Beyond Solidarity

Fighter jets and bomber planes have been grounded, submarines have surfaced onto the seas from the ocean depths and aircraft-carriers and battle ships have fallen silent, bobbing on the waves like plastic toys. An evil grinning virus has slithered into the silos of their ruthless rockets, its unfettered poison seeped into the space craft.

Yes, there may well still be a weapon reverberating somewhere on this planet, but already the Earth has started to resemble a pretty trinket, a brightly colourful bauble, spun around at the mercy of King Corona. (Apologies! A hint of Nostradamus crept in there!)

The soldiers of armies both great and small are in their barracks and their generals locked-down in their grand mansions, listening in awe to the sound of birdsong spilling in from somewhere… Apparently, humans are not alone on the planet…

A shadow of fear flits across the obstinate faces of presidents and the leaders of major powers…

And this crown-bearing uninvited guest addresses us earthlings, asking scathingly:

“Are you not tired, my dears, of murdering each other? Now let me! I’ll take it from here. How many centuries have you strived in this endeavour? I pity you – you deserve a rest. Stay home! Wash your hands frequently! Maintain social distancing!”…

The villages and cities of the world, both large and small, romantic and beautiful and the just plain and ordinary are all empty. The box offices of historic monuments have resorted to begging, commercial landscapes have faded… and the human has disappeared.

Disappeared from the Eiffel tower, from San-Francisco, Seoul, Australia, Africa…

And everyone has reconvened by smartphone…

This is what we have been reduced to! Everyone and everything has been uploaded onto this tiny world of the smartphone: the pyramids, grass, songs, family photos, alphabet, cosmic weapons, wine, insects, dogs, oceans, puddles, history, medicine, tales, words, airplanes, flowers, cosmodromes and drugs, music, peaks… too much to name.

A multilingual silence has settled on the planet. In all languages war has been muffled and peace silenced. Only a distant grating of rusty hinges can be heard. Slowly, slowly an unfamiliar, foreign gate is being opened onto something completely different, strange and unimaginable. Neither war nor peace, but something else, wholly out of the ordinary… listen very carefully.

Of course, all this will end well. Don’t worry, we have witnessed worse, but never such an astonishing phenomenon – never.

Don’t be afraid… what is there to fear? We should only fear the thoughtless and heartless words with which we hurt each other.

What is important now is how we will carry on after all this.

It is clear, that the Earth will never be the same as it was before 2020, such is the dramatic change that has begun. But what about us? What will become of us? Will we better ourselves or… remain in the same state of broken relations, hatred and savage competition and indeterminate future? I do not believe those who say that everything was fine and rosy before…

I’m sitting by the window, scrolling through the silent world of my cell phone. It’s night time and Tbilisi is glimmering, the moon shining. A dog, perplexed by the unfamiliar silence wanders down the street uninhabited by humans or cars. The curfew doesn’t affect the dog… it is oblivious to the threats of several respected politicians to eradicate strays – accusing them of being part of the conspiracy to spread the virus. The city doesn’t know what dawn will bring. The moon doesn’t know when it will be obscured by a cloud. And me, I know nothing at all, but still try to find a secret link between the pandemic and the future… In short, now we are all one ‘cluster’: the city, dog, moon and me (apologies once more! This time it’s the influence of ancient Chinese poetry!).

…What will be when it’s all over? Will the newly illuminated waters dullen once more? Will the radiant sky become shrouded again?..

Will belligerent states set upon each other again? With ideas sharpened like swords, with arrogant aspirations – ‘It is us who are righteous and strong, not them! These are our lands, not theirs! We will be victorious; they will be destroyed!’…

Will huge resources again be wasted on military exercises and parades? On arms and perfecting the art of manslaughter and ending life in general? And will we continue the devastation of the Earth’s resources at the expense of children dying from hunger? Will we yet again widen the hole in the ozone layer and other calamities?..

