Saturday, September 19, 2009

Human Emotions spilling over Art Villa Garikula

The contemporary art festival, Fest i Nova, recently hosted the Human Emotion Project (HEP) presented by Georgian artist Irina Gabiani.
Fest i Nova is a newly launched contemporary art event, held from Aug. 5 to Oct. 25, in the Garikula art villa in the Shida Kartli region. Karaman Kutateladze, founder of the festival, and the Shida Kartli Cultural Heritage Foundation, own the art villa.
“I wanted to turn the house into a contemporary art gallery and I suppose I have reached my goal,” Kutateladze said.
The festival also hosts artists from Austria, France, Netherlands, Georgia and the U.S.
“The artists are invited to realize individual projects in the framework of the project. The goal is to create a specific platform to facilitate the exchange of artistic views and stimulate different practices of contemporary art,” reads the summary of the Fest i Nova project.
Gabiani is a Georgian artist living and working in Luxemburg. After studying at the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts, she continued her study at the Amsterdam Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Her major field of interest is human emotions.
Together with her individual works she is involved in a variety of international projects, and the HEP is one of them. The HEP Georgian presentation was held by Gabiani in Garikula.
The HEP, a collection of video art, was created by Alison Williams, a contemporary South African artist.
“HEP 2009 was born out of a voyeuristic need to observe how other artists express themselves on an emotional level and to see the effectiveness of that in a social context via physical exhibitions and an online interaction,” she writes in the project summary.
Collaborating artists found each other on the Art Review Magazine’s Web site in early 2009. Since then the project has been screened in several countries, including Australia, Spain, Portugal, Italy and now Georgia.
Two and three minute films of different foreign artists displayed a big disparity of emotions.
Irina Gabiani has placed two of her films in the project, “The Slaves of the System” and “Samaia or Triamazikamno.”
“Samaia” depicts the moods of an ordinary person: sadness, anger and joy. According to the artist, none of these moods are stable and positive. They turn on each other rapidly and do not give the protagonist a chance to live sensibly.
“You feel in harmony only when you stand apart from all these moods, only in this case do you feel calm and comfortable inside,” the artist said. The three emotions are symbolic and cover many other varieties of moods that a human being has, she added.
Gabiani who usually only employs two shades – black and white – assumes that there are three energies in the universe – positive, negative and neutral. She became interested in the “essence of life” and indulged in physics. Science gave her a solid basis for her view of life. Electron as minus, proton as plus and neutron as neutralizing are the essences of the universe, she ponders.
Although people perceive things to be either black or white, Gabiani said, she on the other hand likes to be an impartial observer.
Gabiani tries to bring up things from everyday life in her work to make people perceive themselves as a whole, as part of the universe instead of being involved in the insensate triviality of life.
“So many things are happening around us, that we even cannot think about and the world is so complex that if we realize it, we would look at the events and facts around us in a completely different way,” she said.
Her later works, done also in black and white, depict atoms, micro and macro elements. She attempts to show the viewer the whole notion of the world around us, often leaving behind our minds.
Anna Chichinadze

