On February 20, 2018, a leader of the “Alliance of Patriots”, Irma Inashvili, while assessing visa liberalization on air in TV Imedi’s program “Head to Head”, stated that 30-35 thousand citizens left the territory of Georgia, while double that number entered Georgia from Asian countries. According to her, there are no Georgian entrepreneurs left in Adjara and Kakheti, as there are only Turk businessmen in Adjara and Iranians – in Kakheti. As Inashvili explained, this is directly connected to visa liberalization, as the people coming from Asia force Georgian nationals to leave the country. Natia Lomidze, a journalist for Rezonansi, spread the same narrative on February 17, 2018. She mentioned that visa liberalization incentivized citizens to leave the country in search of jobs. The journalist mentions 2016 data to confirm this, which states that the working-age population in Georgia decreased by 0.6%.
Irma Inashvili: “We are being told that about 35,000 people left Georgia. We are not arguing about numbers, as some mention 30,000. Double that number of Iraqis and Syrians arrived from the Asian countries, where the terrorism threat is high. These people establish themselves in our country, in our motherland, where a Georgian could not find happiness. Georgians could not find happiness in Adjara, where Turks have been given everything… Then, Georgians could not find happiness in Kakheti, too, where Iranians are dominant instead of Georgians, who can also develop business, process land and create production. Georgians, thus, leave their homes and it directly relates with visa liberalization and all this process, because people are leaving our country.”
Irma Inashvili’s statements about visa liberalization and the Georgian entrepreneurs in Kakheti and Adjara are false and do not correspond to statistical data, as out of those 160,000 people that benefitted from visa liberalization, only up to 10,000 citizens did not return back to Georgia after the 90-day term. The Rezonansi journalist’s statement is false, too, as visa liberalization came into force on March 28, 2017 and it could not possibly affect the decrease in the number of working-age population in 2016.
As for the agricultural and entrepreneurship issues, 79 Georgian entrepreneurs’ projects received funding only in the framework of UNDP, while ENPARD funded 23 such projects in Kakheti.
1. Manipulating numbers
Since the enactment of visa liberalization (March 28, 2017) until October 20, 2017, in total, 160,000 citizens of Georgia benefitted from visa-free travel. After the expiration of the 90-day term, up to 10,000 citizens did not return to Georgia. This number does not encompass merely those citizens who chose to stay illegally. It also includes those, who:
- Own a residence permit in one of the EU countries or a double nationality;
- Received the right of a prolonged stay in one of the EU countries after benefitting from the visa free travel (i.e. students, asylum-seekers);
- Travelled from the EU countries to third countries (i.e. Ukraine, Belarus) and did not return to Georgia from the latter.
Moreover, the visa liberalization topic is often connected to a false claim that it will empty the country and lead it into a demographic catastrophe. Discussing the visa-free travel in Schengen zone countries from the demographic perspective is manipulative, as visa liberalization for Georgia only concerns short-term visits to European countries, not free movement of workers. In addition, connecting the decrease of working-age population in Georgia in 2016 with visa liberalization is manipulative, because Georgia was granted visa liberalization on March 28, 2017, therefore, it could in no way affect the number of working-age citizens in 2016.
2. Xenophobic message
Inashvili’s statement that, allegedly, production is owned only by Turks in Adjara, whereas in Kakheti – by Iranians, is disinformation and aims to incite xenophobic attitudes in the population.
In Adjara, 77 projects have been supported only in the framework of UNDP’s program. These projects employ 435 citizens of Georgia, living in Adjara. The projects include both production and re-processing and covers spheres such as nut production, greenhouses, wine-making, fish-farming, beekeeping, poultry farming, production of blueberries, citruses, tomatoes, potatoes, as well as livestock farming etc.
- Four Georgian farmers from Khulo – Jemal Artmeladze, Mikheil Chogadze, Alexandre Ishkhnelidze and Bidzina Shavadze exported four tons of Georgian garlic to the EU market.
- A farmer from Adjara, Tsezar Kakhadze, sells his smoked sulguni on the US market.
- Mikeladze family grows blueberries in highland Adjara and owns a 3000 square meters blueberry field.
ENPARD has supported 23 agricultural cooperatives in Kakheti region. Like in Adjara, various sectors are supported in Kakheti, too, for instance: cheesemaking, cultivation of potatoes, viticulture, production of grains, vegetables, fruits, beekeeping, livestock farming etc.
- Winemakers Zaza and Malkhaz Jakeli have been exporting their wine Organic Wine and Vineyards of Jakeli Family to the EU market since 2014.
- Giorgi Latsabidze, a farmer, has built a gigantic blackberry plantation, which is one of the most demanded products.
- Izolda Kitiashvili, a farmer, has received an order for ten tons of persimmons from Germany.
Propaganda about the visa liberalization
Irma Inashvili has been repeating propaganda messages regarding the visa liberalization and considers visa-free regime as one of the threats facing the country. Inashvili artificially associates the natural migration process with visa liberalization and immigration from the Asian country – with the threat of terrorism.
Irma Inashvili’s messages about the EU and migration is in line with those of TV Obiektivi. A research by Media Development Foundation called “Coverage of Muslim Issues in Georgian, Russian, Azerbaijani and Turkish Traditional and New Media”, mentions that the migration and foreign investors represent one of the leading topics of TV Obiektivi. Migrants are associated with various types of crimes, whereas xenophobic messages are directed towards the foreign investors with Asian identity.
About Irma Inashvili
Irma Inashvili is Secretary General of “Alliance of Patriots” and deputy chairperson of Parliament of Georgia.