Will we continue aimlessly buying those things and possessions that we do not nor will ever need? Will we again imprison ourselves in the greedy fortress of trade, in all its soul-destroying claustrophobia? Which countries will be deemed ‘developed’ in the future? Those with anomalous wealth and strong armies, or those distinguished by education and spirituality, living modest, fair but contented lives?

All religious confessions are based on a common spirituality, and above all – the love of God and mankind.

Will we continue to breed people who kill with words – haters, scoundrels, liars, eternal and primitive conformists embedded in all spheres?…

Will we serve again a time of a mixture between hatred and grief, at the expense of those who understand the Earth without words, loyal saviours of the planet?…

Will we be able to return to such values in defence of which we would be willing to lay down our lives? Will we be able to achieve the conditions on Earth and between humans more or less as we have dreamed? So as to make us fall more in love with being born and with each other?.. So as to restore joyful faces along with the clear waters and pure air?..

Will we be able to build a planetary platform for dialogue – composed and contemplative, where even radical and unacceptable opinions can be voiced, but where despite everything we can come to mutual decisions that benefit all nations – both populous and small.  Can we unite all humans, in their freedoms, their unparalleled, unique and almost ephemeral lives? Can we attain such a transformation, such a change?..

Those who do not respect or protect other’s freedoms, who do not listen or understand the voices of others, and do not realise their pain and their problems, shall never themselves be free nor happy and should not seek compassion in the eyes of others.

Our planet is a reflection of who we are today, without exception. Our children’s and grandchildren’s planet of tomorrow will be a reflection of our children and grandchildren. I believe they will become a generation capable of a completely new way of thinking and logic. Above all, they will be friends with their conscience. And if we cannot support them in this, then at least let us not get in their way.

What will become of us Georgians in the future? What will become of me along with my homeland? What sort of wrongdoings and mistakes have I made to this day? How can I correct them, what should I do? Mere repentance and remorse will not be enough…

Will we once again get caught up in our internal disagreements? Once again waste our national energy on hating and misunderstanding each other? Once again be defeated in our fight against ourselves? Or will we continue to be each other’s prosecutors and advocates only for ourselves? Or will wisdom lend us its hand and help us stride forward? Will we be able to enrich the world with our culture and values along with the Caucasian civilisation?

All we need is that we have the best.

Any society is obligated to answer before God and before other peoples for that part of the world that fate predetermined for them. Likewise, we humans must be answerable to each other. And humanity itself must be responsible for each person and peoples. But can we achieve this? Will we earthlings succeed?

Sometimes, it seems that whenever there is a war somewhere the rest of humanity looks on calmly, like an audience watching a dull and futile performance, even applauding once in a while one or another talentless actor.

There is no greater or lesser love. No greater or lesser hatred. If you love one person, you love all of humanity. If you hate even one person that means that hatred has conquered you and you hate everyone.

A nation’s greatness doesn’t depend on the size of its population. More important are the values of a nation and its ability to respect, protect and take care and its capacity for Universal Love.

Soon we will realise that our destinies are intertwined and we all depend on each other, on our own country, animals, plants, microbes, stars… however we must realise this as soon as possible with no further delay. We all have a duty to save each other before an urgent crisis is upon us.

Neither natural disasters, nor any other cause has killed so many people as people themselves in wars – hundreds of thousands, millions killed in Wars which to this day remain the principal and dominant means of settling our differences.

War is the simplest phenomenon. Peace – most complex. War can destroy in a matter of hours or days cities and villages and human connections that have been built by peace over decades and centuries.

High-budget war movies are deceitful. It is not war but peace that requires courage and bravery.

War and evil roam the world with a monster’s leap, while peace and kindness walk with baby’s footsteps. That’s why war and evil is so evident, while peace and kindness are often missed. This requires the ability to see with your heart, in the face of which blinding fear is diminished.

How can the planet sleep at night, when our adult and ‘smart’ wars prompt traumatised children to sob in despair at cameramen – ’As God is my witness – I’ll tell him all you have done here!’

It is time for peace to pick up the pace!