Friday, August 21, 2009

Double investigation reveals Russian blame in Storimans’ death

Russian cluster bombs killed Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans, 39, during the war last August.Two independent investigations conduicted after his death.
The first investigation was held by the Dutch government last October.
The second investigation was compiled into a documentary film and screened Aug. 12, 2009, exactly one-year after Storimans’ death. The 46-minute film was shot by Dutch RTL TV reporter Jeroen Akkermans who worked with Storimans on the day of the tragedy.
A special report prepared by the Dutch Permanent Mission to the UN states that, “Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans, who was killed in the Georgian city of Gori on Aug. 12, 2008, was the victim of cluster munitions. The munitions were propelled by a type of rocket that is only found in Russia’s military arsenal. That is the conclusion of the mission that Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen appointed to investigate the circumstances of Storimans’ death.”
Verhagen stated he regards the findings “extremely serious.”
“I have made this clear to the Russian authorities,” he said. “Cluster munitions must not be used in this way. There were no troops in Gori and innocent civilians were killed.”
The Russian government rebuked the accusations and blamed Georgia in the incident.
“The accident was the result of aggressive actions conducted by the Georgian forces,” President Dmitry Medvedev told a RTL News correspondent. “In this particular case, we arrived at the conclusion based on the fact that the Georgians have recognized their use of cluster weapons.”
He then expressed his condolences to the Storimans family.
In his documentary film, Akkermans uncovers evidence proving that Russian Iskander rockets led to Storimans’ death. Akkermans is RTL’s Germany and Eastern Europe correspondent, and has 20 years of journalistic experience. His work has taken him in to conflict areas such as Chechnya, Georgia, Abkhazia and the Balkans.
While conducting the investigation, Akkermans met with a number of military analysts.
Human Rights Watch Senior Military Analyst Marc Garlasco was in Georgia and participated in examining the exploded materials. He is sure the bombs that killed Storimans were cluster rockets owned only by Russian forces.
“As soon as I saw the cradles I knew they were cluster munitions because of the signature,” he said, noting that the star-shape patterns divulge the Russian origin of the bombs. “I have seen them many times in many other conflicts in Afganistan and Lebanon.”
“I am absolutely certain,” he said.
The Iskander M (NATO reporting name “SS-26 Stone”) was named after the Arabic version, “Alexander the Great” and invented by Russian specialists for Middle Eastern clients.
“The technical characteristics show that this is an absolutely unique missile,” Russian military expert Ruslan Pukhov tells Akkermans in the film. “The Russians became interested in the bomb and then developed the ‘M’ version, which means modernized.”
The missile’s range is about 250 miles and according to Akkermans’ film it can be shot from Dagestan or Chechnya to Gori.
Based on his and Storimans’ coverage last year, Akkermans said that all Georgian troops had left Gori Aug. 11, and the incident occurred the next day when only peaceful citizens and journalists were in the city. The bombing took place on the city’s main square – a flat, open area near the Stalin monument.
“We left our positions,” a Georgian soldier tells reporters in an interview late night Aug. 11, 2008.
Analytical Department head Shota Utiashvili at the Interior Ministry also confirmed that the troops were ordered to leave Gori late afternoon Aug. 11.
“It was a test-rocket shot into Gori,” Akkermans told Georgia Today. “It had no military meaning. It was only a gesture to show their power to Georgia, to threaten peaceful locals, and to enhance the spirit of war in their soldiers.”
In Akkermans film, German military expert Robert Schmucker states that the rocket had a psychological as opposed to military impact on the Georgian people.
Several Gori residents died together with Storimans.
A number of wounded people survived, including Akkermans, who sustained minor injuries to his leg. Israeli journalist Zadok Yecheskeli still has problems moving.
“I will never be able to run again, ski or play tennis,” Yecheskli says in the film. “But I do not concentrate on what I cannot do. I think about what I can do. I realized that I can function as a journalist, I can walk and ask questions.”
Yecheskeli came to Georgia after the war to conduct the ivestigation with Akkermans.
Akkermans noted another reason for holding the investigation.
“After a war, journalists have the task to find out what really happened,” he said. “Georgia like other countries wants to close the book and forget about the war. But we have to find out the truth and make the governments feel and meet their responsibilities.”
In one segment of the documentary Akkermans says Russia’s blame in the tragedy does not free Georgia from its own responsibility. As both countries used cluster bombs, the same tragic accident could have occurred in some South Ossetian towns, he states.
Akkermans is eager to screen the film in Georgia under the condition that it is translated honestly and shown from the beginning to the end.
Neither Georgia, who recognized its use of cluster bombs during last year’s war, nor Russia, who denied using these munitions, has signed the international convention prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster bombs. The convention was adopted in Dublin by 107 states on May 2008 and signed on Dec. 3 the same year.
Anna Chichinadze

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Political woes damage tourism

