Oaths against Dams: Environmental Protests in Contemporary Georgia
In 2013, a considerable number of Svans, a linguistic and ethnic subgroup on the Georgian side of the Caucasus mountains, swore an oath on an icon of St. George to not permit the construction of the massive Khudoni Dam. As evidenced by a subsequent conflict that played out between the Svans and the environmental activists, on one hand, and the state and the Christian Orthodox Church, on the other, this oath, rooted in Svan customary law, unsettled the political-economic order of contemporary Georgia on many levels. It not only put a halt on one of the many top-down neoliberal infrastructural projects promoted by the government, it also challenged the very pillars of state legitimacy and state sovereignty as cemented through an alliance with the Georgian Orthodox Church. The aim of this talk will be to shed light on the challenging function of the Svans’ oath in the context of a post-Soviet project of modernization, while the terms of the public conflict itself remain to a large extent shaped by the legacies of Soviet cultural policies. The talk will also elucidate how the oath challenges the very understandings of tradition, religion and national identity with which scholars and activists have so far tried to make sense of the role of the oath in the Svans’ resistance. These issues will be approached through the lens of the critical anthropology of “the secular”, based on ethnographic interviews with Svan activists, media reporting as well as historical readings of Svan customary law.
Luka Nakhutsrishvili teaches critical theory at Ilia State University Tbilisi. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature (Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen/Université Via Domitia Perpignan) and an MA in Philosophy (Bergische Universität Wuppertal/Charles University Prague/Université Toulouse-le Mirail). Between 2015 and 2017, he was a postdoctoral fellow of the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation at the Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung Berlin. In 2019-2020, the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation of Georgia awarded him with the Ivane Javakhishvili Fellowship for the Best Young Scientist in the Humanities. As a Visiting Lecturer, he taught at the Goethe University Frankfurt in the winter semester of 2020. In Fall 2021, Luka is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Department of Anthropology at NYU, with a transdisciplinary, ethnographic inquiry into the making of and resistance to different projects of modernization in Georgia from the times of tsarist rule to post-Soviet independence.