I posted briefly on Independence Day itself (May 26) to acknowledge the holiday. As promised, here’s the follow-up post about the celebrations. As I mentioned before, the big military celebrations were in Kutaisi. This doesn’t mean, though, that Tbilisi was a ghost town on Saturday. Rustaveli Avenue was closed to vehicular traffic, and the street was devoted to an industrial fair of “Made in Georgia” products. There were the things you’d expect—wine, cheese, mineral water, and crafts like felt and jewelry, as well as some more surprising products. The Lazika personnel carrier was showcased, as were other military technologies. There was a Tbilisi Metro train parked in front of Parliament, and we stopped at the tent of an EcoCement manufacturer.
The real highlight of the exhibition was a performance space just in front of Liberty Square. Though I think the performers were primarily amateurs (there were lots of cute small children), it was the highest quality of Georgian song and dance that I’ve seen (the Sukhishvilebi had an Independence Day performance at Marjanishvili Square, but I didn’t make it there).
There was also a wider diversity of performances than I’ve seen at many other venues, making it an enjoyable event. The real excitement was seeing President Saakashvili. I was briefly swept up into his entourage in front of Parliament as he walked down Rustaveli Avenue.
The only downsides to this event were the crowds and the prices. These are two areas where I’m spoiled living in Georgia. In general, Georgia isn’t too crowded and has low prices and free events. This was the biggest crowd I’ve seen in Georgia. While I’ve been in more packed places in the US (such as my town’s Saturday Farmer’s Market and grad school orientation), one of the things I love about Georgia is that it isn’t packed with people everywhere (I get a bit claustrophobic in crowds). I know it’s a good sign for Georgia’s development that major events can draw large crowds, but I’ll be sad when I have to share all the beautiful sights of Georgia with large crowds of tourists. My friends and I took a much-needed break from the press of humanity half-way through the afternoon, and had a lovely coffee. The other downside to the event, in my opinion, was that things were for sale. If you weren’t interested in spending lots of money (which I was not), there wasn’t much to do other than wander around and force your way through the crowds to look at things. This is clearly the downside to developing capitalism. I contrast this event to the New Wine Festival I attended a few weeks ago where admission was free, tastes of wine were free, and light snacks were free— even though they were charging for bottles of water, the prices weren’t inflated like they would have been in the US. Despite a few gripes, it was a lovely event, and I had a lovely day.