Poverty in Vineyards: Saakashvili Meets Only Grateful Farmers
Gela Mtivlishvili, Kakheti
Georgian President visited Kakheti Region of East Georgia. It is noted that Mikheil Saakashvili personally oversaw the distribution of fuel among peasant farmers in Kakheti. Several peasants, who were hand-picked for a carefully staged meeting; naturally they thanked the president for the government’s active and open relationship with the populace. Residents of other districts also wanted to meet the president in Tsnori, and they were recorded on film following Saakashvili as he visited agricultural plots during a one hour PR tour.
Agricultural life is not pleasant for Georgian farmers, even in an election year. Peasants from Dedoplistskaro, Sighnaghi and Gurjaani have visited Tsnori at least twice a week in the last seven. They hope to get paid for delivered grapes that they sold to the wine-factory. The administration of the factory promises to pay them but payday never comes. They feel hopeless and can only continue their endless wait.
“I delivered my harvest to the Tsnori Wine Factory according to the advice of the officials from the Ministry of Agriculture. They paid only 20 % and promised they would pay the rest money within several days. Former Regional Governor met us in the district during the pre-election campaign. His efforts were successful in getting the factory at least pay the part of the debt. However, more than half of the total amount has not been paid yet. Till today I am arriving in Tsnori twice a week in trying to get paid. I don’t know how long I can continue since expenses for transport has increased. I cannot afford to travel back and forth as before. It is a never-ending waiting game and I have already spent the money I have to take from the factory for travel expenses. We learned that the president had arrived in Tsnori and tried to meet him. We chased him but could not find the time to meet us. Finally we caught him out in the field but his many guards did not allow us to get close to him,” said Zurab Sakanelashvili, a resident of the village of Samtatskaro in Dedoplistskaro District.
Neither Mikheil Ghrubelashvili could hold back his discontent over the fact that he was not allowed to speak with the Georgian president. “We have applied to the local government several times already but it has been a waste of time. Once they listened to us but the second time they were not willing to give us the time of the day. They only claimed that the wine-factory is a private company and authorities were not the ones to assist us. Moreover, in 2004 we were not paid for our grape harvest. Aside from old debts, let them at least pay part of the total price for this year harvest. We have no way other and otherwise we will die of starvation,” said the poor peasant.
Temur Demetrashvili, a president of Sighnaghi district was more critical. He stated that the government will manage to succeed in his Poverty Reduction fifty-day-program not through assisting impoverished people but through other methods. “I do not like complaining but we are extremely poor. There are six members in my family and none of us have jobs. Only my wife worked in state organization but she was laid off and now remains without salary. We have land but the twenty liters of fuel, the government distributes among peasants, we will not do anything. Besides that it is already late to cultivate the land. We cannot use the tractors presented by the government. Former village governor and his relatives have already taken them. In spite of the fact that my sons and I work very hard we are still very poor. We are not alone in our plight as there are many other families living under the same circumstances. Such families cannot receive allowances either because we have tooth-brushes and curtains on their windows. What shall we be the future of the people who eat only blain food and salads? There is nothing good for us to look towards and we will die of hunger. The president says that there will not be poor people in the Georgia. Do you really think that agriculture is developing? Everyday the news programs report one and the same that villages are flourishing and farms are working. It goes on to tell how peasants are satisfied and are making a profit. Everything is a big lie. If you really want to know the situation here just come and you will see that at least 80 % of the land is not cultivated. People can only think of fleeing from here just to survive,” said Demetrashvili.
Administration of the Kakheti Regional Governor is fully aware about the dire conditions of the peasants. Representatives of the government claim that people intentionally are exaggerating the situation in voicing their complaints.
“All state programs that are or will be implemented in the country will be result driven. New enterprises will be opened in Kakheti and there will be new jobs. We intend to carry out various activities in order to improve social situation,” said Levan Bezhashvili, the regional governor.
Officials from the local government cannot comment on the fact that peasants from Kakheti have not been paid for their grape harvest that was sold to a winery in Tsnori and to other wine factories in the region last year.
The peasants call upon the government to pay a little attention to them and resolve their problems, and stop using them for political purposes. Otherwise they intend to block the central Tbilisi-Kakheti high-way as a last resort out of protest.
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