I was startled when the woman in the black dress and tight chignon began to berate the punk-style couple sitting directly to my left on the bus. That same couple had just nicely answered my question regarding the correct stop for the Georgian Parliament building and were now being subject to a scolding. Kristin made a guess at the cause and she turned out to be right: the elderly Georgian woman was chastising the couple for sitting too closely and being too free with their affections.
The babushka is not the only Georgian concerned with change in this country. Many citizens did not like how the western-leaning Saakashvili 's pluralist policies that limit the influence of the Orthodox Church, are tolerant of homosexuals, and diminish the importance of ethnic differences within the Gerogia. So they voted his party out of parliament. Still others, my host Thea and her friends included, are wary of the changes that Ivanishivili's Georgian Dream Coalition have brought and may bring to pass, namely a relaxation in public law enforcement, increased power to the Orthodox Church, and increasing linkages with Russia that hint of a reunification with the eastern giant.
Regrading that last point, I must make a correction. In my last post I referred to a civil war within the last five years here in Georgia. Both my lectures today (at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies) and Thea's friend Eka's husband Rati brought to my attention my misunderstanding. Knowing that the Ossetians and Abkhazians WANT to be independent of Georgia, I identified the 2008 conflict as a civil war. Georgians, however, do not see it that way. They view it solely as a war with Russia. The Ossetians and Abkhazians wanted to secede, Georgia did not agree, and Russia invaded Georgia. While there was fighting between the rebels (Ossetians and Abkhazians) and the Georgian army, the real threat was from the interfering Russians who, Georgians feel, were not stepping in out of sympathy with the rebels but in order to take advantage of the opportunity to re-annex Georgia. Okay, so maybe you all knew that but I had been fuzzy on it. I've been set straight.
Our lecturer at the institute today was a real character. My favorite two quotes: 1) "Show me one country in the world who's foreign policy is value-based. At least America claims values--other countries don't even bother." 2) "US intellectuals are Marxist but they wouldn't be if they'd grown up in the USSR." The second made me laugh because several of my GMU professors have been self-professed Marxists (not to be confused with Marxians :-) ).
Within the same lecture I learned a bit more about Georgia's delicate relationship with Iran--a possible thesis topic for this class. Georgia is compelled to follow the sanctions declared b the US on Iran but must (and does) get around them to maintain positive relations with its powerful neighbor. A follow-up question is: does Georgia have a stance on the Israel-Palestine issue and if so, how does it affect its relationship with Iran?
Finally, a brief summary of the events of my day:
-Morning jog. Hot this morning!
-Breakfast with our lovely hosts. We love them!
-Direct bus to the front of the parliament building, whereupon we met with the group and walked to the NGO.
-Lecture at the NGO.
-Bus to a delicious restaurant where I ate much delicious food. Too much!
-Bus to Gori, Stalin's birth place and home to the Stalin museum. Wow! Now that was a piece of work. Absolutely no mention of Stalin's nefarious deeds, only glory to his name. Amazing! Rati told us that many Georgians simply view his actions as the necessary course to eliminate enemies of the state. I honestly can't imagine that many Georgians view him in this glorified light but the matrons at the Stalin museum certainly do. The whole museum was a cultural experience in itself.
-Trip up to Gori's medieval castle. I always love a castle.
-Ride back to Tbilisi.
-Meet up with Thea, Liza, Eka and Rati. We traveled to Georgia's original capital--Mskheta. Yes, it is as difficult to say as it looks. GORGEOUS town, however, notable for its 11th century cathedral (which we toured) and its darling monetary up atop a neighboring hill (which we did not tour). We were in GREAT company. As an English teacher and former tour guide, Rati was able to explain many things to us in impeccable English. They treated us to a delicious dinner in an outdoor restaurant. Lovely!!
-1:03am--finishing and going to bed!