3 Places to Visit for an Authentic Southern Experience

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

3 Places to Visit for an Authentic Southern Experience

Just like any other country, the United States is made of distinctive regions that include their own cuisine, dialect, and mannerisms. One of the most well-known areas is the American South. The South is known for its hospitality, tasty food, and unique culture. And if you’re dying for a true Southern experience that captures the region’s diversity, then you need to visit these three places.

Saint Helena Island, South Carolina

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South Carolina is known for many things, but one of the most authentic aspects of its Lowcountry region is that of the Gullah culture. The Gullah (or Geechee) people were a segment of West Africans from present-day nations such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia who were brought to the United States and worked as slaves in South Carolina. However, they managed to maintain much of their original culture even during their enslavement and through emancipation. And to this day, their descendants have continued to preserve that culture through their cuisine, language and traditions.

Saint Helena Island is a popular vacation spot for families, but it’s also a prime place to immerse yourself in Gullah culture. Make your first stop at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark. The former school now serves as a museum and historical site offering some of the best preserved African-American historical records and artifacts in the South. After you’ve gotten your fill of history, get a literal taste of Gullah cuisine when you drop by Gullah Grub. Owned and operated by Bill Green, a Gullah descendant, you’ll enjoy a variety of delicious traditional Gullah chicken and seafood dishes.

Natchez, Mississippi

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Southern history is a dichotomous one, and Natchez is the perfect example of this reality. Before it was a city, the land was once home to the Natchez Indians until their numbers fell and the nation was absorbed into other nations like the Cherokee and Muskogee. In the 18th and 19th century, the city served as a critical terminus port for traders along the Mississippi River. And although its history is closely intertwined with American slavery and the Civil War, Natchez is also home to several pivotal moments and leaders from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Today, the city embraces its diverse history with over 20 different historical sites. You can discover more about the city ranging from Natchez’s Native American roots at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indiansto its involvement in the rise of rock ‘n roll and blues at the Delta Music Museum. After exploring the city’s rich history, you can see it through a local’s eyes by shadowing a local business owner. The tourism site, Visit Natchez, campaign “Natchezians and Natchoozians” encourages a featured local to share his or her favorite haunts and what makes the city of Natchez special in their eyes.

Dahlonega, Georgia

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When most people think of the South, they focus on the Antebellum period of the lower southern states. But Appalachian culture is also a major part of the South and deserves attention as well. Dahlonega, Georgia, is a historic town in the Peach State that was also the very first gold rush town in the nation. Located an hour north of Atlanta, the town is also a popular stop in Georgia’s wine country. This means you have plenty of excuses to drop by and drink in the local culture — pun intended.

And depending on the time of year, there are a variety of festivals that will help you appreciate the town’s picturesque location and backstory. In the fall you can drop in for the Gold Rush Days Festival that celebrates the town’s historic roots or the Dahlonega Trail Fest that highlights outdoor activities centered around their location in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

7 Up-and-Coming Wine Regions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

7 Up-and-Coming Wine Regions

When people think of high-end wine producers, regions such as Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Piedmont are the powerhouses that usually make the list. However, if you want to try something new, without significantly sacrificing on quality, consider sourcing wines from one of these seven up-and-coming wine regions.

Anderson Valley, California, U.S.A.

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Given its remote location several hours north of San Francisco, the Anderson Valley doesn’t see as many vineyard hoppers as Napa and Sonoma. That doesn’t mean the wines aren’t worth it, though. The cool climate has shown tremendous success with both pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, perfect as well for producing French-style sparkling wines. Today, Anderson Valley produces some of the best sparkling wines in the country.

Rias Baixas, Spain

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Rias Baixas is located along the Galician coast in Spain. There are a number of small inlets, called rias, where you’ll find nutrient-rich waters. The water plays a big role in making Rias Baixas wine so delicious. One wine variety that has shown significant success is albariño, a white wine with a nice blend of minerality and acidity.

Finger Lakes, New York, U.S.A.

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New York is one of the largest wine producers in the country, thanks in part to the Finger Lakes region that is producing some phenomenal cool-climate wines, especially rieslings. There are more than 200 brands of rieslings produced in the Finger Lakes region alone. Impressive for a wine region that only really established itself in the early 1980s.

Kakheti, Georgia

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The country of Georgia has been producing wines since at least 6,000 B.C., based on archaeological excavations that uncovered qvevri, a traditional winemaking vessel that allowed ancient winemakers to ferment wine underground. Today, wines produced in this mountainous region of Georgia utilize both traditional and modern techniques. UNESCO has since recognized the importance of the qvevri winemaking tradition, adding it to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Beqaa Valley, Lebanon

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Lebanon is another place where winemaking traditions date back quite a ways. Even in modern times, Lebanese wineries have faced their share of challenges, including Château Musar, which still managed to produce wine throughout the horrific civil war that tore Lebanon apart between 1975 and 1990. When the war ended, there were only around five wineries left in Lebanon. By 2014, that number had jumped to almost 50. While French grapes primarily dominate here, there are some local Lebanese wine grapes like merwah and obaideh present.

Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

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When most people think about Mexico and drinks, they probably picture tequila, mezcal and beer, not wine. Mexico is bucking the stereotypes and demonstrating that it has areas that are capable of producing award-winning wines as well. The mountainous terrain helps cool the hot summer days, allowing the grapes to flourish.

Texas Hill Country, Texas, U.S.A.

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The hot and dry climate of Texas is not the ideal condition you’d think of for an up-and-coming wine region, but Texas Hill Country is producing some pretty incredible wines, especially big reds. The climate is working well for varietals like tempranillo, syrah and tannat.

Georgia: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This South West Asian Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACTBOOK)

 

Georgia

Introduction The region of present-day Georgia contained the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Kartli-Iberia. The area came under Roman influence in the first centuries A.D. and Christianity became the state religion in the 330s. Domination by Persians, Arabs, and Turks was followed by a Georgian golden age (11th-13th centuries) that was cut short by the Mongol invasion of 1236. Subsequently, the Ottoman and Persian empires competed for influence in the region. Georgia was absorbed into the Russian Empire in the 19th century. Independent for three years (1918-1921) following the Russian revolution, it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. An attempt by the incumbent Georgian government to manipulate national legislative elections in November 2003 touched off widespread protests that led to the resignation of Eduard SHEVARDNADZE, president since 1995. New elections in early 2004 swept Mikheil SAAKASHVILI into power along with his National Movement party. Progress on market reforms and democratization has been made in the years since independence, but this progress has been complicated by two ethnic conflicts in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two territories remain outside the control of the central government and are ruled by de facto, unrecognized governments, supported by Russia. Russian-led peacekeeping operations continue in both regions.
History The territory of modern-day Georgia has been continuously inhabited since the early Stone Age. The classic period saw the rise of the early Georgian states of Colchis and Iberia, which laid the foundation of Georgian culture and eventual statehood. The proto-Georgian tribes first appear in written history in the 12th century BC.[14] Archaeological finds and references in ancient sources reveal advancement of early Georgian political and state formations – their urban heritage and advanced metallurgy and goldsmith techniques that date back to the 7th century BC and beyond.[15] In the 4th century BC a unified kingdom of Georgia – an early example of advanced state organization under one king and the hierarchy of aristocracy, was established.[16]

