An Open Letter to the President, from Etseri, Svaneti

Dear Madame President,


We often don’t cheer anymore when the electricity comes back on. It’s free of charge in Upper Svaneti, as I am sure you know, and has been for longer than the 19 years I have made Georgia my home. Free, and we’re told not to complain at the frequent, many-hour outages of the ancient system. Huh! If we want a new one, with reliability built in, it’ll come with meters for all our houses, and monthly electricity bills as well!

Instead, we mostly do nothing, and hope that our appliances, our fridges and TVs and water heaters won’t be killed when the process of turning the power back on takes several tries. On. Off a few seconds or a minute later. On again. Rinse, repeat. We might unplug things when it first goes off, so as to save them from those repeated jolts. If we’re rich enough, we might buy several gadgets to help. One is voltage stabilizers to even out the flow of juice, usually rated from about 1 to 5 kW, though house-level ones of 10 or more kW are possible. Another thing is a generator, powered by diesel or gasoline, for the things which really need to be on more than off, like fridges and freezers. Only if we’re a business making money hand over fist will we get a house-rated generator, though: Those things are expensive, and thirsty for fuel too! In my case, the nearest petrol station is 28 km away, in Mestia.

My wife and I run the only real shop in our village, the largest shop between Khaishi and Mestia. In our home/guest house we have three fridge-freezer combinations and two separate chest freezers, as well as about seven heaters of about 1 kW each. AND gas for cooking with when the power’s out, AND the obligatory monster Svan wood-burning stove as a last resort, heavy enough to have needed four men to get it into the house when we moved here in August 2012.

I had already experienced two winters, from 2007-9, living in Ushguli and teaching English there, and noticing how bad the electricity was then. Seemed that every time it snowed (a not infrequent occurrence in an Ushguli winter), the power disappeared. For 5 minutes or 10 days? Who knew? The psychological effects were similar for any time frame, because of the not knowing. We were half in the 19th century, half in the 21st, wanting our soap operas and talent shows on TV during the long winter evenings but cooking and heating mostly with wood. Farming entirely by hand, too.

I first visited Svaneti in 1999, quite unaware of how dangerous casual visits were in those bandit-ridden years. Soon after that, in 2000, I had made fast friends with a relative of the infamous Aprasidzes and continued an average of three visits a year to the province, which had beckoned to me from afar and was my raison d’être in Georgia in the first place. Still living in blissful ignorance of the forces against and for me, until I found myself at Evgeniy and Omekhi’s funeral, asked to take official photos during a supra for 600 people outdoors in the February snow.

Yes, infrastructure improved rapidly after that in Svaneti, and I even met President Saakashvili twice before he left Georgia. But the “free” electricity remains a gift horse into the mouth of which one should indeed look. And as for the local corruption, don’t even get me started.

We hope fervently that, having won the vote, you will win our hearts as well.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1900 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

06 December 2018 18:09