Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Caucasus: Apr '08

IWPR radio report helps bring about compensation for Batumi residents whose property was demolished.
A report on an IWPR-produced Georgian radio magazine programme highlighting the demolition of private property by the authorities in the Ajara region resulted in compensation payments for those who lost out.

The Batumi authorities ordered the dismantlement of all privately-owned garages in the city – with over 1000 of them destroyed in the course of several months.

Angry owners demanded that the authorities replace their garages or pay compensation – but officials paid no heed to their protests.

Bacho Gurabanidze, who works for the Accent programme, was the first local reporter to take an interest in the controversy. His report caused a stir in both the local and national media.

“As a result, Batumi’s [authorities] issued an order to pay compensation worth 1000 laris (690 dollars) to each Batumi resident, whose garage had been dismantled,” said Gurabanidze. “Unfortunately, they categorically refused to rebuild the garages, saying the structures made the city look ugly.”

“The local authorities did not even bother to respond to our protests,” said Batumi resident Lida Margalitadze. “But for the IWPR journalists, we would never have been given compensation.”

“A garage in Batumi costs 1,500 dollars on average, but a thousand laris is better than nothing,” said Elena Zatonskaya, who lives in the Ajara capital.

Last month, a journalist working for Accent played a unique role in facilitating local justice when he was asked to give a voice to a community in the mountainous north of Georgia which was in dispute with the police.

The reporter, Roman Kevkhishvili, recalled how he received a phone call out of the blue from representatives of the Kist ethnic minority in Duisi, a village in the Pankisi Gorge.

“The Pankisi Gorge is far from safe in terms of the crime situation, but I was overwhelmed by curiosity so I went to Duisi,” he said. “I was immediately taken to a meeting of the local elders. They were discussing a case involving two of the community’s members – Gia Khangoshvili, who had been accused of robbing Dutch journalists who had come to Pankisi last month to film a documentary; and the man who testified against him, Guram Margoshvili.”

Kevkhishvili was surprised to be invited along as an outsider to observe such a delicate internal affair being dealt with in traditional fashion within the Kist community. The Kists had brought him in the hope that his reporting would highlight their concerns about Khangoshvili’s arrest, concerns which they felt had been ignored by the police.

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