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Archive for May, 2011

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. Now the individual research projects:

4) Stéphane Voell: Traditional Law in Kvemo Kartli and the Reaction of the State

Voell did research especially in the three Svan villages and in the regional capital Tetritskaro in Kvemo Kartli. Besides with Svans, he conducted interviews with court employees, a notary, former judges, employees of the land registry office, lawyers, local mayors, teachers and with people of other ethnic groups. In the beginning, Svans generally all say that their traditional law is predominant in village life. But as Voell went over and over again to the villages it became clear, that traditional law is far from being unanimously respected. The affairs inside of the village, i.e. conflicts between neighbours, land conflicts, family discussions, fights, etc are generally treated inside  the community by elders and mediators. But it happens often that these people are not respected or the compromise found not followed. From an outside perspective, i.e. from the regional capital, Svan traditional law is known but outside of their village rarely openly observed. If conflicts are treated by the police and later in courts, lawyers and judges would never refer to “tradition” to explain or even excuse conflicts. But cases judged in court may be accompanied by extra court reconciliation procedures. It is also interesting to note that the Svans from Upper and Lower Svaneti and from the Kodori gorge have different positions towards traditional law.

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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. Now the individual research projects:

3) Elke Kamm: The Relevance of Conceptions of Honour in Gender Relations in Kvemo Kartli

The fieldwork mainly took place in the town of Tetritskaro. Kamm conducted 75 interviews (51h of recorded material) mostly among the female population. The relevance of the “right and wrong behaviour” was the main question, which provided insights in the concept of honour in gender relations. The supposed “wrong behaviour” of a woman, e.g. when they have had sexual intercourse before marriage led to continuous questions. From the local conception of traditional Gender relations women is not allowed any sexual intercourse with a man before marriage. Her honour will be questioned if she has contact to a man. Her family, especially the male members, are responsible for her protection. E.g. in case of an involuntary bride kidnapping for the purpose of marriage, the male family members of the kidnapped girl often threat the kidnapper with blood feud. Nowadays the so called “old tradition” is rarely observable in Georgia. But persons concerned by the case of bride kidnapping also do rarely make a report at the police. Even if they do, the case does seldom reach the court, because in all of the cases, which were heard at the police, the complaint had been withdrawn afterwards. In most cases the family of the kidnapped girl and the family of the kidnapper negotiate among each other. Honour and reputation do play an important role in conflict solution. The appearance to save ones face hereby is of greatest importance. Therefore in most of the cases, the family members of the kidnapped girl rather decide the marriage as the return of the daughter. After a kidnapping the honour of the woman – her virginity – is questioned. This falls back on the reputation of the whole family and provides difficulties in daily life. Men do not want to marry a woman who was already kidnapped by someone else. To avoid these problems, many families decide the marriage even without the consent of their daughter.

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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. Now the individual research projects:

2) Natia Jalabadze: Blood Feud in the Georgian Lowlands

She studies the topic of blood feud predominantly among the Svans in Kvemo Kartli. Jalabadze made field research in numerous regions, i.e. in Jandara, Gardabani, Marneuli and Tetritskaro. According to her field materials, to the most of her male Svan respondents and even to some women, the custom of blood feud is acceptable if needed, because it would “regulate the human behaviour and enables an individual to control its emotions to avoid possible offences”. Numerous are the cases of feuds she could record for the past decencies, and also for the Soviet period. For the Svans, blood revenge was the act through which a man could realise the community’s highest moral values, i.e. bravery and courage. As the act of blood revenge implied overcoming certain difficulties and obstacles, it gave a man the chance to enact himself as proud and courageous mountaineer. But even if the stories about blood feud are impressively strong among the “lowland” Svans, recent cases of blood feud (since 2000) among the population are not known. However, one can find cases of killings in which lost honour or revenge are presented as important factors. In the next months Jalabadze will analyse the different accounts of blood feud in order to get a descriptive framework for the topic of feud in the research region. One aspect of this framework will be, and this was not foreseen in the initial project proposal, that blood feud is part of the self-enactment of the Svans in a multi-ethnic setting. For more than twenty years now, Svans are in Kvemo Kartli and find themselves surrounded by other ethnic groups in neighbour villages. In staging Svan identity, especially in the struggles with Azeris and Greeks in the 1990s, traditional law – and with it blood feuds – appear to be crucial elements.

