Georgia 2005

Inhalt

Impressions from Georgia
Hello Mr. President
EU enlargement
Church
Black
Georgia’s future
Georgia vs. Colombia
Stalin museum
Child labor
Georgian language
Metro
A country between wood stove and cyperspace

  

Impressions from Georgia

In the begin of June 2005 Betty and I went together to a conference in Georgia about “Human Rights in the Caucasus”.
First of all I have to say that everything that you read here does not come out of a year long research, but out of my one-week-visit begin of June 2005. And of course it’s my personal opinion and maybe in some points I am totally wrong or you just disagree. Your comment is very much appreciated.
Even not all of my thoughts made it into this article so expect just some bites of information, nothing more. :-)
  

Hello Mr. President

About 3 weeks ago The President of the United States of America, Mr. George W. Bush, visited Georgia. I don’t know if ever in Georgia’s history a president of the US came over for a visit, but I doubt that. So this was a very big honor for Georgia. To ensure Mr. President thinks only the best of Georgia they put huge posters with pictures of him everywhere. A stars and stripes banner “Welcome Mr. President” spanning the highway coming from the airport. Houses along his way are freshly painted and a roundabout has its flowers arranged showing the flag of the USA.
  

EU enlargement

The second thing catching ones eyes is the EU flag. And in this case it’s not because a politician was here. Every official building appears to have two flag posts: One with the flag of Georgia and one with the flag of the EU. What happened here? Unfortunately I had no time to discuss it with Georgians, but I largely talked about it with two guys from neighboring Azerbaijan where the situation is the same. The country gained it’s independence from Russia (USSR) about 12 years ago. Industry is too old for the world market and in free fall. Democracy is beginning but the country is tiny (Georgia: 4 million inhabitants) and has no power. Actually it’s located at the end of the world somewhere far out of Europe, but not yet in Asia. The neighbors are Russia (not the best friend anymore), the other two small countries in the same situation (Azerbaijan and Armenia), Turkey (not really caring about its east end, but itself pulling westwards) and Iran.
To sum it up: The countries are at the end of the world and are isolated from their neighbors. So what can bring hope, where would it be good? Where’s the economy strong and the people are prosperous? Oh, and who just recently did an enlargement? Oh, and who has good relations with us? Oh, and who might be our neighbor soon (when Turkey enters EU)? Yes, exactly!
A country needs a plan. A small boy needs a big brother! The people need a vision! The people need a hope.

After I realized all this I heard myself saying “Oh, shit.” The EU not just is my home and not just has to care about itself, but it has a very big responsibility in the entire world. There are millions or billions of people out there putting their hope into us. Looking up to see what we are doing and accept us as kind of idol, leader and big brother. Seems as Europeans did something very good. We live together in peace and were enemies, we are incredibly rich, have no fears, no revolutions, good health systems … to short-cut this: we live in a kind of paradise. Usually at this place falls in my speech about Germans complaining about their situation which others see as paradise. And that a week in a developing country chatting with the people would be a good experience for every German, but this time I’ll leave this for the reader to think about it.

  

Church

The Georgian church is orthodox, but as far as I know kind of independent from the others having its own head the Catholicos living in Tbilisi.
From outside the churches all look the same in shape and color and are therefore quite boring. In the inside they show their real age so having either quite modern or hundred years old pictures. Some lack funding so the church becomes a half ruin revealing its history. Sometimes I really felt like in Folletts “building a cathedral in the middle ages” book I read shortly before.
I’m not in the details of orthodox believes but I was quite surprised attending a worship and also earlier in the church: They have a lot of pictures of saints and holy relicts in the church which they pray for and which they lit candles for and which they touch and kiss. Usually there are no benches and a worship means the priest is walking from one holy thing to the next and praying there followed by the choir and the crowd. I’m wondering when they really pray for the one and only god, they also have.
In all countries I visited so far the church loses influence especially among the youth. In Georgia this is not the case. A lot of young (almost exclusively girls) go to the church. May it be because church is rising after depression in communist times or because the people are seeking for hope and a leading hand in the chaos of revolutions and economic struggles I don’t know. Anyway churches have a lot of visitors and they really do their things in a very serious and strict way.
A last point to mention with the churches: Women are supposed to cover their hair as when entering a mosque. It’s not too strict, but most Georgians do and in some churches they are the priest requests them to do so.
  

