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Shattering Stereotypes

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This is the story of two gifted and dedicated people whose separate paths led them each to unexpected prominence in Georgia – and eventually to one another.

Eka

Back in August 2008 – a time when Georgians felt a profound sense of danger – some of us were probably surprised to find strength in the young and slender woman who appeared on TV more often than the President to brief and update us on military actions and other critical developments. Television viewers may initially have wondered what this delicate “girl” could possibly have to do with the war, how she could be entrusted with such weighty responsibilities, how she could manage an immense organization. But such obsolete stereotypes are shattered instantly when dealing with Georgia’s First Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zghuladze.

America

She was barely fourteen when she first crossed the Atlantic Ocean. She was then the youngest member of a group of Georgian students who had won a contest under the U.S. Freedom Support Act program launched in the early 1990s.

Her early school years coincided with the political turbulence and social hardships of Georgia in the 1990s. Students attending classes then learned nothing substantive. “I often experience a shortage of basic knowledge in, for example, chemistry, physics or mathematics,” she says with regret when recalling those early school years. The prize of a year-long stipend to study at an American school was a welcome stimulus – or, as she modestly puts it, “great luck” – for her.

The trip to the United States was adventurous. “I still believe that I developed into a personality on my way to the United States,” she contends. Once landed in New York, the Georgian students were sent off to different destinations. She proceeded “alone” to her final destination – Lawton, Oklahoma – via New York-Huston, Huston-Dallas, Dallas-Oklahoma City flights. She arrived at the Oklahoma City airport only to find that her final flight to Lawton had been cancelled. The young teenager lacking a good command of English suddenly found herself surrounded by strangers in a strange land.

It was there and then that she first fell in love with America and Americans: “I especially remember the attention and concern the airport personnel showed toward me.” They found a local farmer who owned a chopper. He came with his wife and children to rescue a “Soviet” child stranded in the middle of America and gallantly transported her in that family aircraft to her host family in Lawton.

The host family was also very warm and generous. The hosts were actually an elderly and very religious couple, and living with them was not always easy. On the one hand, they indulged and spoiled her – perhaps projecting on her a longing for their own children who lived in other cities and seldom visited. On the other hand, they imposed a number of restrictions on her due to their conservative views.

At school in Oklahoma, she was fortunate to find herself in an experimental journalism class. She participated in many journalistic contests and wrote articles on a variety of topics. That experience influenced her choice of a future profession.

University

After returning to Tbilisi, she could not be dissuaded by her parents from taking up journalism. At that time, the faculty of international journalism was newly established and seen as something rather exotic. A group of ten students was formed to study this new specialty. Given the quality of education then, the students soon became disenchanted with their studies. The “exotic” curriculum proved to be overly technical and tedious – with course materials required to be copied by hand and memorized. Any attempt by a student to write an innovative text was met with fierce resistance. Not surprisingly, any motivation to learn evaporated quickly: “Therefore, I took up a job shortly and went to the university only to attend interesting lectures and sit for exams.”

Her first job was as an interpreter for an Italian oil company in Georgia. Jobs were plentiful and diverse then. New positions were opening up at TACIS, the European Union technical assistance program supporting the Commonwealth of Independent States, and at the World Bank and other projects funded by international donor organizations. As Eka herself acknowledges, she never became a specialist in any one field but instead gained broad experience and knowledge, along with many useful skills, by easily adjusting from one to another of these positions. She became adept at processing essential information from myriad data, at identifying priorities, at asking the correct questions that would produce the right answers.

Interior Minister’s Offer

“Believe it or not, but I still do not know how I found myself at the Ministry of Internal Affairs,” she says with her characteristic smile.

After the Rose Revolution, she accepted a prominent position with the Millennium Challenge Georgia Fund. She served as the liaison between the Board of Directors and Supervisory Board and the various stakeholders, interacting regularly with nongovernmental organizations, the Government of Georgia, the business sector and other actors. One of her main responsibilities was to resolve conflicts among stakeholders. Those involved in this process recognized that Eka possessed strong administrative and conflict-management skills. “As it transpired, I was recommended to Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili,” she recalls.

