Residents of the Georgian village of Shkmeri staged a protest on Sunday, demanding the revocation of two licenses issued by the Ministry of Economy to mine thousands of square meters of land for manganese.
Activists from several regions joined local residents demanding the revocation of the mining rights given to the two companies over 1.5 square kilometres in the village in June.
Local NGOs, the Social Justice Centre and Green Alternative echoed the concerns of the demonstrators in a joint statement, detailing the legal struggles the residents of Shkmeri faced as a result of mining efforts.
According to a 2014 census, 23 people lived in the village in Georgia’s northern Racha Region, which has been dealing with mining attempts as far back as 2006. However, the extraction of manganese in Shkmeri at the turn of the millennium was complicated by the lack of basic infrastructure, such as roads leading to the village.
The recent stand-off between residents and mining companies started in January 2021, after criminal charges of fraudulently appropriating lands were filed against 14 families and the head of the village.
Tatuli Chubabria, social programme director at the Centre for Social Justice, told OC Media that the cases were filed after the residents attempted to register ownership of lands between 2018 and 2020.
According to Chubabria, fines were imposed on the accused, while the head of the village was also sacked in June 2021.
On 19 November, Technology 2021 held a meeting with residents of Shkmeri expressing a desire to create a supervisory committee of local residents.
The committee would monitor the implementation of the mining company’s commitments to the village, including those pertaining to environmental issues, and providing employment to the people of Shkmeri.
Representatives of the mining company expressed a willingness to sign a memorandum to strictly regulate all aspects of the mining operations.
Technology 2021 laid out guarantees that an enrichment factory would not be built on-site to avoid the contamination of nearby bodies of water. The company also pledged it would only mine areas of 200 square metres at a time, promising to recultivate the area before moving on to another mining site.
However, residents of Shkmeri were sceptical, despite guarantees provided by the mining company.
‘Our position is firm,’ said a protester at the Shkmeri demonstrations. ‘We don’t want you to recultivate the lands after mining them, we want to revoke your license which you have obtained illegally. We will definitely achieve that because the truth is on our side.’