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Markets and Fairs – A 30-year Problem

Several days ago, the management of Eliava Market,  one of Georgia’s major trading zones, proposed a rehabilitation project which calls for arranging a new infrastructure project, building modern structures and, in general, establishing order in the  territory.

At the same time, Tbilisi City Hall noted that, in the near future, sales of used vehicle spare parts and used tires will be banned in residential zones. This means  that the current form and current location of Eliava Market will not exist any more – the majority of this trading facility gives room for the sale of used vehicle parts.

This is a very complicated problem to resolve.  About 15 000 citizens work at the Eliava Market, and this is a sharp social problem. Even the previous government could not resolve this problem. In 2005, the authorities took efforts to relocate the market to the suburb, but the sellers organized protest rallies, obstructed road traffic, and the authorities changed their mind.

All the unrests were related to the Tbilisi development general plan.  It was vitally important for market owners that this facility was included in the general plan as a trading zone, not a recreational zone, as planned previously.

The general plan has  already been adopted, and nobody knows whether the work will continue for rehabilitation of Eliava Market, as market owners have calmed down, and the beautiful projects will be forgotten.

However, the noise around Eliava Market is only one part of the huge problem – the worst heritage of the 1990s – and the problem with markets, fairs, and unorganized trade. All authorities have failed to resolve these problems.

When ordinary citizens hear the word market, they imagine a huge and segmented facility within a single system. However, in Georgia, everything is found  in a more complicated form. For example, the Eliava Market. The market in itself is one aspect, and unorganized trade activities around it is another aspect and these activities have long penetrated  different neighborhoods  and streets.

The same situation is everywhere. The market in itself is the center, while for many years the huge, unorganized and absolutely uncontrolled trading space was shaped around it.

This factor aggravates the problem; establishing order in the market or fair has become useless without removing the adjacent street trading activities. This is impossible because of the aforementioned social factors.

However, it is clear that, today, all this archaic trading is absolutely inconsistent with  the existing reality and asimilar catastrophic situation does not exist in even much poorer countries.

The chaos broke out in the 1990s, when 80% of jobs suddenly disappeared, and only one way existed for people to earn a living for their families  – trading in the street.

Many years have passed since then, but little has changed. Today in 2019, all markets and fairs are as chaotic and disordered as in the 1990s. Thirty years have passed in vain, as owners of these facilities have not improved anything, despite the fact that they  have earned millions of GEL.

However, there is the social problem, where, besides the insatiability and cupidity of bazaaris. A lot of things have changed in the country as a result of reforms carried out over the past years, but, according to an estimations by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the life of only around 20% of the population  was improved thanks to the mentioned reforms.

There is a wide circle of citizens in the country who never get the benefits of these reforms – nothing has changed for them. They live and work in the same way as they did 30 years ago. The only difference is that electricity is not disrupted, the Mkhedrioni (paramilitary criminal forces in 1990s) does not exist, and there are smartphones.

All authorities in Georgia face the same problem – what to do with them? Even more so, this issue has become more acute today, when Tbilisi is trying to become one of the tourism centers of Eurasia, and the current indifference in the streets is absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate.

Should we remove markets and arrange alternative employment? Where, how? Should they go back to the villages? What will they do there? The villages are overpopulated and the existing land resources cannot satisfy their demand.

Should they be employed in the cities? Where? There is almost no industry in Tbilisi and even if there was  – specific qualifications and skills are required at any plant and people who stand at the counter for 30 years do not have similar qualifications and skills.

This is a  blind alley.This chaotic and archaic trade is the only way for hundreds of thousands of citizens to earn their living, and it is impossible to arrange alternative employment for them, the job places do not exist, nor do they have qualifications.

The single option remains – establishing order in the existing markets and fairs. However, there is one problem: the owners do not want to spend money. Another reason is that  there are huge facilities where everything is messy and interconnected. It is almost impossible to bring order in this situation. It is necessary to dismantle these structures and build new ones.

This process requires time and a much more serious amount capital, as neither business nor the authorities have similar resources…

At the same time, we should not forget that hundreds of unorganized facilities operate around each market, and these do not belong to the market in itself, and create a separate problem.

In one word, we have a dead end situation. Even if the problem with Eliava Market is resolved, this is only one part of the huge problem.

By Tengiz Ablotia