Georgians

Three Thousand Years of Solitude

Zaza Bibilashvili
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We, Georgians, are a happy nation – "failing to recognize our enemies, condemning our friends; being cowardly outside, but brave at home; possessing nothing, knowing nothing; never worrying and always hungry." This was the observation of Ilia Chavchavadze almost 150 years ago – a man whom we first killed and then, when he was rendered un-dangerous, canonized as a saint. As the past 22 years of independence have shown us, we, Georgians, adore ourselves and do not want to change a bit. Happiness for us is those "traditions" which we defend and cling to so vehemently.

What does a typical Georgian look like? A typical Georgian is jovial, unworried, bohemian, and a little arrogant. A typical Georgian likes to make nice and impressive, but ultimately useless gestures. He/she adores it when being praised, but never praises anyone else. He/she is gifted but lazy; generous with strangers, but ruthless with friends. Potentially, he/she is almighty – if he/she tries, he/she can succeed at everything, but he/she never gives it a try. Georgians number four million – had they numbered 40 million, just imagine what they would have been capable of! The typical Georgian is alone. He/she has neither relatives, nor benefactors to rely on. For many centuries now, solitude has determined the essence and understanding of the typical Georgian.

A Georgian always shuns competition with rivals in measurable spheres. He/she prefers to make claims in those non-measurable or irrational spheres (for example, one can hardly measure or compare our "dignity" or "chivalric spirit" against someone else).

A Georgian is not lucky. He/she always falls just short of victory. Nevertheless, he/she lives in a country blessed by the Holy Mother – in that perfect land which God had kept for Himself before finally giving it to us (were we not busy feasting and toasting God, thereby missing our turn when God was distributing lands to other nations?)....

These, of course, are all stereotypes. But every stereotype stems from something, does it not? No Georgian has ever protested against such stereotypes; he/she accepted it. He/she likes it. If a person is weak, he/she becomes enslaved by this stereotype and is unable to break free of it. But many do not even try to break free from this slavery: it is much easier and more comfortable to adapt yourself to a stereotype than to tread a new path. For people living in such comfort, freedom is a heavy and unfair burden.

Georgia, as described by the notes of foreign travelers, has virtually not changed from century to century. The country still largely fits those stereotypes described above (if a Georgian hears that from a foreigner it would sound pleasing to him/her, but if hearing the same from friend it would cause extreme aggression and hatred). However, we, Georgians, are a truly talented nation. The problem is simply that the arena for self-realization is too small and circumstances have not been conducive for us – furthermore, we have always lived in a geopolitically unfavorable situation. Had it not been for these issues, we could have done much more. To cut the story short, we have always had a perfect alibi for our failures. This, in turn, has left us with no other choice but to live an unworried, pleasure-seeking existence under the wing of a powerful foreign invader.

Disregarding a few bright episodes in our history (which, as a rule, were achieved through the violent submission of "disobedient feudal lords" and a traitorous fifth column clad in religious vestments, as happened in the times of David the Builder and Giorgi the Brilliant), that is how we reached the 21st century.

Then there were those damned "nine years" – the nine years that destroyed all the stereotypes existing about Georgians. During that period it turned out that we could do such things that would have seemed impossible before. More importantly, it turned out that we were capable of objective, universally measurable achievements. Modest examples of which are our gaining eighth(!) place in the world for ease of doing business and the status of one of the least corrupt countries – both of which were attained over that same period. Before that point, we knew that Georgia was a remote "village." We knew that an ambitious Georgian politician could only have an international career within a large empire. However, the large empire that provided such an arena was, as a rule, our occupier. The "nine years" broke down this myth too: Mikheil Saakashvili became the first Georgian politician in history who achieved international recognition in Georgia and through Georgia's success.

But those "bloody nine years" have come to an end, so too has our first year of "breathing freely" since the Georgian Dream came to power. Now, at a point when we have seen everything, it is up to us to choose what we want to look like. Do we want to be praised or to praise others? Will we try to break down the ugly stereotypes which exist in our minds or will we adapt to them and remain enslaved? Will we light a candle and pray to the dead and un-dangerous Ilia Chavchavadze or will we try to understand why he criticized us? Will we take a pragmatic look at the world or remain confined to those melodramatic stories about our history from the books of Georgian authors that traumatized us since childhood, dulling our reasoning and our ability to fight and win? Will we continue living in the melancholy caused by 3,000 years of solitude, with futile hopes and dreams or create an essentially new, healthy and strong present (and not just future)?

In reality, the choice we must make is very simple.

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