She dismissed the first phone call inviting her to a meeting with Vano Merabishvili as a joke from a friend. Soon thereafter, a stranger knocked at her door and delivered the same invitation. During their meeting, the Minister himself joked a lot. She took it as yet another joke when he told her, “Congratulations, you are my new deputy.” Soon enough, she realized that he meant it: The Minister gave her twenty-four hours to make her decision.
The Interior Minister’s offer appealed to her. The opportunity to play such an important role was not something that came along often. The position envisaged the usual three-month probationary period, and Eka decided to give it a try and to assess during this probationary period exactly what she was able or unable to do.

New Job – Deputy Interior Minister

Her first impression of the Ministry was not at all what she had expected. Her colleagues had much in common with her – in terms of their backgrounds, their work with NGOs and international organizations. More importantly, all of them “were far from bureaucratic reasoning.” She found herself among progressive-thinking people.

As Deputy Interior Minister, she had to deal with difficult administrative responsibilities – personnel, procurements, finances, legal services, international relations, Interpol, the Police Academy, employees’ insurance. She was the Ministry’s parliamentary secretary as well: “I was one of five deputies then. In two year’s time, I became the First Deputy Minister.”

The effective and smooth management of the Ministry came as a pleasant surprise. She had not expected to see people without solid management experience dealing with problems in such modern and innovative ways. Even more pleasing was the treatment of ordinary employees. One or two rank-and-file employees from the relevant department always attended closed-door meetings of senior management. “Participation in such closed meetings is a huge motivation for an ordinary employee,” she asserts, adding that such intrinsic motivation cannot be achieved simply with a salary increase or bonus. “The fact that his/her opinion is taken seriously boosts that employee’s motivation for months.”

She believes that this receptive management approach has led to the success of many projects at the Ministry. One example she cites is illustrative: During the August 2008 war, she necessarily had to spend most of her time at the State Chancellery, working with the National Security Council and issuing public statements from there. She hardly managed to find any time to go to the Ministry. On one rare visit to the Ministry, she arrived to find a long queue of employees with documents waiting for her. As she anticipated, all the documents related to arrangements that needed to be made during that period of war – all, that is, but one. The one exception was a quarterly report to the United Nations. She angrily demanded an explanation from the employee who had submitted the quarterly report: “You think it’s an appropriate time for that?!” The employee replied that he was doing his job and that after the war ended, sooner or later, they would have to prepare that report. Eka immediately recognized that he was right: “At that moment, I realized that the reform had brought fruit and the state was established.”

New Family

She is “lucky” as well in her personal life. At the age of twenty, she married “fantastic person” Gega Palavandishvili, with whom she spent ten years. She recalls that first marriage with affection. To this day, Eka and Gega maintain a close friendship.

As for her second marriage: “Raphael and I are two different people: I am more a realist for a number of reasons whereas Rafael is happy by nature. His love of life and exuberance never ebbs even in critical situations. Raphael’s idealism, enthusiasm, joyfulness, even naïveté, are absolutely conscious – he wants to view the world in this very way.”

In September, Eka and Raphael were both exuberant and joyful in welcoming the arrival of their first child – Alexander Gluksmann.

Raphael

“I am not fond of talking about myself,” Raphael warns us, but his account presents an amazing adventure of seeking freedom and adhering to ideals. His is a deeply experienced and well-realized story of a journalist, a documentarian, a driving force behind various charitable and educational projects, an advisor to the President of Georgia and, now, a son-in-law of Georgia. When Raphael Gluksmann married Eka Zghuladze not long ago, he finally connected his lineage to this country. Now, when talking about Georgia, he makes that connection explicit by using the personal plural pronoun “we,” often surprising his French compatriots.

