It is early in the morning on December 18 and I am sitting in a bus with members of the EU delegation to Georgia, going to the village Ditsi from Tbilisi. After the August War in 2008, Ditsi became one of the “hot points” in Georgia. It is located at the so-called administrative border with de-facto South Ossetia. Russians are occupying a certain part of the village and trying to increase the area which they control. Ditsi is one of the villages where the Russians are trying to provoke the Georgian Government. Almost all politicians and analysts state that the conflict and border areas remain as a unique lever for Russians to have an influence on Georgia.
One day in the village living under pressure
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, December 20
We are going to the public school of Ditsi. Maia Chitaia, who represents the EU delegation to Georgia, tells me that two events are planned at the school. The European Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) plans to award the winning pupils of a photo competition on human rights. In its turn, the EU delegation to Georgia will show a documentary on the EU and deliver books to those students who will answer questions asked concerning the EU after watching the documentary. Maia tells me that the action has several aims: to increase the pupils’ knowledge of the EU and to support the growth of responsibility in the young generation.
“Pupils should learn that no one will give them a fish… they will be taught how to catch it. That is why we are giving books to those who deserve them. The action increases motivation in children as well and makes them watch the film with more attention,” Chitaia says. Until watching the film, the greatest part of pupils believed that Russia was the member of the EU…
After about an hour, we are meeting with the EUMM mission members in Gori and going to the school. The situation is calm there now. I learn during my travel that 17 houses were burnt in the village during the August War and Russian soldiers used the school, where we are going now, as a hospital.
A number of pupils and teachers are waiting for us outside the school. It is colder inside the school than outside. Asking why? The director of the school Elizaveta Khavazishvili says that the school consumes oil for heating and the money allocated from the budget for school is not enough to cover all the expenses of the school.
“However, we are changing to gas heating from the next month and, I hope, the situation will be better,” she says. She tells me that living in villages like Ditsi is very hard.
“When I go to Tbilisi, I have a feeling of security… here, we lack the feeling,” she says, noting that due to fright, the population of the village has decreased.
“Everyone who had houses outside the village, left us… we had up to 300 pupils until 2008, now we have 170. Everyone lacks happy days here, every day is similar… but thanks to the mission and the government, we sometimes are able to organize some events for our children. It will be nice if we had more such days, we would be happier…” She says.
Pupils are performing Georgian dances for us inside the school. The name of the pupils’ dancing group is “Mshvidoba,” which means peace.
After the performance, the EUMM awards winners of the photo competition. Photos taken by the school pupils reflect their knowledge on human rights. Maia showed the film on the EU as well, students were motivated and eager to answer the questions and get books.
“I think that even the fact that the students do not think that Russia is an EU member state is a step forward,” Maia says.
I am approaching smiling girls with books. They are thankful for the day.
“I want Georgia to be an EU member state. I think that in this case our country will develop, we will live peacefully. Young people of the village want Europe, older ones still like Russia… if there is peace, we would have a playground…” 14-year-old Tsitsi tells me.
The school playground is located within just100 meters from the wires made by the Russians. The school administration refrains from sending children there to play. A new playground might be made inside the village, in a safer place. However, until now, no one has financed the wish of the pupils who permanently live under pressure.
The event ended. However, we did not leave the village without having a look at the place where the Russians are standing now. It is quite close to the school, but we still need special permission to get there. We took the permission and two law-enforcement officers accompanied us. There are two banners standing by the Russian position, one in Georgian and the second in the Russian and Ossetian languages.
The Georgian banner is a “bit funny”. There should be written, “Passage is forbidden”. However, as it seems, Russians translated the sentence by using the Internet from Russian into Georgian and there currently is written “outcome is not permitted.”
One of the law-enforcement officers states that through the moves forward, Russians are trying to grab strategic areas of the village. “The irrigation water reservoir and pastures are already in Russian hands. If they move a bit more in the future, they could grab a drinking water reservoir as well. If there is no water and pastures in the village, no one could live here…” he says. He also emphasized that the Russians grabbed the water reservoir in 2008. However, due to the EUMM mission activities, the Russians withdrew.
Coming to Tbilisi, we took one of the residents of the village, named Davit. He wanted to use our bus to get to the next village, as buses have a limited schedule there. He told us that that for the first time water problem was solved and this year people managed to water their gardens. He also said that the government gave 200 GEL to each family to buy wood for winter. “I hope, that attention from the government will increase more,” Davit says.
I am in Tbilisi, it is safe to be here and it is hard to feel completely what people from the conflict villages feel. Maybe, more frequent communication with them will make them happier and will make us more focused on their problems.