In a village on the outskirts of the Georgian mining hub of Chiatura, people have begun to sew shut their lips in an extreme form of hunger strike. As the mining continues under their feet, the houses in Shukruti are collapsing, and local residents say that neither the mining company nor the government is listening.
Vera Kupatadze rejoined the protests in Shukruti on 16 February, but she says the mining in Chiatura has been affecting her and her family’s lives for decades.
‘We built this house during very difficult days — we were practically starving — and now it’s being destroyed again. I was born and raised in Shukruti. My parents fought this fight without seeing any results. Now I have to fight the same fight.’
When her parents’ house collapsed in the early 2000s, Vera says, they did not receive any compensation and the family was forced to build a new house from scratch.
‘And they resumed mining underneath our village again and the house got damaged again’, she says, adding that two large families live in the house.
Since the latest round of protests started two years ago, she says no officials have approached her family.
‘It is a complete injustice. Is this the government we had hopes for? No one comes to us from the government’.
Ten residents of Shukruti are now on hunger strike, and five men and three women have sewn shut their mouths.
Local residents are demanding compensation from Georgian Manganese, the company that owns and operates the Manganese mines in Chiatura. They are also asking that the government step in to properly assess what is happening in the village, as they do not trust an audit conducted by the company.
In response to the latest protests, Georgian Manganese said they were willing to work with the Samkharauli National Forensic Bureau to assess the situation only if ‘the negotiations with the protesters, that are in a deadlock, will move into a legal framework and the justice system will resolve the disagreement’.
[Read on OC Media: Shukruti residents sew lips shut to demand compensation]
The company declined numerous requests to clarify further.
Considering their experience over the past two years, the protesters remain sceptical that the company will keep their word this time.
The protests have continued on and off since September 2019, restarting once again three months ago.
Local residents told OC Media that for all their years of protesting, both the local and the central governments have practically ignored their pleas.
Ia Asanidze says she joined the protest a month ago, because she could not leave her child before then. Ia was among those to sew her lips shut on 24 May.
‘My house is damaged, I also have agricultural lands that are being damaged. There is no perspective to build new houses in Shukruti. You can’t build anything new. Even wooden houses collapse’, she says.
Tamar Kupatadze, who has been camping with the protesters since they resumed their protests in February, says that despite the extreme measures taken by local residents to draw attention to their cause, no one from the government has come to visit them, except for representatives of the Public Defender’s Office.‘They came here on the 14th day, but they left us really hopeless. Only an ambulance comes every morning and every evening to check on our health’, she says.
Giorgi Neparidze, one of the leaders of the Shukruti protest, says that they halted their protest in June 2020 after receiving a verbal promise that there would be a three-party agreement between local residents, the government, and Georgian Manganese ensuring that the company would compensate the villagers. But such an agreement never emerged.
The protesters are living in a tent erected in 2019. There is no electricity in the tent and in winter, residents brought a wood-burning stove to keep themselves warm. Last week, a second tent was erected for the women who have joined the protest.
As mining is carried out 24/7, the sound of machinery makes it hard to have even a conversation. The protesters say the noise gives them frequent headaches.
Levan Shekiladze’s house was built in 1969. He says it has been three years since the soil started to shift and the house began to fall down. The back corner of the house collapsed about two years ago.
Levan’s brother is among the men who have sewn their mouths shut. The brothers built a new building in their garden hoping to feel safer than in their main house, but the cracks started appearing in the new construction.
‘It’s good that at that moment we weren’t home, I would have had a heart attack if I saw it. A second corner of the house is also damaged and a third one has cracks in it. That’s it. A house has four corners, right? I still don’t know how both I and this house keep standing’, Levan says.
‘They [the government] do not bother to visit me, only the media comes. The government only cares to empower businesses and farmers. No one cares for poor peasants like me’.