Although there is still one month before the end of summer, prominent figures of the Georgian tourism industry agree that the period has been far below satisfactory. The last August war, four months of opposition protests and the global economic crisis have resulted in the industry’s financial woes.
However, Georgian Tourism Department Chief Petre Kankava remains optimistic. His official statistics reveal that 600,000 tourists visited Georgia in the first 6 months of 2009 whereas 1.3 million tourists visited the country in 2008.
Kankava said June was the month when the most tourists crossed the border into Georgia – most coming from Azerbaijan and Turkey. Israelis, Ukrainians and Russians have been frequent visitors. German, British, Greek, Bulgarian, Baltic and Philippine citizens are also steadily visiting Georgia.
Compared with the same period last year, the rate shows an 11.7-percent decrease in the flow of tourists or 15,000 fewer visitors. Kankava considers the outcome a solid achievement although most tourists came in June. The Tourism Department considers everyone who crosses the border a tourist regardless of their purpose for entering the country.
“The purpose of their visit does not matter,” Kankava said. “Every foreigner stops at a hotel, eats out, buys souvenirs and spends money. That is tourism.”
Tourism Management Educational Center head at Ilia Chavchavadze State University Koba Arabuli does not agree with Kankava. He defines tourists as people “who arrives in the country for holidays, have leisure time, spend money, see the country and go back to the homeland for a week or two.”
“Individuals who have businesses, work officially or arrive for other reasons cannot be counted as tourists,” Arabuli said, adding that the presented figures are based on statistics from the Border Department, which count every individual crossing the border, including Georgians with foreign citizenship.
Meanwhile, tour agencies are voicing complaints about the fall in the number of customers.
Manana Tsiramua, director of the Georgian Holiday tour operator, works primarily on the Hong Kong, UK, Latvia and Ukraine markets. She said the four-month opposition protests have led to the downturn in addition to the August war.
“If last year we were serving 5-6 groups at the same time, now we have just one, and instead of 40-member groups, now we have just 6-10 tourists coming together,” Tsiramua said. “When foreigners were planning their vacations and booking tours, they read about the protests and unstable atmosphere in the country and opted against going to Georgia.”
Statistics aside, Gabriel Heim and Brigitta Monthey recently visited Tbilisi for an 8-day holiday from Berlin.
“Personally, I do not believe that the political situation is a reason to refuse going to the region, but foreigners should have more information about how easy, welcoming and friendly the country is,” Heim said.
Monthey added that they found information about the country on the Web. She also expressed a desire to learn more about politics in the country and cultural and tourist opportunities.
Kankava has launched activities to promote Georgia’s tourism opportunities abroad in light of the decreasing numbers of visitors to the country.
The department has opened the first modern tourist center in Tbilisi, equipped with new maps, booklets and guides. Five similar centers are pending to open in surrounding regions.
For international promotion, the government has allocated 180,000 euro to the department. Some funds will be spent on a film about Georgia travel opportunities, which will be produced and broadcast on Buzz TV and Spanish and English channels. The department will also participate in international exhibitions that Kankava hopes will attract more people.
“The war has strongly damaged our reputation and we are trying hard to correct it,” he said. “Europe started here.”
Arabuli disagrees, stating that Georgia has no strategy for tourism development — only a general concept.
“The president and economics minister publicly state that tourism is a priority issue, but I do not see what they are doing to prove this,” Arabuli said. “If they mean rebuilding cities, then this is not a tourism strategy. This sphere needs thorough planning and implementation, and all above more finances than there are now.”
Arabuli agrees that training and education are lacking in the department. He said the department holds periodic training for hotel owners, but realizes this is not enough.
“Prices are high and service is low,” Kankava said. “People do not understand that the hotel business is not just a matter of buying and selling. It requires working for years to achieve high quality and attract tourists. They do not understand that bad service damages the country’s image.”
Anna Chichinadze

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dutchman takes stray-dog problem into own hands

