Tbilisi – Poti (via Kutaisi), Georgia

Ștefan Cândea
Although two main founders of the Soviet Union were Georgian – Stalin and Beria, his never-failing aid in matters of terror – Georgia wasn’t bestowed any privileges upon. On the contrary. We cross the country until we reach Poti, the country’s main harbour spanning about 350 kilometres, giving us the chance to observe what ‘Poppa’ Stalin – son of the town of Gori – gave his native country by strategic deportation and forced industrialization.

Following the deportations of various ethnic groups during the Soviet period, manifold pretexts for internal conflicts resulted in the Caucasian Republics, pretexts which at present prove to be very convenient to the geopolitical strategies of Kremlin leaders. The region faced its first anti-soviet rebellions in the 1920s. Along with declaring its independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia saw itself ruler of two republics considered separatist: Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia. Two fronts of armed struggle and almost 20 years of frozen conflict. Over 300.000 refugees fled to Georgia, escaping the separatist republics nowadays protected by the Russian army. Thousands of anti-personnel mines have pervaded the region. The border with Russia is closed for foreigners and the Georgians don’t use it.

From the whirling car we can see the industry humbled to the dust, a familiar sight representative of the entire communist block. Near Kutaisi, colossal rusty iron constructions are on the verge of collapse. Factories and mounds of concrete, overrun by tropical vegetation, are keeping a close watch over the main road.

A feeling of wilderness interweaves with the rustic scenery dominated by a myriad of churches, processions, priests and no end of women dressed in black. We learn that the custom is for women to prolong their mourning for life and never give up their widow’s weeds.

Poti was occupied by the Russian army in 2008 when out Putin’s order to punish Saak'ashvili in an exemplary manner was carried out. Any movie about the Apocalypse could easily be shot here. One wouldn’t need any movie props or theatrical scenery which is completely unexpected since the harbour is an important element in the cargo transport to Europe. The local radio is just announcing the visit of the Georgian president in Romania and the project to transport gas from Azerbaijan via Poti to Constanța.

And now a few general considerations about the Georgians’ adventures in traffic. The honk represents the most precious instrument for any respectable Georgian. During our stay here we’ve learned an entire language of honks. If, in a village, there are only two cars on the street at 5 a.m. they have to honk each other. In bigger towns, the main road is a pandemonium of honks similar to that of a metropolis. For overtaking, for people who wickedly try to use the pedestrian crossing, for crossing the red light, for going against traffic – for each and every one of these situations there is a type of honk. And the police run the show equipped with a panoply of strange sounds and a transmitter allowing them to bellow out indications, thus generating the envy of every driver.

Of all the Caucasian states, Georgia is at the top of a survey regarding road accidents although it has the smallest number of cars. Behind every steering wheel there is a kamikaze without a clear objective. Apart from the challenges thrown by the other drivers, one must also face a slalom between endless numbers of cows occupying the main road as if they were in India. We also learn that there’s no such thing as a mandatory insurance as there isn’t any obligation of a periodical technical inspection. The traffic is quite aggressive and illogic, the roads are protected by a multitude of traditional carved wooden crosses in the memory of drivers fallen in the line of duty. The police are present in brand new cars, but don’t seem that interested in the abovementioned adventures of the road. A foreigner coordinating mine clearance operations has told me he’s much more worried about the fate of those on the road doing the minesweeping than the risks of operations on mine fields.