Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Zombie Drug Taking Over Tbilisi’s Techno Scene | High Society

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Synthetic drugs, especially flakka,

have been recently flowing in Georgia.

Its like two good things together.

You can experience death while you are high.

We are ready to protect our country

from drug dealers

and LGBT propagandists

who will not be able to form an agenda in Georgia.

The agenda belongs to us.

Death to the enemy.

You dont expect machine guns,

basically, in the club and a SWAT team, right?

The people who sell flakka,

they can be the reason why people die of overdose

and they possess high dangers for the society.

Snorting lines is the fight against the system here.

You are fighting against the government

and against the drug policy.

[High Society]

[Georgias Drug War]

Tbilisi is quickly becoming the new nightlife capital of Europe.

We express ourselves through techno.

It has become our weapon.

In an abandoned swimming pool

underneath the citys biggest sports stadium

is possibly the best club in the world,

Bassiani.

Bassiani is a place that you can be free,

and you can be whoever you want.

But deadly narcotics from the Russian darknet

have spread throughout the scene here,

leaving many addicted, hospitalized, or dead.

These include a synthetic cannabinoid called bio,

and flakka or alpha-PVP,

commonly referred to as thezombie drug.”

A few people died in the city

due to some deadly substance that has been on the market.

Ive seen people dying from using bio.

With one puff, you could die.

In a deeply religious society

where the Orthodox Church frequently rails against drugs,

Drugs...

will become more common.

Bassiani has found itself on the front lines of Georgias culture war.

They arrested 70 people that night, including me.

The cultural opposition to drugs is reflected in the law.

Even trace amounts of narcotics

can land you in prison for eight years here.

How have such dangerous drugs managed to take hold

in a country infamous for its incredibly harsh drug laws?

Have you ever, as a social group,

used synthetic drugs?

Yes, Ive tried synthetic drugs with friends.

What do you use?

You know, I dont use synthetic drugs at the moment,

but Id smoke bio with him.

Yeah, and we did smoke CK [flakka] yesterday.

And you said you havent used them for a while.

Yeah, but its OK if its once a month, right?

Do you think that synthetic drugs are a problem in Tbilisi?

Yes, of course synthetic drugs are a problem.

But its dangerous here because we dont know what we are taking.

In other countries,

they are confident about what they are taking,

and they know when they take MDMA

that it really is MDMA,

and they wont die in their sleep the next day.

Thats what makes it especially dangerous here.

Weve had a couple of deaths because people took something

that they didnt know what it was.

They took something synthetic

instead of taking what they actually thought it was, you know?

What do you think it is that attracts people to drugs?

I have tried so many things,

but only when I tried drugs for the first time,

I realized what I was looking for all along.

To avoid Georgias harsh laws,

these guys have to use a high-tech, anonymous dead drop system

to pick up their drugs.

How does ordering drugs in Tbilisi work?

You dont even need to download anything,

you can just access it through Safari.

Almost everything can be bought automatically online.

You just sign up on the website,

which is pretty easy to do,

then you choose what you want to buy.

And then we have three hours to put money on the account.

We will enter this QR code when we do it,

and it will confirm the purchase and give us the address.

Youre on Safari right now,

so is there no way of leaving a trace of who you are

when you go to the website?

In this system, I wouldnt be surprised

if the government was controlling my purchase right now.

We can never be completely sure about that,

but as we dont have any other option, we have to use this.

Snorting lines is the fight against the system here.

You are fighting against the government

and against the drug policy.

If they are caught with even a small amount of drugs,

Saba and Zuka could be looking at eight years in prison,

being banned from certain jobs, and losing their driving licenses

for up to 20 years.

So hiding their identity is incredibly important.

To make their pickup more secure,

they first had to turn their cash into Bitcoin

so they could finish the order and wait for the location

of the dead drop.

So we got our Bitcoins, what happens next?

Now we will receive an address with the picture of where were going.

There will probably be two pictures.

One will be taken from a distance, and another will be from closer up.

The package will probably have some tape on it, and thats it.

Here, weve received the message.

These are the coordinates.

Alright, lets go.

The coordinates theyd been sent

were inside an abandoned Soviet bloc of apartments.

And to retrieve their purchase,

they had to make it up to the ninth floor in a questionable elevator.

I feel like this elevator might crash.

They just put money in it.

So were going to the top floor of the building.

See if its there.

Go, go, go, go.

Is there any moment where you think, “Oh, maybe its not there?”

Yeah, you constantly think that it might not be there.

But we were lucky today, the address was safe.

Basically, youve got something on you right now

that might get you imprisoned for five to eight years.

Are you not nervous walking around?

Yeah, so when we come to these kinds of locations,

Im not worried.

