Georgia has been through numerous incarnations since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We track its progress from Communism to the Rose Revolution, from Michael Saakashvili’s controversial presidency to the ill-fated conflict with Russia. To this day not one but two Russian satellite states sit within its borders. How does it cope?

Stunning scenery, legendary hospitality – guided by journalist, tv producer and former member of Mikheil Saakashvili’s national security council, Dima Bit-Suleiman.

DATESSaturday 5th – Monday 14th October, 2019
DESTINATION

Led by Dima Bit-Suleiman

DURATION9 nights
INCLUDED
All AccommodationMeals and Water
Local TransportationExpert Guide
COSTCost: £4900.00
Single supplement: £500.00

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Day 1

Saturday October 5: Batumi

Our tour starts on Saturday evening with a walk around Batumi and its main boulevard. At dinner we get an introduction to the week ahead and look at Georgian politics today with our tour expert Dima Bit- Suleiman and Political Tours founder Nicholas Wood. (There are flights to Batumi via Istanbul, Turkey and Kiev, Ukraine as well as via Tbilisi on the previous day). Overnight Batumi.
Day 2

Sunday October 6: Batumi - History and Economic Ambitions

Batumi promotes itself as being the heart of the Georgian Riviera – it’s attracted investment with Doha-like skyscrapers popping up on its beautiful shoreline. With massive Chinese and Kazakh investment in a major deep-sea port, Georgia hopes to make it a key hub on the Silk Route between Asia and Europe. But its fortunes are still tied to uneasy relations with Russia. We’ll meet local leaders, ordinary Georgians and an economic analyst who maps out Georgia’s prospects. Overnight Batumi.
Day 3

Monday October 7: Poti and Abkhazia

Drive to Poti – a major port city on the Black Sea with an operational Free Economic Zone. Meeting with the supervisor’s board and port director. Drive to Inguri Hydro Power Plant modelled on the Hoover Dam that straddles the boundary between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia – the second highest dam in the world. The enormous complex is managed by Russian backed Abkhazia and Georgia and sheds light on relations between the two sides. Both countries share power from the dam, but it is in bad need of repair. Drive to Zugdidi – we meet with internally displaced people from the conflict in Abkhazia. Abkhazia is now firmly allied with Russia and their prospect of return almost 30 years later seems unlikely. Late arrival in Kutaisi. Overnight Kutaisi.
Day 4

Tuesday October 8 - Kutaisi, Stalin’s Legacy, & South Ossetia

Kutaisi is one of the ancient cities of the region and was the capital of the United Kingdom of Georgia. Visit the new Georgian parliament to meet parliamentarians and to discuss the idea behind building the parliament in Kutaisi – a very controversial project. After morning discussions we look around the city and drive to Gori, birthplace of Stalin. We examine the continued admiration for the Georgian born Stalin at the Occupation Museum(Formerly Stalin Museum). In Gori we begin to examine the consequences of the 2008 war. Visit to communities forced out of their homes by the conflict. Overnight Gori.
Day 5

Wednesday October 9: The Legacy of the 2008 Conflict

We visit the villages near line of contact with South Ossetia.We explore the causes of the war and see first hand the new and creeping border that Russia’s allies in the territory have erected. We visit a family of IDPs (internally displaced people) who still live in settlements erected shortly after the invasion. Our guide who covered the conflict and was in the midst of the action when Russian tanks rolled in explains what has changed since 2008 and discusses the chances of Russia invading again.Drive to Tbilisi. Talks with media representatives and briefings on key political issues facing government today. Overnight Tbilisi.
Day 6

Thursday October 10: Media Briefings – What Next for Georgia?

The tour starts with a walking tour of the Tbilisi old and new. We visit the old city centre in a steep valley, get a sense of geography and overview of how the city has developed and changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There will be a visit to the Justice Palace, a symbol of success of Georgia’s Rose Revolution which Mikheil Saakashvili tried to recreate during his stint as Governor of Odessa in Ukraine, where Georgians can get a new passport, buy property, register deaths or births all in a matter of hours. At lunch a leading local journalist gives us an update on recent events in the country. Visit in the afternoon to the Georgia Museum, including the Museum of Soviet Occupation, which has copious detail on the era. Overnight Tbilisi.
Day 7

Friday October 11: Government

In the morning we meet groups from both government and opposition. How do they assess relations with Russia and how realistic are their ambitions for NATO and EU membership? Later we’ll go up to the Narikala Fortress to look at the neighbourhood and the surreal palace of Georgia’s richest man – Bidzina Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili succeeded at ousting Mikheil Saakashvili in an election in 2012. Today he is Georgia’s Godfather. For some he is a saviour figure, for others he is a danger greater than the Kremlin. We look at the legacy of the city’s mayor, Davit Narmania, a controversial figure, who is coming in for criticism for failing to protect the city’s heritage. Dinner LITERA, Tbilisi’s writers club. Overnight Tbilisi.
Day 8-9

Saturday 12 October & Sunday 13 October: Tbilisi – Occupation line – South Ossetia

Our last two nights are spent in Georgia’s wine region – it’s harvest time. We’ll learn about the industry – which ironically received a boost after the conflict in 2008 when Russia banned Georgian imports. Georgia found new international markets, tourism is also booming in Georgia and is now a key element in state economic planning. We look back over the tour at our final dinner. Overnight Kakheti.
Day 10

Monday 14 October: Tours Ends

Tour ends after breakfast in Kakheti.

