Thinking of travelling to Georgia when you can travel again? Background reading is important, so look no further
Georgia - want to know more about the background to this fascinating country?
Our new Intern, Tom Jenkins, has analysed the situaton for us and we bring you what he has found. This is his second piece of work for us, so please tell us how much you liked it and give him some feedback on [email protected]
Where is Georgia?
Georgia is situated at the crossroads of Europe and Russia; bordering Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Russia has always had difficulties with its neighbour and Georgia has become the arena of conflicting interests; consequently, creating years of political and territorial angst.
Political and Territorial Turmoil
Georgia has been burdened with tense international relations over recent decades. Separatist/independence movements in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have consistently produced sporadic unrest and incidents with Georgia, alongside heightened tensions with Russia due to their continuous support of both regions. This has resulted in significant clashes, peaking in 2008 with a war between Georgia and a South Ossetian-supported Russia. It concluded after 5 days, with Russian forces remaining present in both regions but overall ‘ownership’ remaining with Georgia. The situation is the same to this day. Various political demonstrations and political violence (especially from Abkhazian militants) arose and increased in prevalence.
However, since 2012, relations have improved, with clashes having become background noise, rather than forefront issues.
Vigilance should still be embraced when in and around Tbilisi, due to the persistent threat of cyber-attacks and background activity coming from both Georgia and Russia. A (suspected-Russian) cyber-attack on 28 October 2019 disabled elements of Georgia’s national security; disrupting thousands of government and private websites and temporarily stopping the broadcasts of two major television channels. February 2020 then saw Russia carrying out military training in the Caucasus, which resembled the training conducted prior to its 2008 invasion of Georgia. Who knows what 2020 will now bring to the area.
Nevertheless, amongst political tension, arms are flexed, and certain events can carry little weight. So, any on goings as such are to only be interpreted and not declared factually.
Primary Concerns for travellers in the area
Despite past and present political turmoil, Georgia is currently in a healthier place. It focuses on reforming and improving various sectors, with decreases in crime and a flourishing economy.
There have been episodes of unrest, but it is currently calmer than in previous years. Protests and demonstrations are relatively common in the capital city, Tbilisi; frequently targeting government buildings or foreign embassies, especially Parliament on Rustaveli Avenue.
If any protest or demonstration occurs or is expected to take place, then it is advisavble to monitor local media, follow advice from local authorities and maintain your distance from any gatherings and limit movements where possible. Violence doesn’t often erupt during the protests. However, the dispersals can be brutal as seen at an anti-Kremlin (specifically, anti-Russo occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia) protest in 2019. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets, injuring more than 240 people. Water cannons have also been utilised to free-up access to parliament.
With the approaching 2020 elections, scheduled on 31 October, extra vigilance will be required when moving around Tbilisi. This is due to the likely protests and demonstrations which are known to take place around election periods. At the end of a protest in June 2020, posters read ‘We will meet at the election’, reinforcing this point.
A further concern in Tbilisi is crime. Though it is like that of many tourist-attracting capital cities; consisting primarily of petty crimes. Pickpocketing, burglary and alcohol-related assaults. Remaining aware of your surroundings and taking a vigilant approach when moving around the city is crucial. Minimising the amount of valuable goods on your person and ensure your hotel/apartment is secure before leaving.
Planning a trip to Georgia?
Travel insurance is more important than ever with the ongoing struggle the world faces with Covid-19. Be sure to check that it provides all essential and necessary cover.
Local laws and customs should be researched before travelling to Georgia. There are strict restrictions regarding bringing medicines into the country which would not normally be problematic in other countries. Local laws worth noting include a zero-tolerance policy towards drink driving and it is important to always carry a copy of your passport.
Be sure to follow local news and read up on potential or ongoing demonstrations which may impact your stay. Book your hotel/apartment away from government buildings.
After protests and demonstrations in 2019, flights were temporarily suspended to Russia. Situations like these may arise again and affect travel to and from the country. Have a plan!
Finally, the environment can also produce a number of problems nationwide. The capital city remains vulnerable to floods and repercussions from being situated in an area of seismic activity. Be sure to keep up to date with weather forecasts before travel and during your stay.
Top tip: Be careful if refusing a drink when out and about, as it can be considered a major insult.
Contact us for more information and training prior to travel to this region. Please contact Andrew to chat over your requirements on [email protected]. Andrew drove to Georgia last summer so is the ideal person to speak to for advice.
Sources: Tom used various open sources from different media to reseach this article, with thanks to them: GOV UK, PGI, Airborne Network, Voa News, Reuters, OC Media, BBC News
Photos: Rudolf Kirchener