Georgian Government Ends Funding for Anaklia Music Festival

The Georgian government has been financing a summer electronic music festival in Anaklia for the past three years, spending more than 10 million GEL ($3.78 mln). 2019 will end the tradition.

The Georgian Electronic Music Festival – GEM Fest – ran from 2015-2017 (the first year without state funding). It was one of the first major electronic music festivals in the Caucasus regions, drawing big name artists and partiers from all over the world. In 2017, the festival proclaimed it was the longest electronic music event in the world at 32 days. A fourth iteration of the festival was scheduled for 2018, but was canceled just weeks before due to a loss of government support. The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development rejected the organizer’s application to rent a plot in Anaklia and decided to provide financial backing to another electronic music festival, EchoWaves Anaklia, instead.

Reasons for the government withdrawing their support were never explicitly revealed, but it was likely related to the festival’s increasing association with club drugs, especially the popular and deadly “Bio” (Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate – GHB), which killed a 22-year-old Georgian woman in 2017. The festival was also plagued with allegations of financial violations and was investigated by the Ministry of Finance after some 300 festival employees claimed they had not been paid. Festival organizer and founder Giorgi Sigua denied allegations of embezzlement and promised that all the employees would receive their salaries.

After announcing its cancellation, the official statement from GEM Fest was angry, saying “Is it fair to treat a project which put Anaklia on the world’s Festival map like this? Let history and society judge. We got what we got: the land where the festival took place will not be hosting us this summer.”

In October 2017, then-Minister of Economy of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia raised concerns over government participation in the festival, saying he thought it would be a “bad idea” to continue financing it. “Tourism support will continue in 2018 [through the Check in Georgia program], but my position is that the electronic music festival GEM Fest should not be state-funded again,” Gakharia said, emphasizing the importance of letting the private sector step in where it can, strengthening the Georgian economy.

In 2018, EchoWaves took GEM Fest’s place as Georgia’s major music festival. The Georgian National Tourism Administration, a branch of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, allocated 4.1 million GEL ($1.55 mln) to the festival as part of the Check-in Georgia program – nearly 70% of the festival’s costs. Up to 40,000 guests from 35 countries attended the festival, which was deemed a success.

Last week Minister of Economy Giorgi Kobulia told Business Media Georgia “We have already made the decision not to fund a [summer electronic music] festival. However, if anybody is interested in holding [an electronic music] festival, the government will provide infrastructure and healthcare support.”

EchoWaves is currently still on the docket for 2019. Organizers have not yet publicly responded to the government’s decision not to provide financing.

The first festival to break ground in the usually sleepy coastal town of Anaklia was the semi-legendary Kazantip, held there in 2014 after 22 years in Crimea, Ukraine. Now, would-be festival-goers are waiting eagerly to see whether a private sector company will step up and fund an electronic music festival on the Black Sea coast this summer.

By Samantha Guthrie

Image: GEM Fest

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