And until our written and unwritten laws, rules, codices around the globe become humanised… until humans are themselves humanised, we will continue to live in constant grief. And we will continue to create new laws and rules, which will again fail to protect human from human, man and woman from mankind.

And, besides, it’s possible that tomorrow another new, more vicious, faster mutant-virus will appear, apocalyptic, crowned with a wholly different number, let’s say, 366, which will address us even more disparagingly:

— “Are you not tired, my dears, from murdering each other with bullets and words alike? Now let me, I’ll take it from here, after all don’t you deserve a rest? Stay home! Wash your hands frequently! Maintain social distancing!”…

Or what if we are attacked by evil aliens?.. after all that has happened this wouldn’t be so far-fetched (again, my apologies! Another influence slipped through – that of intergalactic war movies).

Can we in the meantime rediscover long lost magical words? Words that are sincere, healing and life-giving? A masterfully shaped formula of words, warmed with compassion, with love? A formula that suits everyone?  Such a formula must exist somewhere in time and space, but hasn’t been sought out… Are we capable of such transformation, such change?..

The spaces between nations have been laid with the mines of endless wars.

Only new people who can navigate the minefield should embark on the journey across those spaces.  People of hope, saviour people, planetary people, those whom we remember only when it’s too late, or in times of hellish crisis. Those who know the art of conversation and the secrets of those illusive words that build bridges between peoples and nations. Build bridges – not tear them down! Historically, no mercy was shown to such people by those who follow a mob mentality – (only later would their statues be erected, and streets and squares be named after them).

Most of those bridge-builders are to be found in the younger generations. They have a totally modern outlook and the talent to make decisions that have until today been unimaginable. Such vision and solutions that will help humanity discover new horizons. I have faith in those who live not in ‘tomorrow’ but in the ‘day after tomorrow’ and from there can see much more clearly than we could see yesterday and the day before.

No country can succeed in this journey on their own. It is mankind that should triumph over itself. Humanity should defeat humanity! After such heavy and exhausting defeats, we must rise from the ashes with a renewed and united spirituality.

Only this way can we restore our dignity lost in the labyrinth of centuries and regain our main purpose – to protect and be thoughtful towards humanity and the planet as a whole, which doesn’t belong only to people.

But for now, for a short while we must live like this – stay at home, wash our hands frequently and maintain social distancing. How else?  By protecting ourselves at this time, we also protect the planet and all that lives on it! And during this unexpected reclusiveness let us think about the Earth of tomorrow.

Our redemption is in that oneness with each other, not unlike the unity we are experiencing today. But we must go beyond just unity. Our solidarity must go beyond mere solidarity. Our redemption will be in that mutual respect which goes beyond today’s concept of mutual respect and care for each other.

We, of course, must maintain a physical distance, but under no circumstances should we maintain distance between our hearts! These days, more than ever!

Because love, conscience, wisdom and heartfelt words are historically tested materials with which to build bridges across this planet, and for the harmonious construction of a new world.

If anything good has ever happened in this world, it has happened solely and surely thanks to such love, conscience and wisdom.

12-17 April, 2020

Rustaveli Avenue

The new Georgia was born on 9April 1989 –even before the Soviet Union received its death sentence in Belovezha forest. That was the day when in Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue, special army units dispersed a peaceful pro-independence demonstration staged by the hungry masses. The attack on the demonstrators resulted in 20 deaths (most of them young women). Many more were wounded or seriously affected by the toxic gas used in the attack.

It was one of the last clashes between the Soviet Army and its own people. Very soon the national leaders of the newly independent Georgia began to claim reassuringly that the country would rapidly reach the living standards of Switzerland. “We will sell our unique Borzhomi mineral water and our unique Georgian wines to the world, and if that is not enough and we need more money, we have spring water, and we can sell that too,” they said.

The communist officials disappeared quietly. But they didn’t vanish into the past – they simple removed their communist masks and before long the whole country could see them in church, as they diligently learned to right the candles before the icons and to cross themselves devoutly.

