Attention: Svaneti

It seems that, on average, every year and a half or so I end up on Georgian television, briefly or for an extended stretch. A few seconds or up to twenty minutes. Sometimes entirely unintentionally. The first feature Rustavi 2 channel ran on me was because I had let them use my blogged photos of an avalanche which had closed the just-opened Ushguli road, along with an interview with me by phone from my then unreachable location. The fact of a westerner spending an entire winter in Georgia and Europe’s highest village inspired them to come for my story.

I wanted that six-minute segment, part of the PostScriptum Saturday night show, to be more about the village than about me. That has been my modus operandi here ever since, too, because although I stick out like a sore thumb in Svaneti, the province itself could use the nationwide focus which filming here brings. Not to mention the worldwide potential audience of YouTube viewers.

This last time was no exception. Rustavi 2 came up again to revisit my life in these remote heights after several years’ break, and I hope that the resulting several minutes, not yet aired or its slot even announced, perhaps still being edited, will do more for Svaneti than the considerable attention which it brings to me and my wife. Once you’ve become nationally famous for footage of your weekly bath, what do you do for an encore?

They came, interviewed my wife and a neighbor who is a close friend, shot me with my growing pile of diaries which I would rescue from a burning house second after the Beloved, saw me repairing some fence and milking and showing off my fridge of delightfully smelly moldy cheeses. Next day, off to tiny Kartvani and its one-class school- this offshoot of Becho school has two grade three pupils and one in grade one. There’s no reaching them by wheeled transport in the winter, and it’s too far to walk to the main Becho school at any time, so this is the necessary solution.

The father of the boys, in grades one and three, begged me to include them when I started in Becho last autumn; said he would drive me at least from the top of Kartvani road to the main school if I could come, say, once a week for one lesson? How could I say no? If anyone is committed to seeing their children learn the homework, it’s him and his wife; otherwise we would be wasting our time. Things are going well.

But at the last minute the film crew begged off going to Becho, saying that they actually already had too much material to edit down to the four minutes or so available; typically, their lives are a race hither and yon, so, while this was unwelcome news, it wasn’t too surprising. Poor Becho school, though, expecting them, had tidied up its magnificent huge grassy yard, and the whole staff had brought the ingredients of a feast! They were disappointed not to be joined by the media trio, but I had been quite unable to persuade them to change their minds. We ate the feast anyway, because what could we do?

And there had been some good time to think about what one might say before the cameras, too. They asked me over the phone what I thought some of the problems in Svaneti were at the moment, and I passed this question on to my colleagues at Becho school. While it’s of a similar size to the building in Etseri, both schools suffer also from the fate of a drastically reduced population, down to about a fifth of its maximum historical size. Toilets, water, heating, electricity and computers (these more so in Becho) are other stated areas needing improvement.

So, barring the actual questions on TV, here is what might be lacking from the new footage, details of which will become clear soon. Don’t ignore Svaneti, or let it decline once again, because that way lies lawlessness, chaos, fear, depopulation! We’ve only just got over the last bout of all that! God forbid a rerun.

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1300 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

Tony Hanmer

21 April 2016 21:14