“And I wish that I could state, my faith the way you do, as certainly as you. Clear skies going to fall on you.” – Keane; Personal connection & Georgian misdirection

A rare preface to a blog. I wrote this last week while in the midst of some heavy thinking; additionally I wrote it before the apparent monsoon season in my region. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration and actually today again is an example of what this blog talks a bit about-absurdly pristine skies. But, though some thoughts, like weather, are changeable I think it is more or less on target. As one good Georgian friend might tell me: the shape of what I’m looking at in Georgia may be consistently shifting, but the essence remains the same. Enjoy.

Recently while running I was pondering some heavy things; personal and as per normal Economist-related. Whilst this pondering took place, my mind moved to the fact that Georgia has not given me a song to remember it by. While I’ll always get a bit Martvili-misty-eyed when I hear K’Naan’s Wavin’ Flag or Shakira’s Wakaa Wakaa (see first post), they aren’t really personal (a new overplay addition is Driving Home For Christmas thanks to David aka The Happiest Man in the World…don’t ask). By almost being omnipresent in this country, they lack a personal connection.

To further explain, and this may sound silly to some, but certain songs can be more visceral than scents in reminding me of people, crystallized moments, emotions, and places. Three place-related examples for the sake of this entry – Life in Technicolor (part 1) by Coldplay never seemed to mean much to me until I rode a night train on my first ever visit to Berlin. The lack of lyrics suddenly made sense with the lights flashing by-the pulse of the city was captured by the simple rhythmic “Oh-ohhhhs.” Similarly, Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks was ingrained into my mind during my first months adjusting to life in Opole, Poland. I vividly remember gazing into what were probably pollution-enhanced sunsets from my balcony, content at whatever was in front of me so long as it was in front. Perhaps the most pertinent example: Jamie T’s The Man’s Machine gave me a realization of what a great life I was enjoying in Krakow. I noticed this while running along the Vistula (Wisla) river in the shadow of the Wawel Castle with the sun’s rays making a normally muddy river a dark blue. Additionally, the lyrics echoed my whole experience there-a hectic often confusing time which was far too ephemeral.

You’ll never match up every word or beat as you wish, but some songs capture everything a moment can offer, and the moment ends up staining the song for better or for worse. The point is I still had nothing for Georgia/Martvili until recently (this is one of those times my lyrics at the start match up directly with the post). During my quite introspective run, I noticed that the sky was completely empty and I was reminded how often here I’d seen a ridiculously blue sky void of anything. No clouds, no birds, no jets, no morning moon, no UFOs. In fact, even the sun seemed to just be radiating from some unknown location. Initially, it reminded me of how I heard that days after 9/11 the skies over America were more or less cloudless from a lack of air traffic. I guess this says something about the natural beauty found here. After all, the mountains are canvassed against what you’d want on an easel were you a painter (or something like that I imagine). But, it also says a lot about the lack of connection to the world. In fact, as I ran it hit me the sky almost seemed empty rather than clear…and that got me thinking even more.

Just the normal sky in Martvili.

Before I get accusations of pessimism, let me clarify and expound specifically about Georgian culture. One social more I have not discussed here includes the role of women in Georgian society. From an American view, it seems that women often hold a subservient role in social settings-though not as much in the workplace. Socially though, while they are honored and cherished above most anything, it is certainly not for being the independent type. Those who choose that route risk being ostracized for exhibiting such ‘provocative’ feelings.

Now, this is nothing people from, say, a Middle Eastern country would find shocking. In fact, I imagine (imagine, no personal experience) them to think that Georgian women would be quite liberated. However, European or American civilities would be ruffled were they treated as part of the official culture and not guests. After all, it’s one thing to continually toast to mothers out of respect-to proceed to ask her to clean up the table is where a typical European/American woman might do more than raise an eyebrow. That’s a believable though made-up example; the broader picture often paints the banishment of civil liberties applicable only to women. I’m not saying all Georgian women will follow this line of behavior or code-and I’ve been fortunate to meet a few women who refute these expectations-but again my experience (and even what those who do choose to go against the wave tell me) is that acceptance is practical and common.

Why this matters is not because I might think it’s wrong-that’d be quite a bit ethnocentric and rude from a well-treated guest. Rather I believe it matters on a greater level because one of the most important things I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is the consistent desire and continually repeated stance that Georgia is part of Europe (I may be partially responsible for hearing it repeated as I do often ask, “Hey, so is Georgia European?”…but I digress). Only those of a more than candid nature, or talking in private corners, will offer a ‘No.’ Sometimes people provide an answer along the lines of a mix e.g. Georgia is its own Eurasian thing, lacking a strictly Eastern/Western identity-and personally I believe this to be truer than anything else. But most steadfastly say, “Yes, Georgia is European.” Even my beloved Economist has them in that section.

My problem then stems from a few things. Geographically the European case is a bit tricky as, “Georgia and Azerbaijan both have most of their territory in Asia, although each has small parts of its northern territory in Europe.” Keep in mind now that two regions in northern Georgia are now semi-autonomous (see: Russian) as well, so even less of Georgia would be part of Europe. Historically, while Georgia was invaded by the Romans and the Greeks thousands of years ago…that was thousands of years ago. Much more recently were problems from Mongols, Turks, Persians, etc. Indeed, were anything gained from syncretism, Georgia would surely be less European-influenced but rather Eastern-influenced (Anything from Russia I’m not calling European). Yet, again most Georgians claim European roots and cherish this status not with identifiable traits, but by sheer blind will. In fact, I’ve even had several Georgians quote me Zurab Zhvania, a former Georgian politician, who stated, “I am Georgian, therefore I am European.”*

...I'm thinking of something blue...

