Which of the following about Joseph Stalin is true:
1) He was Georgian.
2) He was a poet.
3) He was handsome as a young man.
4) I almost met his grandson today.
5) All of the above.
If you guessed number FIVE...you were right! While on the bus retuning from the American Councils, where we take our lectures, we met a sweet young Georgian girl who attends a music conservatory high school. One of her classmates is--you guessed it--Bubba Stalin who is studying to become an orchestral conductor!
Okay, I may be a bit unclear about his first name but the rest is all true. Can you imagine knowing...let alone admitting to actually being...the son of a dictator who murdered millions? For some reason I have a hard time bending my mind around this one. But than again, this is Georgia, and its history as a nation is being formed as we speak. I do not mean that it is a new nation but one in flux. It has gone from a failed state to a flourishing one in less than two decades. It's most recent civil war was only five years ago. It has undergone only one democratic electoral transition.
Contemporary Georgian politics 101 in a nutshell: the current government is run by a mysterious billionaire with Russian roots named Ivanishvili. He is head of the new Georgian Dream Coalition which, according to my host Thea, only exists to criticize the current--and widely loathed--President Saakashvili. It would seem that Saakashvili's greatest crime was to clean up Georgia's corrupt law enforcement mechanism and put the mafia behind bars. After admittedly horrible videos of the prisoners' human rights abuses in said prisons were leaked Saakashvili, whose star had been falling, lost much of the public support. Thea is emphatic: he may not be perfect but prior to Saakashvilli and his Rose Revolution, the city's infrastructure was crumbling and its services were nil. Constant gas, electricity, and water were only fond but distant memories for Tbilisians.
This bit of Georgia's recent history, the languages of the Caucasus, and much much more were the topics of my lectures today. I also sat down with the director of the American Councils and asked him to guide my research for the final paper in this class. Considering my interests and area focus, he suggested I look into 1) the lack of conflict between Georgian and the largely (?) Muslim Georgian territory of Ajaria; 2) ethnic Georgians stuck in Turkey when that country annexed part of Georgia; 3) Egyptian Coptic Arab Spring/Syrian refugees in Georgia; and 4) geopolitical and economic relations between Georgia and Iran. More on all or some of these later as I begin some initial research. We are meant to have dinner tomorrow with Thea's best friend Eka's professor husband who is likely to be a good source of information.
Finally, a list of other activities/events of this day:
-Much hilarity with Kristin; she is the perfect roommate and travel companion.
-Early morning jogging in the hippodrome with the neighbor old men club and their dogs.
-Navigation to/from American Councils without guidance.
-A mediocre lunch but fine company.
-A wonderful evening with Thea abd Liza driving to Lake Ku on the outskirts of Tbilisi where Tbilisians go to play. Unlike any of the residents of Arab countries I've studied closely, Georgians appear to really appreciate nature. I see people out walking for pleasure often and very little trash. Why is it that some people care for their surroundings and others do not?
-Another 500 lbs of cheese bread for dinner. They are going to have to ROLL me off the plane!
-An hour of herbal tea, picture viewing and music sharing with Kristin, Thea, and Liza. Thea does not speak much English but she is putting in a noble effort.