Czech Development Agency helping the Tushetian people preserve their way of life
Towers in Omalo, Photo: Jiří Flousek
The Czech Development Agency, set up in 2008 to help eradicate poverty and contribute to sustainable development, currently operates in over a dozen countries in different parts of the world. One of these long-term projects is in aid of the picturesque Tusheti protected landscape area in the north of Georgia where Czechs have been active since 2013. Michael Hošek, an expert on protected landscape area management and a member of the team currently there, came to Radio Prague’s studio to talk about the agency’s work.
“In our project we are focused specifically on nature conservation but also on the tourism sector because it’s quite connected, you cannot somehow split those two because one influences the other. We started to help the Protected Landscape Administration five years ago, that’s when the protected area was established, it’s quite a special area because there is a small group or a small community of Tushetians living there. Those are people that for centuries have defended the borders of Georgia against invaders like the Dagestanis and Chechens and they are very strong people. Due to developments they were separated from the rest of the Georgian community but then later they were given by the king of Georgia some land in the lowland nearby to Tusheti. So they changed their way of life and they spent the winter seasons in the lowland and the summer seasons up in the mountains.”
They have flocks of sheep I understand, so they drive their sheep up the mountains…
“Yes, and the flocks of sheep are their livelihood, but the situation changed a lot during the communist regime and only very few of them kept the traditional way of life and stayed up in the mountains, just a few families. So it happened that the region was almost abandoned, during the summer season a few thousand people were there in their old houses but significant parts of the villages were abandoned for the whole year. Of course the Georgian government wanted to do something with this and to somehow keep the community alive.”
So basically, you’re helping to prevent its depopulation now?
“Yes we are helping the people to live there for the whole year; of course we realize that there will not be more than a few hundred people during the winter season but still it’s very important because they are somehow keeping the infrastructure there, they are looking after the whole area, they have cattle there etc. What the Czech Development Agency did as its first project was that we gave them solar panels. This way we gave them electricity for the whole year. There is no connection with the lowland and it helped them a lot because of course it’s quite difficult to stay for the whole winter season there without any connection to people. Now they have mobile phones, they are even connected to Facebook so you can see pictures from Tusheti and be in touch with them. If there is a problem, some health problem etc., they can call the lowland and get help by helicopter or whatever is needed. So now it’s much easier for them and this first step was very important because they remember and appreciate the help we gave them and it greatly helped our effort there.”
How many people are we talking about roughly?
“Roughly during the summer season it’s about 3,000 people but it’s important to say that there are more than 6,000- 7,000 tourists and this number is increasing fast each year because now tourists are more and more interested in places that are almost not explored or quite remote and that is the case of Tusheti.”
The full interview is available on the Czech radio website.