Day 3: Georgian Protesters start blocking city streets

Ketevan Tsamebuli Ave. blocked by demonstrators. Photo by Giorgi Pkhachiashvili

Ketevan Tsamebuli Ave. blocked by demonstrators. Photo by Giorgi Pkhachiashvili

TBILISI, Georgia – The Georgian anti-government protesters were starting to block the city streets in heavily traffiked locations on Saturday. On Sunday Oppositional leaders plan to go to church and prey for the peace, as it is Georgian Christian Orthodox Saint Day.  After the mass they will make informational demonstration.

As Eka Beselia, member of Movement for United Georgia announced, they will start blocking the streets again on Monday.

Today at 4 p.m. anti-government protesters have blocked four key locations in Tbilisi: Ketevan Tsamebuli Avenue in Avlabari, near the President’s administration building; Kostava Avenue in front of the Georgia Public Broadcaster; Rustaveli Avenue in front of Parliament; and Vaja Pshavela Avenue in front of Rustavi 2 TelevisionBy 4.30 the largest number of protesters, nearly 5,000, gathered near the Parliament. The leaders decided half of them should join protesters near Georgia Public Broadcaster and protesters in Avlabari, as by 4.15 less then fifty people gathered in Avlabari at Ketevan Tsamebuli Avenue.

By 4.40 Protesters in Avlabari were joined by the protesters from the Parliament headed by Eka Beselia, Movement for United Georgia and Kakha Kukava, The Conservative Party. They blocked the street. p>
By 4.45 p.m. thousands of Protesters gathered in front of Public Broadcaster. There are mostly supporters of Alliance for Georgia and United Opposition. The protesters marching from the Parliament also joined them. They plan to march towards Rustavi2 and block Vaja Pshavela Avenue for a short time.

As Levan Gachechiladze, the leader of The United Opposition, announced Rustavi2 will be one of the hot spots from Monday, as their coverage of the demonstration is biased. Maybe they are irritated with the joke of Vano Javakhishvili, in Vano’s Show at Rustavi2 at April 10, a Saakashvili-supporting TV station. He joked protesters are picking on a weak link by attacking Georgia Public Broadcaster, the old government channel, and invited them to visit their station.

Instead, he gave the address for Imedi TV, formerly an opposition television station that was the cause of Saakashvili stepping down in November 2007, after he declared martial law and attacked journalists there. Currently, Imedi is offering news considered to be more sympathetic to the administration.p>

The protesters plan to return to Parliament at 8 p.m. and continue informational demonstration there.

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Protesters meet Public Broadcaster

Public Broadcaster General Director Levan Kubaneishvili made a decision to hold discussions with opposition leaders. Levan Gachechiladze, Zviad Dzidziguri and Koba Davtashvili are currently meeting with him.

After 4 p.m., some opposition leaders together with the protesters moved away from planned protests at Parliament and towards the Georgian Public Broadcaster, demanding that the channel broadcast the demonstration live. Kostava Street is almost blocked by the protesters. Conservative Party member Bezhan Gunava attempted to break into the broadcaster’s building.

Though they broadcast the program during their regular news hours at 12 and 4 p.m. and had plans to show the protest at 8 p.m., they did not, as opposition organizers demand, show the protests live consistently between 2 p.m.-8 p.m. The facility is protected by the police and Special Forces who are located throughout the building.

Otherwise, the protests went without major incident. By 4 p.m tens of thousands of people have gathered in front of the Parliament building demanding the President Saakashvili’s resignation.

Almost all leaders of oppositional parties have addressed the protesters saying they will continue political protests until their main demand will not be fulfilled. Most speeches were met with cheers, with the loudest for Levan Gachechiladze and Irakli Alasania. The protesters met Nino Burjanadze with whistles.

Poet Dato Magradze read the statement written by the opposition saying that this is the last chance for the government and they have to put the interests of country higher than their own interests.

Thousands of protesters march towards Parliament

By 1:45 p.m., more than 5,000 protesters challenging President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration had already gathered in four different places in Tbilisi, and had started marching towards Parliament.

Avlabari Metro Station was the starting place for the Conservative Party and Movement for the United Georgia. They reported choosing the place intentionally because the new administration offices of the president are also located at Avlabari district. By 12 p.m. nearly 1000 people had already gathered at this spot. Leaders of the party are waiting for more protesters and at 1 p.m. they started a march towards the Parliament.

