Singularity: Svaneti


Here I am not referring to the arrival of full artificial intelligence or the sudden achieving of the next level of human development. Nor to the point at the heart of black holes where physics breaks down, although all 3 of these are of considerable interest to me.

Rather, my title is about the preponderance of single people in Svaneti. Having been visiting this place for 20 years now, and living here for 12, I suppose that one’s observations can be said to account for something. The main question is, WHY so many unmarried individuals, remaining so until death?

It was a score of 10 funeral feasts I attended here, of people I had known, before the “wedding” side scored a single goal. The proportion has not improved dramatically since then.

My wife and I DO notice the improvement in new births here, chiefly by counting children entering grade 1 in school year by year in Etseri. A few years ago the total was 10, which they hadn’t seen for 9 years, we were told; it also has remained high since then, so this is a good sign.

Perhaps the statistics of single men and women, both, are merely from the generation which is now passing, giving way to a younger, more hopeful one. I do see the numbers as a symptom of the hopelessness which pervaded this faraway province as the USSR collapsed, vital support from Tbilisi waned, and mafia/bandit structures rushed in to fill the vacuum left by law’s decline, leading to a rather Wild West of Georgia. Tourism virtually collapsed, as did the main road. The free electricity was very erratic in both existence and quality, with brownouts, blackouts, surges and dips wreaking havoc on electrical appliances large and small. Kidnapping and armed robbery rose too. If you didn’t have a good local guide accompanying you in, or at least the known protection of the right people, you could be in real trouble if stopped on the road anywhere.

In such a situation, many people packed up and left, given any chance to settle somewhere else. They abandoned houses, possibly returning only in summer to check things over. Roofs to which snow stuck could collapse in a single winter if not shoveled off; I have seen this. And those who stayed because they couldn’t bear to leave or had not the means to do so: how to find the optimism to contemplate joining with a marriage partner, raising a family, making things better for oneself and the little ones? I believe that many people simply gave up on this option.

At least the local weddings, returnings and home renovations or buildings from nothing are increasing. So I really hope that, with new roads, tourism infrastructure, job possibilities and so on, people can raise their view a bit and, with hope, do what they can to see more Svan families coming into existence.

Now, if we can just do something about the new local corruption which reportedly is also flowering since Misha left the scene, and is indeed growing in my own experience, Svaneti can return to the prosperity it once knew before the USSR dissolved. It was never perfect, but there is such nostalgia for the stability of those times, even though the Church was under a stranglehold here. I really hope we can live to see the needed changes and improvements, because I expect to be here for a long time yet, alongside the Svans.

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 nearly 2000 members, at

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

By Tony Hanmer

13 June 2019 18:53