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Talk of restoring Ergneti Market

By Ernest Petrosyan
Wednesday, July 18
The place where Ergneti market was functioning before 2004 is now occupied by the Russian military. The Ergneti market recovery periodically becomes an agenda issue between the sides. Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Georgian Dream opposition coalition leader, promised at his pre-election rally in Gori, that he will restore the functioning of the Ergneti market in legal frames when he is to come to power. He noted that this was a place where Georgians and Ossetians were cooperating. “We believe that by restoring this [Ergneti] market, we will bolster confidence between the people living on different sides of the dividing line and thereby improve relations between the two,” said Ivanishvili.

De-facto authorities in Tskhinvali welcomed this initiative. In response to Ivanishvili’s statement, the so-called South Ossetian Government spokesperson, Merab Chigoev, said that the Ossetian side has nothing against this initiative, and will continue working regarding this issue. Chigoev’s statement was surprising even for Shota Utiashvili, former MIA Head of the Analytical Service, also being involved in negotiations with breakaway region authorities.

Later on however, Chigoev made a contradicting statement to Radio Liberty, claiming that his statement was misinterpreted by journalists. “The Georgian side can open whatever they like on Georgian controlled territory.” This issue raised some eyebrows in Tskhinvali. Tbilisi’s government’s opponents almost declared Chigoerv a traitor. Analysts believe that Chigoev hasty announcement was made without the consent of the Russians and then had to back-track on his statements.

Dimitry Sanakoev, the Head of the pro-Georgian Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia, announced a few months ago that such a market, where agricultural products will be sold, could be opened. Sanakoev says that based on the country’s strategy on occupied territories, the Georgian side is ready for any on-site shopping center, where people living in the occupied territories of future harvests will sell their harvested goods.

Lawyer Dimitry Doijashvili, the founder of the Egneti market, states that the market was legal, and had permission from the Gori municipality in 1996. He claims that taxes were collected and much money went into the Georgian budget. However, since 2003, when there were talks raised about the illegality of the Ergneti market and the criminal elements, as trucks from the Russian market were importing products bypassing the market, which were later distributed in various Georgian markets.

Doijashvili believes that the market could have been functioning within the legal framework. However, the government closed it and it caused the cut-off of relations between Georgians and Ossetians.

Doijashvili told Radio Liberty, that Sanakoev also had a similar idea about the restoration of the market, he was even asked to draft a project. However, it remained on a paper, and later the war began.

Talking to The Messenger, Dimitry Sanakoev assessed Ivanishvili’s statement as a part of his pre-election campaign. “One thing is to announce this initiative; another think is to implement it. How is it possible to restore the market in Ergneti when there are Russian troops deployed there? And besides, the Tskhinvali regime does not want to talk about this issue, so a unilateral initiative cannot make any sense,” said Sanakoev.

Analysts believe that the closure of the market undermined the gradually improving Georgian-Ossetian relations. Echoing Ivanishvili’s statement, analysts hailed this initiative, meanwhile noting that not much will depend on the interest of the Tskhinvali regime, rather than on the directives the regime receives from the Kremlin.