There will be return transport to Tbilisi.

Transfers to the airport as well as additional hotel reservations can be arranged through Political Tours.


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Dates: Saturday, 5 – Monday 14 October 2019

Cost: £4900 Single supplement: £500.00

What’s Included

All of your accommodation and meals with water are included, as well as local transport (except during your free time). Flights are not included in the price and need to be arranged by customers themselves or with an agent.

Following the news

Like all our tours the itinerary is focused on current affairs. Events on the ground may change and the final schedule may be adjusted accordingly.

Group size

As on all our expert-led tours the groups are deliberately small and will not exceed 14 people. Frequently we travel with 10-12 people. Limited spaces are available.

Visa

Travellers from most countries do not need a visa to visit Georgia, these include the EU States, Australia, New Zealand and USA. To check whether or not you need to obtain a visa, visit: https://geoconsul.gov.ge/en/visaInformation?process=2

FCO Website – Travel Advice

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes regularly updated travel information on its website www.fco.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo which you are recommended to consult before booking and in good time before departure. Where it considers it appropriate to do so, the FCO may advise against all travel or all but essential travel to particular countries or parts of particular countries. Similarly, the FCO may withdraw any such previously given advice. Where the FCO issues such advice, we may as a result cancel your tour or make changes so as to avoid the area concerned (see clause 10). Alternatively, we may ask you to sign a form confirming you wish to proceed with the tour notwithstanding the FCO advice. It is in the nature of the itineraries we offer that the FCO may have issued such advice in relation to the country or parts of the country we are intending to visit prior to confirmation of your booking. In this case, you will be asked to sign the above form before we confirm your booking.

Medical Requirements

Advice on health requirements may be obtained from your GP, or alternatively from the Department of Health leaflet Advice on Health for Travelers, or the Department of Health in the UK. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk/destinations.aspx

It is also useful to travel with medications for traveller’s tummy – like imodium, probiotics and rehydration sachets.

We suggest you visit your own doctor or local travel clinic who will have the most up-to-date travel advice, and be able to recommend any vaccinations prior to travel based on your medical history.

Currency

Local currency is the Georgian Lari. ATMs can be found in major towns. Travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted.

Weather

Daytime temperatures in October will range from low to mid 20s Centigrade (C) (60-70 Fahrenheit (F)), with overnight temperatures dropping by around 8-10 C (43-54 F)..

Dress

There is no particular dress code for Georgia.
Men: Will need a jacket and tie for some of the meetings.
Women: You will need some smarter attire for one or two meetings.

Electricity

Electricity supply is 220 volts, 2 round pin European plugs.

Internet access

Wifi is available in all hotels, as well as many coffee shops and restaurants.

International Passenger Protection Insurance (IPP)

All our travel arrangements are covered by the UK’s package tour regulations and are financially guaranteed. We are a land-only tour operator and flights are not included.

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Dima Bit-Suleiman

Dima Bit-Suleiman has almost two decades of experience as a journalist and producer for many international TV companies including ITN, CNN, National Geographic and BBC. Born in the Soviet Union, Dima grew up in one of the most corrupt countries in the world, but after 2003 he saw Georgia change from a failing state into a regional leader. The 2003 Rose Revolution, led by Mikheil Saakashvili challenged the post-Soviet order of nepotism and corruption, transformed the country, inspired uprisings elsewhere (including Orange Revolution in Ukraine) and infuriated Moscow. Dima didn’t just witness these changes; he took part in them. In 2005 he worked for the national security council under President Mikheil Saakashvili and was part of a small team that prepared for the historic George W Bush visit to Georgia.

