Tag Archives: georgia

Last hours in Batumi: of tradition and wages in Georgia.

Batumi, 150 thousand inhabitants, is a major coastal city of Georgia on the eastern shores of the Black Sea. Every summer, its large waterfront dubbed the “Boulevard” attracts throngs of visitors from the wider region, among them Turks, Russians, Ukrainians and nationals of the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf.

At about 10pm last week-end, while sitting on a bench in the spotlights of a few medium-size cargo ships, I had one of those rares flashes of lucidity, in this case a good idea to improve business. The burst of enthusiasm that followed and the distraction of a long display of fireworks across the bay of the harbor made me forget my sleeveless jacket on a low wall. With it, I had lost my Georgian residence permit, a credit card, a public transport card for the city of Tbilisi, my RFID card to access CospoT and a 5 lari banknote. The jacket was a gift from my colleagues in Bahrain and I was already regretting it almost as much as the residence permit.

20150605_125345_where_400   The WHERE sign in Batumi.

After an hour spent running to ask the restaurant, the hostel and the waterside restaurants “if anyone had seen a black jacket,” I ended up in a first police station. There, I was made to point at the exact location of the loss on a map. A few phone calls later, a police officer drove me to a police station in another jurisdiction.

I had three hours left before the departure of my train to Tbilisi. I learned the Russian word for “filing a report” and, in the second police station, met L., a young policewoman on duty.

The tourist season had barely begun and there weren’t any translators on-site. L. gave calls every ten minutes while keeping an eye on the clock. She requested an English translator and finally got the promise of a Russian one (since I write and read Russian). She kindly brought me water in a mug decorated with the image of Stalin, the kind of mug you find cool to buy when on vacation but hard to get rid of when having to figure out who to offer it to.

Here is the most interesting part of our discussion:

– “Do you live in an apartment in Tbilisi?”, she asked.

– “Yes.”

– “Ah! My dream.”

Read: the dream of a young public servant in Georgia is to earn enough money to rent her own apartment. The rents are so expensive (or the wages so low) in Georgian cities that many young people still live with their parents, who themselves most probably live in the apartment that their parents were left with when the Soviet Union collapsed. Over 90% of Georgians are homeowners.

I hit on the topic again when we talked about France where – I explained – unemployment is high. Georgia also has many unemployed(1) but the situation differs in that, in France, the rules make it difficult to hire and dismiss employees. In Georgia, those rules are more relaxed and, if it appears easier to find a job, this one will most often be poorly paid (and more so even in times of crisis(2)).

Young people therefore live at their parents’ home. They are never really independent, always on a leash, and the system sustains itself. With exceptions, unaffordable rents thus are a powerful tradition-keeping force, a force towards the conservation of society (regardless of whether this is a good thing or not).

The epilogue of the evening is also revealing. At about half past midnight, three Turks entered the police station and, before our eyes, produced the jacket they had found nearby: my jacket with the residence permit and all the documents and everything. L. congratulated me (in the Russian manner where you are congratulated for your birthday, as if you did anything special for it), gave some calls, and handed me a piece of paper with a phone number and the word “Police” on it: “Come back to the police station on your next visit to Batumi, as a guest. ”

(1) Unemployment in 2015 according to GeoStat: 12.4%  (http://geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&p_id=146&lang=eng). In practice, unemployment is widely perceived to be much higher.
(2) The national currency of Georgia – the lari (GEL) – fell 30% against the US dollar between November 2014 and May 2015. The historical foreign exchange rates of the National Bank of Georgia are available on the website of the National Bank (https://www.nbg.gov.ge)

Why so many night flights out of Tbilisi airport?

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Newcomers note it and regulars resent it: why do so many flights in and out of Tbilisi airport operate at night?

Is it true – first of all – that so many flights take off and land at night? The answer is: only partly so. A study of the weekly schedule of the Georgian Civil Aviation Authority (GAAC)(1) reveals that 52% of all international flights out of Tbilisi every week at the end of March took off between 3am and 9am whereas 44% of flights took off between 9am and midnight. The difference between day and night flights is not as pronounced as some may think.

What’s remarkable though is that only about 10% of international flights which took off between 3am and 9am did not fly to geographical Europe (including Istanbul). The distribution of destinations was more even during the day: between 9am and 9pm, international flights taking off from Tbilisi airport in March were as likely to fly to other European cities (incl. Istanbul) as they were to destinations South and East of Georgia. This resentment against night flights out of Tbilisi airport is most likely a bias of Westerners or travelers heading West. The question we’re left with is then: “Why do so many flights to Europe leave at night?

In the following graphs, the thickness of the lines reflects the flights’ frequencies. Night time flights connect Georgia to the rest of Europe more than daytime ones do. Source: (1).