Family Origin

Raphael’s father, Andre Gluksmann, is a well-known French philosopher and public figure of Jewish origin with Moldovan and Czech roots.
Raphael’s maternal grandfather was one of the first spies of the Soviet Union. Sent on a mission to Palestine in the 1920s, he fell in love with and married an activist affiliated with one of the Zionistic organizations under his observation. The couple moved first to Italy, then to Nazi Germany. Raphael’s grandfather set up a network of Soviet spies in Germany, but his life there came to a tragic end: When he informed Stalin about Germany’s expected intervention, the Soviet dictator – so confident in the strength of his alliance with Germany – tipped off Hitler about the spy network. Raphael’s grandfather was killed. Before his untimely death, however, he sent his pregnant wife to France, where Raphael’s father was born.

Any sense of national or religious belonging has always been strange to Raphael’s family. He was raised in an absolutely open and mixed environment: “I remember Afghan delegations, members of Latin American liberation movement or dissidents from Eastern Europe and Russia,” he recalls. “People of various ethnicities gathered in our house and easily found a common language as they all served one cause – the fight against fascist, pseudo-fascist or communist regime.”

This politically charged, diverse environment cultivated in Raphael the desire to travel and discover various countries. At the age of seventeen, he arrived in Lebanon and stayed there for four months. Thirsting for freedom, he made independent decisions. He called his mother to inform her that he was going to marry a Shiite girl and adopt Islam. Raphael’s parents gave him the freedom he needed, hoping that somewhere, in some country, their son would eventually find his real mission and true belief.

Education and Algeria

Raphael acquired an education in philosophy, literature and history by taking a pre-university preparatory course. He continued his education in Paris at one of the world’s best educational institutions, Sciences Po, majoring in political studies. Sciences Po offered a wide range of exchange programs to international students with the possibility of travel to any number of countries. Raphael initially planned on attending Columbia University in New York as a Sciences Po exchange student, but he changed his mind on a friend’s advice. “Columbia is a school similar to Sciences Po, but in New York,” the friend said. “Is it not better to go to Algeria?” Without much hesitation, Raphael exchanged his New York ticket for a ticket to Algeria.

The situation in Algeria did not seem favorable either for foreigners or for locals. “Algeria, then, was one of the hotbeds of terrorism, with bombs set off every other day,” Raphael recalls. As part of the exchange program, he took a job on a local newspaper. Raphael wrote about anything new and interesting he could discover. One topic of interest was the market for women’s lingerie, which was controlled by an ultra-Islamic group.

Return to France and Rwanda Genocide

Raphael was hurled in an entirely new direction upon his return to Paris. He and his schoolmates decided to shoot a documentary film on a very important and then-pressing issue – the Rwanda genocide. Neither Raphael nor his friends had any film experience, but they undertook a fifteen-day training course in Germany so they could create the documentary themselves from start to finish.

The shooting took two years. Despite funding problems, the documentary was eventually released and awarded a prize at the prestigious FIPA festival of audiovisual programs. “The French policy pursued in relation to Rwanda was one of the most confidential topics in France after the liberation from Nazi Germany. The film recounts the role of the French army, government and especially, president. The French army was involved in military equipping and training of initiators of the genocide, which claimed the lives of one million people within three months alone. Imagine the scale – ten thousand innocent victims every day!”

When the documentary aired on national TV channel France 3, it triggered considerable controversy in media and government. The documentary makers found themselves in the middle of a national scandal: “Only two persons in the government supported us then – Bernard Kouchner and Nicolas Sarkozy. When Sarkozy became the President, he changed the post-imperialist policy of France toward Rwanda.”

First Encounter with Georgia in Ukraine

Raphael’s first direct ties with Georgia were established in Ukraine. As a member of a film crew, he was in Kiev during the 2004 presidential elections to shoot a documentary on the Orange Revolution. The film was later released under the title “Orange 2004.” Raphael recalls that period: “We met Georgian activists there. They seemed more enthusiastic than Ukrainians. In short, I was talking with activists when Misha [President Mikheil Saakashvili] came in to meet them. ‘Here’s our president; talk to him, he speaks French.’ I was told.”

