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Archive for April, 2011

Shrine of a Svan family in Kvemo Kartli (Foto: Voell)

Shrine of a Svan family in Kvemo Kartli (Foto: Voell)

The frame of research of our research project encompasses four individual projects and six general questions. In the next posts in this blog we will provide some first answers. We will begin with the general questions.

3) In which social circumstances can traditional law be observed?

When entering a Svan village you certainly not step into a kind of autonomous territory with its own law. State law is, especially since the beginning of the presidency of Saakashvili in 2004, present everywhere. But there is a general opinion that all affairs on a regional level which only affect village life (conflicts in the neighbourhoods, family problems in regard to weddings, small land conflicts, fights etc.) have to be treated inside of the village. This is also respected by the local regional government. The villages in the region, and not only the Svan ones, are all Armenian, Azeri, Greek or Georgian micro cosmoses which live a life apart. Local strategies of conflict mediation are most likely to be found in every of this villages, but the Svan have also this ideology of traditional law that they supposedly practiced “since the old times”. In more difficult cases, e.g. if there are casualties after a car accident, the state would interfere without hesitating. Cases are brought to court and judged without reference to any cultural tradition. But it is interesting to note that even if a conflict was treated in court an extra court mediation of the conflict is very likely to happen. Conflicts create a kind of “imbalance”, i.e. a loss of something (a victim in a car accident), and a mere punishment of the culprit is not considered enough but has to be supported by a today rather symbolic compensation of the loss.

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The frame of research of our research project encompasses four individual projects and six general questions. In the next posts in this blog we will provide some first answers. We will begin with the general questions.

2) Does traditional law has a historical continuity or is it a recent creation?

In the last centuries of Georgian history the highlands of Svaneti were not or only loosely integrated into the respective dominant political system. Even if this Svan autonomy is often mythologised, a territorial and political isolation supported the maintenance of traditional legal structures (which of course changed in time, too). But after 1921, the Soviet regime began to fight the so-called “harmful traditions”. For example, some special laws were put in force in which blood feud was explicitly mentioned. Feud was susceptible to be punished by execution by a firing squad (Criminal Code of Soviet Georgia). But interviews with Svans about the Soviet period show that Svan mediation courts continued to be popular in the Communist period. The population did not trust state institutions and tried to avoid its interference in legal relationships. The research team heard cases of individuals who did work in the Soviet state institutions, but remained faithful to – what they call – “the old traditions”.

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In the village of Chivchavi (Foto: Voell)

In the village of Chivchavi (Foto: Voell)

The frame of research of our research project encompasses four individual projects and six general questions. In the next posts in this blog we will provide some first answers. We will begin with the general questions.

1) What is considered as traditional law?

It did not prove to be useful to ask the people in the Svan villages in Kvemo Kartli directly about what traditional law actually is. So we rather put forward questions how and by whom conflicts are treated. The answers were that the conflicts and problems are discussed “in the neighbourhood” or “between us”. There is no comprehensive term for traditional law within the Svan communities in Kvemo Kartli. The Svan word is limorav but to many Svans in the research region this word does not mean a lot. Almost nobody would say something like “We will treat this according to limorav.” From an analytic point of view traditional law can be described as procedures for conflict resolution which should take place without any influence “from outside”. Traditional law refers also to a patriachal form of social organisation. Elders and sworn mediators are called to act as middlemen. These processes of conflict mediation are verbally embedded in a traditional ideology, i.e. they “do it like they always did” in Svaneti. From outside of the Svan communities, Svan traditional law is often understood in relation to blood feuds. Traditional law is described by outsiders as “to take the law in one’s own hands”. Law means from this point of view mostly uncontrolled revenge. Sometimes non-Svans describe with a certain respect Svan traditional law, and paint a mythical picture of segmentary clan structures that upheld the Georgian culture in the autonomous mountains in times of foreign domination.

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