Envisioning a prosperous coexistence of cultural heritage, tourism and environment in the village community of Latali (Georgia)
Svaneti benefited enormously from the tourist boom in the 2010s with the highest number of visitors of 150,000 in 2019. Svaneti is searching for a new identity in a continuous field of friction between an emerging local economy and the region‘s rich traditions. Against the background of emerging tourism, the region faces severe changes: an unregulated mass tourism destroys the region’s ecological heritage and decreases the possibilities of the population to contribute to their self-sufficiency through agriculture.
“Envisioning Svaneti” is an invitation to the local population in Svaneti to discover the nexus of heritage, tourism and environment. “Envisioning Svaneti” marks the begin of a process which aims at providing the Svan population a knowledge-based approach to conceive the possibilities of tourism with a sustainable use of cultural heritage in a profitable way.
“Envisioning Svaneti” is designed to implement a forum in which representatives from Upper Svaneti meet Georgian and German scientists and activists who have expertise in Svaneti and in dealing with cultural heritage. “Envisioning Svaneti” is a framework for a bottom-up initiative focusing on local challenges from the perspective of the local population.
The project is funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation Tbilisi Office South Caucasus.
The municipality of Latali is the gateway to the region that was once called “Free Svaneti”. Latali marks the beginning of the most scenic and architecturally spectacular part of Svaneti. In Latali, people like to tell, there are more churches than private houses. Latali should also mark the beginning of the project “Envisioning Svaneti”. Deliberately outside the tourist hotspot of Mestia, the project begins in Latali with the offer of a self-directed and accompanied self-discovery of local development opportunities without endangering their own heritage.
Map taken from Stefan Applis (2021). Swanetien entdecken – Ein Kultur- und Naturreiseführer für Georgien. Mitteldeutscher Verlag Halle
In the project we want to bring together representatives of all families of Latali, not only those who currently mainly profit from tourism. Through student research in Latali, concrete needs and encounters will be identified. Experts will present the challenges of the traditional architecture and the situation of the environment. In a joint workshop, the profitable developments so far and existing difficulties will be openly discussed. At the end of the project there will be a digital map, a guide to the “Living Archives of Latali”, i.e. a mapped vision of how tourism, heritage and environment can be further developed for the benefit of all people in Latali.
The Latali village community already has a broad network of people involved in developments to improve the social, economic and ecological situation in Svaneti, including the former director of the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography as part of the Georgian National Museum, local projects to promote inclusion in educational and training institutions, and an archive project to preserve the material heritage with the aim of establishing a museum of local history in Latali.
Furthermore, there are established contacts to strong stakeholders in the region such as Tony Hanmer from the neighbouring community of Etseri, who is already networked with past and present projects such as the Bankwatch project (hydropower in Svaneti) and the Green Alternative (land rights and expropriation in Svaneti).
The project aims to bring this network together, collect and record points of view, and thereby stimulate a dialogue.
Participants: 15-20 BA and MA students of anthropology, human geography, Tourism studies, landscape architecture, and media design from especially Georgia and some few from Germany.
1. Preparation: Online Seminar
Within an online workshop for preparation, organizational and methodological questions –basics of ethnography and interviewing, transcription, coding and analysis of the empirical data as well as technical questions – should to be clarified. The workshop is scheduled to take place in April 2023 and will last approximately 3h hours.
2. Workshop: Meeting in Svaneti
At the core of the project is the workshop in Georgia itself. It is divided into two parts. After the arrival of the German participants, there will be an orientation day in Tbilisi with input and planning sessions. This will allow the international group to get to know each other and to form teams. Then the transfer to Latali will take place. After a tour through the place, three working days with fieldwork, conception, and visualization are planned (see chart below).
During the days in Latali the students will work on their exploratory field study on the needs of the local population. About 10-20 interviews with the stakeholders and their network as well as representatives of the local civil society and families of the community serve as the basis for student evaluation using content analytic methods. The 15-20 students are accompanied by Nino Tserediani and other assistants.
