in Georgia, Russian tourists expected despite the war
At the edge of the Black Sea, this summer was to be the good one, the anti-Covid measures fell one after the other, synonymous with the return of foreign tourists. Until the outbreak of war in Ukraine on February 24. That day, Lika was in low spirits. “I told myself that the Russians were never going to come back”, remembers the waitress at Verona, a restaurant-dance hall in Oureki, a seaside resort on the shores of the Black Sea that looks like the Soviet Riviera.
A normal season is a Russian season
On the Georgian coast, a normal season, from July to October, is a Russian season. In 2021, they were more than 200,000 to visit the country. An apparent paradox for this state where the memory of the 2008 war with Russia is still in everyone’s mind – 20% of the territory is considered » busy « by Russian forces.
While the trendy streets of the capital Tbilisi are covered in graffiti “Russians, go home” (“Russians, go home”), the two dusty streets of Oureki are colored with bilingual Russian-Georgian signs and ageless grocery stores importing Russian foodstuffs. Everything is good to attract this reputedly spendthrift clientele, down to the posters of blonde bimbos with shotguns posted on the seafront.
Georgian air border closed
Iéka (1) is over the moon. His Muscovite friends have been bragging to him about the black sand of Oureki for a long time. “Before leaving, we were told that Russians were no longer very well received in Georgia. But we didn’t have a problem. What peace here! » Normally, the Russian forties would have taken her husband and two children on vacation to Europe. “Ticket prices have exploded this year”, she laments, putting on her hiking boots.
When, for the first time in three years, a Kremlin decree lifted restrictions on the land border with Georgia at the end of May, Yeka fell for a stay in Oureki, a two-day drive from Moscow. On the way, the family stopped in Rostov-on-Don, in western Russia. “It was dangerous, the Ukrainians attack with their bombs”she learned from Russian media.
Torniké, a smiling bearded man who has just opened his beach bar, expects to serve a lot of Russians this season, but not cheerfully. Born after the fall of the USSR, this young man hangs out in pro-European circles in Tbilisi. “I wanted the storefront to be written in Latin letters” and not in Cyrillic, which is rare in the station. “People here are almost 100% dependent on Russian tourism,” describes the bartender in swim shorts. There are indeed, throughout the year, about twenty Kazakh families who come to treat their autistic child. But wages are paid with rubles. Overall, Georgia derives 15% of its GDP from tourism.
« They owe everything to the Russians »
« AprAfter three years of the pandemic, we would have gone out of business without them,” confirms a hotelier. The station came out of the ground under the impulse of a millionaire in the intoxication of the post-independence period, in 1991. This explains its anarchic architecture between amusement park and residential suburb. “Before, it was a small village without history, retraces Torniké. People followed suit as best they could. They owe everything to the Russians and say nothing. You don’t have to blame them. »
Sometimes some customers « crossing the line »adds Torniké after a silence. “A few days ago, young people who were a little tipsy started telling horror stories about Ukraine. Some even pull Russian flags out of their trunks. In this case, I calm them, otherwise it comes to blows. » Lika, the waitress at Verona, passed on her instructions to avoid » problems « : alternate, at meal times, Russian song and Ukrainian song.
Post-Soviet Georgia, a turbulent history
April 9, 1991. Georgia proclaims the “restoration of independence” from the Soviet Union.
1991-1993. Violent clashes with pro-Russian separatists erupt in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both territories fall outside the authority of Tbilisi.
1995. Edward Shevardnadze, former foreign minister of Gorbachev, was elected president, and re-elected in 2000.
November 2003. After the « Rose Revolution », Shevardnadze was deposed and Mikheil Saakashvili succeeded him.
August 2008. Fighting between the Russian and Georgian armies, which cease following mediation by Paris. Since then, South Ossetia and Abkhazia have remained under Moscow’s control.