Christianity came to Georgia with its first missionaries and it was declared the state religion as early as AD 337. The conversion to Christianity provided a great stimulus to literature and the arts and helped to unify the country. Early and medieval Christian scholarship, the links with the rest of the Christian world and dynamic exchange with the Islamic world, together with the development of national literature and the political consolidation of the state in the 11th century AD culminated in a true renaissance in the 12-13th centuries AD.[17]

This early Georgian renaissance, which preceded its European analogue by several hundred years, was significant and was characterized by magnificent secular art and culture, the flourishing of a romantic- chivalric tradition, breakthroughs in philosophy, and an array of political innovations in society and state organization, including religious and ethnic tolerance. The Golden age of Georgia left a legacy of great cathedrals, romantic poetry and literature, and the epic poem “The Knight in the Panther’s Skin”. This Golden Age was interrupted at its peak by the Mongol Invasion in the 13th century AD Throughout the next six centuries, Georgia was conquered by repeated invasions by Persians and Turks, resulting in the disintegration of the Georgian state into several small kingdoms. Due to this national crisis, in 1783 Georgia signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire, placing the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti under the Russian protectorate. Despite Russia’s commitment to defend Georgia, it rendered no assistance when the Turks invaded in 1785 and again in 1795. This period culminated in the 1801 Russian annexation of remaining Georgian lands and the deposing of the Bagrationi dynasty.

A few decades later, Georgian society produced a modernist nationalistic elite which united Georgian society around the dream of the restoration of their once glorious state. In 1918, this dream was fulfilled and the Democratic Republic of Georgia (1918-1921) was established. This democratic experiment was short-lived, as in 1921 Georgia was occupied by Bolshevik Russia. Georgia was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922. Georgia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and, after a period of civil war and severe economic crisis, Georgia was mostly stable by the late 1990s. The bloodless Rose Revolution of 2003 installed a new, pro-Western reformist government that aspired to join NATO and attempted to bring the secessionist territories back under Georgia’s control. These efforts resulted in a deterioration of relations with Russia, in part because of the continued presence of Russian troops. As of 2007, most Russian military forces have been withdrawn, with the last remaining base in Batumi handed over to Georgia in 2007.[18]

Georgia in antiquity

Ancient Georgian Kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia

Two early Georgian kingdoms of late antiquity, known to ancient Greeks and Romans as Iberia (Georgian: იბერია) in the east of the country and Colchis (Georgian: კოლხეთი) in the west, were among the first nations in the region to adopt Christianity (in AD 337, or in AD 319 as recent research suggests.).

In Greek Mythology, Colchis was the location of the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts in Apollonius Rhodius’ epic tale Argonautica. The incorporation of the Golden Fleece into the myth may have derived from the local practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from rivers. Known to its natives as Egrisi or Lazica, Colchis often saw battles between the rival powers of Persia and the Byzantine Empire, both of which managed to conquer Western Georgia from time to time.

In the last centuries of the pre-Christian era, the area, in the form of the kingdom of Kartli-Iberia, was strongly influenced by Greece to the west and Persia to the east.[19] After the Roman Empire completed its conquest of the Caucasus region in 66 B.C., the kingdom was a Roman client state and ally for nearly 400 years.[19] In A.D. 330, King Marian III’s acceptance of Christianity ultimately tied the kingdom to the neighboring Byzantine Empire, which exerted a strong cultural influence for several centuries.[19]

The early kingdoms disintegrated into various feudal regions by the early Middle Ages. This made it easy for Arabs to conquer Georgia in the 7th century. The rebellious regions were liberated and united into a unified Georgian Kingdom at the beginning of the 11th century. Starting in the 12th century AD, the rule of Georgia extended over a significant part of the Southern Caucasus, including the northeastern parts and almost the entire northern coast of what is now Turkey.

Although Arabs captured the capital city of Tbilisi in A.D. 645, Kartli-Iberia retained considerable independence under local Arab rulers.[19] In A.D. 813, the prince Ashot I also known as Ashot Kurapalat became the first of the Bagrationi family to rule the kingdom: Ashot’s reign began a period of nearly 1,000 years during which the Bagrationi, as the house was known, ruled at least part of what is now the republic.

Western and eastern Georgia were united under Bagrat V (r. 1027-72). In the next century, David IV (called the Builder, r. 1099-1125) initiated the Georgian golden age by driving the Turks from the country and expanding Georgian cultural and political influence southward into Armenia and eastward to the Caspian Sea.[19]

Medieval Georgia

Kingdom of Georgia at peak of its military dominance, 1184-1225

The Georgian Kingdom reached its zenith in the 12th to early 13th centuries. This period has been widely termed as Georgia’s Golden Age or Georgian Renaissance. The revival of the Georgian Kingdom was short-lived however, and the Kingdom was eventually subjugated by the Mongols in 1236. Thereafter, different local rulers fought for their independence from central Georgian rule, until the total disintegration of the Kingdom in the 15th century. Neighbouring kingdoms exploited the situation and from the 16th century, the Persian Empire and the Ottoman Empire subjugated the eastern and western regions of Georgia, respectively.

The rulers of regions which remained partly autonomous organized rebellions on various occasions. Subsequent Persian and Osman invasions further weakened local kingdoms and regions. As a result of wars against neighbouring countries, the population of Georgia was reduced to 250,000 inhabitants at one point.

Within the Russian Empire

In 1783, Russia and the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti signed the Treaty of Georgievsk, according to which Kartli-Kakheti received protection by Russia. This, however, did not prevent Tbilisi from being sacked by the Persians in 1795.

On December 22, 1800, Tsar Paul I of Russia, at the alleged request of the Georgian King George XII, signed the proclamation on the incorporation of Georgia (Kartli-Kakheti) within the Russian Empire, which was finalized by a decree on January 8, 1801,[20][21] which was confirmed by Tsar Alexander I on September 12, 1801.[22][23] The Georgian envoy in Saint Petersburg reacted with a note of protest that was presented to the Russian vice-chancellor Prince Kurakin.[24] In May 1801, Russian General Carl Heinrich Knorring dethroned the Georgian heir to the throne David Batonishvili and instituted a government headed by General Ivan Petrovich Lasarev.[25]

The Georgian nobility did not accept the decree until April 1802 when General Knorring compassed the nobility in Tbilisi’s Sioni Cathedral and forced them to take an oath on the Imperial Crown of Russia. Those who disagreed were arrested temporarily.[26]

In the summer of 1805, Russian troops on the Askerani River near Zagam defeated the Persian army and saved Tbilisi from conquest.

