Fighting Russian Tanks With Patriotic Defiance

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There was a long line at Georgia's southern border crossing as a growing number of cars, trucks and minibuses queued into the night to get out of the embattled country. With Russian tanks rolling down Georgia's highways and Russian fighter jets in the skies above, embassies were evacuating hundreds of tourists, fearing yet more air strikes and exchanges of rocket fire.

The tourists had come to trek along Georgia's spectacular mountain trails, to hike through the unspoiled forests of the country's national parks, to photograph its picturesque cave monasteries and to sample its vibrant culture of food, wine and song. But instead they were treated to a punishing display of the Kremlin's military might.

Are any of them likely to return to Georgia next year? And what will be the impact of the war not only on the increasingly important tourism sector, but on the fragile Georgian economy as a whole? When the Russians moved in, their goals appeared to be the destruction of Georgia's military capability, the defeat and humiliation of President Mikheil Saakashvili's pro-Western government and the reassertion of Moscow's dominance over its smaller neighbor. But the massive damage Georgia has suffered, and the cost of reconstruction, seems likely to hit its future prosperity as well.

"These were targeted attacks on Georgia's military and civilian infrastructure," says David Gogolashvili, a member of Georgia's parliament "But we are still in a state of war, so it is not the proper time to estimate the impact on the economy."

Georgia achieved more than 12 percent economic growth last year and managed to attract increasing amounts of foreign money from investors who viewed underdeveloped former-Soviet countries as lucrative "frontier markets." It's unclear whether those investors will now assess Georgia as simply too high-risk.

Many Georgians believe that the Kremlin should be forced to pay reparations. "We need to take this to the international courts," says Giorgi Gaganidze of Tbilisi's Caucasus Business School. "Once the occupying troops leave, the top economic priority will be to repair our infrastructure. But we also need to force the Russians to pay."

Gaganidze remains optimistic about Georgia's economic outlook, predicting that it will take less than a year to revive the country's fortunes. But he admits that his outlook is shaped by the kind of patriotism that has grown defiant under enemy fire.

"First of all, I believe in my country," he says. "The Russians were not the first to invade us. We have seen many occupiers throughout our history, and we were always able to recover from it. Georgia will survive."

Matthew Collin is a journalist in Tbilisi.