GCAA flights Ial TBS 2015-05-20_night

GCAA flights Ial TBS 2015-05-20_day

Why do so many flights to Europe leave at night? The short answer is “curfews and connecting flights”. Taking off at night in Tbilisi lands you in Europe not only at a time during which landings are allowed, but also at a time convenient to catch connecting flights to onward destinations (short-haul to the rest of Europe or long-haul to North America).

Interestingly, night curfews in place in European airports are critized by other, mostly developing countries. In a working paper of the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, http://www.icao.int/), 53 African states condemn night curfews(2):

The issue of night curfews imposed at some airports particularly in Europe, has brought
about increased operational problems and financial burden for African airports which are kept open for operations at odd hours, since North bound aircraft are forced to depart Africa usually from midnight in order to arrive Europe after dawn by 6:00 a.m.

And conclude that:

Removing the night curfews of some international airports of Europe will significantly
reduce the night congestion of a lot of African airports.

India essentially does the same(3):

Unilateral night curfews are an increasing phenomena all over the world and as noise
awareness grows, night curfews, if imposed by countries like India or South Africa,
would limit the flight timing options between the countries. The present night curfew
in Europe has effectively transferred the problem of night-time noise burden from the
communities around their airports to communities around airports of Mumbai, Delhi,
Johannesburg, etc.

But a paper presented later on (in 2013) by the Secretariat of the ICAO lacks any specific or constraining recommendations(4): don’t expect the situation to change anytime soon.


(1) Flight schedule for Tbilisi airport for the period Oct. 26th, 2014 to March 28th, 2015 at http://gcaa.ge/eng/tbilisiout.php. Only flights still scheduled in March 2015 were considered.

(2) “AIRPORT CONSTRAINTS: SLOT ALLOCATION & NIGHT CURFEW”. Presented by fifty-three African States, September 2008, paragraphs §1.3 and §2.8,  http://www.icao.int/Meetings/ceans/Documents/Ceans_Wp_061_en.pdf

(3) “REVIEW OF NIGHT CURFEW RESTRICTIONS”. Presented by India, September 2010, paragraph §3.2.2). http://www.icao.int/Meetings/AMC/Assembly37/Working%20Papers%20by%20Number/wp270_en.pdf

(4) “NIGHT FLIGHT RESTRICTIONS” at the 6th meeting of the Worldwide Air Transport Conference (ATCONF). Presented by the Secretariat, 18 to 22 March 2013,  http://www.icao.int/Meetings/atconf6/Documents/WorkingPapers/ATConf6-wp008-rev_en.pdf

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The pulse of the Georgian economy: the Khachapuri Index

The Economist created the Big Mac index in 1986 to compare purchasing power parity (PPP) between countries. The basic principle is simple and consists in comparing the prices of Big Mac hamburgers bought at MacDonald’s fast food restaurants in different countries.

The ambition of the Khachapuri index is different because there aren’t as many countries between which to compare Khachapuri prices. As a matter of fact, few who haven’t been to the Caucasus are likely to know about this traditional Georgian dish, not mentioning that it comes in various sorts and appearances.

Khachapuri is a cheese pie at least as widespread in Georgia as pizza is elsewhere. Check this article entitled “Georgia’s Cheese Bread Might Be Better Than Pizza” (1).

Adjarian Khachapuri Batumi  

Photo: The best Adjarian Khachapuri in Georgia!

The Policy Institute of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET) defines the Khachapuri index as the average cost of cooking one standard Imeretian Khachapuri. The evolution of this cost is indicative of inflation and economic trends in the country. The basket of goods for calculating the index comprises only the ingredients necessary for its preparation (flour, cheese, yeast, eggs, and butter) and its energy costs (gas and electricity).

The homepage of the index is http://www.iset-pi.ge/index.php/khachapuri-index. The average cost of cooking one standard Imeretian Khachapuri in November 2014 was 3.34 GEL. In March 2015, this cost dropped to 3.15 GEL, driven down by the expected seasonal decline in cheese prices: increase of the supply of fresh milk and lower demand during the fasting period preceding Easter. Year on Year, the overall average cost of preparing an Imeruli Khachapuri fell 3.1%. Prices fell for locally produces goods (egg and cheese, cheese is the most expensive ingredient) but increased for imported ones (yeast, butter, flour) following an upward trend of the US dollar against the lari (GEL).(2)


(1) http://munchies.vice.com/articles/georgias-cheese-bread-might-be-better-than-pizza
(2) At the time of writing, the new website of the Policy Institute of ISET is under construction. We report on the updated version of the index published on April 6th, not available at the time of writing on the website of the institute but cached by search engines:
– http://www.iset­-pi.ge/index.php?article_id=415, retrieved on April 27th, 2015 from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:IePk4kvvkN0J:www.iset-pi.ge/index.php%3Farticle_id%3D415+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ge
– http://www.iset-pi.ge/index.php?article_id=1369&clang=0, retrieved on April 27th, 2015 from http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:GlH4uhW98F8J:www.iset-pi.ge/index.php%3Farticle_id%3D1369%26clang%3D0+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ge