Democratic Republic of Georgia, 1918-1921

In 1810, after a brief war,[27] the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti was annexed by Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The last Imeretian king and the last Georgian Bagrationi ruler Solomon II died in exile in 1815. From 1803 to 1878, as a result of numerous Russian wars against Turkey and Iran, several territories were annexed to Georgia. These areas (Batumi, Akhaltsikhe, Poti, and Abkhazia) now represent a large part of the territory of Georgia. The principality of Guria was abolished in 1828, and that of Samegrelo (Mingrelia) in 1857. The region of Svaneti was gradually annexed in 1857–59.

Brief independence period and Soviet era

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia declared independence on May 26, 1918 in the midst of the Russian Civil War. The parliamentary election was won by the Georgian Social-Democratic Party, considered to be a party of Mensheviks, and its leader, Noe Zhordania, became the prime minister. In 1918 a Georgian–Armenian war erupted over parts of Georgian provinces populated mostly by Armenians which ended due to British intervention. In 1918–19 Georgian general Giorgi Mazniashvili led a Georgian attack against the White Army led by Moiseev and Denikin in order to claim the Black Sea coastline from Tuapse to Sochi and Adler for independent Georgia. The country’s independence did not last long, however. Georgia was under British protection from 1918-1920.

In February 1921 Georgia was attacked by the Red Army. Georgian troops lost the battle and the Social-Democrat government fled the country. On February 25, 1921 the Red Army entered the capital Tbilisi and installed a puppet communist government led by Georgian Bolshevik Filipp Makharadze, but the Soviet rule was firmly established only after the 1924 revolt was brutally suppressed. Georgia was incorporated into the Transcaucasian SFSR uniting Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The TFSSR was disaggregated into its component elements in 1936 and Georgia became the Georgian SSR.

The Georgian-born communist radical Ioseb Jughashvili, better known by his nom de guerre Stalin (from the Russian word for steel: сталь) was prominent among the Russian Bolsheviks, who came to power in the Russian Empire after the October Revolution in 1917. Stalin was to rise to the highest position of the Soviet state.

From 1941 to 1945, during World War II, almost 700,000 Georgians fought as Red Army soldiers against Nazi Germany. (A number also fought with the German army). About 350,000 Georgians died in the battlefields of the Eastern Front. Also during this period the Chechen, Ingush, Karachay and the Balkarian peoples from the Northern Caucasus, were deported to Siberia for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. With their respective autonomous republics abolished, the Georgian SSR was briefly granted some of their territory, until 1957.

The Dissidential movement for restoration of Georgian statehood started to gain popularity in the 1960s.[28] Among the Georgian dissidents, two of the most prominent activists were Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Dissidents were heavily persecuted by Soviet government and their activities were harshly suppressed. Almost all Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia (the Georgian parliament).

On April 9, 1989, a peaceful demonstration in the Georgian capital Tbilisi ended in a massacre in which several people were killed by Soviet troops. This incident launched an anti-Soviet mass movement, soon shattered, however, by the in-fighting of its different political wings. Before the October 1990 elections to the national assembly, the Umaghlesi Sabcho (Supreme Council) — the first polls in the USSR held on a formal multi-party basis — the political landscape was reshaped again. While the more radical groups boycotted the elections and convened an alternative forum (National Congress), another part of the anticommunist opposition united into the Round Table—Free Georgia (RT-FG) around the former dissidents like Merab Kostava and Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The latter won the elections by a clear margin, with 155 out of 250 parliamentary seats, whereas the ruling Communist Party (CP) received only 64 seats. All other parties failed to get over the 5%-threshold and were thus allotted only some single-member constituency seats.

On April 9, 1991, shortly before the collapse of the USSR, Georgia declared independence. On May 26, 1991, Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected as a first President of independent Georgia. However, Gamsakhurdia was soon deposed in a bloody coup d’état, from December 22, 1991 to January 6, 1992. The coup was instigated by part of the National Guards and a paramilitary organization called “Mkhedrioni”. The country became embroiled in a bitter civil war which lasted almost until 1995. Eduard Shevardnadze returned to Georgia in 1992 and joined the leaders of the coup — Kitovani and Ioseliani — to head a triumvirate called the “State Council”.

In 1995, Shevardnadze was officially elected as a president of Georgia, and reelected in 2000. At the same time, two regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, quickly became embroiled in disputes with local separatists that led to widespread inter-ethnic violence and wars. Supported by Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia achieved and maintained de facto independence from Georgia. More than 250,000 Georgians were ethnically cleansed from Abkhazia by Abkhaz separatists and North Caucasians volunteers, (including Chechens) in 1992-1993. More than 25,000 Georgians were expelled from Tskhinvali as well, and many Ossetian families were forced to abandon their homes in the Borjomi region and move to Russia.

In 2003, Shevardnadze was deposed by the Rose Revolution, after Georgian opposition and international monitors asserted that the November 2 parliamentary elections were marred by fraud.[29] The revolution was led by Mikheil Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze, former members and leaders of Shavarnadze’s ruling party. Mikheil Saakashvili was elected as President of Georgia in 2004.

Following the Rose Revolution, a series of reforms was launched to strengthen the country’s military and economic capabilities. The new government’s efforts to reassert the Georgian authority in the southwestern autonomous republic of Ajaria led to a major crisis early in 2004. Success in Ajaria encouraged Saakashvili to intensify his efforts, but without success, in the breakaway South Ossetia.