Black

When walking around in the streets of Tbilisi one of the first things catching my attention was that black by far is the most popular color when it comes to cloths. Asking around I got two answers:
a) During last years revolution many people died so many people wear black as of being in mourning.
b) They just love black. And this seems much more convincing to me … just taking into count the number of people in black. Or, well, most likely it’s a combination of both.
So now I’m walking around in Munich searching for some common fashion trend :-)
  

Georgia’s future

Since last years revolution the country is moving forward on a good pace. For example they fired 15.000 police men which stood at the street and arbitrarily stopped cars to give them any fine. Now they have 3.000 policemen in cars driving around in city and searching for people doing something illegal. They’re well paid, proud of their job and scared to loose it so they’re not interested in bribery anymore.
Not only in this sector was corruption cut down. Generally one thinks this is a good thing, but from some Georgian I heard that it also has negative side effects: Earlier most people were involved in this corruption business and therefore most people had some money. Now communism is over, corruption is over so the country parts in two, those with and those without a job. The Stalin museums staff told us that nowadays youth in Georgia is kind of locked up in the country as they don’t have money or other chances to leave it. At many places in nowadays Georgia you can see that communism also had its good sides.
Where is the future? I am not an economist, but I will tell you what I saw and think. The country is at the end of the world. The biggest projects are the oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan to Turkey passing through Georgia. I personally doubt that two metal tubes will really push the economy and apart from that I couldn’t find any important industry, banks or something the like. Nice old houses, green mountains and churches in spectacular environment let the hope for tourism grow, especially as there’s also a quite popular black sea coast. No hotels and the smoldering conflict in Abkhazia let this dream remain in far future. The best chance I see for Georgia using its good connections to Europe and the US and become the trade center for the region of Azerbaijan, Armenia, neighboring Russia, northern Iran and eastern Turkey.
Well and as for every country where the workforce is cheap there’s the chance that they’ll once produce cheap stuff in small industry plants. But maybe Georgians are already a bit to expensive for that or the infrastructure isn’t available … at least I never heard about anything “Made in Georgia”.
Yesterday my Mom read in a German newspaper about a medical research center in Georgia. I don’t really know what the article exactly was about, but it shows that there are some relevant things going on in Georgia :-)
Btw my Mom was really shocked that they used normal drinking water bottles instead of those special glasses used in chemistry.
I’m really curious to see what will happen in the countries in the region!
  

Georgia vs. Colombia

While in Georgia I couldn’t help to compare between Colombia and Georgia, too many things are similar. For example the microbuses with a plate in the window telling the places it goes to and the number of the line: The shield is hand-painted, full of colors and full of text. The driver takes and drops wherever you want. When you want to get off, you go to the driver and say “Here please!”. You pay cash. As long as the bus is not full it keeps going slow to increase the probability that more passengers reach the street before the bus passes.

Another thing is the evolution of bus lines: First all buses go to the center – what tends producing a huge traffic jam there. As a next step some diagonal or circle lines appear connecting the other buses at sub-centers. Then buses start servicing just the next metro station so no longer going to the city center – usually this also brings up integrated tickets for bus+metro. As a final stage a common pricing system is introduced where the passenger no longer pays every time boarding a vehicle, but once for the entire trip.

In general I can say that I learnt which of the things I saw in Colombia are typical Colombian or South American and which are shared between all developing countries.

Belly shops for example I saw in Colombia and also people having a stand for it. In Georgia I saw no belly shops and the stands exist in two versions: Either only a small table with eg 3 types of seeds or a lot bigger having a fridge for cold drinks, an umbrella against the sun and rain, electric light – almost as a German kiosk.
Yes, there are people just selling seeds of sunflowers, some salty ones and a third kind. They warp them in pages they rip out of old books. So this costs around nothing, maybe 10 cents. Can you imagine somebody living from that little money? That’s one of the points when I feel really sad and understand that I should be really thankful that I am German and have a good job in Germany bringing me an incredibly high income compared to the one of the seed sellers. I feel guilty that I didn’t buy more seeds and I feel guilty that I’m sitting here back in Germany writing this little essay here but not riding an initiative against poverty.

Very different is the idea of service. While in Colombia everybody is “a la orden” and eager to sell, in Georgia old USSR (where the shop owner was the king, not the customer) seems still to be present in some peoples minds. Means they don’t really care about the customer, are harsh from time to time, but also leave one in peace while just looking. In Germany my impression is that there are usually just too few shop assistants.