The people started to build the new Georgia with new hopes and, at the first democratic elections in May 1991, elected a new president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. He won 87 per cent of the votes cast by the 80 per cent who turned out.

But Georgia’s independence brought with it a multitude of problems, the most acute being a shortage of electricity. Using every conceivable (and even inconceivable) means, people sought a way out of the situation. Some were clever enough to connect their apartments or houses to two or three different power lines. The authorities regularly drew up schedules for supplying different areas at different times, but theses immediately broke down.

Depending on the quantity and quality of power supply, the country became divided into more desirable and less desirable areas, and cities into more desirable and less desirable districts. Needless to say, the city that did best was Tbilisi, the capital of independent Georgia, but even there from time to time residents would close this or that major thoroughfare to traffic to ensure that any power generated would reach their suburb.

In some remote villages, children were taught during daylight and were home after school without ever even seeing the dusty glow of what were known as “Lenin lamps”, those weak, old-fashioned lights hanging from the classroom ceiling.

At that time, people who were dubbed “the electrical men” became hugely popular. These were the petty bureaucrats, or power engineers, involved in power distribution, inevitably, the media soon elevated them to the status of pop stars – newspaper and periodical correspondents, television and radio journalists interviewed them frequently, asking endless questions, the most vital of all being exactly when will Georgia have a reliable power supply?

Their faces were known all over Georgia. People greeted them in the street, stopped them, asked them questions – everything short of asking for their autographs.

In 2004, 13 years after independence, Georgia finally got its continuous power supply. Street Lamps shone in the cities and the brightest, most “electrified” city was of course Tbilisi. The “electrical men” sank into oblivion – no one remembers their names or faces any more.

Several years ago, a new problem, a water shortage, unexpectedly emerged in Tbilisi and it looked as if history would repeat itself, “Water men” appeared on television, though this time the city’s water supply was restored fairly quickly and the media had no time to hype them up.

Georgian journalists, just like journalists in most post-Soviet countries, have now returned to their customary routine – hyping up high- ranking and less notable politicians. Thanks mainly to television; Georgian politicians have entered every home and every family. There is virtually no one in Georgia who isn’t aware of what this or that politician has for breakfast or who they had a crush on in the first grade. Even exhibitions of their childhood photographs are held as if this was an altogether ordinary and traditional event.

Today as never before, Georgian politics has become the country’s culture, its art and its economy. It has swamped the whole of the informational and human sphere, it has taken unto itself the monopoly rights on giving people hope for the future.

Politics has permeated the air breathed by every Georgian. Georgia is the most politicized country in the whole of the post-Soviet region or, more precisely, the country burning most ardently with hyper-political passions. Since Georgia has been independent, it is safe to say that it is not Georgia’s presidents who have lived the lives and problems of the nation, but the nation which has lived the lives of each of the three presidents. The people have learned of the tastes and thoughts of their presidents from television, and then either zealously defended “their” president or equally zealously attacked him as not “their own”.

Zviad Gamsakhurdia had been in office only a few months when his opponents met to demand his resignation on Rustaveli Avenue, on the exact spot where the hunger demonstration had been broken up on 9 April 1989, and where the first president occasionally organized rallies of his supporters. The crowd gradually grew. Awaiting bad news, the whole country watched developments in the capital with bated breath. The first shot fired on Rustaveli Avenue tore the nation in two. Blood was spilled. Earlier still, an armed conflict exploded in South Ossetia and there, too people died – Georgians and Ossetians.

The fire that ignited on Rustaveli Avenue engulfed the whole of Georgia and in particular the west of the country.

“Did you think that democracy would be a walk in the park?” Djaba Ioseliani, the founder of the illegal armed units and Gamsakhurdia’s fiercest enemy, asked on television. After Gamsakhurdia was exiled, it was Djaba Ioseliani who suggested inviting Eduard Shevardnadze to Georgia.