Geography Location: Southwestern Asia, bordering the Black Sea, between Turkey and Russia
Geographic coordinates: 42 00 N, 43 30 E
Map references: Asia
Area: total: 69,700 sq km
land: 69,700 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than South Carolina
Land boundaries: total: 1,461 km
border countries: Armenia 164 km, Azerbaijan 322 km, Russia 723 km, Turkey 252 km
Coastline: 310 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
Climate: warm and pleasant; Mediterranean-like on Black Sea coast
Terrain: largely mountainous with Great Caucasus Mountains in the north and Lesser Caucasus Mountains in the south; Kolkhet’is Dablobi (Kolkhida Lowland) opens to the Black Sea in the west; Mtkvari River Basin in the east; good soils in river valley flood plains, foothills of Kolkhida Lowland
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Black Sea 0 m
highest point: Mt’a Shkhara 5,201 m
Natural resources: forests, hydropower, manganese deposits, iron ore, copper, minor coal and oil deposits; coastal climate and soils allow for important tea and citrus growth
Land use: arable land: 11.51%
permanent crops: 3.79%
other: 84.7% (2005)
Irrigated land: 4,690 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 63.3 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 3.61 cu km/yr (20%/21%/59%)
per capita: 808 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: earthquakes
Environment – current issues: air pollution, particularly in Rust’avi; heavy pollution of Mtkvari River and the Black Sea; inadequate supplies of potable water; soil pollution from toxic chemicals
Environment – international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: strategically located east of the Black Sea; Georgia controls much of the Caucasus Mountains and the routes through them
People Population: 4,646,003 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 16.7% (male 413,506/female 364,407)
15-64 years: 66.6% (male 1,489,081/female 1,605,021)
65 years and over: 16.7% (male 311,098/female 462,890) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 38 years
male: 35.5 years
female: 40.4 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: -0.329% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 10.54 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 9.37 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: -4.45 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.14 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.135 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.928 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.672 male(s)/female
total population: 0.91 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 17.36 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 19.42 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 15.01 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 76.3 years
male: 73 years
female: 80.07 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.42 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: less than 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 3,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: less than 200 (2003 est.)
Nationality: noun: Georgian(s)
adjective: Georgian
Ethnic groups: Georgian 83.8%, Azeri 6.5%, Armenian 5.7%, Russian 1.5%, other 2.5% (2002 census)
Religions: Orthodox Christian 83.9%, Muslim 9.9%, Armenian-Gregorian 3.9%, Catholic 0.8%, other 0.8%, none 0.7% (2002 census)
Languages: Georgian 71% (official), Russian 9%, Armenian 7%, Azeri 6%, other 7%
note: Abkhaz is the official language in Abkhazia
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 100%
male: 100%
female: 100% (2004 est.)

Air Force Plane Belonging To 156th Air Wing Of Puerto Rico Has Crashed Killing 5

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF YAHOO NEWS)

 

Military cargo plane crashes in Georgia, killing 5

RUSS BYNUM

,

Associated Press
Military cargo plane crashes in Savannah, Georgia
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PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (AP) — An Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane crashed Wednesday onto a busy highway after taking off from a Georgia airport, killing at least five National Guard members from Puerto Rico, authorities said.

Black smoke rose into the sky from a section of the plane that appeared to have crashed into a median on the road outside Savannah, Georgia. Firefighters later put out the blaze.

Capt. Jeff Bezore, a spokesman for the Georgia Air National Guard’s 165th Air Wing, said the crash killed at least five people. He said he couldn’t say how many people in total were on the plane when it crashed around 11:30 a.m.

Senior Master Sgt. Roger Parsons of the Georgia Air National Guard told reporters the cause of the crash was unknown and authorities were still working to make the crash site safe for investigators.

“Any information about what caused this or any facts about the aircraft will come out in the investigation,” he said.

The plane had just taken off from the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport when it crashed, Parsons said.

The Air Force said the plane belonged to the 156th Air Wing out of Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico National Guard Spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen told The Associated Press that all those aboard were Puerto Ricans who had recently left the U.S. territory for a mission on the U.S. mainland. He said initial information indicated there were five to nine people aboard the plane, which was heading to Arizona. He did not have details on the mission.

“We are saddened by the plane accident that occurred today in Georgia,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said in a tweet. “Our prayers are with the families of the Puerto Rican crew.”

The plane crashed onto state highway Georgia 21, about a mile from the airport, said Gena Bilbo, a spokeswoman for the Effingham County Sherriff’s Office.

“It miraculously did not hit any cars, any homes,” Bilbo said. “This is a very busy roadway.”

The crash caused a big fireball and scattered debris over a large area, Bilbo said.

A photo tweeted by the Savannah Professional Firefighters Association shows the tail end of a plane and a field of flames and black smoke as an ambulance stood nearby.

The only part of the plane that remained intact was the tail section, said Chris Hanks, the assistant public information officer with the Savannah Professional Firefighters Association. The tail section was sitting on the highway and the ground in front of it was black and littered with debris, he said.

Savannah’s Air National Guard base has been heavily involved in hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. In September 2017, it was designated by the Air National Guard as the hub of operations to the island in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, the base announced at the time.

Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport said on social media that some flights were being affected though the crash happened off its property. The airport advised passengers to check with their airline for updated flight information.

___

Associated Press writers Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Jeff Martin in Atlanta have contributed to this report.

Lost World Of Shipwrecks Have Been Found In The Black Sea Off Of Bulgarian Coast

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIME’S, SCIENCE SECTION)

An image of the well-preserved medieval ship found at the bottom of the Black Sea, one of more than 40 wrecks discovered. Photogrammetry, a process using thousands of photographs and readings, produced a rendering that appears three-dimensional.Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

The medieval ship lay more than a half-mile down at the bottom of the Black Sea, its masts, timbers and planking undisturbed in the darkness for seven or eight centuries. Lack of oxygen in the icy depths had ruled out the usual riot of creatures that feast on sunken wood.

This fall, a team of explorers lowered a robot on a long tether, lit up the wreck with bright lights and took thousands of high-resolution photos. A computer then merged the images into a detailed portrait.

Archaeologists date the discovery to the 13th or 14th century, opening a new window on forerunners of the 15th- and 16th-century sailing vessels that discovered the New World, including those of Columbus. This medieval ship probably served the Venetian empire, which had Black Sea outposts.

Never before had this type of ship been found in such complete form. The breakthrough was the quarterdeck, from which the captain would have directed a crew of perhaps 20 sailors.

“That’s never been seen archaeologically,” said Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz, an expedition member at the Center for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton, in Britain. “We couldn’t believe our eyes.”

A photogrammetric image of a ship from the Ottoman era that most likely went down between the 17th and 19th centuries. The discoverers nicknamed it the Flower of the Black Sea because of its ornate carvings, including two large posts topped with petals. Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

Remarkably, the find is but one of more than 40 shipwrecks that the international team recently discovered and photographed off the Bulgarian coast in one of archaeology’s greatest coups.

In age, the vessels span a millennium, from the Byzantine to the Ottoman empires, from the ninth to the 19th centuries. Generally, the ships are in such good repair that the images reveal intact coils of rope, rudders and elaborately carved decorations.

“They’re astonishingly preserved,” said Jon Adams, the leader of the Black Sea project and founding director of the maritime archaeology center at the University of Southampton.

Kroum Batchvarov, a team member at the University of Connecticut who grew up in Bulgaria and has conducted other studies in its waters, said the recent discoveries “far surpassed my wildest expectations.”

