Sunday, September 26, 2010

He's got real estate that's better than that

Some of my first writing that I actually still find readable was my first few views on Georgia. I still love the place, and I still recommend everyone visit it. And now, apparently, Sakashvili wants to make it at lot easier for you.

These two stories aren't at all unrelated. On one hand, Trump is buying real estate in Tblisi and Misha is opening up the Black Sea coast for tremendous new development. On the other, Georgia turns to English as its secondary language, away from Russian. The second is pretty straightforward. And yeah, I predicted it, but it wasn't like it was that difficult to discover. Columbia-educated Sakashvili has been turning towards the US for nearly two decades. This was more a formality than anything else...though I'd be interested to hear how far-ranging the decree is. Will students away from Tblisi be doing English as well? I really don't know how far their reach is.

The development bit is more interesting. Some of the stuff sounds really, really, dangerous. To wit:
Specifically, the government is offering hotel developers 27 plots on 11.3 hectares of undeveloped, state-owned Black Sea-area land for $1 per plot. Under the program, overseen by the Autonomous Republic of Achara, any investor willing to invest at least two million lari (approximately $1.1 million) in a beachfront hotel zone will qualify for an array of business incentives, including free utilities and no sales or income tax for 15 years.
To qualify for the tax holiday, participating hotel projects – each having a requirement that a building cannot be taller than seven stories -- must be completed by August 1, 2011. 
So yeah, that's not what I would call safe, planned, development. In fact, I would bet that means shoddy construction, cheap labor, and all sorts of cut corners. And lots of money going back to Tblisi and New York more than anything else. Bascially, the ugliest points of tourism. God help us all when the developers discover the mountains. There is a back-pat about it, the whole "but no trees can be taken down" but lets be serious. This is going to be a tremendous renewal project. And I'm not optimistic that it will be done well. There's too much room for corruption and graft. Too much of an excuse for Americans to talk about "helping Georgians" and not giving a damn which ones they help. Lots of rich, connected, Georgians will benefit. Lots of poor Georgians will be disillusioned. Sakashvili is smarter than me, so maybe he knows what he's doing here. But as I said, I'm pessimistic. I'd hate to see the country piss away its natural beauty to get 15 dudes a few more million.

 And finally, there's separatism in the North Caucasus. You probably knew this already, and you probably knew that Russia thinks that Georgians, Americans, Saudis, and everyone besides Chechens are to blame. It's a well-written article. So for those of you that are complaining that this isn't a navel-gazing travel blog, and those of you that have no clue what I'm talking about when I go full-Kavkaz, read Vatchagaev's piece. It's pretty danged good.

So yeah, I owe a report on Sarajevo, and I'll get to that eventually. I'm trying to do long-form, but that's just totally not happening so far what with work and all. So I'll let you know how that goes.

Read about the Caucasus until then.

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