On his return to his homeland in 1992, Shevardnadze was immediately elected head of state. The post of president had by then been abolished, but as early as November 1995, when a new constitution had been adopted, Shevardnadze was elected Georgia’s second president, with a 74 per cent vote. At first, he rewarded Ioseliani, but it wasn’t long until he put him in prison for several years – the same prison where he had been held under Gamsakhurdia. After his release, Ioseliani wrote and published a book about his time in Georgian prisons. He died soon after.

Just a few months after Shevardnadze’s return to his homeland, Georgia was accepted as a member of the UN. His supporters claimed that the UN had accepted not Georgia but Shevardnadze.

Just a few days later, Georgian National Guard tanks entered Abkhazia, sparking another bloody conflict. Georgian Politics could not remain unaffected by the war, and collapsed. To this day, different words are used to describe it in Georgia: the Russo-Georgian war, the Russo-American conflict, and even the Georgian-Georgian conflict.

At the end of September 1993, the armed conflict in Abkhazia ended, and refugees from South Ossetia were joined by some 300,000 Abkhazian refugees. Thousands of Georgians, Abkhazians and Ossetians and many others lost their lives. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the internal armed conflicts brought total economic ruin and extreme hardship to the Georgians. The country had neither bread nor electricity, and could hope only for humanitarian aid from democratic countries.

The overthrow of Gamsakhurdia’s ephemeral power wrecked many people’s hope of stability, but Shevardnadze lost no time in pointing the way to a fairy-tale-like, beautiful and democratic future.

He ruled independent Georgia as if he were still the First Secretary of its Communist Party. He had got so used to accounting for his actions to Moscow in Soviet times that when he became president of an Independent country he continued to search for someone he could report to, and at the end of his political career he started obsessively reporting to Washington, just as earlier he had reported to Moscow. Although he managed to resolve some issued, his “successor” inherited a bankrupt country, chronically explosive conflicts, a difficult economic situation, terrible corruption, a majority that was socially unprotected and had been shamelessly robbed, disappointed hopes and false promises.

Rustaveli Avenue erupted again. There were larger and smaller demonstrations, but nothing like the numbers termed the “ocean waves” (“ocean waves” being 50,000, 100,000 or 200,000 people) that were needed to overthrow the old powers that be and spark new life. Popular dissatisfaction grew slowly but steadily.

The next “ocean wave” did not hit Rustaveli Avenue until November 2003, and it culminated on 23 November, St George’s Day, in Shevardnadze’s voluntary departure. This was the action which came to be known as the Rose Revolution, and was headed by one of the leaders of the then opposition – Mikheil Saakashvili.

As long as Shevardnadze was gone, the people were willing to give carte blanche to any leader, and Mikheil Saakashvili became their next choice. On 23 November, wearing a bullet-proof vest under his coat and carrying a red rose, Saakashvili, accompanied by his associates, burst into Parliament House and drank warm tea from a cup left on the podium from which Shevardnadze had been speaking a moment before. Shevardnadze was led away from Parliament house and out of harm’s way by his bodyguards. By drinking the lukewarm tea, the new leader seemed to assume from the old leader all of Georgia’s problems and the nation’s new hopes.

Six weeks later, the people elected Saakashvili their new president with 97 per cent of the vote, a margin unprecedented in independent Georgia. The new politicians, headed by their third and youngest president, set to work with zeal. Leaving behind the stagnation of the Shevardnadze period, the country began to move forward and started to display clear signs of genuine nationhood.

But the politicians kept trying to divert the people’s attention to global politics, neglecting many domestic issues. The “new” politicians loved the spectacular fireworks and fountains, and busied themselves with new roads and grandiose building projects.

Neither the “old” nor the “new” politicians kept their pre-election promises: “We will resolve the conflicts and bring the refugees home”, “We will do away with unemployment”… All of them placed far too much hope in such slogans as “America will help us”, “The West will help us” and “We will soon be joining NATO”.

