This morning I received an invitation to a talk given in Tbilisi by a PhD student about how the poor in Georgia use different coping mechanisms to survive, one of which is street vending. Without speaking to the PhD student, or reading the full brief, or attending the lecture, I don’t know what exactly counts as street vending in this context, nor do I know who are legal or illegal vendors. What I do know, is that there are always a lot of beggars on the street, as well as vendors selling sunflower seeds to nibble on, flowers, nuts, small quantities of fruit, or old books. Then there are the musicians who busk, and there are gypsies who mainly just approach people for money or play blindfolded games or chase in the street, and send the locals into fear. Many vendors and beggars sit all day, every day, whatever the weather, and then there are those who just come and go from time to time, some are drinkers, some are not. Many have a picture of a small child or loved one, and many have some icon or religious symbol. Some are disabled, some are not. Some hold babies or small children. Usually these vendors are either young with small children, or very old, or disabled. I’ve yet to come across the vending of more ‘red light’ type services, and I wonder if such exists in Georgia??
I am guessing that the talk will be about vendors rather than beggars per say, though I imagine it is often a fine line. I don’t have an issue with people selling things on the street, in fact it is something that comes to mind as representative of Georgia, especially sunflower seed sellers, but I can see why the government would be frustrated if there are those with a licence and those without. I also wonder how clear the law is?? If your situation is that desperate, then you may not have links with people in government, a television, or electricity to watch your television, or you may not be able to read the paper (though Georgia previously claimed to have a 100% literacy rate). Where are the policies and laws advertised?
There are also so many vendors on the street, that I wonder how the police would actually deal with it, after all, it would look very bad for them to be seen manhandling a frail old lady or a person with a small child, and I’m sure they stop and buy little packets of energy in the form of nuts, or other items from time to time. Moving such people on would create quite a scene and would make others see them as uncaring on the whole. Worse still it could serve as a reason why Georgians hate the government, if a tough line is taken on street vending. Another example of the divide between rich and poor, those from the city and those from the village, it could stir a lot of opposition if the government come down hard on illegal street vending. And surely if people did not buy items from the vendors, then there would be no market, and therefore no point in vending in the first place. Most vendors I see look pretty busy, and are in prime spots, though I rarely see richer looking people buying from them.
It looks to be a fascinating talk, and a potentially very important one, so I hope I get the chance to go. I’d be interested to hear what others have to say on the topic as well. Interestingly, one of the things that first attracted me to Georgia, was the film ‘While Otar was gone’ and one of the things I loved was the daily life of the mother and grandmother as they collected items to sell at street markets, and I guess the Dry Bridge flea market and vendors always make me nostalgic of that beautiful film, and why I first fell in love with Georgia. It seems such a huge part of the culture, and I have to say, that buskers in London have almost lost their appeal to me since they became licensed, as they now have to meet set standards, and to be that removed a lot of the creativity and chance encounters with future talents. Regulating it takes away that sense of connection with the real people, who are battling poverty with creativity, and in that giving hope and inspiration.
Here is the full information of the talk:
American Councils, CRRC and ARISC are proud to present the 18th talk of the Spring 2012 Works-in-Progress series!“Hard to rule the poor: street-venders, informal practices and culture of disobedience”Lela Rekhviashvili, Central European University6:15 PM, Wednesday, June 6, 2012ISET/CRRC Georgia, Zandukeli St. 16
Despite relative institutional and economic progress that Georgia achieved over last decade, poverty and inequality remain prevalent. Street- vending among other informal economic practices has become one of the main coping tactics for the poor throughout 1990s. Since the rose revolution government has been trying to eliminate the practice in the urban areas of the country. The numbers as well as spread of the vendors is remarkably reduced, but still many people decide to disobey the strict and costly regulations and pursue illegal vending in the streets of Tbilisi. The presentation aims to discuss the forms and the ways that disobedience takes; the reasons of continued vending; the ways the police and the city hall controllers are being coopted and the tentative reasons of the constant failure from the side of the state to reach the aim of eliminating street vending. As De Soto claims, the way to formalize informal practices is to alter the cost benefit balance for the persons engaged in informal practices. On macro level Georgian state seems to fulfill the expectations that legalist/institutionalist thinkers would suggest for the developing country like Georgia , where the share of informal economy for last couple of years is on average around 70 % of GDP (Schneider, Buehn and Montenegro, Shadow Economies all over the World: New Estimates for 162 Countries from 1999 to 2007 2010). The micro picture uncovers the reasons why informal economy doesn’t decrease and informal practices remain so widespread in Georgia despite positive macro changes.
Lela Rekhviashvili is a second year PhD student at the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations, Central European University, Political Economy Track. She received MA degree in Transition in South Caucasus from Center of Social Sciences, Tbilisi State University in 2009 and another MA degree in Political Science from Central European University in 2010. Previously she studied at the University of Tartu, Prometheus Program on Transition Studies. She conducted field research in Georgia to study the results of humanitarian response to the needs of Internally Displaced Persons after 2008 Russian-Georgian war in spring 2009. Her current research focuses on studying coping mechanisms of the poor, changes of formal and informal institutions.