Independent experts said the annals of deepwater archaeology hold few, if any, comparable sweeps of discovery in which shipwrecks have proved to be so plentiful, diverse and well-preserved.

A photogrammetric image of the stern of the Ottoman-era ship showing coils of rope and a tiller with elaborate carvings. A lack of oxygen at the icy depths of the Black Sea left the wrecks relatively undisturbed.Credit Expedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

“It’s a great story,” said Shelley Wachsmann of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology at Texas A&M University. “We can expect some real contributions to our understanding of ancient trade routes.”

Goods traded on the Black Sea included grains, furs, horses, oils, cloth, wine and people. The Tatars turned Christians into slaves who were shipped to places like Cairo. For Europeans, the sea provided access to a northern branch of the Silk Road and imports of silk, satin, musk, perfumes, spices and jewels.

Marco Polo reportedly visited the Black Sea, and Italian merchant colonies dotted its shores. The profits were so enormous that, in the 13th and 14th centuries, Venice and Genoa fought a series of wars for control of the trade routes, including those of the Black Sea.

Brendan P. Foley, an archaeologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass., said the good condition of the shipwrecks implied that many objects inside their hulls might also be intact.

“You might find books, parchment, written documents,” he said in an interview. “Who knows how much of this stuff was being transported? But now we have the possibility of finding out. It’s amazing.”

Experts said the success in Bulgarian waters might inspire other nations that control portions of the Black Sea to join the archaeological hunt. They are Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Dr. Foley, who has explored a number of Black Sea wrecks, said the sea’s overall expanse undoubtedly held tens of thousands of lost ships. “Everything that sinks out there is going to be preserved,” he added. “They’re not going away.”

For ages, the Black Sea was a busy waterway that served the Balkans, the Eurasian steppes, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Greece. It long beckoned to archaeologists because they knew its deep waters lacked oxygen, a rarity for large bodies of water.

The great rivers of Eastern Europe — the Don, the Danube, the Dnieper — pour so much fresh water into the sea that a permanent layer forms over denser, salty water from the Mediterranean. As a result, oxygen from the atmosphere that mixes readily with fresh water never penetrates the inky depths.

In 1976, Willard Bascom, a pioneer of oceanography, in his book “Deep Water, Ancient Ships,” called the Black Sea unique among the world’s seas and a top candidate for exploration and discovery.

A photogrammetric image of a Byzantine wreck, dating perhaps to the ninth century. Superimposed is an image of one of the expedition’s tethered robots that photographed the lost ships.CreditExpedition and Education Foundation/Black Sea MAP

“One is tempted,” he wrote, “to begin searching there in spite of the huge expanse of bottom that would have to be inspected.”

In 2002, Robert D. Ballard, a discoverer of the sunken Titanic, led a Black Sea expedition that found a 2,400-year-old wreck laden with the clay storage jars of antiquity. One held remnants of a large fish that had been dried and cut into steaks, a popular food in ancient Greece.

The new team said it received exploratory permits from the Bulgarian ministries of culture and foreign affairs and limited its Black Sea hunts to parts of that nation’s exclusive economic zone, which covers thousands of square miles and runs up to roughly a mile deep.

Although the team’s official name is the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project, or Black Sea MAP, it also hauls up sediments to hunt for clues to how the sea’s rising waters engulfed former land surfaces and human settlements.

Team members listed on its website include the Bulgarian National Institute of Archaeology, the Bulgarian Center for Underwater Archaeology, Sodertorn University in Sweden, and the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in Greece.

An illustration of what the research team believes the medieval ship found in the Black Sea looked like during its heyday. Credit Jon Adams/University of Southampton/Black Sea MAP

The project’s financial backer is the Expedition and Education Foundation, a charity registered in Britain whose benefactors want to remain anonymous, team members said. Dr. Adams of the University of Southampton, the team’s scientific leader, described it as catalyzing an academic-industry partnership on the largest project “of its type ever undertaken.”

Nothing is known publicly about the cost, presumably vast, of the Black Sea explorations, which are to run for three years. The endeavor began last year with a large Greek ship doing a preliminary survey. This year, the main vessel was the Stril Explorer, a British-flagged ship bearing a helicopter landing pad that usually services the undersea pipes and structures of the offshore oil industry.

Instead, archaeologists on the ship lowered its sophisticated robots to hunt for ancient shipwrecks and lost history.

In an interview, Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz of the University of Southampton said he was watching the monitors late one night in September when the undersea robot lit up a large wreck in a high state of preservation.

“I was speechless,” he recalled. “When I saw the ropes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I still can’t.”

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Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz said the vessel hailed from the Ottoman Empire, whose capital was Constantinople (today Istanbul), and most likely went down sometime between the 17th and 19th centuries. He said the team nicknamed it “Flower of the Black Sea” because its deck bears ornate carvings, including two large posts with tops that form petals.

In an interview, Dr. Batchvarov of the University of Connecticut said most of the discoveries date to the Ottoman era. So it was that, late one night, during his shift, he assumed that a new wreck coming into view would be more of the same.

“Then I saw a quarter rudder,” he recalled, referring to a kind of large steering oar on a ship’s side. It implied the wreck was much older. Then another appeared. Quickly, he had the expedition’s leader, Dr. Adams, awakened.

“He came immediately,” Dr. Batchvarov recalled. “We looked at each other like two little boys in a candy shop.”

Dr. Batchvarov said the wreck — the medieval one found more than a half-mile down — was part of a class known by several names, including cocha and “round ship.” The latter name arose from how its ample girth let it carry more cargo and passengers than a warship.

Dr. Adams said the remarkable color images of the lost ships derived from a process known as photogrammetry. It combines photography with the careful measurement of distances between objects, letting a computer turn flat images into renderings that seem three-dimensional.

He said tethered robots shot the photographic images with video and still cameras. The distance information, he added, came from advanced sonars, which emit high-pitched sounds that echo through seawater. Their measurements, he said, can range down to less than a millimeter.

A news release from the University of Southampton refers to the images as “digital models.” Their creation, it said, “takes days even with the fastest computers.”

Filmmakers are profiling the Black Sea hunt in a documentary, according to the team’s website.

Another part of the project seeks to share the thrill of discovery with schools and educators. Students are to study on the Black Sea, the website says, or join university scientists in analyzing field samples “to uncover the mysteries of the past.”

The team has said little publicly on whether it plans to excavate the ships — a topic on which nations, academics and treasure hunters have long clashed. Bulgaria is a signatory to the 2001 United Nations convention that outlaws commercial trade in underwater cultural heritage and sets out guidelines on such things as artifact recovery and public display.

Dr. Pacheco-Ruiz said the team had so far discovered and photographed 44 shipwrecks, and that more beckoned.