  

Stalin museum

In Gori about an hour and a half from Tbilisi there’s the house where Stalin lived as a child and next to it there’s the Stalin museum. Rich Western European (Malta+Germany+Belgium) took a taxi from Tbilisi to go there in a smooth way and to ensure we don’t get lost unable to say even one sentence in Georgian.
During the ride one tire got damaged and our driver had to stop and changed it in an experienced way having done this uncountable times before. Some of the people got kind of shocked and upset because of this and felt as in stone age – in Germany never in my life we had to change tires while on the ride.
Well, arriving to the museum which appeared to be quite small, closed and unused our driver used the cars horn to see if somebody would open the doors. After a couple of minutes a policeman came and told us that the museum is open and we should enter. A lady appeared speaking Russian and Georgian only and with my dictionary and some words we learnt in the last week we figured out that she’ll call for an English-speaking guide and that we should wait in the lounge. A couple of minutes later she reappeared with two small plastic bags containing 3 booklets about Stalin, some pictures of him and a couple of key rings with his face: This was the souvenir shop! As one could see from the ticket booth and dressing-room, this place used to have more visitors than just us five. Anyway after some 5 minutes an English speaking lady appeared and told us that she’ll be with us in a second but needs to get a coffee first.
The museum was quite interesting reflecting Stalin’s entire life and for sure worth the admission fee of 1 Lari (~40 cents) per person. Our guide was very happy to have us here and gave us some really honest and also criticizing thoughts about Georgia. The museum for example doesn’t have heating in winter so the employees and policemen gather in one room with a stove heating. In Stalin’s birth house the water seems to come in and made small pieces of the ceiling fall down – own was able to see that it really touched her heart to see the things falling apart. Finally she told us that it’s a very bad situation for nowadays youth in Georgia: They earn so little, they don’t have a chance to grow something big, so the vast majority can’t travel outside Georgia. They’re locked up in the country – isolated from the rest of the world. She was desperate in the current situation and almost allowed us to sit on Stalin’s chair. Poor lady really made me hope for a growing Georgia.
  

Child labor

Example one: We’re in a village to visit a church. At the gates to the area there’s a family selling bouquets of flowers. The children run around and hold them under everybody’s nose. They’re really offending and I would be angry with a grown up doing so, but as they’re kids one accepts this and some of my friends bought flowers – from the kids, not from the mother also standing close by.
Example two: It’s 3 am – we’re leaving the discotheque. Outside a bunch of children is awaiting us. They hug us and run around and want to sell a CD. I tell them that I don’t want the CD and put my hands in the pockets to avoid them stealing something. A girl of our group starts playing with the kids and is really happy as usually children avoid her (why ever). They even ran after us a couple of times to give her an additional hug. In the end they gave her the CD as a present – so of course one of the guys in our group volunteered to pay for it. Back in the hotel we heard that a guy in an earlier group of us gave them his sweater already.
  

Georgian language

Except for some international words like “bank” Georgian has nothing in common with any language I know: “მადლობთ” (madlobt) is “Thank you”, “დიახ” (diach) is “yes”, “არა” (ara) is “no”, “დედა” (deda) is “mother”, etc.
In addition to that Georgian has it’s own private alphabet not similar or shared with any other language. It has 33 letters, but none of them sounds like an “f”: Makes it a bit difficult to write my name! Actually I wrote “ფლო” (plo).
I don’t really know where it comes from, but I just loved those curly characters. So I learnt them by heart and was able to at least say what is written somewhere and thereby guess the meaning or decipher some names etc. It was really quite some fun to extract a meaning from the curly lines. Unfortunately my memory for vocabulary is very weak so I don’t have many Georgian left. But I would really love to learn it. Well, I think I’ll put it on my list of the 1000 things I want to do when having sufficient spare time. 😉
Anyway at least in Tbilisi they also have English almost everywhere, so it’s not too complicated to get along.
  

Metro

Enter the station. Buy a token for almost nothing (10 cents?). Enter the gates. Take a seat on the escalading stairs and enjoy the 5 minutes ride down into the earth. It’s a different world there. No English left. Georgian everywhere. Anonymous metropolis is about to eat you. So watch out and count the stations. You can really feel like in a parallel universe and feel that you’re not at home not even close.
  

A country between wood stove and cyberspace

What could I write to sum it all up? Go to Georgia! See it yourself! It’s a place of the world I had less than zero knowledge about. So for me the trip was really spectacular. Allowing me to have discussions with the people from there. See their lives, share their feelings, their hopes and fears about the future. Now I’m touched by Georgia and a part of my heart is with the Georgians and the other people I met in the conference.
My grand-children for sure are eager to hear all my adventures of this trip to Georgia, like when the policemen drove us to the restaurant. The lady came with two candles to light the staircase in the apartment house. The trip through the poor people’s backyards of Tbilisi where eventually the German embassy appeared. That Ewa was forced to give an interview in TV just upon our arrival in the airport.
Sometimes you come back from a trip and think it changed your life. Like coming back from another universe, another reality. Georgia was definitely one of those trips I don’t want to miss in my life. So I’m very sad this report comes to an end now and I some kind of have to stop the thinking process here. Thanks for the audience I enjoyed telling you about Georgia and the Caucasus region.

ლამაზი სიცოცხლე! = lamasi ssizozchle! = Nice life!

Flo