Georgia 2018: Top 10 events of the year JAMnews, Tbilisi

Numerous protests, important decisions, radical political stand-off and severe human tragedies.

What do you remember, and how will 2018 go down in history?

Ten main events that left a special mark on the life of Georgia.


The protest of ZazaSaralidze and MalkhazMachalikaşvili

What happened: For almost a year now, the two men have organised protests and demonstrations with thousands of people in downtown Tbilisi, demanding the resignation of officials and living in tents in front of the parliament building. MalkhazMachalikashvili from Pankisi and ZazaSaralidze from Tbilisi are united by a common grief: a year ago their young sons were killed, but the murderers have not yet been punished.

Why this is important: The murders of 16-year-old DatunaSaralidze and 19-year-old TemirlanMachalikashvili are the most sensational cases that have occurred during the reign of the Georgian Dream party. Many experts believe that the mistakes made in the investigation of these cases may be very consequential for the authorities. The fathers who have lost children are not going to retreat until the murderers are punished. During this year, they were able to enlist the support and solidarity of the society and became symbols of the struggle against the system in Georgia.

The reasons behind the deaths of the sons of ZazaSaralidze and Malkhaz Machalikashvili vary greatly:

Photo: David Pipia / JAMnews

The story of Datuna Saralide

Zaza Saralidze’s 16-year-old son, Datuna, was killed by his peers on Khorava Street in central Tbilisi on 1 December 2017. Despite the fact that there were dozens of witnesses to the murder, no one has yet been punished for killing the teenager.

ZazaSaralidze said that a relative of the senior prosecutor’s office was involved in the murder of his son, so the investigators did everything to hush up the case. Saralidze's words confirm many suspicious details of the case.

Photo: Zaza Saralidze in front of the parliament building. David Pipia / JAMnews

The story of Tamerlan Machalikashvili

The 19-year-old son of MalkhazMachalikashvili, Temirlan, died on 10 January 2018, after special forces wounded him in the head during a special operation conducted on 26 December in Pankisi Gorge.

Special forces broke into the Machalikashvili family’s home at night when everyone was asleep. TemirlanMachalikashvili was shot in his own bedroom so that he did not even have time to get out of bed.

According to law enforcement officers, he had contact with terrorists and was shot at when he tried to activate a hand grenade.

The presence of a grenade, as well as the connection with terrorists, is categorically denied by the family. Law enforcement officers have also received a lot of questions from human rights advocates and the country’s Ombudsman. In their opinion, the authorities have not yet provided evidence of the connection of TemirlanMachalikashvili to terrorists.

Photo: MalkhazMachalikashvili at the protest. LevanMikadze / JAMnews

Thousands come out in support of ZazaSaralidze and MalkhazMachalikashvili. Photo: LevanMikadze / JAMnews

The Archil Tatunashvili case

What happened: On 22 February 2018, representatives of the de facto authorities of South Ossetia detained a citizen of Georgia, 35-year-old ArchilTatunashvili, who died the next day in Tskhinvali prison under unclear circumstances.

According to the Ossetian side, Tatunashvilifell down the stairs in the Tskhinvali detention centre and died of heart failure. Tbilisi, however, says he was a victim of torture and violence.

Archil Tatunashvili lived in Kanchavetivillage in theAkhalgori region, controlled by the Ossetian and Russian sides, and supplied Akhalgori stores with products from Tbilisi.

The body of Tatunashvili was not returned by the Ossetian side for almost a month. An autopsy found numerous injuries on the body, and his heart, brain and other internal organs had been removed from the body.

Why this is important: This is not the first case of the abduction or detention of Georgian citizens by the Ossetian or Russian military in the conflict zone. Detentions occur regularly. The case of Tatunashvili once again demonstrated how fragile and dangerous life is for people living in the conflict zone and how the rights of local residents are not protected.

Photo: Mzia Saganelidze / Radio Liberty


#Metoo campaign in Georgia

What happened: At least 10 women accused the head of the NGO Civil Development Agency and well-known human rights activist ZviadDevdariani of sexual harassment.

Women accused Devdariani of trading sex in exchange for employment, harassment at work, unwanted messages on social networks with offers of a sexual nature and unwanted physical contact. ZviadDevdariani himself denies all charges.

Why it matters: In Georgia, where society is very patriarchal, women almost never speak out against sexual violence, as the reaction they face from society is either too weak or too critical of them. There are frequent cases when the public blames the victim for what happened, not the oppressor. In addition to its opponents, the Georgian counterpart of the #metoo campaign has many supporters who consider this story to be a new page in the struggle for women's rights in the country.

Photo: Yana Korbezashvili / JAMnews


Tkibuli – a cemetery of workers

At dawn on 5 April, six workers died due to an accident at the Tkibuli mine. On 2 June, two more miners died in Tkibuli,and on 16 July, four more. In 2018, as a result of accidents in mines, 16 people died in total.

Due to outdated and inappropriate safety standards, the Tkibul mines are highly dangerous.

Despite this, for 1,500 people and their families, the money earned from working in the mines is the only source of income. The average salary of miners miners today is about 800 lari, although there are some whose salary is only 350 lari.

Why this is important: Each new case reminds us of how workers are not protected in Georgia and how the situation does not change from year to year.

Photo: Eight-year-old Liza next to the body of her grandfather, 55-year-old miner Archil Gamezardashvili. Archil died in the accident at the Mindeli mine in Tkibuli. 20 July 2018. Tkibuli. David Mdzinarishvili / REUTERS

Tkibuli after one of the Mindeli mine accidents. July 2018. Photo: David Mdzinarishvili / REUTERS


Smoking prohibited in public places

What happened: Since 1 May smoking has been banned in public places. Smoky Tbilisi cafes and restaurants are a thing of the past. Now, in order to smoke, everyone has to go out into the street.