Raphael was impressed by the President of Georgia and they became friends instantly. “I would like to say outright that, although I was a journalist, I never believed in the existence of objective, neutral reality. I was driven by my belief and ideals. Every person has his/her own interest, own approach toward this or that issue. I have never been attracted by or interested in neutrality. Upon my first meeting with Misha, I understood that he was right.”

August War and Meeting with Borisov

During the August 2008 war, Raphael felt the urge to contribute to the process fiercely opposed by Russia. On 12 August of that year, he arrived in occupied Georgia with a film crew to shoot a three-hour-long documentary titled “Empire Strikes Back.” The crew headed for Gori to shoot the first footage of military activity, but was prevented from entering the city at a Russian checkpoint. To obtain permission, the crew managed to meet with Russian General Borisov, who upon seeing them raged: “What a gang of queers! Don’t you want to go back to your country and screw niggers there? This is not Europe; this is Russia and I can arrest you for entering without Russian visas!” The crew retorted: “But this is the centre of Georgia.” It was then that Raphael decided to stay in Georgia.

Raphael discarded the idea of a documentary on the war, but decided to write a book about the President of Georgia. The book helped him to examine and to understand more fully Saakashvili’s worldview and mindset. After release of the book, Raphael became the Georgian President’s advisor.

Georgia, Russia and Politics

Raphael cannot speak about Georgia calmly. He is emotional, gesticulating and seeking accurate formulations. His job requires him to clarify for Western political circles the details of Georgia’s current course, its reforms, its internal and external policies. “I can say boldly that one of the most interesting and exciting processes in Europe today is underway here, in Georgia. Georgia is the place where politics actually modifies the life of people and forms a future direction of the country. Such an interesting process is a rarity even in Eastern Europe. This happens for two reasons: first, Georgia is developing at an unusually high speed – the Rose Revolution managed to transform social life; and, second, the future of Europe depends on whether or not Georgia survives the Russian aggression. Involvement in this process for me is extremely exciting.”

He also finds many aspects annoying: If he could, he would change the German-Russian diplomatic relationship. The Russian factor is a particular source of frustration for him. He thinks that critics often forget the danger faced by Georgia, constantly opposing it and even threatening to engulf the country.

He is ready to discuss any issue with foreigners, but believes that any negotiation must start with an accurate assessment of Georgia’s reality: “There are half a million displaced persons – that is ten percent of the population forced out of their homes. Twenty percent of the country’s territory is occupied, and this is not the end yet. Barely a month will pass without an attempt of terrorist acts on the part of Russia… If Europeans are ready to acknowledge this reality, then any criticism, to put it mildly, is inept.”

Citizenship

Raphael has recently started thinking about acquiring Georgian citizenship. Earlier, he abstained from using his status as the President’s advisor to obtain citizenship. Today, he can adopt it by virtue of his marital status.

“I can say that I am a happy person and think that my parents share my happiness too. Although I am far from my country, both my parents are great supporters of Georgia. For my mother – who does not recognize any ethnic, language or religious belonging – it is impressive that my wife is the Deputy Interior Minister in a country which opposes the interventionist policy of Russia. This fits in well with the ‘internal moral code’ of our family – for my mother the most important thing is firmness.”

Raphael follows the path of his parents. He accepted the challenges and adopted the ideals that his family environment offered. He remains devoted to them and tries to adhere strictly to his principles. One may wonder whether he ever felt discomfort and rebelled against that environment which was so familiar to him. The answer can be found in his reply: “My rebellion would have been if I had said, ‘I want to live a normal and comfortable life, to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and become a real politician.’ Then, I would have sparred with my father, telling him that ‘Russia is a huge country’ or ‘Why should one care about human rights in China?’ This would have been a very boring rebellion. Therefore, I have chosen this path.”

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