After rescuing a dying puppy from the streets of Tbilisi, Dutch citizen Ivo Bakhuijzen decided to fulfill his long-time goal to open a pet shelter in the Georgian capital.
Bakhuijzen intends to build a shelter for 120 dogs and accept some cats as well.
According to his estimation, there are over 25,000 stray dogs in Tbilisi alone. He sees the only solution to be sterilization as opposed to putting the dogs to sleep as is the practice of the local government clinic. The plan is to sterilize, vaccinate, sign and send the dogs back to the streets.
“We should take care of animals not only for people’s sake, but for their normal living, because animals have rights confirmed by all the world’s organizations,” Bakhuijzen said. “We are obliged to honor them here in Georgia.” He added that older dogs will be kept in the shelter for the remainder of their lives, while puppies will be raised and put up for adoption. Adult dogs will be let out into the street as long as they are safe for people.
Bakhuijzen’s dog organization has a flexible plan. About 60,000 lari is needed for its execution, but he for now has only found 25,000 lari. He is working hard to raise more funds and welcomes donations from the public. The dog shelter is set to open in September 2009.
The Dutch project has been approved by two Georgian animal rights organizations – the Animal Rights Committee and Georgian Society for the Protection and Safety of Animals (GSPSA). However, both express concerns about releasing dogs. The chairpersons of both organizations consider the stray-dog problem to be unsolvable without the government’s goodwill.
“Definitely, these vaccinated and sterilized dogs will be killed by the governmental organization working on this issue, I am sure of it,” GSPSA Deputy Chairman Teimuraz Tsikorize said. “They have already killed several cured dogs, which were let out of [a GSPSA] shelter.”
Tsikoridze blames the local city government for having a shady business and earning income from killing stray dogs.
“The more dogs the company kills, the more money they get from the budget,” he said, referring to city hall documentation. The paperwork shows that during a 19-month period, they killed almost 27,000 dogs in the capital. The same documents show that during the same period, the First Veterinary Clinic Company, also registered as Debiuti Ltd., has vaccinated only 11 dogs for rabies and castrated 73. The clinic has received approximately 2 million lari for this work.
The First Veterinary Clinic did not respond to several phone calls by Georgia Today. However, Tbilisi Municipality representative Davit Sadaterashvili, who is in charge of stray animal issues, said he is satisfied with the clinic’s work. “We are not killing animals, we just make injections to euthanize old and sick dogs, others we vaccinate, sterilize and let out into the streets,” he said.
Animal Rights Committee of Georgia Chairwoman Tinatin Chavchanidze is concerned that killing dogs is not only the wrong way to solve the problem, but also an inhumane act that damages the country’s image. She said the OSCE was ready to fund her project to sterilize street dogs, but as long as she could not guarantee that the state services would not kill dogs, the OSCE refused to support the project.
“The number of street dogs has decreased [since spring] due to the raids that the First Veterinary Clinic organized, but they must realize that the city will face the same problem next spring as well,” Chavchanidze said, adding that the clinic catches weak, old dogs that are easy to catch and aggressive ones that can threaten the population remain in the streets.
Sterilization is the way she thinks the birthrate can be reduced, and together with vaccinations, it will provide not only the security of the population, but also the rights of dogs.
Chavchanidze said the system will prevent torturous treatment in places like the so-called “Baker Hole,” where street dogs are taken and killed.
“First, they kill them with an electric shock and then burn them with acid,” she said.
Tsikoridze said the GSPSA has documentary evidence of dogs being thrown in a hole and killed in masses. When it comes to the legal rights of killing the animals, Georgian law has only one act naming the torture and ill treatment of animals as illegal. Nothing is mentioned about killing them. Georgia also has not yet joined any international declaration regulating the issue.
Chavchanidze also raises a question of responsible ownership, meaning to impose concrete responsibilities on families who decide to have a pet.
“A main reason homeless animals exist is people who get rid of their pet’s new-born puppies, throwing them into the streets,” she said. “Laws should charge families with more obligations, including vaccinating and sterilizing their animal companions.”
Several such dogs have been sheltered by Tsikoridze, many of them of a good breed.
Sadaterashvili told Georgia Today that the city council is working on a responsible ownership law to oblige pet owners to vaccinate their pets.
Since 2002 the shelter has housed around 1,000 dogs. Now, there are about 28 dogs in the shelter. According to Tsikoridze, about half of the dogs died soon after arriving due to serious injuries and infections. The second half is killed by the state service after they are released.
Tsikoridze’s shelter is a rare asylum for pets in Tbilisi. Painter Giorgi Akhvlediani provides shelter to homeless cats at his “Cat Cafe.” He has 8 cats under his care. With the assistance of the German Embassy in Georgia, Akhvlediani feeds, vaccinates and sterilizes the cats.
“A German vet with the help of the embassy gathered donations for my cat cafe, but the money will soon end and I do not know how can I take care of them,” Akhvlediani said.
Tsikoridze also complains about a lack of money, and cannot remember a single incident when the government provided support to the GSPSA. He expressed his thanks to the individuals who support the shelter, and added that although he is eager to open branches, only municipal shelters can resolve the stray-dog problem.
In response to his statement, Sadaterashvili told Georgia Today that the government is considering opening a shelter in a Tbilisi suburb later this year.
Bakhuijzen’s shelter will open in September. He hopes that the special signs his shelter will place on treated dogs will save them from getting killed.
Anna Chichinadze
"Kiss to Summer" by Maka Batiashvili

