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Archive for the ‘Svaneti’ Category

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 He relies here on the sparse literature, unpublished field notes of Georgian researchers, work in archives but also on interviews with Svans in Kvemo Kartli about “the old times”.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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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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Koshki and Kulla

A part of the village Mulachi in Svaneti, near Mestia

A part of the village Mulachi in Svaneti, near Mestia

Since three months I am in Georgia, but I never saw so many tourists in one place like in Svaneti (except perhaps during my short trip to the Black Sea). The road to Mestia is really long and not so easy. There are no planes flying. But still so many people come here. I have to admit that Svaneti is (and we only saw some very little part of it) a fantastic place. The towers (koshki) remind me of the towers (kulla) I saw in Albania. The towers there are larger and not that many are remaining. The Albanian towers are also more dispersed in the mountains. But the towers in Albania and in Svaneti were both constructed to protect the families from blood feud. From the Svan towers they also they, that they were build to protect oneself from the difficult climatic conditions. The koshki would resist avalanches.

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Interviews in Svaneti

Lavrenti in an interview in Mulakhi

Lavrenti in an interview in Mulakhi

Of course, we made some tourist excursions but we also, with the help of our Svan colleague Khatuna Iossiliani, talked to people on local traditional law and made interesting interviews. Svaneti is not our target region, but as we study among Svans in Kvemo Karli, small researchers in the highlands are necessary. For next year, Lavrenti and I plan to stay some days more in the region.

We stayed in the village of Mulakhi, around 12 km from Mestia. Our host explained Lavrenti the village structure and the families names living there. We got interesting insights in recent blood feuds or “traditional” investigations of a case, in which some men did steal money from tourists. The police persecuted innocent people and only the local population did finally find the real thieves (… this is at least that what the Svan say).

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Difficult trip to Svaneti

reparatur

Reparing the v-belt in Svaneti

As some of our team members do research among Svans migrated from the highlands we thought that it would be useful to pay a short visit to Svaneti. From September 11-14 we were with the Svans. The road was difficult because the minibus we hired lost its cooling water. Our driver had to refill it every 30 minutes. Then, around 30 km before the Svan capital Mestia, the v-belt burst and we had to wait some time in the middle of the mountains for help. The family of our Svan driver provided help and after around 15 hours we finally did arrive our destination. Two days later we were trying to get to Ushguli. Again, we had a problem with the minibus. This time one shock absorber broke.

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