Ketilari’s Villager Fighting over Land Plots and Broken Promises
Nana Pazhava, Abasha
The inhabitants of village Ketikari, Abasha District are fight for the plots they had been cultivating for years. Approximately 175 hectares of land in Ketilari was placed on the privatization list. In the near future an investor might buy the land which is used by the villagers for cultivation and grazing their animals. This land is the only source of income for the villagers.
The inhabitants of village Ketilari are not intending to take part in the tender which was announced by the Ministry of Economical Development. They want to buy plots directly from the government. On July 4 the villagers rallied in front of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Regional Administration Office in Zugdidi and demanded that the government to sell the plots directly to them. The remonstrators stated at the rally that if their demand was rejected they would take their case to Tbilisi and demonstrate with hoes in front of the State Chancellery.
When the inhabitants of Ketilari heard about the tender they decided to visit Guram Gunava, Abasha District Governor. Hence, approximately 200 villagers came to Gunava’s chamber.
Zurab Gabunia: “The district governor told us that they were planning to build cattle breeding complex with 5 000 cows and other farm animals. It is very good but will the peasants be left with any land plots and a source of income. I think not all peasants will be employed in the complex. We produce corn in order to provide families and cattle with minimal amount of grain. The peasants are still cultivating land with ploughs from the 21st century. Where have the tractors gone that the government had given us? These tractors had been standing in Abasha center for months. However, we were not provided them. A peasant has never found justice in the former system and the same is again happening today.”
Tamila Kvaratskhelia: “The district governor is obliged to protect people’s interests. He must listen and work to solve their problems. When we turned to Gunava for help, he told us: “Be content with what you have now. You had been using those plots illegally for years. We can decide problems in at the district level without your interference. You can take this year’s harvest. The income you have gained illegally in previous years is yours and we won’t demand anything of that.” They thought about us only during the pre election period with their promises. Even the emergency ambulance was taken away from the village after the parliamentary elections, the same one they had so proudly transferred to the village.
What is being faced in this villager is much the same as faced by villagers throughout all of Georgia, and approximately 450 families of village Ketilari had been using village plots since the Soviet times and never before had anyone demanded that they have to pay taxes on this land. Very few plots had been privatized or leased in pervious years. However, the inhabitants of Ketilari remember President Mikheil Saakashvili’s promise. The President promised that the peasants owning less than 5 hectares of land would not have to pay tax on that land The peasants are now words that Mikheil Saakashvili’s words did not go further than for the purpose of making a TV speech.
The Abasha Disrict Governor highlights the fact of illegal use of agricultural lands. He considers that the claims of Ketilari inhabitants are baseless. He advises the villagers to take part in the auction that is to be held.
Guram Gunava: “It is up to the Ministry of Economical Development to decide about land privatization. The fact is that no one had been paying land tax for years. Now a Georgian businessperson who works in Ukraine is interested in starting up cattle production project in the in Abasha district. A cattle growing complex, milk and meat factories will be established. Locals will be able to have jobs. Our aim is to revitalize cattle production which is a traditional sphere in the district of Abasha.
The villagers expressed their discontent with the Abasha Governor and Roman Bzhalava, Abasha District Single Mandate MP at the rally in Zugdidi in front of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti Regional Office.
Temur Nikuradze: “Roman Bzhalava told us that he could not listen to us as he was planning to have a heart operation. I don’t know how, maybe with bribery and falsification, he became an MP. If he can not do anything sufficient on his own than he must start listening to us. This is the smallest thing he can do for us. Guram Gunava even said to me: “You do not need a plot as your land is full of weeds.” He can come and see how well treated is my cornfield He can cut off both of my hands if he can find even one weed there. Gunava used to be head of Abasha District in Soviet times. He still thinks like a communist even at this time. He still does not care about the problems that we face in our lives.”
The demonstrators were demanding to meet with Zaza Gorozia, Samgrelo-Zemo Svaneti Regional Governor. However, Aleksandre Akhvlediani, First Deputy Regional Governor met the villagers instead. He made some promises to the Ketilari inhabitants but these are only promises.
Aleksandre Akhvlediani: “It is forbidden by Georgian Law on State Property Privatization to assign land free-of-charge. 75 Hectares cultivated by the peasants is placed on the privatization list. We know that the majority of the population will be unable to take part in the auction as the land price will be far more than they can pay. Therefore we will do our best to take into account the interests of the locals. Probably we can hold a special auction for them. In any case, the inhabitants of Ketilari village will not be left without any plots of land. The problem of the villagers is now being discussed. I can accept full responsibility that my promise will be lived up to.”
After having been promised help by the deputy governor, the villagers than returned to their homes. The inhabitants of villages Kvatanari, Etseri, Gulekari, Ketilarians have one more problem: as there is no river embankment bulkhead protecting their plots and the land and the crops are washed away with high water. However, the inhabitants of Abasha district say that it does not make much difference if their lands are taken away by water or by a so-called investor; the end result is all the same to them!
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