Thousands have been protesting in western Georgia against the construction of the Namakhvani Hydropower Plant on the Rioni River for months now. The project encompasses two separate HPPs of 333 MW and 100 MW on the Rioni River. The Government of Georgia hopes to enhance its energy security and to employ up to 1,600 Georgians with the “foreign direct investment in the amount of USD 800 million.” Activists in the Rioni Valley, on the other hand, are citing “cabalistic” terms of the investor agreement with Enka Renewables company and environmental concerns.
Tensions have mounted in the Valley over the past two weeks as the police restricted freedom of movement between the villages, dismantled the tents of activists near the HPP site, and used force to contain protests. While the Rioni Valley activists avoid any direct engagement with political parties, Civil Georgia gathered comments of Georgian opposition leaders on the controversial HPP and surrounding protest developments.
Giorgi Khvedeliani, the United National Movement (UNM)
Khvedeliani tells Civil.ge that the UNM fully supports Rioni Valley activists who are against the project “completely at odds with state interests.” He argues that in the case of Namakhvani HPP, the state provides beneficial conditions for particular persons to take advantage of it, rather than for a project that would be beneficial for the nation.
According to Khvedeliani, examinations by all “neutral arbiters” show that there is “some sort of corrupt deal,” “treason of state interests” since none of the similar agreements contain such advantageous terms for companies as in the case of Namakhvani HPP. Khvedeliani said the UNM has “diversified views on how to get the energy” the country needs – including through an HPP, through wind energy, or many other sources, but they are beneficial for the state and people.
Speaking of the Government’s handling of protests, Khvedeliani called it “shameful” as the authorities even blocked for locals “the road to their own homes.” He said the Government speaks to the protesters with the violent language of police, which had become a protector of the company rather than public interests.
“In any case, [activists] need to know that we find their fight as right, just, principled and they have our full support in their fight.”
The only way out of the crisis would be the consideration of the demands of project opponents, Khvedeliani believes.
Giga Bokeria, European Georgia Chairperson
“The moves by law enforcement bodies, particularly in the past days, were completely unlawful, anti-constitutional, devoid of any reasonable grounds, and were restricting on fundamental rights of civilians to political protest, to freedom of movement, to freedom of expression,” said the leader of European Georgia in his press briefing about developments in the Rioni Valley on April 12. Bokeria said, however, that
“the position of European Georgia is very critical with respect to the part of the protest which is clearly xenophobic.”
Acknowledging that people with non-xenophobic narratives and non-xenophobic critical attitudes towards the project also participate in protests, Bokeria said by employing “repressive and anti-constitutional” means, the Government only encourages the positions of the part of xenophobic and radical protesters.
Davit Berdzenishvili, the Republican Party
Berdzenishvili told Civil.ge that the Republicans find the arguments provided by the anti-HPP CSOs, such as the Social Justice Center (formerly EMC) credible, “which confirm that this project is not beneficial for energy security and is also problematic from an ecological point of view.”
“We are not against the construction of hydropower plants per se, but we do not find it correct to build such projects, such HPPs and we believe that protesters are right.”
Berdzenishvili asserted that the latest steps by the authorities contain “massive human rights violations” that definitely need condemnation. “An optimal interim solution would be halting construction works and launching a dialogue, to see whether clear improvements can be made to the project,” Berdzenishvili said, noting, however, that it would have been better, had the dialogue taken place earlier.
Mamuka Khazaradze, Lelo for Georgia Leader
In his statement from April 14, the Lelo for Georgia party leader held former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia responsible for current developments around the Namakhvani HPP, claiming he handed several hectares of the land plot to one of the companies in a “secret” deal.
Lelo’s leader criticized the Government for its energy policies, recalling the case of Tsablana village, western Adjara region, where he said hydropower plant was built with flaws. Noting that the country needs investments, he said he “categorically opposed any of the investors,” regardless of the origin, if they do not uphold the standards and interests of Georgia.
“This is the government that launched [Namakhvani HPP] project […] secretly, with a direct sale, without any prior discussion or international standards! It did not consider public opinion, did not provide proper explanations, did not answer all questions, did not enter into the dialogue [with locals] and sold large territory for GEL 121 [USD 35].”
Khazaradze also stated that Rioni Valley activists’ opposition to allowing politicians to engage in the process was a “mistake.” The problem affects everybody and the Lelo for Georgia party will continue to investigate human rights violations against the locals, he adds.
Zura Japaridze, Girchi – More Freedom
Commenting on the recent developments during his April 12 appearance on Formula TV, the right-libertarian party leader said the restriction on the freedom of movement in the Rioni Valley was a “violation of constitutional rights,” while the dismantling of activists’ tents restricted their right to protest. The Government “cannot win this fight, it is impossible, as far as I see, these people are not giving up,” he added.
Girchi leader said he does not object to large-scale HPPs, but the problem comes from the existing system in the country where the state allows investors to build the HPPs in exchange for money. “Investor believes that this is the price to launch some large-scale project,” while the true price lies in the consent of locals, he stated. As for the solutions, Japaridze asserted that the only way out will be to talk to locals, but authorities think they can rely on force.
“It is the only right and fair way to solve this problem that the assets there are owned by the local population and those people are the ones to decide. If those people are against it, there is no greater goal in the world.”
“We do need energy, we do need large HPPs, but most importantly, the country needs the reputation that property is protected here,” he said, adding that, in this case, more money would be invested in energy and anywhere else.
Anna Dolidze, Leader of Forthcoming “For People” Party
In her April 11 Facebook address, Ana Dolidze declared solidarity to the HPP resistance movement and slammed the Georgian authorities for failing to conduct an open dialogue with locals and refusing to fully disclose construction-related details. “It is the achievement of these people [activists] that there is a discussion on this issue today and that we received any kind of information regarding this HPP,” she remarked.
Dolidze said she remains unconvinced that the government is safeguarding state interests when pushing for the construction of the Namakhvani HPP.
“We live in a different type of state, which is rotting in corruption… When corruption is taking over our state in other fields, I am very doubtful that someone is acting based on state interests [in this case].”
She also alleged the Interior Ministry of deploying “KGB-esque” methods to suppress the resistance movement, including by dismantling tents where the activists protested, and by attempting to discredit them through planting bottles of alcohol.
In a separate Facebook address, Dolidze pinned the blame for the controversy surrounding the HPP construction on former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, noting that the land was sold and the contract was signed when Gakharia was in office. “He will have to seriously answer these [HPP-related] questions,” she said.