After a period of time, a people’s exaggerated hoped and boundless trusts in government inevitably end in disappointment. Those who blindly put their faith in politicians often take a long time to notice the difference between real and cosmetic politics, between a true policy overhaul and a simple facelift.

Ultimately, the actions of the new politicians repelled the community and yet again robbed the people of their hope for rapid improvement. The authorities frequently placed themselves above the low. Corruption, the gulf between the words of those in authority and their actions, the leadership’s occasionally irksome but sometimes dangerous populism, its egocentricity and messianic slant, its eternal pose of rectitude, its failure to admit mistakes and unwillingness to take advice, all of this could not help but influence the people’s attitude to Mikheil Saakashvili and his team.

The situation was also aggravated by the radicalism of an amorphous civil society, the people’s desire for a charismatic leader, their wish for rapid success in conditions of barely nascent democracy, and by the fact that the majority ignored not only the realities of modern politics but also, and more importantly, the Russian factor.

Beginning on 9 April 1989, Russia took centre stage in the Georgian political theatre. It was the ever-present monster of Rustaveli Avenue, its evil genius, its eminence grise. IN the political show staged by Russian political producers, like in a cheap television comedy, all that happened seemed an absurd, coarse caricature. As if batting with demons, Russia first took on Georgian wine, then Georgia citrus fruit and Borzhomi mineral water, and finally those Georgians whom fate had thrown onto Russian territory.

Georgia is the only Caucasian country on which Russia has imposed a visa requirement. None of the governments of independent Georgia has managed to build a normal relationship with Russia, once its major market, though Western leaders have advised time and time again to “please take the Russian factor into account”. Georgian and Russian leaders took turns at making relations worse. In 2006, Russia deported Georgian citizens from its various regions based on their citizenship.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia had a population of over 5 million; it is less than 4 million today. Over a million people have left our country, some say a million and half. Most of the emigrants have now acquired new citizenship, and while others return from time to time, the country’s instability makes it hard to hope for their permanent return.

People from other countries often say that we, the Georgians, are an artistic people. It may be because we love the theatre. The number of theatres in Georgia has doubled, and perhaps even trebled, in the last 15 years. I know for sure that Georgia has the most theatres per capita in the whole of the Caucasus. Even during the “dark age” (when there was no electricity), in the winter, the stage was lit by electricity from generators and the theatres were always full. Incidentally, the famous Rustaveli Theatre is on Rustaveli Avenue, a short walk from the Parliament building.

Our celebrations are also theatrical, and so is our politics. The Tamada, or toastmaster, at a celebration meal is like a president. Politicians themselves frequently say “let’s put on a good show”, “What sort of a show is that?”, “We will teach them stage management”, or “It is all going according to our scenario”. Needless to say, they mean their own political theatre.

The Georgian for “bread and circuses” is “bread, wine and circuses”. The “simple” Georgian of this tale is a hospitable, sociable person.

And another thing – Georgians love television. Per capita ownership of TV sets in poverty-stricken Georgia is among the top 10 countries in the world (bread, wine and television”). All these years, Georgia’s television sets have been full of political news and red-hot developments, politicians, personalities pretending to be politicians, and talented and talentless showbusiness people, all this while its refrigerators were half empty, and sometimes just plain empty. That was how the “simple” Georgians lived, with their crammed television sets and their empty refrigerators.

Although the new government had some successes, it was four years to the day from the   start of the Rose Revolution that the “ocean waves” of unrest again stormed up Rustaveli Avenue (different sources put the number of demonstrators at between 100,000 and 150,000). But this time it didn’t end with a new leader coming to power. The “happy ending of the Rose Revolution was not to be repeated. Saakashvili said that the state was the state, and on 7 November, on the very day and in the very place where for 60 years Soviet Georgia celebrated the October Revolution with parades and demonstrations, the authorities demonstrated their own power: they dispersed a peaceful protest with water cannons, rubber truncheons, gas and bullets – rubber ones, but bullets nevertheless. There were also noise generators, whose blood-curdling howls resounded through the dreams of the escaping demonstrators for several weeks afterwards. The authorities had “cleared” (as was said in officialese) Rustaveli Avenue and, later on, the Rika (the Kura Embankment). Fortunately no lives were lost but up to 700 casualties sought medical help. The then prime minister immediately tried to reassure the people, saying: “Don’t be afraid, the tear gas wasn’t made in Russia, we imported it from the West”. But hardly anyone paid him any attention. A state of emergency was declared. A number of TV and radio companies were closed down. Later, some scientists dubbed these events “a lesser ‘37” or “the new 9 April”, while others maintained the low had to be upheld, there was no other solution and that Georgian statehood had been saved.

