In the village of Shukruti, five people have sewn their lips shut to demand that the industrial company Georgian Manganese pay compensation for damage to their homes that they allege has been caused by the company.
For nearly 100 days, protests have been ongoing in the village of Shukruti, near Chiatura, an industrial city in western Georgia.
Giorgi Neparidze, 29, is one of the protesters. On 11 May, he and four other locals stitched up their lips and began a hunger strike.
‘Two-hundred-and-eighty-five families live in the village. For 40 families, the company has signed a "memorandum" and paid out a meager amount. Our main demand is to give everyone adequate compensation for the damage’, Neparidze told OC Media.
The ‘memorandum’ mentioned by Neparidze is an agreement between Georgian Manganese, contractors, and local residents.
According to the protesters, after the signing of the memorandum, some residents received a small payout, though it did not cover the full cost of the damage.
‘Among the people who signed the memorandum, some were given ₾2,000 ($600), some were paid ₾5 ($1,500) and ₾10,000 ($3,000) by the company’, Neparidze said.
Tatuli Chubabria, social program director at the Center for Social Justice, told OC Media that a few years ago, Georgian Manganese hired a company to conduct an audit and assess the damaged homes.
‘After that, the company said that they would agree on a certain number of families and determine the order in which the compensation should be paid. According to the locals, we are talking about 40 families’, Chubabria said.
OC Media tried to contact Georgian Manganese. A company representative told OC Media to refer to information posted on the company’s official website and would not answer any additional questions.
On 20 May, the company posted on its official Facebook page that they were ready to meet the demand of the residents and involve the Levan Samkharauli National Bureau of Expertise in the damage assessment process, on one condition.
‘Georgian Manganese and its subcontractor Shukruti+ LTD are ready to engage the Samkharauli National Forensic Bureau only under one condition: if the negotiations with the protesters, that are in a deadlock, will move into the legal framework and the justice system will resolve the disagreement’.
Protesters told OC Media that they were refraining from taking their complaints to court as the legal process might take years.
Shukruti resident Levan Shekeladze told OC Media his house has sustained damage for years because of the mining undertaken by Georgian Manganese. When he returned home on 19 May, he said, he found one of the house’s walls partially collapsed.
[Watch OC Media’s video about Chiatura: Company Town]
‘This house has been damaged for years and nothing can help it anymore. More and more cracks are appearing’, Levan said, pointing to the walls of his two-story home and his yard, which features several yawning cracks.
On 21 May, Georgian Manganese announced on Facebook that a contract for compensation was signed with six more families.
‘The first category of families (whose houses were damaged the most - red.) includes 36 families and the amount of compensation is ₾2,300,000 ($680,000) [...] These families will receive compensation in a year and three months’, the statement reads.
[Watch OC Media’s video about Shukruti: Chiatura's sinking village]
According to the local protesters, neither the government nor the Public Defender has helped them, and the special manager of Georgian Manganese Nikoloz Chikovani has ignored them.
OC Media tried to get in contact with Chikovani for this story but was unsuccessful.