Which was the most important? Dr. Adams said that for him, a student of early European shipbuilding, the centerpiece was the medieval round ship. He said it evoked Marco Polo and city states like Venice. The ship, he added, incorporated a number of innovations that let it do more than its predecessors had and paved the way for bigger things to come.

“It’s not too much,” he said, “to say that medieval Europe became modern with the help of ships like these.”

The V.A. Refuses To Pay Their Own Bills: Yet It Is Your Credit Rating That Gets Tanked

The V.A. Refuses To Pay Their Own Bills: Yet It Is Your Credit Rating That Gets Tanked

This post today is a first hand story, not a second, third or any other kind. I know this story is 100% true because it is my own story. There are quite a few issues that I could talk with you about concerning the VA but for the purpose of keeping this post to readable length I am only going to talk about my largest medical bill that is on my personal credit. I have a hospital bill among other medical bills from an event that happened on September 13th, 2011 in N.W. Atlanta Georgia. I had blacked-out face first into an exterior steel doors steel hinges, made me even uglier than I used to be. I got awaken by three of the workers there where I was at. I then drove myself to a clinic there locally where once I had gone inside I blacked out again there. It was only about a quarter of a mile from the clinic to the huge Medical Center Hospital so I was taken by ambulance (unconscious) to the ER. It was three days before I remember anything, I was there five days total and their bill was $60,000 and some change. On day three once I had gotten my consciousness back I remember a few things the Doctor told me about my condition when I came into the ER. I was told that besides not being awake that both of my kidneys had shut down and that my BP was in the 50/20 range and dropping. So, was this hospital bill something that the VA should have paid for? Under the agreement that the VA has with America’s Veterans, this definitely qualified as a life or death emergency wouldn’t it? O, by the way, the reason that my BP tanked the way it did? The Georgia Doctors said that the VA had me on four times too much blood-pressure medicine and that it had kicked me down, very obviously (my opinion) once again, the VA Doctors almost killed me, again.

 

To make this a shorter story the VA has time and again refused to pay the hospital the money owed them. I have been told that it is their opinion that I could have made it to the closest VA, really! Thus being I could have made it to the Atlanta VA Hospital many miles away, it is my bill, not theirs, really! (This is how local Doctors, Clinics, Ambulance services, and Hospitals are being treated all over Our Nation by the VA, REALLY). Besides the fact that these fine people who kept you alive not getting paid for their work preformed, now the bills show up on your credit report. Why doesn’t it show up on the VA’s credit report and leave the people’s credit report alone? If the bill by law belongs to the VA why can that bill be held against the credit and good standing of a person when it is plainly not the persons bill?

 

In this closing paragraph I would like to give you their best slap in the face, your credit. Last summer my wife and I bought a home for the first time in our lives (I did pay off a house for an x-wife but it was never in my name). This $60,000 hospital is on my credit, I have challenged it a couple of times to no avail. This debt made my credit rating dive to about 680 and this forced me to have to go through the VA Loan Program to qualify for a home loan. I am not going to say that the VA system is all bad or that all of their employees are bad, that is not true. I believe I would not be alive today if it weren’t for the VA yet at the same time they have almost killed me several times through their ignorance and apathy (from some). So, what can a little person do when Goliath’s big brother won’t even pay his obligated debts and decides to dump his garbage on you? The only answer I could think of was to throw in my two cents worth on this subject matter which is now finally in the national news through this little blog in which I get to speak with you in.  I hope you have a great week, stay safe, God’s blessings I pray to each of you.

 

 

The DAV 100% Worthless To America’s Service Connected Disabled Veterans!

Is The DAV 100% Worthless To America’s Service Connected Disabled Veterans!

 

This article today is derived from my personal experiences with the DAV. The DAV for those of you who don’t already know stands for Disabled American Veterans. This is an organization that its members (like me) have paid $230.00 to for a lifetime membership. Their job is to help service connected disabled veterans concerning issues with the VA (Veterans Administration). My personal experiences with them have gotten me nothing except having $230.00 less in my bank account. Each month members get a small magazine telling its members about things they are doing like having conventions and of course, asking for donations and offering things for sale like t-shirts. Where I live here in eastern Kentucky I have three neighbors whom the DAV ‘represents’. When I have spoken with them and or their wives they say the same thing, that yes the DAV is their representative but no, they haven’t seen anything from them yet. They like I have waited and waited for years now to have our issues with the VA addressed, but still nothing.

 

I have a case before the VA to have my service connected disability rating increased from its current 40% as I am totally disabled because of being hit by lightning while I was in the Army. I filed for the increase in February of 2013 and was turned down in March of 2014. I at that time filed an appeal but as of yet I still don’t have a date to get to see the Judges (next step in the appeals process). I was told in March of 2013 that the process was taking about 22-23 months before I could expect to have my case in front of this 3 Judge panel. Folks, that was 30 months ago and I still have no date set for this meeting with these Judges. So far what has the DAV done for me concerning this issue? As far as I can tell the answer to that question is, absolutely nothing!

 

I have two medical bills that are on my credit report that are labeled as ‘in collections’. These two bills are from September of 2011. I was in a suburb of Atlanta Georgia at that time and I blacked out and busted my forehead open about 3 to 4 inches on a large steel exterior door hinge . The reason I blacked out I was told later by the Doctors was because the VA had me on 4 times too much blood pressure medicine. I was taken while unconscious in an ambulance to the nearest hospital which happened to be a civilian hospital that was about 1/4 to 1/2 mile away. I was unconscious for three days once I got there. I was later told by the ER Doctors that when I arrived that both of my kidneys had 100% shut down and that my blood pressure was 50/20. They also told me that if I had not gotten there within another 5 to 10 minutes, I would have died. The VA via their guidelines are supposed to pay the medical bills if the bills derived from an emergency, they still have not paid the bills and now they are on my credit report. The VA has said that the reason is that in their opinion I could have made it to the Atlanta VA which would have been at least 30 minutes away, in good traffic. Also anyone who knows anything at all about Atlanta traffic at about 4-PM knows that the chance I could have made it to the VA before I died, knows that I would not be writing this letter to you now, I would be dead. I have written and called the local DAV rep here in my home town and all they do say is for me to contact the National office in Louisville Ky. Concerning writing letters to them, they just send you a letter back telling me/you to either visit or call the Louisville office. Well, I have done this and the people who you are able to get a hold of don’t know anything about what the VA policies are and all they try to do is push you off the phone telling me that I need to handle the issue and that it would be an up hill battle trying to get them to pay those bills because “I should have gone to a VA Hospital’.  The DAV, even at the National Head Quarters, zero help, total laziness, total ignorance of the rules/policies.