Georgian painter Maka Batiashvili decided to express gratitude to sunny July by holding her “Kiss to Summer” exhibit of about 40 pieces from July 17 until late August at the Art-Lavka exhibit hall in Tbilisi.
The exhibit was organized by Ketato Charkviani, wife of the late Georgian singer Irakli Charkviani. Batiashivili was the first artist to have her work displayed in the new space, but Charkviani hopes to host other modern art exhibits there in the future.
“It is just a gathering of the works I have in Tbilisi,” Batiashvili said at the opening. “Some of them were even painted a couple days ago.”
The main features of her work are the moods and emotions of people shown through unshaped figures with flat, almost homogeneous faces with slightly traced features, leaving the impression that the feelings are on the surface and the figures are part of the background.
The oil work “Decision” depicts two women sitting at a table, about to make a decision, who seem to have indifferent faces, but their horizontally stretched lips and crossed fingers express tension, while their button-like eyes suggest a feeling of hope. This hope is significant to all of Batiashvili’s people.
They all are sad, strained and sometimes seem to be grieving from loneliness, but a glimpse of hope is always there in their black, dot-like eyes.
Colors that the artist used are a contrast of pastels and darks. She used khaki, brown, mat blue, yellow and green, and the pictures almost always have unexpected angles.
“I want to change something in my style,” she said. “I am in need of new inspirations and new shapes. I am stuck in this particular way of painting.” Earlier works are comprised more of bright and intensive colors.
Though her main interest is pictorial arts, she experiments in almost every genre.
Batiashvili works in installations, video art, photography and graphic design. In the last two years, she also discovered ink.
“Technically it is very easy to draw with ink, but I put a huge effort to show emotions I want to express,” she said. “This is the main challenge in graphics.” Shapes of graphical people are like the paintings and are as a kind of new, minimalism interpretation of the canvases.
The big screen on the terrace shows an animation film based on the artist’s works. Night time is the right time to see the film on outdoor screen.
Almost all Batiashvili’s works are exhibited in Lithuania, but since April 9, the collection has traveled from town to town around the country. The idea to exhibit modern Georgian artist in Lithuania came after Pirosmani’s successful exposition in Vilnius.
Batiashvili’s work will be on display until February 2010.
“I cannot find the reason, but Lithuanians often talk about similarities between me and Pirosmani, which annoys me a lot,” she said, but is pleased that her works gained such success in the Baltic state.

Anna Chichinadze

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Knolevi – Village of Constant Stress