But sometimes if you go there,

to the city, theres a bigger risk the police will stop you.

By forcing them into the darkest corners of the drug marketplace,

Georgias hard-fisted laws have also led users to dangerous synthetics

made by Russian darknet cartels.

One of those is alpha-PVP,

known in the rest of the world as flakka.

Its a kind of bath salt thats highly addictive and dangerous.

Flakka is notorious for putting users into a violent state

of excited delirium.

Ive been invited to an apartment

where a flakka session was in progress

and sure to continue for several days.

Why do you think flakka is so popular in Georgia?

Flakka came in as a designer drug, a legal one, to mimic some MDMA

or something.

The price was coming from the legal status of it.

It was legal for more than one year.

This is how it substituted, became the main drug

in the drug scene in Georgia.

So people using alpha-PVP in Georgia

is a direct result of the harsh drug policy?

Solely.

Because as a result of the harsh drug policies,

conventional drugs were so punishable

people opted for the legal analogs.

And then the more it got illegal, the more harmful it got for us.

How did you get into flakka?

Ahh,

I was never addicted to anything.

I am kind of just a clubber,

and it was terrible for me

when I one day realized that

I was addicted.

I smoked for ten days,

without a break, without any sleep.

Alpha-PVP is the worst thing

that happened to me.

As well as using alpha-PVP,

Paata is an influential campaigner for decriminalizing drugs

and the distribution of advice on how to take them safely.

And start chasing it.

I wondered how he reconciled his activism with his use of

such a dangerous drug.

Im going to take a step away because that smell is really...

They say telling people how to use substances correctly

is propaganda of drug use.

I say its the prevention of drug abuse.

People might think that you encourage using alpha-PVP,

which is a very addictive drug, right?

Im just talking about if you are using it anyways,

if you cant stop using it, then you are abusing

because you cant stop because of this comedown effect.

Its not like ecstasy or anything else

we know how to deal with, you know?

According to Paata, the reason these lethal drugs

became popular here in the first place

stems directly from the heavy-handed policing

that the country is notorious for.

In fact, Georgia has one of the highest

incarceration rates in Europe,

with a recent survey finding that every third inmate

was incarcerated for drugs offenses.

No matter what you have, they will just take you to the police station.

Having drugs and going to jail for eight to 20 years,

this is extreme.

The most dramatic example of Georgias drug policy

occurred when, after five synthetic drug deaths in one week,

the police stormed the capitals iconic techno club Bassiani

with machine guns and arrested 60 people.

I was standing here when the police made their raid.

Then they put a real machine gun on my head.

This whole stadium, which is huge,

it was surrounded by forces, by police, by SWAT team.

You dont expect machine guns, basically, in the club

and a SWAT team, right?

They arrested 70 people that night, including me.

This case is calledThe Case of Eight Drug Dealers.”

But all of these eight drug dealers were arrested during the day

before any club opened in Tbilisi.

The next morning, 10,000 people protested outside parliament

in the form of a giant outdoor rave.

The protests were organized by Paata and other members of

the nationwide decriminalization movement known as White Noise.

In no time, a counter protest of far right nationalists had formed,

accusing the ravers of being drug propagandists and sodomites.

We are starting to form the troops

and we are ready to protect our country

from drug dealers

and LGBT propagandists.

The battle lines had been drawn in Georgias war on drugs.

As these policies and attitudes have pushed users towards the darknet,

the police have, in turn, opened up a new digital front

by infiltrating the dead drop system and arresting dealers en masse.

Hi.

[Ministry of Internal Affairs]

This is central vaults, where we keep all evidence that is submitted

by the investigator.

This case was related to one clandestine laboratory.

This laboratory was producing some synthetic drugs.

And here we have the equipment or tools that were collected

from that scene.

And do you know which specific synthetic drug it was?

Alpha-PVP.

Yeah.

-This is what you use for screws. -Yeah.

For screws in the wall.

So is this the alpha-PVP, right?

And its a lot, right?

Its a lot, yeah.

So, Sandro, do you know how much this is worth?

Yes.

So the whole evidence that was seized from this group

was 21 kilos of powder.

But we also seized the liquid alpha-PVP,

which was 69 kilos.

So the total worth from this group was around 20 million laris,

which might be 6.5 million dollars.

And thats just in that do-it-yourself lab?

Yes.

In a lot of European countries,

people use more regular drugs like ketamine, MDMA, or cocaine.

Why is alpha-PVP such a big problem here?

Producing synthetic drugs is not that expensive;

you can buy precursors for a few thousand dollars,

and you can produce drugs that are worth millions of dollars.

Once people get exposed to it,

it's really hard to quit using that specific type of drug.

When were talking about, for example, people who sell flakka,

they can be the reason why people die of overdose.