At the same time, people began gathering near the Georgian Public Broadcaster. Two movements, the Alliance for Georgia and former presidential opponent Levan Gachechiladze made statements. Alliance for Georgia leader Irakli Alasania took a hard line: he said the only chance for negotiations is if the President resigns.

Though the majority of people gathering were from Tbilisi, some activists arrived from Adjara as well. “There are people coming from Adjara … but they are also going to have a demonstration in Batumi,” said Republican Party Batumi Supreme Council member Gia Masalkini.

Students and the members of Nino Burjanadze’s party, The Democratic Movement – United Georgia, started to gather at the yard of Tbilisi State University. On the way to Rustaveli Avenue , towards Parliament, students shouted “Go go go Misha!!!”

Students from the Tbilisi State University, Georgian Technical University, Ilia Chavchavadze University, Medical University, And The Agricultural University united together to join the protesters’ demand.

Student of Tbilisi State University Ramaz Bechvaia, 23, said that all students share the main demand of resignation of President Saakashvili.

“We will stand here until our demand will be fulfilled,” said Bechvaia.

Protesters coming from Georgian Public Broadcaster and Tbilisi State University are going to join near Philarmonic Hall. Because of the large number of people the movement of the cars is stopped on Rustaveli Avenue.

Protesters from different regions of Georgia joined the demonstration on Rustaveli Avenue. 200 people from Guria region are already in Tbilisi and 1500 activists from Samegrelo camedespite a municipal transport shutdown.

One protester from Guria, 37 year-old Shota Gogiberidze, said “We have an obligation towards our children and have to create a better future for them.”

Out-of-town demonstrators hired private vehicles to reach the capital, and reported that police were stopping their cars and discouraged them from continuing to Tbilisi. According to protesters who reached the capital, the roads are now free and a lot of protesters are soon going to join the demonstration.

Protesters from Batumi went to the residence of President Saakashvili in Bobokvati, Adjara in approximately 50 cars and 10 mini buses. Ex-prime minister Zurab Nogaideli and members of his oppositional party Movement for Fair Georgia had information that President Saakashvili was going to be at his residence. When the information turned out to be false, the protesters went back to Batumi and despite rainy weather protested in front of the theatre. Observers reported that about 3000 people are going to join them.

Nino Burjanadze (Democratic movement - United Georgia) accompanied with her sons and students marching toward Parliament. photo by Giorgi Pkhachiashvili

Nino Burjanadze (Democratic movement - United Georgia) accompanied with her sons and students marching toward Parliament. photo by Giorgi Pkhachiashvili

Creating Future Today- students in front of Georgian Public Brpoadcaster. Photo by Tamuna Koridze

Creating Future Today- students in front of Georgian Public Brpoadcaster. Photo by Tamuna Koridze

A place to call home

dsc022042Tiko Piranishvili sits up for the entrance exam at Tbilisi State University and has little time to read the books of her favorite writer, Stefan Zweig. She lives in a flat in Pavlov street #53 with her six brothers and four sisters. Tiko misses her home village, 12 red houses in green trees, SOS Children’s Village.

She found herself at SOS Children’s Village when she was eight. Tiko is 18 now and is on the second phase of the SOS Children’s Village program.

SOS Kinderdorf International is an independent non-governmental social development organization. The first SOS Children’s Village was founded by Hermann Gmeiner in 1949 in Imst, Austria. He was committed to helping orphan children who lost their families in the Second World War.

Nowadays SOS Children’s Village exists in 132 countries, works in the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and promotes these rights around the world.

In Georgia SOS Kinderdorf International started to promote the children’s rights in 1996, two years after Georgia joined UN Convention of Children’s Rights. They built traditional Austrian village, 12 two story-houses with 78 inhabitants and 12 SOS mothers. Another SOS Children’s Village was constructed in Kutaisi eight years ago.

Every such Village is based on four principles: each child needs a mother, brothers and sisters, house and a supportive village environment. Each house belongs to one family. The family and village build ties that last lifelong. SOS mother is trained for two years to build a close relationship with every child entrusted to her.

dsc022321In the process of acceptance, priority is given to the orphaned and abandoned children, then to those whose families are unable to care for them. Age of accepted is from one to ten years. Boys and girls of different ages live together, and the siblings are never parted. Either all of them are admitted to the village or none of them. 

Meri Maglaperidze, Head of Child’s Rights Centre at Public Defender’s Office, thinks that brothers and sisters are sometimes only relatives to each other, so parting them would not be fair. 