We won’t be responsible if anything happens to you there, we recommend staying and seeing the rest of the village,” said Georgian soldiers to an International Rescue Committee representative, who was attempting to cross the conditional line dividing the village Knolevi into two parts – the buffer zone and another smaller district known as the hot zone. The two border a line on a road, including a piece of inhabited ground that separates Georgian and Ossetian checkpoints from each other.
Another Ossetian military post lies up in the hills, can observe the entire gorge.
“Ossetians shoot almost every day, whenever they want. For example, yesterday they had been shooting around five minutes, it was into the air, but anyway, it is terrifying to listen even if you know they don’t shoot at you,” said Eliso Maisuradze, a village resident. Another woman, short and very thin, with a wrinkled rather nervous face, said that Ossetian soldiers react to her every single word or abrupt move; they considerate unacceptable and immediately shoot.
She lives close to the woods, and as she says, her activities in her backyard have been never left noticed by the soldiers. She is not alone with that feeling, almost all 32 families living in Knolevi, express the same feeling of ominous presence. As if “Big Brother” is always watching them. Tskhinvali, capital of South Ossetia lies in no more than 35 kilometers from Knolevi.
That feeling of fear and constant stress made doctors reason that the villagers suffer from massive high blood pressure.
Manana Amonashvili, a program manager at International Rescue Committee remembers one of the last visits there in the Buffer zone villages, when she brought doctors to examine the people.
“Two doctors spent the whole day examining people and they both were surprised with the results at the end of the day – the majority of the population suffer from high pressure, they concluded it was as a result of war and recent life under the permanent stress,” she claimed and added that the primary, urgent need of the population is to have long-term professional psychological aid, “Furthermore, it is obvious that a large number of somatic disease are caused by the stresses.”

Amonashvili is leading protection monitoring program throughout the twenty five buffer zone villages, which began from January 2009. She spends five or seven days in the villages and knows almost everyone by name, their problems and struggles.
The International Rescue Committee launched its emergency work in Georgia when the August War began between Georgia and Russia. From 2009, the Committee spread its long-term program into twenty five buffer zone villages, monitoring human conditions and supporting them with special references to different governmental and international organizations to provide them with needed health or any other kind of care. Being founded (1933) by the suggestion of Albert Einstein, to assist Germans suffering under Hitler, now the International Rescue Committee is on the ground in forty two countries providing emergency relief, relocating refugees and rebuilding lives in the wake of disaster.
“In case of urgent needs we also have a modest budget to deliver some aids to some individuals,” the program manager says. She has set local volunteer network that helps them to be informed and cover all twenty five villages at the same level.
Knolevi inhabitants conveyed they feel abandoned by everyone. After the war, all 32 families returned back to their houses, some of them found their homes burnt. They receive governmental aid, about 24 – 30 GEL per person; also they receive free monthly food products and some of them get aid for children. They also have free medical service and medicines. Listening to them, one can only guess that they are in an informational vacuum and are not fully aware of their rights and aids due to them.
“We have heard that head of our municipality has changed, but this new one is originally from the lower village and he doesn’t want to arrive here, neither he nor his representatives,” said one of the gathered women, hoping to learn some useful news from us.
Manana Amonashvili is concerned about the medical service system, “Almost all kinds of services are free of charge for victims of war, but the fact is that the Minister of Health and Social Care releases the order for free medical service just for one month, after each month he produces the document again for one more month. Sometimes the process impedes the services and doctors have to wait for the new resolution and at the end of the day patients suffer from it, especially when one needs emergency surgery.”
She has to repeat to the people about their rights over and over. But the way to the regional center is long, and one singular procedure needs two or more visits to the center, which is problematic for them.
Delivered aid is clearly not enough, particularly when people have been cut from their fields. Eliso Maisuradze showed their fields, which goes up to the hills – now the territory is controlled by Ossetians.
“We have left just small gardens closer to home and we cultivate them to get some vegetables and fruits, while we had a good piece of land and we usually lived with it,” she told.
Olena Petsun, adviser at Directorate General of Democracy and Political Affairs at European Council and Sabrina Burchler, Human Rights Adviser at European Council Georgian office, studied the situation and listened to these and some other stories in Knolevi. They have planned to include these hardships in the next report, which they are about to release. Insecurity and poverty are issues they plan to emphasize.
Amonashvili from the International Rescue Committee, on her way, marked infants of the village as feasible bodies for the next feasible support delivered to the village. Fortunately, all three children had no vitally important needs to solve. This time.
Anna Chichinadze

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I'd like to share some photos taken by me in village Knolevi, I visited today, Saturday June 6. Knolevi is the last buffer zone village to South Ossetian conditional boarder created after the August war between Georgia and Russia in 2008. My report about the village for "Georgia Today" is coming soon, t-x