Progress for a Young Democracy
The World's Biggest Oil Pipeline
For Georgia, which has been mired in poverty and political instability since gaining independence from Russia in 1991, the pipeline represents $1 billion in foreign investment and a potential economic foothold in the West. For the U.S., the pipeline is a strategic way to reduce its petroleum dependency on the Persian Gulf by tapping oil reserves in former Soviet states while bypassing Iran and Russia.
For Kochladze and other environmentalists, however, the pipeline poses a grave threat. The route would run through the pristine Borjomi mountain gorge, a major source of Georgia's tourism dollars and home to its culturally and commercially prized mineral water. Natural spring water, which has been bottled here since the 19th century, is the country's single largest export and accounts for the largest source of employment in this economically depressed region.
A Fighter and a Leader
But it is her personal integrity in the face of endemic bribery and her belief that ordinary people have the power to make change that has made her a hero among Georgian citizens. Colleagues familiar with her drive and energy, joke that she never sleeps. She is just as comfortable sitting down with a representative from the International Finance Corporation as she is breaking down complex legal issues for Caucasus peasants. These skills have helped Green Alternative wage winning campaigns to block the construction of an oil terminal in a protected area near Kolkhety National Park and a coal power station in the mountains of eastern Georgia.
Kochladze operates in a political environment that continues to be overtly hostile toward civil society. Georgia's mainstream media, which is heavily influenced by the government's party line, have repeatedly accused Kochladze of being an "enemy of the state" and a Russian spy.
"Manana heads one of the most respected and powerful NGOs in Georgia. Everyone comes to her because she is the person who can make things happen and she knows everyone," said Nana Janashia, head of the Caucasus Environmental NGO network. "She is a fighter and a leader. She wanted to run an organization that would help the locals feel they can fight and make changes, even in a corrupt society."
Influencing the Pipeline Plan
In a country where most NGOs receive funding from the U.S. government and are reluctant to openly criticize projects friendly to American interests, Kochladze and Green Alternative have put the concerns of Georgian citizens first and have not been afraid to stand up to corruption.
As a result, she has won the trust and confidence of Georgia's youth movement, which helped her organize e-mail campaigns and mass demonstrations at key points during the pipeline negotiations. Kochladze also forged important alliances by organizing a fact-finding trip of NGOs from around the world and public meetings that led to the creation of an independent council of scientists to investigate the BTC project. This process contributed to a damning report by a coalition of international groups that cited the project for violating 173 counts of the World Bank's lending guidelines.
Holding BP and the Government Accountable
While construction has begun on the pipeline scheduled for completion in 2005, Kochladze continues to wage a legal battle to force BP and the Georgian Ministry of Environment to reexamine the Borjomi route in favor of a less environmentally destructive alternative. According to Kochladze, the situation is particularly dangerous in Dgvari, a village located in a landslide area. The pipeline will be built a mere half-mile from the village border.
In her role as the Caucasus regional coordinator for the Central Eastern Europe Bankwatch Network, she continues to be the citizens' eyes and ears on the BTC project, studying and monitoring the pipeline to make sure local concerns and environmental issues are considered and addressed. Her hands-on work with local communities has empowered many of them to ask more questions and challenge governmental procedures that affect their families and their future.
Standing Up Against Corruption
"Our society is poor and traditional, and was completely unprepared for this," said Kochladze. "Now, suddenly, a big multinational company comes in, handing out jobs and big sums of money to a few people, and all kinds of new problems seem to grow out of thin air."
While the battle over the BTC pipeline is far from over, Kochladze and Green Alternative have already transformed Georgia by waging an unprecedented environmental campaign in a country where civil protest was largely unheard of. The biggest development project to hit Georgia also turned out to be the catalyst for one of the most important civil society campaigns in the nation's young history as a democracy.
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