Also, the consumer is not only endangering himself or herself,

they become dangerous to the society

because the consumer becomes aggressive.

If theyre under the influence, they might cause a lot of problems.

Thats why the laws are so harsh.

So youre saying its necessary to arrest for possession of drugs

to solve cases of selling drugs?

I'm not saying it's necessary.

But you have to understand that we are following the law,

and possession of certain types of drugs is still illegal.

In most other cities, you just text the dealer,

and here you have to use the dark web.

Do you think the dark web is an outcome of Georgian drug policy?

This is not because of the harsh laws.

This is just the way the drug sales are moving forward

with the evolving technology.

So I dont think thats an argument here.

Do you see a drug problem related to Tbilisis nightlife scene?

Because I saw the raid on Bassiani.

The raid on Bassiani wasnt raiding a specific place or club.

There were conducted controlled buys on drug sellers

who were at Bassiani at that certain time.

The reason why police went into Bassiani

was to arrest those individuals who were committing crime.

All of the people who got arrested that night

were previously recorded for selling drugs.

We did not go into clubs for the sole purpose of raiding clubs.

The police claim that theyre arresting suppliers

rather than users,

but they arrested 60 people at Bassiani.

And even the Ministry of Interior would admit

they werent all dealers.

A recent Human Rights Watch report

found that drug prosecutions doubled last year,

and the number of people subjected to drug testing

has actually increased dramatically since 2018.

The report also showed that

out of 3,100 completed drug prosecutions last year,

only 11 people were acquitted,

and that police almost never use neutral witnesses in trials,

instead relying on their own testimonies.

One of the victims of Georgias drug laws

is the techno DJ and producer Michailo.

After being caught with 12 grams of MDMA,

he spent six years in prison and is now spending three more

under house arrest.

He has to wear a tag and needs written permission

from the authorities to DJ.

In other European countries, someone caught with that much MDMA

would get half of that sentence at the most.

Tonight is special because he is allowed to headline a Tbilisi club.

He will be monitored, and he has a bracelet on,

so hes under house arrest.

But its still very exceptional that hes able to go play a gig.

So nine years ago your life changed because you were arrested.

They sent me to prison for nine years

for the possession of 12 grams of MDMA for personal use.

This injustice is killing you.

You havent murdered anyone, you havent injured anyone.

When you see that others, for some horrible crimes,

have been sentenced to fewer years.

Living with this is the worst.

Was it just a regular night out? Where were you?

We were coming back from Batumi,

and the next day we were going to a three-day music festival

in the forest with our friends.

But I didnt make it there,

they arrested me on the way.

They didnt say why they stopped you?

We were just driving and the police stopped us randomly,

there were lots of people, cars, and so on,

so its more likely that it was a pre-planned operation than random.

Why do you think they were targeting you?

I dont know.

You have no idea?

But I think that, well, when Georgian drug policy,

even against drug use is so strict,

then 12 grams is not a small amount.

I was unlucky.

Did you meet any other people in prison that were arrested for

any other drug offense?

Yes, lots of them.

Not one or two, but a great amount of them.

But the saddest thing is that nowadays the state and the government

dont care about these people and do not pay them any attention.

How would you say that they impacted your life?

The most painful thing that I will never be able to get over

is the fact that Ive missed my daughters childhood,

those six years I wasnt with her.

This is something that I will always miss,

that I will never forget, and it will always hurt.

The pain is what will always stay with me from my time in prison.

Music was the only thing that gave me freedom.

Music is the friend who is always with you,

in good times and in bad.

What do you think the Georgian government thinks of techno culture?

I think that techno has played an important part

in the fight against the Georgian government.

Techno has become a tool of loudly expressing our protests.

We express ourselves and position ourselves through techno.

Techno has become our weapon.

And we will always fight for every law to be oriented

towards the care and welfare of the people.

When you consider Georgias stark combination of

world-leading nightlife and conservative religious values,

its no wonder that decriminalization

has found itself at the center of political discourse.

Drugs have become a generational battleground

for two competing visions of society.

And while more and more young people across the world

are fighting against the criminalization of drug use,

the movement here is starting to show progress.

Recently, the government decided to decriminalize marijuana,

making it far more progressive than most European countries

in at least one way.

Georgia seems to be a microcosm of the worldwide war on drugs,

a game of whack-a-mole where brutal punishment of dealers and users

merely spawns more dangerous substances and practices.

Maybe the lesson that the rest of the world can learn from Georgia

is that no matter how hard you crack down on them,

drugs will always find a way.

And if prison isnt working,

it might be time to start considering other approaches.

The Description of The Zombie Drug Taking Over Tbilisi’s Techno Scene | High Society