The mass relocation to Udabno was possible because, in the Soviet Union, the government could force people to move, noted Giorgi Ananiashvili, a 58-year-old beekeeper who was uprooted from Tbilisi to help with the resettlement.
He recalls that the decision to resettled Svans living in landslide zones to Udabno happened quickly, motivated by the devastation of the 1987 landslide.
But once the decision was made, the gears of the Soviet Georgian government started to turn and “everyone” in Tbilisi helped prepare for the move, Ananiashvili says.
He recalls that every state organization was assigned a single house, and they were responsible for preparing it for the Svan family who would be moving there.
A teacher in Tbilisi at the time, Ananiashvili was originally from the southern region of Samtskhe-Javakheti. As he was not registered officially in Tbilisi, he also ended up being swept up in the move and, eventually, found himself resettled in Udabno.
He notes that the move was seen as part of a larger patriotic trend in Georgia, where feelings of nationalism were growing as Soviet control weakened under perestroika.
During perestroika, Soviet Georgia was slowly preparing to restore the country’s independence and the political climate was changing. Nationalism, especially the idea of Georgia’s Christian Orthodox roots, was gaining strength.
The residents of Udabno felt those changes immediately.
For the newly resettled eco-migrants from Svaneti, the growing nationalism meant they were baptized en masse the first year they arrived in their new homes.
“Everyone knew that there were no priests in Svaneti and, because of that, there was a mass baptism. The Georgian Orthodox Church was already strong back then. The Patriarch sent buses and they took people to Sioni Church in Tbilisi. The Patriarch himself performed the christening. There were too many people to count,” Margiani recalls.