Now, I fully understand this insistence from a national security aspect (see: NATO), economic (see: EU), and even perhaps a desire to simply move towards the perceived ‘rich world’ and the development that can come with ties to it. And yes, the council of Europe has recognized Georgia as part of Europe so perhaps one day it has the chance to be a member of the EU. . .

But, as all Georgians wish so much to be classified as European, they risk turning a blind eye on their own uniquely non-European culture. This is not a real, legitimate risk however as Georgians are happily having their cake and eating it to. I say that because losing their cultural traditions would be extremely distressing if it weren’t so blatantly obvious how proudly they still practice these Georgian customs. While this is most clearly seen in their devotion to things like Georgian dance and the orthodox religion, social mores like the above gender roles still exist because many Georgians do not seem willing to part with the past.

The most upsetting and confusing thing to me then is how this country, and its citizens, can be so convinced of a desirable destination when they pay no heed to the road they are coming from and moreover, happily continuing on. I know that a Pole is a Pole and a Scot a Scot. Diverse as they are, what makes them similar is much more than governing bodies and democratic institutions.

*My English co-teacher astutely informed me that he may have been speaking about the fact that perhaps, way way back, the first Europeans from Africa actually passed through Georgia. So, scientifically, I am Georgian, therefore I am European.

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6 Responses to “And I wish that I could state, my faith the way you do, as certainly as you. Clear skies going to fall on you.” – Keane; Personal connection & Georgian misdirection

  1. Nino says:

    Ian, I just want to make a brief comment, that The saying “I am Georgian therefore I am European” does not belong to Shevardnadze. The author was Zurab Zhvania, Georgian politician, who unfortunately, died after rose revolution ( he was co-director of the revolution by the way, along with Saakashvili) in a weired way – by gas poisoning from the heater in the apartment. More about him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zurab_Zhvania

    • wishdafish says:

      I had a feeling google misled me. I remember someone telling me about the person who said it definitely died under strange circumstances. Thanks for the update…it’s been updated above.

  2. Guest says:

    Very interesting 😀
    Georgia is neitrer European nor Asian,it is something like buffer between 2 continets,ask Arab or Turk if Georgians are Asians,he would asuredly say NOOO…However most of Europeans do not consider Georgians Europeans….
    Georgia-it is CAUCASUS,very proud nation with European religion,architecture,landscape and Asian temper…
    Though I’m sure I(and most of Georgians) would be considered (on individual level) white in USA and Europe but it does not really bother me…
    I’m Caucasian….
    Keep on bogging 🙂

  3. Man, really want to know how can you be that smart, lol…great read, thanks.

  4. Razha says:

    Well I guess yourv problem comes from the way of interpreting term European

    and honestly I think it stems from your lack of familiarity of both european and asian countries.

    if you compare Georgian culture to Sewdesh or British – yes – its really different

    but this duifferences are rather linked to “Liberal versus Conservative” and”Advanced state versus the developing one” issues and not the purely cultural

    but What About Spain, Portugal, Italy, entire former Yougoslavia, Romania, Greece????

    If you are not familiar with these countries and Europe means Amsterdam for you – that is another thing

    Just the same way Asia for me means Bagdad, Tehran or New Deli
    If you believe that Georgians have more similarities with Iraquis or Indians than with Greeks or Italians – you have a very strange knowledge of the world cultures

    Most of them were no less conservative about Gender roles and tradiations just few decades ago (and in some places they still are)

    you can not name me a single cultural trate that I can not find a parralel in any of the south or south-east european countries.

    As to oriental influence – there has been a lot of Arab influence in Spain/Portugal
    Lot of Turkish in the Balkans –

    so your judgment stems from a very superficial knowledge of the subject

    You mentioned Dance and Othodox religion – which of these are “Asian”

    and there comes one very sensitive and not always mentioned aspect (its rather politically incorrect but yes – its still a force in european conservatives – it is linked to tradiational relifgious devide – Europe=Christianity, Asia=Muslim/Other)
    well now of course the whole world is mixed but honestly
    if the member of pakistani community living in London is considered European – how can one dount European-nes of Georgia?

    • wishdafish says:

      I’m glad I read your comment and unhappy as I don’t have a lot of time to reply (you may notice I haven’t had a post in a month). In any case, let me try and reply to some of what you said.

      First-I agree that this is not a question of development. While Georgia is progressing rapidly, it is nowhere developed like one of the richer European nations. No offence, but that’d be daft to assume I meant such things.

      Now; while there is actually a town in Iran with very strong Georgian roots & traditions due to a historical oddity, I understand your point that it would be strange to think of Georgians more as Asian (whatever that definition, I personally would separate Middle Eastern from Asian) than European. After all, thinking that way I have the same problem as I stated that: “Only those of a more than candid nature, or talking in private corners, will offer a ‘No.’ Sometimes people provide an answer along the lines of a mix e.g. Georgia is its own Eurasian thing, lacking a strictly Eastern/Western identity-and personally I believe this to be truer than anything else.

      It has long been a goal not to venture into too long of personal diatribes, but the purpose of my post was to emphasize my fear that many Georgians were claiming something without fully accepting what it was. I did not-nor do I know someone in a single blog post-who can claim to accept what a ‘European’ was. You are quite right, just as the Russians have a form of the orthodox religion, so do the Greeks which is where history will often trace the onset of European culture. And as for a cultural trait, assuming I understood you correctly, well you answered that yourself with the question of dance. While Georgian dance is again not Asian, it is most definitely not European. The fact is it is uniquely Georgian.

      I’m not going to even touch the Arab influence nor Pakistani immigrants at the moment as again I’m quite busy; but I appreciate you taking the time to read and really enjoyed your concerns/comment.

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