Georgia Wins Fashion Battle
Benetton clothing shops in Georgia have been closed for several days in protest against Benetton Turkey’s announcement that it was planning to open a store in Sukhumi, the capital of the disputed region of Abkhazia. "Protest Against Opening of Benetton Shop in Sukhumi" read signs hung in the shops’ windows in Tbilisi this week.
The Black Sea region of Abkhazia broke away from Georgian government control after a civil war in the early 1990s; Russia recently recognised it as an independent state, but Georgians still consider it part of their sovereign territory. Any international investment there without permission is seen by Georgia as a crime; hence the anger at the proposal from the Turkish associate of the Italian fashion firm.
Now it seems the Georgians have carried the day, in fashion terms at least, with reports that Benetton Turkey won’t open the store in Abkhazia after all, leaving the rebellious Abkhazians without a source of chic knitwear products. A statement said the company had reversed its decision to "decrease tension that would have nothing to do with a commercial firm".
It’s a small consolation for Georgia, however, which lost the only little piece of Abkhazia it controlled – a remote mountain gorge – during the war with Russia last year. Tens of thousands of Georgians who fled the original conflict still live in dilapidated temporary accommodation, 15 years afterwards, many of them still dreaming of going back to their homes, but now having to face the depressing likelihood that it may never be possible.