 

I have an electric wheel-chair that I got from the VA back in 2007 that weighs 300 lbs, plus the weight of the lift that is hooked to the back of our 2006 Chevy Equinox. This vehicle is getting old and it has 150,000 miles on it so my wife and I are a bit concerned about how much longer it can last. Even this large SUV strains a bit with all of this weight hooked onto its rear end. I went to the VA in Lexington to see if I could get a smaller chair with a smaller lift so that hopefully we could trade the SUV in on a smaller vehicle. The Doctors did their evaluations and then told us that I am going to be getting a new chair but that this new one weighs 425 lbs. They also informed us that we needed to purchase a large van for the new chair as they didn’t want it hanging on the back of a vehicle exposed to the weather. The VA has a program where if you can jump through all their hoops that a service connected disabled veteran can get up to a once in a life time sum of money of up to $20,000 (paid directly to the seller of the vehicle) to help pay for things like this needed van. My local DAV lady did as she/he always does, they tell you to contact the National Office in Louisville. In other words the local office has been 100% useless to me since I started paying that $230.00 fee. So, when I called the Louisville National Office, all I got from the man on the other end of the phone was attitude, he knew nothing and he very obviously didn’t want to be bothered with talking to me about anything.

So, I ask you this question once again, is the DAV 100% worthless to America’s service connected disabled veterans?

(Yesterday march 31st I got a letter from the VA stating that in their opinion I did not qualify for the disabled van program and a letter saying that all of my disability claims for a higher rating have been denied. I never received a single letter or call from anyone with the DAV nor did I get to see any ‘Judges’. Now after waiting for 5 years and 2 months I get to try to start the appeals process all over again. What a HUGE FRAUD the VA and the DAV are!)

Ukraine Ejects Ex-Georgian President, Deporting Him To Poland

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR AND THE BBC)

 

Ukraine Ejects Ex-Georgian President, Deporting Him To Poland

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to the media prior to a scheduled court hearing in Kiev last month.

Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian authorities have deported Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who has emerged as a vocal antagonist of the government in Kiev. Ukraine’s border agency confirmed his deportation to Poland on Monday, while videos on social media purported to show Saakashvili getting seized by masked men.

“This person was on Ukrainian territory illegally,” the agency said in a statement released Monday, “and therefore, in compliance with all legal procedures, he was returned to the country from which he arrived.”

Representatives of Saakashvili are describing the incident in starkly different terms.

Earlier Monday the populist politician’s Facebook account released a plea for help, saying “unknown people in masks kidnapped [him] and drove him in an unknown direction.” At the same time, the account uploaded several videos appearing to show his “abduction” in a restaurant at the hands of several shouting men.

Hours later, he called reporters from Warsaw with his account of the confrontation: “They broke into the cafe,” he said. “They tried to close my eyes, tie my hands.”

Within hours he had been placed on a plane to Poland.

Saakashvili and his supporters have cast the move as an attempt to remove a prominent threat to President Petro Poroshenko, a former ally who granted Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship and even appointed him governor several years ago — only to strip him of that citizenship after Saakashvili quit amid a flurry of accusations that Poroshenko was blocking his attempts at reform.

Saakashvili — a populist politician who also faces a three-year prison sentence in Georgia for embezzlement and abuse of authority during his presidency there — lost his rights as a Ukrainian last summer while he was in the U.S. He returned, though, gathering supporters on the Poland-Ukraine border for a climactic push back into the country in September. Since then he has drawn a considerable following in Ukraine, even as Ukrainian officials have condemned him as a provocateur backed by a pro-Russian criminal group.

Earlier this month Saakashvili lost his appeal for protection against the possibility of getting extradited to Georgia to stand charges.

“The Georgian authorities never asked for my extradition when I was in America or in Europe,” the 50-year-old opposition leader told The Guardian last week, when he was still living and working in central Kiev. “They only did it when I returned to Ukraine because Poroshenko asked them to.”

Now, after grappling with Saakashvili for months, Kiev has managed to eject him. Time will tell whether he will stay out of Ukraine or whether, as he did last year, he will somehow manage to return. In the meantime, Saakashvili might be out of the country — but he is not exactly out of earshot.

“This is not a president and not a man,” he said of Poroshenko in a statement after the deportation Monday, according to Reuters. “This is a lowlife crook who wants to wreck Ukraine. All this shows how weak they are. We will of necessity defeat them.”

Read All About It: Breaking News

Is Ex-Soviet Georgia Backsliding on Justice?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Is Ex-Soviet Georgia Backsliding on Justice?

Georgian Policemen on Duty. Photo by Flickr user jb via Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY 2.0)

by JUSTINE DOODY

The following article was written for Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index(BTI) and published on Global Voices with permission. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Global Voices.

On June 10, 2017, thousands of Georgians protested on the streets of Tbilisi, the country’s capital, in support of two members of the rap group Birja Mafia. The young men were arrested on drugs charges they allege to have been trumped up. The protests marked a further step in the decline of Georgians’ trust in their law enforcement system.

Former president Mikheil Saakashvili’s successful police reforms in the first decade of the 21st century served as a model for reform in transition countries, but the gains may have been short-lived. By April 2017, only 38% of Georgians rated police performance good or very good, down from 60% as recently as November 2013. Meanwhile, only 13% rated the performance of both the courts and the office of the Chief Prosecutor good or very good; 27% said the courts performed badly or very badly, and 19% said the same of the Office of the Chief Prosecutor. Is the rule of law in Georgia on a downward trend?

Georgia scored 6.5 on the “Rule of Law” criterion in the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) 2016, a respectable showing that placed it in the “Sound” category alongside 22 other transitional and developing countries. Georgia was ranked lower than the nine countries ranked as “Excellent”, but higher than the remaining 97 countries designated “Fair”, “Flawed”, or “Poor”. However, the report notes problems in the country both with the prosecution of abuse of office and the independence of the judiciary, two issues that are contributing to the current deterioration in public confidence.

The Birja Mafia affair is not the only high-profile case to hit the headlines. In May, Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli was abducted in Tbilisi and transferred to prison in Azerbaijan, and accusations of complicity among the Georgian police led to the suspension of the head of the Border Police and the chief of Counterintelligence in July. Mukhtarli’s lawyers and wife say that the journalist’s abductors wore the uniform of the Georgian police. In June, one of Tbilisi’s police chiefs was suspended after Georgian media released a video showing apparent police abuse, in a March incident in which a man called Shota Pakeliani ended up in a coma after injuries received while in police custody. In both cases, the authorities took action after the public outcry, but critics say that this happens too rarely, and that even when it does the consequences are insufficiently severe.