Disabled children are not admitted to the village. “Our goal is to integrate child in the society,” – says Ia Metreveli, Senior Teacher at SOS Children’s Village, – “We don’t take disabled children as far as we don’t have facilities for their rehabilitation. What we should do with them when the program ends, they get 23, drop them in the street?”

Andro Dadiani, Country Director of Every Child admits that caring for the disabled child needs many resources and facilities. Georgia is far from having facilities for disabled children yet and it is very problematic in Georgia nowadays.
SOS Kinderdorf International has recently developed a policy of disability, especially to overcome all challenges related to accommodation of the disabled children needing very specialized type of care. Countries, which developed more advanced programs for children with disabilities, are India, Mexico, Malawi, Germany, Kosovo, Nepal.
“We are not a specialized organization. In these situations we believe that children with disabilities can be cared in their best interest in specialized organizations,”- says Raluca Verweijen-Slamnescu, Adviser at SOS Kinderdorf International in Vienna.
dsc02225SOS Kinderdorf Children go to the public school #170. As the study is the priority for SOS Kinderdorf International, teachers at school are trained in order to handle with the children.
When children turn 15, they move to the second phase. They go to the SOS Youth Facilities, in flats rented in the centre of the city. They live with SOS sisters and brothers (8-10 in each flat) and teachers. Different from SOS Children’s Village, where the head of the family is SOS mother, in Youth Facilities teachers are men as well as women.

As Raluca Verweijen-Slamnescu, Adviser at SOS Kinderdorf International in Vienna, declares SOS Kinderdorf International has already started creating family based care including SOS fathers. Family based care of this kind already exists in several developed countries, for example in Austria, France, Norway.

Zviad Berdzenishvili, Director of the National Coordination Organization of SOS Kinderdorf in Georgia declares that SOS Kinderdorf in Georgia plans to start the practice of SOS fathers too.

At Youth Facility children have to study. If they could not study, they have to find a job. They study to manage their own money and get used to independent life with the help of SOS teachers.

Tiko Piranishvili studies all day long, as she wants to become a student and live independently after leaving Youth Facility.

“I hope to receive grant from the government for my studies, but in case of refusal SOS Children’s Village will finance my studies, so I have to study,” – says Tiko Piranishvili.

After four years, at the age of 18 they have to leave the flat and move to the third and last phase of the Village life. The last phase is called Leaving care. They rent a flat independently with sister or brother, without any teachers. SOS Children’s Village assists to pay the part of the rent and utility costs, until they turn 23. If he/she is a student they will be paid all costs for living, but if they are working they will be paid only half of the costs.

“SOS Children’s Village has the best experience of assisting adolescence up to 25 years. They are experiencing it in Georgia also,” – says Andro Dadiani, Country Director of Every Child.

After finishing all SOS phases, young people get their money gathered during their life at SOS Children’s Village. Sponsors all around the world receive the pictures of the children and often transfer money to them. Money is the last gift from the organization; though family ties grown at the village lasts the whole life, as SOS Teacher Temur Sikharulidze declares.

“There is the fourth phase,” – says he, SOS teacher at the youth house, “We hug them and say: you are free my son, go ahead”.

SOS Children’s Village recognizes the family as the best place for upbringing of a child and therefore promotes policies and practices supporting biological families and family re-unification, as well as preventing family breakdown and child abandonment. Nowadays they have 200 beneficiaries in Tbilisi and 200 in Kutaisi. They train the parents in order to prevent the child from leaving the family.

“We try to avoid abandonment, but if there is no way out, we try to have good relations with the biological parents of the children,” – says Ia Metreveli, SOS senior teacher.
Half of the 150 young people who grew up at SOS Village during the past 12 years, study at universities (3 entered this year, 4 last year), half of them work in different places. There are only two facts of crime among them.

150 youngsters integrated in the society represent only three percent of 5200 abandoned and vulnerable children of Georgia, earning for their living by begging in the streets.
Andro Dadiani, Country Director of Every Child thinks that the main reason of this way of living is lack of family care. One teacher at the orphanage can’t handle with 15 children. They go to the street and start earning money. He thinks the best cure is attention and warmth. “Children do not have to grow in warehouses,” he says.

State Reform of Deinstitutionalization has launched in Georgia in 2005. Within the frames of the reform 2500 children were taken from the institutions. Some of them are beneficiaries living in their own families, some of them live in foster families and small group homes.

