Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets, and Wine

“In the first decade-plus following the Soviet Union’s collapse, Georgians showed themselves to be a protest-happy people. But local experts say Georgian citizens are now losing steam, with apathy taking the place of activism.” – The Georgian Times earlier this week

The reality:

Thousands of people in Tbilisi have gathered in the streets over the past few days, leading up to the 20th anniversary of Georgia’s independence this Thursday, May 26. While demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili, these antigovernment protesters clashed with police, who resorted to firing tear gas and rubber bullets at them. The Georgian people are accusing President Saakashvili of stifling pro-Western democratic reforms promised to them when he came to power in a bloodless coup in 2003. They also are expressing their anger at the continuing poverty (50% are below the poverty line) and unemployment (close to 30%).

The representatives from the various Georgian ministries that we have been interviewing seem to disregard the protests and consider them to be small for Georgian standards. Perhaps they are just trying to ensure that such activism does not cloud our judgment of Georgia as we prepare our marketing strategy for the country.

Nevertheless, this country does have a lot to offer the world:

(Note: The shots of the casino and spa are actually from our hotel, but the casino is nothing like that. It mostly consists of a bunch of chainsmokers that don’t know how to play BlackJack and have any fun. And we are obviously too busy burning the midnight oil to make use of the spa facilities…)

Our client wants us to see more of the country, and is planning to take us from the center of the country in Tbilisi to the west coast city of Batumi, along the Black Sea. Batumi is known as both a free tourism zone and free industrial zone, which means that they offer investors enticing tax and regulatory conditions to build hotels/resorts and factories, respectively. Along the way to Batumi, we will be able to see the quality of roads and infrastructure being developed in Georgia.

In the meantime, we have been spending our off-time seeing the sites, such as the perplexing Mtatsminda Park …

… and sampling the local flavor – primarily their delicious produce (BEST. TOMATOES. EVER.) and, of course, their wine. Georgia is actually the oldest wine producing region of the world and has recently focused on boosting the quality of wines produced to improve exports, so we have been doing extensive field research on this as well:

All in all, the experience has been great and eye-opening. I would go on about it, but I am about to head to a converging session with the rest of my team – with post-its in tow, obviously.

—Rahul Bijor