For almost two hundred days, the guards of the Rioni Valley have been spending the night in the open air protesting against the construction of another giant power plant – Namakhvani HPP. The protesters categorically (and quite rightly) oppose the damming up of huge masses of water in their native lands and the sinking of villages, forests, agricultural lands, and cultural heritage sites.
Authorities disregarded the locals’ protests for months and tried to dismantle the tents set up by the environmentalists using the police forces. Law enforcers also dug up the cross erected by the locals (the cross is a sign to Christians that they are doing the work God wants them to do: protect the world, life, and nature created by Him, and plead with the Supreme Being for protection in this sacred work).
Although Police forces attacked twice a continuous protest rally in the village of Zhoneti, the demonstrators did not stop activities for even a moment.
The story of the uncompromising struggle of the gorge guards has already spread throughout Georgia. Different groups of the society united to stop the project initiated as a result of criminal transactions, which was completely unjustified from the economic, ecological and social point of view.
Kutaisi has become the capital of Georgian democracy: thousands of people have taken to the main square of Imereti without the futureless political classes and demanded from the government to stop the construction that is causing desolation of their native land. Protests started in several villages in the Rioni Valley have turned into a nation-wide popular movement.
Although the position of the defenders of the Rioni Gorge is shared by the vast majority of Georgian citizens, the government does not consider it necessary to listen to people.
Instead of sharing the opinion of local population, impartial, highly qualified scientists and environmentalists, the Georgian government launched an attack: in threatening, harsh tone it banned citizens from having and expressing their own opinions.
According to Natia Turnava, the Minister of Economy, a permanent fixture of Shevardnadze’s, Saakashvili’s and Ivanishvili’s governments, a political figure known for her duplicity, unresponsiveness and human indifference, “the construction of the Namakhvani HPP is the line of our economic and energy independence (By the way, every TV appearance of this person and her ideologically meager mantras make the Georgian Dream lose hundreds of supporters).
And Prime Minister Gharibashvili, who just a few weeks ago criticized the idea of a minimal state and the “invisible hand of the market” and preached the concept of a government that cares about social and environmental justice, has now – suddenly – become the father of only business-oriented policies. Irakli Gharibashvili accuses the defenders of the Rioni Gorge of undermining Georgia’s independence and acting in favor of foreign, hostile countries. Therefore, according to the Georgian government, those who take to the streets to save the nature of Georgia, our living space, are the enemies of the country, traitors, and at best, reckless people.
This is playing the blame game or pointing finger to others: the agreement made by the Georgian government with the company “Enka” (kept confidential until recently) behind the people’s back, will go down in history as a rare example of betraying the interests of one’s own country.
We protest against the aggression of the technocrats from Georgian Dream, call on them to refrain from demonizing the loyal citizens of Georgia, instead of “witch hunt” to protect the state interests of our country and to participate at least once in a constructive, science-based public discussion.
All hydropower plants should be built according to a strategy developed with the participation of democratic forces and scientists; A balance between economic, ecological and socio-cultural interests must be maintained during construction!
Not only government officials fight against the Rioni gorge defenders. The economist leaders of the opposition party – the National Movement – have repeatedly supported the destruction of up to a thousand hectares of the already small country, a unique nature. Marginal and anti-state opposition groups are also branding the environmentalists and social justice activists as xenophobes in order to tarnish the movement’s reputation.
Almost every day, the Public Broadcaster (to which Georgian citizens pay millions out of their own pockets) broadcasts PR campaigns of technocratic business groups against the public interest, which undermines the ideas of sustainable development, humanistic economy; With their anti-scientific positions, they flatteringly support the policy of destroying the social and ecological space, which was started by the previous government and continued vigorously by the Georgian Dream.
Moreover, NGOs, once richly funded by the Green Funds and working on environmental and energy relation issues, which the government uses for its own propaganda and to deceive the public, have long appeared in the public arena and have recently become particularly active.
There is no organized force supporting the Rioni gorge guards. Consequently, ordinary members of the society, groups without party and financial influence need more solidarity and organization. The siege around environmentalists is narrowing!
Recently, Mr. Dato Chipashvili, an excellent young Georgian economist and environmentalist, an employee of the Green Alternative, has become one of the main targets of anti-environmental attacks. Since Enka’s advocates can’t contradict his qualified arguments, they try to get away with unworthy methods. These are old methods: slander and name-calling, but in this case completely ineffective – disreputable one can’t disgrace the honorable person.
In 2019, the Caucasian House awarded Dato Chipashvili the Caucasus River Guardian Award for his tireless, highly qualified and selfless work. We do not award prizes often and irresponsibly. Therefore, we are ready to actively support Mr. David and call on the forces hostile to him to stop unethical, greedy opposition to one of the strongest environmentalists in our country.
Administration of the “Caucasian House” – Center for Cultural Relations
March 30, 2021