Difficult Reforms

In 2015, the Prosecutor’s Office announced plans for the creation of a Department for Investigation into Crimes Committed throughout the Judicial Process. But as the Prosecutor’s Office is frequently accused of having political motivations, this department might not represent a real solution to the problem. In 2016, investigations were opened into 173 cases of alleged police mistreatment; but none of these for police brutality or torture, only for the less serious crime of “exceeding official powers.” Only five investigations led to criminal proceedings, and only two resulted in guilty verdicts. In its 2016/2017 annual report, Amnesty International raised concerns about the Georgian government’s failure to move on legislation to create an independent mechanism for investigating human rights violations by law enforcement bodies.

Georgia received visa-free travel to the European Union in March 2017, and its Association Agreement with the EU entered into force in July 2016. Georgians overwhelmingly support eventual EU membership. In a poll taken in February and March this year, 90% of respondents favored EU membership. So, although accession is not on the EU’s radar just yet, the Georgian government should be strongly motivated to comply with the Association Agenda, which includes reforming the prosecution service. Efforts to do that are in progress. The Prosecutor’s Office was separated from the Ministry of Justice in 2012, and in early 2016 a Prosecutorial Council and a Consultation Board were established to increase the office’s independence. In a January 2017 report, the Council’s anti-corruption body, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), praised Georgia’s progress in reducing corruption, and welcomed the country’s efforts to reform its prosecution service. But GRECO noted that further work was needed to fully implement reforms and reduce the influence of the executive and the legislature on high-level prosecutorial appointments and on the activity of the Prosecutorial Council.

De-Politicization of Justice

The same kind of political linkages contribute to the problems within the police force. The appointment of top police officers is dependent on the will of the interior minister, which undermines the independence of the force. In the courts, too, the legacy of politicization left over from the Saakashvili administration persists, although the new government has taken some steps to improve the situation. The Public Defender’s Office is one bright spot. Responsible for overseeing human rights and freedoms in Georgia, it enjoys broad public support, although its recommendations are not implemented often enough.

De-politicization of justice needs to be a priority of the ruling Georgian Dream party, for the sake of the public at large, the country’s EU hopes, and perhaps even the party’s own political fortunes. The former governing party, Saakashvili’s United National Movement, found, to its detriment, that failing to provide adequate support for the rule of law can have political consequences. Widely publicized cases of prison abuse and police violence contributed to the party’s loss of public trust and eventual ouster in 2012. If the current government cannot improve public confidence in the system, it might find that history can repeat itself.

Justine Doody is an editor and analyst. She writes for the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s BTI Blog and SGI News.

Putin orders cut of 755 personnel at U.S. missions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Putin orders cut of 755 personnel at U.S. missions

Why Russia is demanding the U.S. cut diplomatic staff
The Post’s Andrew Roth explains a statement the Russian Foreign Ministry issued July 28, seizing U.S. diplomatic properties and demanding the State Department reduce its staff in Russia. (Andrew Roth, Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
 July 30 at 4:41 PM
 Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that the U.S. diplomatic missions in Moscow and elsewhere in the country will have to reduce their staffs by 755 people, signaling a significant escalation in the Russian response to American sanctions over the Kremlin’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election.The United States and Russia have expelled dozens of each other’s diplomats before – but Sunday’s statement, made by Putin in an interview with the Rossiya-1 television channel, indicated the single largest forced reduction in embassy staff, comparable only to the closing of the American diplomatic presence in the months following the Communist revolution in 1917.

In the interview, Putin said that the number of American diplomatic and technical personnel will be capped at 455 — equivalent to the number of their Russian counterparts working in the United States. Currently, close to 1,200 employees work at the United States’ embassy and consulates in Russia, according to U.S. and Russian data.

“More than a thousand employees — diplomats and technical employees — have worked and are still working in Russia these days,” Putin told journalist Vladimir Solovyov on a nationally televised news show Sunday evening. “Some 755 of them will have to terminate their activity.”

Putin’s remarks came during a three-and-half-day trip by Vice President Pence to Eastern Europe to show U.S. support for countries that have chafed at interference from Moscow – Estonia, Georgia, and Montenegro.

Russian President Vladimir Putin watched a parade on the Neva River, followed by a short air show and gun salute to celebrate Navy Day on July 30. (Reuters)

“The president has made it very clear that Russia’s destabilizing activities, its support for rogue regimes, its activities in Ukraine, are unacceptable,” Pence said, when asked by reporters in Tallinn, Estonia, whether he expects Trump to sign the sanctions. “The president made very clear that very soon he will sign the sanctions from the Congress of the United States to reinforce that.”

“As we make our intentions clear, we expect Russian behavior to change,” Pence continued.

The Kremlin had said Friday, as the Senate voted to strengthen sanctions on Russia, that some American diplomats would be expelled, but the size of the reduction is dramatic. It covers the main embassy in Moscow, as well as missions in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

The U.S. Embassy in Russia has been unable to provide exact numbers on the number of staff it employs in Russia. But a 2013 review by the Department of State said that the American mission in Russia “employs 1,279 staff, including 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed staff positions from 35 U.S. government agencies.” (A good breakdown of the numbers was posted on the blog Diplopundit).

“This is a landmark moment,” Andrei Kolesnikov, a journalist for the newspaper Kommersant who regularly travels with Putin and has interviewed him extensively over the past 17 years, told the Post in an interview on Friday. “His patience has seriously run out, and everything that he’s been putting off in this conflict, he’s now going to do.”

The Russian government is also seizing two diplomatic properties — a dacha, or country house, in a leafy neighborhood in Moscow, and a warehouse — following the decision by the Obama administration in December to take possession of two Russian mansions in the United States.

The move comes as it has become apparent that Russia has abandoned its hopes for better relations with the United States under a Trump administration.

“I think retaliation is long, long overdue,” deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“We have a very rich toolbox at our disposal,” Ryabkov said. “After the Senate . . . voted so overwhelmingly on a completely weird and unacceptable piece of legislation, it was the last drop.”

Hours later, Putin said during his evening interview that he expected relations between the United States and Russia to worsen, and that Russia would likely come up with other measures to counter American financial sanctions, which were passed by the House and Senate last week and which President Trump has said he will sign.

The reduction in U.S. diplomatic and technical staff is a response to President Obama’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in December in response to the alleged Russian hacking of the mail servers of the Democratic National Committee. The United States also revoked access to two Russian diplomatic compounds on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on Long Island. American officials said they were used for intelligence collection.

It is not yet clear how the State Department will reduce its staff in Russia. Some of the local staff were hired to help with a significant expansion of the U.S. embassy compound in Moscow.

The move increases the likelihood of new, perhaps asymmetrical reprisals by the United States in coming days.

Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia, tweeted Sunday: “If these cuts are real, Russians should expect to wait weeks if not months to get visas to come to US.”

Ashley Parker , in Tallinn, Estonia, and Madhumita Murgia, in Washington, contributed.

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