Once honored, now forgotten: Georgian war veterans are now being forced to fight their own government, which they say is depriving them of the essentials needed to live.
Captain David Tsintsadze went through the war in Abkhazia in the 1990’s. A decorated officer, he now has to survive on just 15 dollars a month.
“I do not get a pension now, and I will not until I am 65, but will I live to see that money?” he says. “We used to have some sort of support: a hospital with free treatment, social benefits, but they all got taken away in 2005. I got fired in 2003, with no explanation whatsoever.”
David lives in a house that he claims is not fit to live in. He had to send his family away because he cannot provide them with food.
“My house has no gas, no running water. I cannot pay for any of it. I cannot get a job,” he said. “The only reason I am still alive is because of my friends. I live on what they can spare.”
David is not alone in his plight. More and more veterans in Georgia feel the lack of support from their government. However, when they tried to draw attention to it by calling a hunger strike they were simply shoved out the way.
Some were arrested, according to officials, for refusing to comply with police orders and being under the influence of alcohol. What caused the most outrage amongst both veterans and the international media, however, was the fact those detained got slapped with a US$ 225 fine. Not one of them has that kind of money.
“Our government built this fancy memorial and brings foreign dignitaries by to see it, but it is a farce,” said veteran Elgudzha Chkhaidze. “In reality, the veterans in Georgia, they are dying of hunger, of poverty, and nobody cares! They are being fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes!”
“Before the police came and broke up our protest, the president drove by,” he added. “He stopped, lowered his window and looked at us. One hour later, we were pushed out of the way like we were nothing.”
A dozen NGOs and human rights groups demanded an official investigation into the actions of the police. Even the US ambassador to Georgia officially stated he was “disturbed” by reports of police violence.
No Georgian TV channel reported on the event, but opposition parties were quick to make as much use of it as possible.
While the political battles continue in Georgia, veterans, who have already sacrificed so much for a country that largely ignores them are being drawn into this war as well.