The workshop is scheduled to take place in May 2023. It is to be coordinated with the local community administration and announced in local media.
The project is the beginning of a process that the people of Svaneti should implement and shape themselves. If the project ends with the above-mentioned workshop, it can be seen as successful in the process of self-empowerment of the local population. Beyond that, however, it is important that there is a tangible outcome at the end of this first project that can be referred to and built upon.
The challenge for the workshop in Svaneti is that while the students‘ research is already underway we have to prepare a processing and visualization of their results. We do this, first, through a village tour: The perspectives for a sustainable further development of Latali bring the workshop participants directly back to the scene, the municipality of Latali. The localization of these perspectives in space, in the geography of the village Latali, is furthermore recorded with a digital map, which documents the workshop results.
a) Guided Walk
On the last day of the workshop and as a direct result an “Itinerary” – a guided walk through the village – should take place in Latali. At the tour stops, the student research results will be presented and discussed on site. Based on the students‘ presentations, the stakeholders will talk about the goals that the Svans set for themselves in terms of sustainable use of their cultural and landscape resources for tourism, and what the biggest challenges are on the way there.
b) Digital Mapping
The results of the workshop including the discussions are finally intended to be recorded as an archival collection of material. For this purpose, a simple website is intended to be created during the workshop. On this website, the findings shall be located on a digital map and thereby made publicly accessible.
The project cannot stop here. “Envisioning Svaneti” sees itself as a platform and offer for the population in Latali (but also beyond) to think the process further. Further projects, e.g. in the field of architecture, journalism, tourism economy as well as accompanying research should give the local people the opportunity to implement the ideas developed in the workshop bit by bit and to question them continuously and then develop them further.
Dr. Stéphane Voell is the coordinator of the Center for Conflict Studies of Philipps-Universität Marburg. He conducted research in Georgia, since 2011 he organizes student research projects with Armeniens, Azerbaijanis and Georgians in the Caucasus (“Caucasus Conflict Culture”). firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Dr. Sebastian Pranz works as a full professor of media development at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences (h_da). With the media NGO FROH! he has realized the German/Georgian project Archive of Transition that was presented at the Frankfurt Bookfair 2018 and co-funded by Boell Foundation. email@example.com
Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Klaus Neuburg is a full professor for media design with a focus on interactive media at Ostfalia University for Applied Sciences Braunschweig/Wolfenbüttel and co-founder of the NGO “Froh! e.V.”. He specializes in transmedia and interactive design with special consideration of social contexts. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Froh! e.V. is a non-profit association that has made its goal to stir the processes of social formation and develop journalistic formats that open discourses about human values. We organize an international workshop series addressing journalists and self-publishers, develop international transmedia projects and publish magazines and websites. We collaborated with partners like German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Goethe Institute Georgia, DVV International, and many others.
PD Dr. Stefan Applis, geographer and photographer, teaches geography and philosophy/ethics at university and school. For many years, his ethnographic and geographic projects have taken him mainly to Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia. With the “Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography’ he works in a project for the preservation of the cultural heritage of the region.
Prof. Dr. Ketevan Khtusishvili, Professor for Anthropology at the Tbilisi State University researchers on economic anthropology, urban anthropology, post-Soviet transformations and interethnic relations. She is interrelated to numerous international research projects and directs together with Stéphane Voell the project “Caucasus Conflict Culture”.
Prof. Jesse Vogler, artist, architect and Professor and Head of Architecture Program at the Free Univeristy of Tbilisi, whose work sits at the intersection of spatial practices, material culture, and political economy.
Dr. Nino Tserediani is a former director of the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography. She did her PhD on the construction of social space by the inhabitants of the Latali village community. This makes her the key expert in selecting local people who currently live in Latali and whose family stories are closely linked to the past and the shaping of the future.