(Tbilisi, Georgia) Black-and-white images of poets-turned-warriors shouldering old rifles gathered in Lenin Square on a wet evening in December 1991. The great nation of Georgia was finally shaken. From The Occupier: The Russian Empire Becomes the Soviet Union, which Sends Thousands to the Slaughterhouse
I remember President Ziad Kamsakhortia, a raging nationalist, as the leader of an embryo country in Moscow’s crosshairs. A terrible civil war ensued. The heart of the capital was completely destroyed.
So after 30 years I am back in Tbilisi in the middle of the night. The city lights up! I see a skyscraper. The brilliantly lit historic buildings have received a makeover. Georgia and EU flags waving side by side. Being a part of a big European family is a big Georgian dream. Kamsakurtia has become a hero. I say that Georgia is really free from the invader, and I have a thought about its poets.
However, the next day, in the city, I hear Russian everywhere … all the cafes seem to be occupied by the army. HipsterThe average age of speaking Tolstoy is 25. At Groovy Roasters, the customers, the staff, all speak Russian. Alexey, a 26-year-old barista, a redhead with green eyes, sits on the window frame and takes a break from the sun. The Muscovite, who took part in several anti-Putin protests, left Russia in September. “I was afraid of dying at the front in this senseless war. “His father, who is of Ukrainian descent, left to fight for Putin. It upset him. The family was broken.
They would be at least 100,000 Russians in Georgia. For this small country of 3.5 million people, this is nothing short of an invasion. They occupy hotels and apartments with tens of thousands of Belarusian and Ukrainian refugees.
Their presence gives a boost to the country’s economy. More than $1 billion has flown from Russia to Georgia this year, five times more than last year. Here, gross domestic product (GDP) growth is expected to increase by 5% to 10% in 2022, with the entire world fearing a recession. The national currency, the lari, has never been so strong.
I met a programmer, a chemist, a cryptocurrency expert, an aeronautical engineer, an economist, an entrepreneur, a psychologist, and two 19-year-old technologists. They all explain to me that returning to Russia is at best prison, front, torture or rape.
The voice of kings
Couldn’t this amazing brain drain benefit Georgia? Isn’t the arrival of the Russians big news?
But there! If I hear the language of Tolstoy and see stupid idiots, my Georgian friends always hear the language of Tsars, Soviets and Putin, and see FSB agents everywhere.
“What if it’s a Trojan horse?” What if Putin’s Russia infiltrated them? Did you not know that Tbilisi is a nest of spies? A famous political analyst tells me.
Men from the provinces recently, fleeing mobilization, along with trendy young urban Russians, are not anti-Putin, and they come with a colonial attitude that the Soviet Union still has. In short, the Russian versions of Michael Rousseau, former president of Air Canada, to the authority of 10.
Hence anti-Russian graffiti abounds. At the entrance to cafes, signs warn that pro-Putin will be thrown into the street. To remind us that Georgia is a sovereign country, we refuse to serve customers in Russian.
Later, the Russian army occupied Georgian territories in the north and west. The last attack was in 2008. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by these incursions. While Russian exiles are having fun in techno bars and jacking up rent prices by 75%, these Georgians are squatting in Tbilisi. Disturbing.
“Let them do like the Iranians, let them go back home and take to the streets!” It is not the Ukrainians who are ridding Putin of the planet. Let them take their responsibility! “, continues the political analyst.
Still, Iran is not Russia. Most of Russian society, in total unconsciousness, was behind its president. Tens of thousands of protesters languish in jail. A million men died at the front in Russia in nine months. Can we really blame these young people for fleeing a country unlike themselves?
But who am I to judge? If Ukraine loses the war, Georgia could be the next casualty. In a land of warrior poets, Vladimir Putin’s imperial epic feeds old demons. There are no good Russians. They are all in the same “city boat”, we read on the wall of a bar in the capital, ironically, the most popular among these young exiles.