Winter in Svaneti

Ushguli (Svaneti, Georgia) | Winter 2017/18

„Winter in Upper Svaneti is a challange.“

At an altitude of about 2150m and located 44 km from Mestia, Ushguli represents, at least at first sight, a classic instance of rural depopulation. Beginning in the late 1980s, this community, located in the Enguri gorge in the Caucasus and made up of the four villages of Murqmeli, Chazhashi, Chvibiani and Zhibiani, saw severe loss of population in the context of state-organised resettlement plans, prompted by a series of extreme weather events in 1986/87, including snowstorms and avalanches, which claimed a total of 82 lives in the region and led to outmigration of about 50% of the population. Today the harsh cold and snowy winter here in Svaneti is still a real challange.

The narrative of an authentic society living at the edge of time, where little has changed over the decades and centuries and where life has a sense of fairytale about it,dominates Internet sites such as Wikitravel, TripAdvisor, Facebook and booking.com. More serious travel writing is not always disinclined to echo this discourse.

It is a narrative, however, with narrow limits, and one that has little to do with the reality of life at subsistence level, cut off from medical care and political participation and afflicted by a lack of prospects for the future. It also fails to take account of the higherstandards of living enjoyed in the region in the Soviet era’s heyday, when Ushguli was linked to Tbilisi by daily helicopter flights and was able to provide secondary schooling that enabled a large number of the children of Usghuli’s current aged population to eventually attain university degrees.

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