Why this is important: According to the National Centre for Disease Control and Public Health, 33 per cent of the population of Georgia are smokers and every year 31 thousand people die from harm to their health caused by smoking.

Photo: JAMnews


Raids on nightclubs and the rave revolution

What happened: on 12 May at one o'clock in the morning, the police conducted an anti-drug raid in the Basiani club in Tbilisi as well as at several other clubs. During the special operation, the police used force and detained more than 60 people who came to dance in the clubs (they released everyone later).

Spontaneous rallies began in Tbilisi that night. Young people gathered in front of parliament. The main demands were the resignation of Interior Minister Georgi Gakharia, as well as the liberalization of tough drug policies. Electronic music played and participants in the action danced outside as one would in a nightclub.

Ultranationalists joined the scene, and there were standoffs between protesters and the newcomers. The young people who gathered at the parliament building were called drug addicts and called on the authorities to disperse the aggressive crowds.

The protest stopped after the Minister of Internal Affairs came out to the protesters, apologized for the special operation, and in order to avoid confrontation with the ultranationalists, asked the protesters to disperse.

Why this is important: For the protesters, the protest did not result in anything special, except for the coverage of the Tbilisi rave revolution in many Western media sources. Despite the promise of the Minister of the Interior, no important steps were taken towards drug-liberalization.

Photo: David Mdzinarishvili / REUTERS


The decision of the constitutional court to legalize marijuana use

What happened: On 30 July 2018, the Constitutional Court of Georgia ruled that marijuana use is legal.

The verdict was handed down on the basis of a suit filed by the Girchi political party.

The court decision was soon followed by a new law initiated by the Ministry of the Interior which determines the regulation and rules for the consumption of marijuana.

Why this is important: Georgia has a very strict drug policy, which public organisations and activists have been demanding to change for years. According to a 2015 Council of Europe report, on average, every third inmate in Georgia is serving a sentence for a drug-related crime.

Photo: Protest in front of parliament against tough drug policies. Levan Mikadze / JAMnews


Georgia - Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair

What happened: Georgia was the guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair.The Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the most important forums for people involved in the book industry. It takes place every year in October and traditionally, a country is represented as a special guest and is at the centre of attention. It was Georgia’s turn in 2018.

Why this is important: For a small country such as Georgia, it was a great chance to better acquaint the world with its literature and culture. Receiving the status of guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair is not easy. Georgia began work on this back in 2010.

Photo: Ministry of Culture of Georgia


Brutal killings and rising crime

Ryan and Lora Smith, and their son

What happened: On 6 July the 112 emergency line received a message about the disappearance of an American family living in Georgia. The next day, the bodies of all three family members — Ryan and Laura Smith, and their 4-year-old child, were found in Dusheti in the Hada Gorge. The suspected murderer was 19-year-old shepherd Malkhaz Kobauri, who, according to a preliminary version of events, committed the murder under the motive of sexual violence against Laura Smith.

Nana Beriashvili with her parents

On 25 October, 8-year-old Nana Beriashvili disappeared in Gori. The girl had set off to school for a dance lesson, but did not appear. At midnight, the child’s body was found in the courtyard of the Gori District Court, on the banks of the Liakhvi River.The child’s feet were tied together with wire, and a plastic bag was pulled over her head. Iago Nebieridze, 34, who was previously convicted of murder, was repairing a house in Gori next to the girl’s home. Before the murder, he sexually abused of a girl.

These two stories shook the whole of Georgia.

Why this is important: In 2018, the criminal situation in Georgia deteriorated and official statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs confirm this. According to the statistics, in the first 10 months of 2018 the number of recorded crimes increased by 60%. A total of 49,057 crimes were registered, while in the same period of 2017 this figure was 30,659. According to statistics, in parallel with the increase in crime, the solve rate decreased: in 2017 the Ministry of Internal Affairs investigated 53.56% of registered crimes, in 2018 this figure decreased to 35.29%.


Georgia elected a new president

What happened: Georgia elected its fifth president in the presidential run-off election on 28 November and nominated 66-year-old Salome Zurabishvili as president.

In the second round of elections, the votes were distributed as follows: pro-government candidate and favorite of Bidzina Ivanishvili, Salome Zurabishvili, earned 59.52% of the vote; United opposition candidate and the favorite of Mikhail Saakashvili, Grigol Vashadze, won 40.48% of the vote.

This is the first time that Georgia was unable to elect a president in the first round. The opposition does not recognize the results of the election. International observers stated that the elections were competitive, but not fair.

According to the new constitution, the president of Georgia was elected for the first time to the post for a period of six years (previously the president was elected for five years). But the new president will have much less rights and finances than her predecessor. At the same time, according to the amendments to the Constitution, this is the last president to be elected by the people. After that, the president of Georgia will be elected by an electoral college.

Why this is important: Winning the presidential elections would not have meant a change of power. Whether the government will change or not will be decided only at the parliamentary elections, which will be held in Georgia in 2020. The presidential elections were a dress rehearsal before the parliamentary elections, experts say.

Photo: David Mdzinarishvili / REUTERS

This is the fourth President of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili. He is the first of the presidents of Georgia who voluntarily refused a second term.
The inauguration of the fifth Georgian President, Salome Zurabishvili, in Telavi. Photo: Irakli Gedenidze / REUTERS
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