Thursday, June 27, 2013

27 June 2013: The Georgian Mafia

We had the extreme pleasure of meeting more of Thea's friends this evening.  Zaza the aging bohemian intellectual, Thea's best friend Eka, Nino the fluent English translator and her boyfriend Georgi.  And of course Thea and the best behaved child in Georgia--Liza.  Have I mentioned that I love Liza?  I just want to squeeze on her but am waiting for her permission.  So far she only whispers to her mother in our presence (as if we could understand her Georgian anyway) and blushingly hides her face when we speak to her...but she is too adorable and well-mannered for us to give up.  We shall win her over yet.

I digress.  Our little salon this evening was in Zaza's flat in Tbilisi.  His wife is an artist and he is an intellectual so their place is covered with paintings, pottery, and books.  It looks more like a funky art studio than a dwelling.  Zaza's wife was out of town but Zaza himself treated us to hospitality and ice cream.  Nino is an English translator with a passion for music.  Her name, by the way, is one of the most common Georgian names for girls.  She brought her boyfriend Georgi.  I believe Georgi lives and works in Russia but comes to visit her periodically.  Georgi does not speak English but dearly wanted to participate in our conversation, fairly bursting with the desire to answer our questions about Georgian politics and foreign affairs.  Nino obliged by translating and between the six adults we had a lively conversation (I am counting Thea out because I believe she is not interested in politics.  And really, like her, I prefer art and books to politics but how can I resist talking to a bunch of passionately gesticulating Georgians about a topic they live for?!).

Of all we discussed (and it was a great deal, I assure you!) I will summarizing a few puzzling statements they made about Georgia-Iran relations--a topic I am exploring for my paper in this class.  I initially asked if they felt the power shift from West-leaning Sakaashivili to Russia-leaning Ivanishivili would affect Georgia's relationship with Iran in any way.  Their response: no one in Georgia can speculate on Ivanishvili's policies because he has been completely silent on the topic.  They wonder: is he incompetent or is this a brilliant strategy?  The Georgian tycoon (who, they told me, made all his money illicitly in Russia) is a complete unknown, an X-factor.  

This lead, however, to another question: does Georgia's relationship with Iran, for better or worse, have significance outside of the region?  Nino, Georgi, and Eka discussed this rather intensively for a few minutes but their their answer to me, in English, was anticlimactic and, quite frankly, disappointing: no.  No, they said, the only significant aspect of Georgia's relationship with Iran is if the former allows the citizens of the latter to enter its borders and enjoy illicit Georgian pleasures, i.e. wine, women, and song.  The diplomatic, political, and commercial aspects of the relationship are neither of concern nor in any jeopardy despite Georgia's relationship with the Great Satan America and nominal support of the even worse state of Israel.  

I  am not satisfied with their answer.  Does Georgia really feel that secure next to a volatile nuclear power that despises its western patron?  I will research further and get back to you all.

Our sole lecture today was on Georgia's mafia and anti-mafia.  Fascinating lecture.  The term for mafioso in Georgian is best translated as thief-in-law, referring not to your spouse's wayward brother in Sing Sing but to the code of honor that these men enter into.  Thieves-in-law formed and were organized in their particular effective way thanks to the repressive soviet political environment.  Of undeniable importance in this process was the "gulag"--the Russian prison labor camps from which men were periodically transported to and from, leading to the development of networks and hierarchies amongst criminals.  Possibly my favorite bit about this lecture was learning about the Georgian mafia brand; these men enjoy a near-cult status in Georgia (especially, sadly, among children) and to protect that image as well as cut down on production costs, they simply keep their "brand" image as honorable but absolutely serious/dangerous as untainted as possible.  In so doing, they enjoy popular support and get results while minimizing violence.  Georgians  simply believe/believe IN them.  I wonder what this says about Georgians?  Is it a coincidence that nearly 1/3rd of the Russian mafia is staffed by Georgians?

Finally, the events of my day:
-Early morning jog after six hours of sleep. Ugh.
-Washed my hair for the first time in five days--this will not surprise anyone who knows me well.
-Arrived to the lecture on time--almost a first!
-Lecture on the Georgian mafia.  
-A mediocre lunch but good company.
-Afternoon trip to the Georgian National Museum.  My favorite exhibit was the Russian occupation exhibit where they--amazingly--mentioned Stalin's crimes against the people of Georgia.  Someone should send a memo to the folks in Gori (his hometown).
-Returned home, hung up our laundry, looked at photos with Thea and Liza.
-Light, delicious dinner.  I love Georgian food but I am thrilled Thea does not cook.  I couldn't handle a feast every night.  Lavash, salad, boiled egg: perfect.
-Our "salon" at Zaza's.  Fun!  But totally tired--and that was hours ago by now!  Time to get to sleep.


Tanners said...

I find all this stuff interesting. Keep it coming!

moneek said...

Salon sounds so fun! As always, your words paint a picture. Thanks for keeping your fans updated!