The Revolutionary Capital
21.07.2009 - 22.07.2009
Arriving to Tbilisi, we got onto a standard Soviet metro (probably made in the exactly the same factory as the metro we took in Kiev), and walked along the dusty street of Marjanishvili, lined with old ladies selling vegetables, to one of the homestay-hostels in the area. A quick shower (the water problems in Kutaisi meant I hadn't washed in a while...) and we went to look around the town. It's actually very nice. The streets need a little paving in places, but the archtecture is impressive, with definite Russian and Persian influences.
Wandering aound we got a good feel for the town, walking along the leafy, boutique lines Rustaveli we reached the Parliament Building, where the street became blocked off by white boxes labeled with "Cell" and a number, which are where the prostesters to the Saakashvili government currently reside. There are about 50 or so of these boxes surrounding the government building, most empty, but a few groups of die hard protesters are still holding out for change. There is also a large podium directly in front of Parliament with a massive banner reading "people for the resignation of Saakashvili".
We chatted to some of these protesters to get the word on the street, and were pointed to their "starshiy", the elder of the group, a large man with a huge beard sitting on a bench. He spouted a lot of rhetoric, some sensible, but a lot of nationalistic ramblings. They say that both America and Russia want the take over Georgia (they seemed to dislike America more as Russia is an orthodox country), but do not care about her people, and naievely that they want Georgia to be a neutral country trading their wares with the rest of the world. They dislike Saakashvili as he is not religious, or nationalistic enough. They wanted a lot of change, but didn't seem to offer up any ideas. A few months ago there were apparently millions out in the street demanding change, but recently the protests have died down, wih only the die-hard remaining living here for the past 3 and a half months.
The next day we saw Tbilisi properly, especially the old town, which is nice but still very run down with a surprising amount of abandoned building which we broke into and climbed around. After some more walking, st seemed that most of the centre was suddenly flooded by busloads of police, police armoured vehicles which began clearing the streets of people. Biden was in town, which also explained the US flags flying around the place. The police were fairly polite though, unlike during the Shavernadze years, as some locals recounted, when they'd used to beat and extort people for fun. This hampered our exploration of the town somewhat as it shut down all of the centre until tomorrow, but there was wtill a lot of interesting things to see, like a market which consisted of old people selling off random stuff, like plates, knives forks and heaps of Soviet trinkets from their homes to make ends meet.
Anyway, I have little time now, but more to follow... Tibilisi is very nice, but tomorrow we head back into the wild mountains along the Georgian military highway.