During our first week in Georgia Ministry trainers advise us in no uncertain terms that the three dangerous topics: sex, politics, and religion should be avoided at all costs. This is a wise policy but somewhat unlikely and impossible given our post as cultural ambassadors and the local population’s intrigue about our aims and actions here. Georgians often approach us with topics of this nature because they have a lot to say about it and they want to know what we think about it too.
There is a lot of talk and speculation about why it really is we’re here doing what we’re doing. And it is certainly no mistake that Georgia’s massive push to English language proficiency is directly correspondent to its push away from Russian language. But that’s also a little far on the cynical side of post-Soviet politics. Georgian president Saakashvili isn’t simply looking for a way out of Russia’s grasp. It’s not like a bad neighbor you can just move away from (especially in a country like Georgia where people don’t move. Ever.) For better or worse Russia will always be a huge country bordering Georgia. The history has already been written. Misha’s simply doing the most responsible thing he could do looking at the development of his country. He’s not moving toward the US he’s moving toward the entire global community. Lest we forget that this project includes English speakers from all countries which speak English as its mother tongue (not just America) as well as teachers of other languages from other countries including Italy, France, and Germany, to name a few.
That said, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the unthinkable or the inevitable depending on what side of the voting booth you’re sitting at. Putin’s recent election victory. What does it mean for Georgia? Does it mean anything at all?
My stance on the political conversation front has always been the old Russian adage, “people are people and politics are politics.” That usually receives resounding chorus of, “aahhhh, you’re right, you’re right” but after a year or so that stops being sufficient. For both parties. I have been pressed not just by the people close to me but more and more frequently by everyone- even taxi drivers- to talk about politics. Which is why I was so surprised when the Russian elections came and passed without a sound. This is out of the norm. This is occasion for cautious investigation.
Since the election Putin has made it abundantly clear neither his policy nor attitude has changed regarding Georgia, or more aptly the conflict regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgians are still by and large ineligible for Russian visas although Russians can now enter Georgia without a visa; and despite the reopening of the border crossing at Larsi/Dariali it’s touch and go whether or not you can actually cross it. He was furthermore quoted in response to a question about the future improvement of relations with Georgia saying, “when are the elections in Georgia?”
On the Georgian side it seems business as usual. If anyone knows the difference between people and politics its CIS nationals. Any volunteer will tell you for the most part Georgians don’t take issue with Russian nationals. They don’t take issue with those of us who come here speaking Russian or those of us who want to learn Russian once we arrive. Tons of family’s are inter-ethnic and there never seems to be a problem there. Many Georgians look back on the periods they lived in Russia fondly and would even like the chance to go back. “There’s nothing to talk about because nothing has changed. We didn’t expect anything to change. We don’t expect anything to change.”
This truly is a battle of personalities rather than a battle between people.