In the past couple of weeks, the front pages of most English language newspapers (and most likely the Georgian newspapers), have prominently featured news of a publicity shy, heretofore apolitical billionaire named Bidzina Ivanishvili and his plans to launch a new political party in Georgia, in the process creating a true opposition party to that of the current Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili. This created a tremendous amount of buzz and even had us chattering about it to our ex-pat friends. The intrigue intensified yesterday as the challenger, Bidzina Ivanishvili had his Georgian citizenship stripped. It turns out there is a clearly stated Georgian Constitutional Law which disqualifies him because he is a citizen of two other countries which are France and Russia. The intrigue gets deeper because how could he not know about this, smart and wealthy as he is? Some are speculating that this political challenger was working for Russia and the whole episode was set up as a “marvelously low cost way of discrediting Georgia internationally.” The blood between Georgia and Russia runs very cold, for good reason, and while there is so much we don’t understand, it is clear that Georgia is deeply suspicious of anything Russian and is willing to see ulterior motives when anything Russian is involved. During one of his consulting trips to Georgia last year, prior to our move here, Terry took part in a professional presentation from a would be consultant working for a well known US company. Though American by birth, the consultant grew up in Russia, spoke fluent Russian, thus Terry’s Georgian teammates were instantly suspicious and completely dismissed him as a candidate.
Graham, Jake, and their teammates from the New School hosted a cross country tournament last weekend, with two schools visiting from Baku, Azerbaijan, our neighbor to the east. It was New School’s first experience as a host and the weekend went off swimmingly. We hosted four boys at our apartment, two from Poland, one from Trinidad and one from the US. Over the course of the weekend, borders dissolved and cultural understanding deepened as they ate and played together, ran against each other and then celebrated together on Saturday night at a school social. At the race on Saturday, I was speaking with two female participants, young teenage girls, walking around with their arms around each other. They were competitors, one from the New School and one from Baku International School, who had originally met on the basketball court last spring at another tournament. They were guarding each other then, throwing elbows and playing very competitively but now, they were good friends and looked forward to seeing each other during these competitions.
Georgia is an ancient country of rugged mountains and very determined people. It has a long, painful history of repeated invasion and occupation by foreign powers including the Romans, Arabs, Persians, Turks, Mongols and finally Russia, on and off for almost 200 years. In spite of all this, the culture is remarkably intact and distinct. As an American, hailing from a country that historically has been a melting pot with no one culture that defines it, this is one of the more memorable aspects of living here. For instance, the Georgian language belongs to a very small group of languages spoken only in this part of the world; the Kartvelian languages. It is completely different from Russian and has its own alphabet, a fact Terry and I are painfully reminded of as we struggle to learn basic ‘survival Georgian’. Still, we were caught off guard by the national fervor, as we sat in the audience of the Tbilisi Concert Hall on Sunday night waiting for the beloved National folk dance troupe ‘Erisioni’ to begin their show. The overwhelmingly home town crowd was pulsing with anticipation and the show did not disappoint. Elaborate costumes, spectacular and unusual dances, beautiful A-cappella songs and a finale that included all the above plus sword fights left even our boys wowed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9suOqgPIMA&feature=related