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Malleable Territories: The Politics and Effects of Mining Governance in Post-Soviet Georgia

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Abstract

On December 13, 2014, the Republic of Georgia’s central government made a rapid series of decisions behind closed doors. These legislative moves allowed RMG Gold, the Russian-owned mining company operating in Georgia’s southern Mashavera Valley, to destroy the archaeological site at Sakdrisi-Kachgariani – the oldest gold mine ever discovered and a national cultural heritage site. The government’s decision followed more than a year of contentious struggle among competing political factions, yet in the end the mining work moved forward and continues expanding today. RMG’s destruction of Sakdrisi was just one event within Georgia’s broader political transition, de-centralizing resource governance toward corporate interests through a territorially based system of extraction licenses. This dissertation investigates the political geographies of Georgia’s resource governance transition, analyzing the politics and effects of mining governance in this post-Soviet market-oriented democracy. I analyze this topic using a mixed methods approach, combining semi-structured interviews, discourse and textual analysis, and a spatial database of mining sites throughout the former Soviet Union. My analysis illustrates how these political practices contribute to the broader geopolitical shifts within the country and across the region, occurring in part through the narratives and embodied experiences of people living near the Sakdrisi-Madneuli mining complex. Through this investigation I argue that the Mashavera Valley’s “malleable territories” – my phrase for this territory’s flexible and governable nature, especially as it relates to mineral governance, mining, and the government of people and things – emerge from a range of political practices, geopolitical imaginations, and material experiences to reshape the political spaces of Georgia and the South Caucasus. Together these findings illustrate how environmental struggles and practices of resource governance contribute to broader shifting power geometries and a lived vision of geopolitics.
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