I am Eto Arsanidze, 34 years old, civil activist and founder of Racha community organization. I live in Racha, in the village of Krich. I believe that I am a person who
I am Eto Arsanidze, 34 years old, civil activist and founder of Racha community organization. I live in Racha, in the village of Krich.
I believe that I am a person who can be counted on in this region, especially by children, young people and women.
Except for my student years, I have spent my whole life in Racha. I studied in Kutaisi and was there for 4 years. I think my childhood was like that of any youth living in the village. Summer was cheerful and noisy, because many of my peers came from Tbilisi, and I remember this as a very interesting period of my childhood. I was always interested in how the adults living in the city spent the winter, which we spent in darkness and heavy snow, and I could quench this curiosity in the summer. Technologies were not that advanced then, so our main activities were limited to stealing corn, going to the river and playing. Probably, children are still having fun like this, but the present time is still different. I remember part of the summer as very varied and interesting. The first negative memory that comes to mind from my childhood is the long winter nights when we had no light and had to go to bed early. At dawn, if the snow was not too deep, I had to walk to school in the cold.
Living in Racha
I wake up very early, take my niece to the kindergarten and start working. It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, I work on weekends as well. I walk around Racha and take pictures almost every day. I also moderate a Facebook group called “Rachvelebi”, which is no easy task and takes up to 1-2 hours a day. You will not find unverified or false information in the group. In summer I manage to do more things- the days are longer and there are more opportunities.
After years, the change I see in Racha is that due to global warming, there is not so much snow anymore. This is more bad than good though. The needs have changed as well. In the past we needed electricity to turn on the TV. There was no internet back then. Even now, electricity gets cut off in winter, some villages have very bad internet, it practically does not work in bad weather, and without the internet getting education is impossible. This slows down the development of the youth.
We are talking about basic needs. It’s 2022 and some villages still don’t have gasification, even the ones that have extremely cold winters. Heating the house is very hard, putting a wood stove in every room is impossible. As for the roads, in my childhood the snow was not shoveled, there was not much need. Now it is more or less settled.
To be honest, I didn’t even know that the “title”- civil activist even existed. I learned about it a few years ago, but I have always been an activist, as for me it means striving for changes for the better, which is vital for me and the society alike. For me this is activism and not just resistance. Few years ago it was time to act, not just protest in chaos. It was when me and my friend created a petition- A rescue car for Racha. The lack of such a vehicle caused the death of a child. This was our first act of protest. We managed to get the petition across Georgia. We gathered the signatures and in about two weeks Racha already had a rescue car. Although the process was negative, the result still brought its positives. People also showed initiative, I saw their desire to protest and this gave me the push to do more.
At that time, I was working in the private sector, and I was not able to actively engage in activism, but I still tried to do the minimum. One day, I decided that I couldn’t work in the private sector for the rest of my life, it was taking up a lot of my time when I could be doing more good things. In exactly one day, I made the decision that I should leave my job. Before I left the private sector, I had already created an organization with my associates and we were planning small activities in a parallel mode, and then I completely got involved in the affairs of the organization.
.Ambrolauri is a small town, my village is even smaller. The fact that you are asking for things to change for the better, to force the government to do something, is against the interests of some people. I haven’t lost anyone because of my activism, but there were instances and situations, where some have avoided me. I expected this much. There have also been cases, when someone tried to intimidate me, my mother is most worried about this. On July 5th, last year I put an LGBTQ flag on the window of my office, this was met with aggression online, some even threatened to vandalize our office unless we took it down.
I think that well organized activism can achieve much more than leading political parties. In addition to being well organized, it also requires smarts and people’s trust. My current goal is to make young women living in the village important figures for any government agency, for them to be priorities. It is important for me to live in a country where we do not feel the daily danger, because life in the mountains is stressful and difficult. The fact that you can be harassed and even violated due to free speech is quite depressing. Of course, this does not scare me, but there are people who are afraid of it. I want to feel safe in my country.
The support of the civil society helped me to stay active after the negative news. Every time I made certain facts public, I felt supported. This gives me power, I can feel that I am not alone. I might not have that many supporters in Racha, but there are a lot of them in Georgia, and I think I am doing the right thing.
Community Organization of Racha
The community organization of Racha was established in January 2020 and united 15 people. The main idea was to work in an organized manner on the development of Racha and to initiate positive processes. We wanted to bring forth such issues as: transport; improvement of internet connection; awareness of rights pf disabled people; increased women’s participation; environmental issues and green politics.
There were issues we discussed while talking, but it didn’t have such a legal form. A legal form allows you to become a more accountable force than a stand-alone person. At some point, Eto Arsanidze may do more than the organization, but the organization still has a different weight.
There were 15 of us in the beginning, but the number of active members has decreased. Now there are 4 people employed in the organization. Mountain stories supported us in making this project. We soon launched campaigns to support young farmers, demanding the appointment of Oni-Ambrolauri road transport. With the support of the European Union, we are implementing the project – Women’s Power for Inclusion, which is running for the second year; We also work in the green direction – we are one of the co-authors of the We Protect Racha campaign, which involves promoting protected areas in the region, increasing people’s awareness of the benefits that protected areas bring.
The organization also supports cultural events, one of which is film screenings. In October 2020 we founded Cinema Club In Racha, where we showed a film aimed at various segments every Wednesday. The idea of this club appeared when, in autumn, we could feel the winter coming. This club has no jurisdictional form. Periodically, we organize special screenings for children, but mostly we show documentaries accompanied by interesting discussions.
“Our fight must be everyone’s fight”
In order to create protected spaces, we need support from governmental institutions. People have impunity syndrome, as they are not punished for their crimes, or their punishment is not sufficient. This creates the notion that others won’t be punished as well. Therefore, first of all, the support of law enforcement agencies is important.
I do not dream of ideals, only of slightly better, as we are way too far from ideal. I would live in such an environment where people love each other and at least do not hate each other, because of their different thoughts, views, lifestyle, religion, sexual identity.
Years later I want to be in the same place I am now. I wish to have the strongest feminist organization in Racha-Lechkhum-Upper Svaneti, i want to be it’s director and have the opportunity to open branch offices all over Georgia. My biggest fear is to be forced to leave Georgia. Some might say that I can just not leave, but one also has personal needs outside of activism. I had to see so many of my friends off lately that it scares me.
We must nor get tired, and become nihilists. If we want to make real changes, we must stay true to our principles and follow them till the end. We, activists may work in different directions – political, green, queer, but in the end, our fight must be everyone’s fight. We must not get divided, which is common for our society. The main thing is to unite around specific issues.