For the umpteenth time, the people were divided. The Avenue of Presidential Undoing forced even Mikheil Saakashvili to resign, only on this occasion the president himself named the new election day – 5 January 2008. He named the day and we won again, but without the previous overwhelming majority. He polled 53 per cent of the votes.

On the day of his inauguration, which took place on 20 January in front of Parliament House (again in Rustaveli Avenue), his many opponents gathered at the Tbilisi Race Track. Saakasvili repeated his campaign slogan – “A Georgia without poverty” – and the opposition, both in the capital and in other cities repeated: “The elections were rigged” and “We don’t accept Saakashvili as president”. This time, the presidential elections did not unite Georgia, and only confirmed its division.

Of all the countries in the Caucasus and in the whole of the post-Soviet region, Georgia continues to hold the spot in terms of number of the problems it has and their complexly. They include unresolved conflicts and a weak economy. So far, the government hasn’t created the peaceful, constructively governed space which is the prerequisite for progress and stability. Our society has yet to learn how to temper its boundless optimism with reality. Without the emergence of a new political culture, without a harmonious relationship between the authorities and society, the people’s hopes will always be deceived and the main player in our country’s political history will be Rustaveli Avenue, and not Georgian politicians.


On Contemporary Caucasus and Some Behavioral Norms During the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict

 The Caucasus has proved that it is not a single monolithic region with its own clearly defined aims. The Caucasus is divided, with one part of its people opposing each other, and the other part unable to bring them together. One gets an impression that there is some mechanism of self- destruction at work here, that nations of the Caucasus do not know their past history, do not fully understand the common aspects of their cultures and have not identified their common interests. In order to save themselves and save others they ignore for some reason the unique mentality of the Caucasus, its unique traditions.

We are all floundering in the ocean of baleful stereotypes. Only if in this modern day Babylon we, the people of the Caucasus, succeed in a joint analysis of our recent past and present state, shall we have a firm ground to stand on in order to make the next step tomorrow. I should also add that among the above-mentioned conflicts, the one in Nagorno-Karabakh is the most ‘intransigent and difficult’, the conflict in South Ossetia is “relatively easy’ and the Abkhaz conflict is considered a conflict of ‘medium difficulty’. When giving such definitions of conflicts I proceed from the character of the relationship between the societies in conflict. As for the political settlement of these conflicts, they are all equally unresolved.

But, fortunately for all of us, each of the conflicts has its knights – or its saviors. I have used the word ‘knight’, the word rarely used today, to name those people who do not lose their high spirits, courage and love of God in the most extreme of circumstances, and who would do everything for the sake of their neighbor, for the triumph of justice, for preserving our traditions. A conflict, which runs its course while respecting the norms of humanity, the unwritten laws of war – is a guarantee of its own quick settlement, whereas conflicts accompanied by murders and hideous crimes remain unresolved for a very long time.

A person who is a savior and a liberator often faces a difficult situation: on the one hand, he is threatened by his adversaries, on the other, by his own kind, who would not forgive his attempts to accommodate the enemy. In the quagmire of war some people fall under the influence of exaggerated stereotypes, while others remain in the state of psychological paralysis. In such a situation only the chosen few are capable of acting in a civilized fashion. We ourselves have to save each other. We have a wonderful tool – people’s diplomacy. It is indeed the wealth of a noble and wise people. But unofficial diplomacy should not become a veiled extension of the official diplomacy and politics. If it changes its character, it would lose its importance. It should seek new effective ways. It should not harbor conformists or false erudites and nihilists. It should not be the source of grant-eating or groundless empty initiatives. It is the way forward for open-minded people, those, who do not lose their humanity even in the face of the worst adversity.