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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. Now the individual research projects:

1) Lavrenti Janiashvili: Traditional Law in Socialist Times

He researches on the continuity of traditional legal practice especially in Soviet times. He relies here on the sparse literature, unpublished field notes of Georgian researchers, work in archives but also on interviews with Svans in Kvemo Kartli about “the old times”. According to the written sources traditional law has been relatively well preserved in Svaneti in 20th century. A good example for the conservation is the restoration of the traditional rule of land estate in Svaneti in the 1990s. Communists accumulated the entire land in collective farms, but all Svans knew the borders of their former belongings. In the 1990s, when collective farms were abolished, conflicts on land estate and its use became frequent. The situation was resolved when each family identified the arable land belonging to them according traditional inheritance rules. The majority of the population has not registered the land in the official land registry, as they believed their rights to be protected by tradition in Soviet Georgia.

Another example for traditional legal practice in Soviet times are the community meetings. Based on field material it can be said that these meetings have not entirely lost their function. Some minor issues, such as the distribution of arable land for cereals and maize, hay meadow use, transfer of livestock to the mountain, the start of mowing, fencing of the arable land, etc. were still discussed.

A new dimension of traditional law in Soviet times emerged – which was not part of the project proposal –, i.e. the interrelation between the “thieves in law” and traditional law. The “thieves in law” (kanonieri kurdebi) institute in Georgia in the 1960s to 1970s, i.e. criminal groups with a “law code” that originates from penal and working camps in Russia, significantly influenced the everyday life of Georgian society. The “criminal romance” of the institution attracted especially the youth. Criminals (so called “thieves”) with their music and folklore gained popularity.

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Kirche hl. Kvirike in Khaishi, Kvemo Kartli (F: Voell)

Kirche hl. Kvirike in Khaishi, Kvemo Kartli (F: 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.

6) What is the position of religion and its representatives in the practice of traditional law?

Religion has an important part to play in Svan traditional law: The validity of traditional law is based, up to some certain extend, on faith. As an example can be used the taking of oaths on icons, which is a central element in traditional law. At the end of conflict resolution processes or if the truth of a statement has to be underlined with an oath, people are sworn on an icon. This means that the control of the statements made while swearing on an icon is transferred to God. In cases of perjury, the culprit has to face a charge by the Almighty and not of the village community (but of course there is also a kind of loss of honour for the culprit in the village). The taking of oaths on icons is part of a folk religious practice of the Christian Orthodox religion. There are numerous celebrations in the circle of the year which refer to specific saints, like to St George, which are celebrated in churches, shrines or half-ruined churches. During these celebrations it can happen that processes of conflict resolution are solemnly concluded in front of the village community.

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Lobby of the town hall of Tetritskaro (F: Voell)
Lobby of the town hall of Tetritskaro (F: 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.

5) How do the state and its administration react to the practice of traditional law?

The practice of traditional law (most generally described as “Svan tradition”) in Svan villages is known to the local administration, police, lawyers or courts. But it is not conceived as something important. All the things which are happening inside of the villages are their own business, as the people in the administration generally say. In official state procedures in court or in the administration “tradition” is not openly taken into consideration. When speaking to Svans working in the local public sector it is interesting to note that these persons are often painting a picture of two worlds apart, to which was alluded before already: On the one hand, there is the “outside” of the village in which “of course” everything happens according the rules of the state. On the other hand, “inside” of the Svan villages, traditional procedures and structures are conceived as predominant.

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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.

4) Who are the actors and what are the places and motivations for using traditional law?

According to interviews and the literature there are two central positions in Svan traditional law. On the one hand, there is the makhvshi, i.e. a powerful elder which existed on every level of the segmentary clan structure, which is described for Svaneti until the beginning of the 20th century, i.e. before the Soviet Union came into power. On the other hand there are the mediators, called morval, who are sworn on icons to be impartial in mediating procedures. Both positions are still known but not found today in Kvemo Kartli under this name. One can find elders and mediators, but they are not named as described, rather as uprotsesi (elder) or shuakatsi (middleman). These persons seem to fulfill the same role but do not have the same uncontested authority than in old Svaneti.

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