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Comments on Recent Political Tours

“Political Tours gives you on-the-ground access that would otherwise not be possible. No matter what type of adventurous traveller you are, it is just not possible to easily meet with political leaders in other countries and hear the words directly from their mouth. Furthermore, PT takes the planning out of the question, meaning we could sit back and take it all in, rather than worrying about where the next meal was coming from or organising transport.”
SC, Traveller to Lebanon

“I would recommend political tours to anyone who seethes when they see an umbrella being wafted about in the air leading 80 audio-listening tourists behind. It is for the traveller who truly wants to discover life in a foreign country and understand the ins-and-outs of their political system. The discretion and individuality of these tours is what makes them so special and memorable.”
NG, Colombia and Jordan

“There is no way I could have lined up people for meetings and interviews the way you did. Getting to meet people involved in the war and politicians of later vintage offers a perspective on this that I would not otherwise have got. Let me also mention that the “reading list” you offered was very helpful.”
EL, Traveller on tours to Lebanon and Cuba

“They speakers were excellent in every respect. Nice blend of styles between them. They could deal comfortably with every question and handled the logistics well.”
BH, Russia

“For me, the great thing about the tour is that it was interactive – we got to be junior journalists for a week, asking our own questions, exploring our own interests while learning about the country as it is today.”
LM, Baltics, Russia and Jordan

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Population: 3,718,200
GDP (per capita): $11,481
Capital city: Tbilisi
Government form: Semi-presidential republic

Arising from a number of smaller states belonging to the ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia, Georgia was first unified as a kingdom under the Bagrationi dynasty by King Bagrat III around the 8th century. The kingdom flourished during the 10th to 12th centuries, before falling to the Mongolian Empire in 1236. The Ottoman and Persian empires jostled for control of the kingdom, which was on the vital Transcaucasian trade corridor.

In the 19th century Georgia was annexed by the Russian Empire, though briefly gained independence from 1918 to 1921. Following the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union, Georgia was forcibly incorporated in the soviet bloc, after the Red Army invaded and occupied the country, forcing its government to flee. In the Second World War, Hitler sent his armies east with the objective of reaching the Caucasus oil fields, on which Georgia partly sits. His effort was halted by the Soviet forces, to which Georgia provided 700,000 soldiers alongside textiles and munitions.

During the war, Stalin expelled Chechen, Ingush, Karachi and the Balkarian peoples from the Northern Caucasus, relocating them to Siberia on suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis. Then, after the war, his efforts to override Georgian nationalism with an appeal for patriotic unity was largely successful. Following Stalin’s death, his successor Nikita Khrushchev pursued a policy of de-Stalinization, seeking to break down the strongman’s cult of personality that had taken hold across the Eastern Bloc. On March 9 1956, about a hundred protesters rejecting the policy were gunned down in Georgia.

A concurrent decentralisation programme implemented by Khrushchev was exploited by the Georgian Communist Party, who looking to build their own regional power base, turned a blind eye to a nascent shadow-capitalist economy in the vassal state. Corruption was widespread, which embarrassed Moscow.

Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia’s interior minister from 1964 to 1972, earned Moscow’s favour as a fighter of corruption and organised the ouster of Vasil Mzhavandze, the First Secretary of the Georgian Communist Party. Shevardnadze, with Moscow’s backing, took his place.

In 1978, tensions again flared between Georgian nationalists and their patrons in Moscow, after a ruling that the Georgian language be removed from the country’s constitutions. Mass protests broke out leading the Soviets to permit Shevardnadze to reinstate the language.

Shevardnadze continued to climb the ranks of the USSR, being promoted to Foreign Secretary of the union in 1985. His replacement, Jumber Patiashvili, was ineffective and largely unable to implement then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reformist policies, known as perestroika. Violent clashes between revitalized Georgian nationalist forces, Communist authorities, and minority ethnic groups broke out towards the end of that decade. In a pivotal moment, Soviet forced broke up a peaceful protest in Tbilisi, killing 20. The event led many to lean towards Georgian independence, which it gained following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Zviad Gamaskhurdia, a leading dissident, was elected president of Georgia in May 1991 with 86% of the vote, though he was perceived as ineffective and increasingly authoritarian. He was unable to quiet dissenting violent paramilitary groups, who ultimately brought about his ouster in a violent coup in December 1991. He managed to flee.

The new government invited Shevardnadze to return to the fore of Georgian politics, becoming its de facto president before winning the position democratically in elections in 1995. His tenure was rocky, leading to rising discontent over widespread graft and Shevardnadze’s attempt to manipulate the 2003 election in his favour. Amid mass protests known as the “Rose Revolution”, he resigned, ushering in the election of Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement party. Progress on democratisation and market reforms was steady though occasionally upset by Russian support for separatist movements in Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions.

More recently, further democratic steps have been taken, with elections largely free though some worry about the hold oligarchs have over the young democracy. Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire philanthropist, ventured into politics in 2011, united a fractured opposition with his Georgian Dream coalition party. Saakashvili conceded defeat that year, making Ivanishvili prime minister, with another president announced after a year of fraught power-sharing. Ivanishvili then stepped down. Two elections since followed, representing a distinct example from other post-Soviet states in the stabilization of democratic institutions. That said, Freedom House still warns that “judicial independence continues to be stymied by executive and legislative interests.”

Key figures
Eduard Shevardnadze
, Georgia’s interior minister from 1964 to 1972, a later president from 1992-2003.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch who swept in the new political powerhouse, Georgian Dream, in 2011. Briefly served as prime minister and continues to have an outsized role in political life despite not holding office.

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