“We are carrying out the State Reform of deinstitutionalization and we have already taken 2500 child from the institutions. I confess that SOS Kindersdorf has high quality, but still it is Institution,” – says Tamar Golubiani, Head of Child Welfare Division at the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia.

Tamar Golubiani says that they have good relations with SOS Kinderdof International, but she sees two problems concerning them, first is the problem of integration, as they live as a village, together, and the second is SOS mother, she thinks that if there were fathers it would be better.

In the research about Institutions conducted by the UNICEF, they did not include SOS kinderdorf International.

Nino Partskhavadze, Independent Expert, who participated in the research about SOS Kinderdorf International, states that people who think that SOS Kinderdorf is intstitution, are mistaken. “In 132 countries in the world SOS Kinderdorf’s work is assessed as Family based Care. Among them are developed countries like USA, Canada, Austria,” – says Nino Partskhavadze.  

dsc021911SOS Kinderdorf International in Georgia has serious ambitions. Action plan of SOS Kinderdorf for 2016 is to cover all 5200 abandoned and vulnerable children in Georgia.

18-year-old Tiko Piranishvili respects her liberty as she is about to leave SOS youth facility and start independent life, the third phase – SOS Leaving Care, but she respects that she has a place to call home and wishes every child to have it.

Published in: on November 26, 2008 at 10:08 am  Leave a Comment  

Theatre at the University of Arts

The place full of sounds, verbal exercises and reciting phrases from the poems coming out from the doors, this is the corridor of the State University of Arts, situated on Rustaveli Avenue. The corridor ends with the hard metal door, followed with the long stairs going down.

Atmosphere is gloomy, walls painted decades ago. The air turns humid, as the stairs are coming down to the cellar. The stairs end facing the door covered with leather.

After opening the door, one long step is enough to be on the stage, four-five meters in length and three meters in depth. There are no curtains on the stage. On the opposite side of the stage, there is the place for audience, 40/50 seats divided into two parts. Seats are covered with brown leather.

The walls are covered with grey velvet, with mirrors fixed on the right wall. The light is weak unless projectors are turned on. But the smell of acrid dust and dampness is strong.

At the right corner stairs are leading to the balcony, creating roof over the seats. Balcony is the wardrobe for stage requisites. The clothes of different colors, suitcases, umbrellas, old shoes and coats, hats and gloves, with the bitter smell of old dusty things are kept in a mess there. But the place is more important than that. The mechanism for lighting and musical assistance to the performance are also fixed at the balcony. But it has more dignities. During the performance the actor can appear unexpectedly, rushing down from the balcony to the stage.

This is the Theatre for students with tiny, but all its components, where students try to make classical and modern plays alive.

Published in: on November 4, 2008 at 11:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Decision of Life

22-year-old Giorgi Phkhachiashvili’s decision to become a journalist is almost as old as he himself. “In the years of civil war, when there was no electricity in Tbilisi, neighbors gathered to listen to 4-year-old Gio, to me. I told them the news I had listened to when they were working. It was funny show for them in the dark and frozen city”, Phkhachiashvili says.

In childhood Phkhachiashvili also dreamed to become a football player, but because of his health, he was not able to continue trainings. So playing football is his favorite, but not only hobby and plays with friends at least once a week.

“In childhood Giorgi was very good in sports, football and skiing. But his interests were broader than that. He studied even craft of cloisonne enamel. He was always very active. Giorgi’s decision to study journalism was not surprise for me. In spite of his diverse interests, I was always sure that Giorgi would become a journalist”- says Ketevan Katamadze, Pkhachiashvili’s mother. 

“If you ask me what is my dream profession now, my answer will be Film Director”, Pkhachiashvili says. This is the dream about which even his close friend, Levan Dolidze knows nothing.

But in spite of his dreams changing since childhood, he decided to become a journalist. In the eleventh form, when he participated in the youth project at the First Channel (now Georgian Public Broadcaster), he took firm decision to enter the Tbilisi State University, the Faculty of TV-Radio Journalism.

During his studies Phkhachiashvili worked at Caucasus Youth Environmental Network as a volunteer journalist. After graduation he started to work as Assistant to the Ministry at the Ministry of Environment. But he gave up work for more important thing, he says. Phkhachiashvili entered Georgian School of Public affairs, School of Journalism and Media Management and is again a student, with aspiration to become a professional Journalist.

Published in: on October 31, 2008 at 8:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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