TB: How has the situation changed for Kists since then?
EK: As the Syrian civil war started to calm down, Pankisi is less in the news, and many locals moved to Europe. Many got there absolutely legally. This started in 2013 when people began to get there illegally to claim asylum status and Austrians paid them to get back. They got new passports and came over again. Pankisi is probably the most cosmopolitan place in Georgia since many have a foreign passport and lots of people are very well travelled. Many Kists that I know of are currently in Austria and Germany, and a lot of Kists have connections to France as well.
TB: What about Gorge itself, how is the situation there?
EK: It is quite chilled. Occasionally you have some street brawls there, but that is nothing unusual.
TB: Are there some visible dynamics in the gorge right now?
EK: The powerplant issue [the Khadori-3 hydroelectric power plant]. There was a huge backlash in the gorge after the project was announced. What happened is that the government came rolling in, expecting locals to be calm and happy but instead, the gorge rioted. Georgian officials were totally caught off guard. Tbilisi reacted by building a huge police station in the valley. I don’t quite know where the new police station will be staffed from, but the regular police station in Duisi is staffed with Kists. Unless they bring in a huge number of Georgian interior ministry troops, Tbilisi will not intimidate locals.
TB: In such a case, does this station make any sense?
EK: The locals are policemen because they live there and understand the gorge. Therefore, they are good, and they can fight criminality well. Yet still, the enormity of the station is not good for Georgian-Kist relations. They basically came to an ethnic minority region and told them, “we will build here one of the biggest police stations outside Tbilisi- deal with it”.