Public Diplomacy of the Stage


 The Sukhumi Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Theatre Company opened its new season with a production of The Sea Is Far at the Samepo Ubani Theater in Tbilisi. This performance is based on the play by Guram Odisharia, a displaced writer from Abkhazia. This is notable showing of public diplomacy between two communities driven apart by the 1992-1993 conflict.

The Georgian Theater of Sukhumi, which was founded in 1928, does not have a building of its own in Tbilisi. Nevertheless, its artists continue their work and, judging from their latest production of The Sea Is Far, this lack of personal space has hampered neither their principles nor their style.

Since 1994, many Georgian directors have collaborated with the Sukhumi Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Theatre, but the troop has never achieved much popular success. The failure can be attributed to the fact that it is a home-less theatre with little financing.

Like many Georgians, Guram Odisharia was forced to flee Sukhumi although, unlike other IDPs, he has not cut ties or contacts with those who stayed in Abkhazia. The writer has remained actively involved in public diplomacy and his books do not possess the avenging disposition one might expect, rather, he focuses on building a peaceful dialogue with Abkhazians.

About one year ago, Temur Chkheidze, director and living legend of Georgian theatre, asked Odisharia to collaborate on a play. The Sea is Far is the fruit of six months’ work together. Productions costs were low – there are only five actors in the play – and the scenery is minimal, which suited the alternative space of the Samepo Ubani Theater well.

The Sea Is Far premiered on September 27th, one day before the anniversary of the Georgian forces’ retreat from Sukhumi. The sound of splashing waves in the theater greeted the audience, a nostalgic symbol of a home which most of the displaced can only reach in dreams. Nowadays, in order to reach that sea one would need a special pass to present at the checkpoint at the Enguri River. This how the hero of the play Zurab –played by Dimitri Jaiani, Art Director of the theater – manages to get to Sukhumi.

Zurab visits his father’s grave and meets Astamur, his childhood friend. The entire 90-minute performance is their conversation – a severe dialogue comprised of insults, compassion, aggression and love. The severity reflects the truths of those from each side of the river, manifested through the actors on stage. Thus, the performance succeeds in creating what reality has thus far failed to produce: a dialogue.

At the Samepo Ubani Theater premiere, there were people among the audience who supported the use of armed aggression to take back Abkhazia. It was as if Astamur, proud of living in an independent Abkhazia, was addressing them personally from the stage. While Astamur has the opportunity to confront a Georgian audience in Tbilisi, Zurab does not yet have the chance to face his old friend’s compatriots in Sukhumi. Guram Odisharia believes that as long as members of The Sukhumi Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Theater are perceived as enemies, it will be impossible to perform The Sea Is Far in Sukhumi.

It is more likely in the near future, however, that this play be performed in Russia, within a ’neutral artistic space’, where members of both sides will have an opportunity to attend the performance. From this aspect, Guram Odisharia and Temur Chkheidze’s project becomes politically significant as it potentially enlarges the negotiating arena. If representatives from the opposing sides of this conflict were to be brought together to view a performance, thoughts about the past and considerations of how Georgians and Abkhazians could live together in the future would be given a freedom of expression among those who have never had the chance to discuss such things with their counterparts.

Additionally, Guram Odisharia manages to collect a number of clichés and stereotypes that tend to come up when the people of Tbilisi and Sukhumi talk about each other. By having the characters speak for half an hour in the performance, Odisharia allows them to eliminate all their aggression and to reach a state of catharsis. This counterpoint-based performance appears to be more effective than the socalled dialogue Georgians and Abkhazians have been engaged in for years.

International Caucasus #1