerchi Street.  By the time I left work, there were no more yellow city marshrutkas running at all.  The strike has continued through today (Tuesday, January 29).  The buses and metro have been more crowded, and people with private cars have been giving their friends and co-workers rides.  I’ve also seen some “scab” marshrutkas.  Minibuses with cardboard signs with the route number on them running that route…I don’t know what they’re charging, since I haven’t taken (and won’t take) one of those.

The drivers seem to be striking to achieve three main goals:

  • 1) higher take-home pay
  • 2) lower licensing fees and repairs (1 & 2 are clearly related)

As I understand it, the marshrutka drivers pay a daily fee to the Tbilisi Marshrutka Company in order for the rights to run a certain route, drive a yellow marshrutka equipped to accept MetroMoney, etc, and in turn receive some money (I’ve heard conflicting reports for how their pay is determined–one source said they receive 10 GEL a day flat rate plus a percentage of their fares, others suggest their only income is their fares).  They claim that with the current system, they barely make enough money to pay their fees.

  • 3) lower fares for riders

Though to me this seems illogical given goals 1 and 2, the drivers claim that lower fares will encourage more riders to take the marshrutkas and increase their profits.  However, as a frequent marshrutka rider I must say that I don’t see how ridership can increase…as it is, the marshrutkas are always crowded to the point of discomfort, and I’ve never seen a truly empty marshrutka except for at the very beginning or very end of a route.

At least regarding me, the strike has backfired as a way of making people realize how much they rely on the marshrutkas.  Since I’ve had to take the metro the past few days I’ve learned that taking the marshrutka doesn’t actually save me any time (despite having to walk both to get to the metro and to get from the metro to my office, whereas on the marshrutka I only need to walk one of those legs), costs me more money, and is far less comfortable. Oops.

Sources:
Democracy and Freedom Watch: A Third of Minibus Drivers in Tbilisi on Strike
Democracy and Freedom Watch: Tbilisi Minibus Strike Continues
Georgia News: Mini Bus Drivers Not Going to Stop Strike Till Monday
Georgia News: Tbilisi City Hall Increases Number of Public Transport while Mini Bus Drivers are Still on Strike

+Facebook, word of mouth, and gossip

UPDATE FEBRUARY 6, 2013:  Check out this great infographic from JumpStart Georgia that explains the economics and conditions of marshrutka drivers–it’s supposed to be updated as they get more information.

I’ve always loved the first snowfall of the year!  Now that I’m an adult I can’t love snow as much as I used to–I’m now bothered by concerns about heating and road safety that tarnish the joy of watching snowflakes paint the city white.  But the city is beautiful with the dusting of snow!

Out my window in the snow.

Out my window in the snow. (I might have helped with some of those larger snowflakes)

but this Foreign Policy article is fantastic.  There’s a Georgian politics tie-in, I promise.

The Independent has just posted a fantastic article about Georgian pop music and it’s political themes.  The list features some old favorites of mine (like Misha Magaria) and introduced me to some new songs as well.  It inspired me to spend a good part of yesterday afternoon watching Georgian music videos on YouTube.  The ones sponsored in part by the government (such as Chemo Tbilis Kalako, Me Mikvars Radja , and the Ministry of Internal Affairs videos) are particularly catchy and well-produced.  Unfortunately, most of these tracks are not available for legal download in the US–a quick search only found Bera’s album and “We’re not Gonna Put In” for sale–two of my least favorite tracks.  Enjoy via YouTube for now!

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