Archives for posts with tag: Saakashvili

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star (image from GoodReads)

Theroux, Paul. Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar. First Mariner Books ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2009. Print.

In this book, the author, Paul Theroux, travels across Eurasia mostly on land, primarily by train. He more or less retraces his journey 30 years earlier, which was recounted in his book “The Great Railway Bazaar”. The most pertinent difference between these two journeys, for my purposes, is that on his second journey, he was not able to get a visa to Iran, and so he rerouted through Georgia. This book stands out as the least glowing travel memoir of Georgia I’ve read, which is not to say it’s negative, though. It’s certainly an interesting tale and a snapshot of Georgia at a very particular time. Theroux crosses the land border from Turkey to Georgia at Sarpi on a dreary, muddy spring day not long after the Rose Revolution. This was before Saakashvili shined things up, and before the tourists came. He visits charity houses, watches the mediocre ballet in the faded Opera House, and sees subsistence farmers all along the rail line across the country. It’s a good reminder that the Rose Revolution was not very long ago, and that Saakashvili’s reforms still took time. The Opera House only recently reopened after years of renovations, and some of the people he met and spoke to are still relevant cultural figures, but the Georgia he describes is very different than the experience visitors will have in Tbilisi or Batumi these days, though the Georgia Theroux descrives is still prevalent in the regions and prone to be forgotten by Tbilisi elites and foreign tourists alike.

One quotation from one of Theroux’s conversations made me think, in particular, about this blog. They say, “You live in a place and you become blind to it” (p. 454). I think that has been happening to me, now that I’ve been in Georgia for more than six years (!?!?!). Things just seem normal now, and I don’t have the observations that I used to. That said, if anyone has any requests for posts…

One interesting part of Theroux’s journey was that he made a point of meeting with writers on his travels, including one of my favorites: Elif Shafak. Her book “The Bastard of Istanbul” remains one of the most enjoyable and thought-provoking contemporary novels I have read.  It’s clear that Theroux holds her in similar esteem (and also that she’s really really pretty). She is great. Reading “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” has greatly expanded my to-read list, as so many of the books whose authors he meets sound great, and I am curious to read about his previous journey when he and the world were very different.


Waiting for the Electricity by Christina Nichol (image from GoodReads)

Nichol, Christina. Waiting for the Electricity: A Novel. New York, NY: Overlook, 2015. Print.

I read this on my flight from Georgia to the US, and in some ways it was the right choice for the circumstances. Slims Achmed Makashvili is a Batumeli in 2002, who believes that life could be better, and asks Hillary Clinton for help and advice. He is chosen for a US Government exchange program and visits America, but gets deported back to Georgia. Then (as those who know Georgian history will know) comes the Rose Revolution, and things change.

I was struck both by Nichol’s deep understanding of Georgia, and some very VERY basic mistakes in Georgian language, geography, and culture. I just couldn’t square this disparity in my mind. That said, though I certainly know a lot about Georgia, I haven’t lived in Batumi (I’ve visited multiple times, and have friends who’ve lived there, though); I don’t know any of the Adjaran dialect of Georgian; and I didn’t visit Georgia before the Rose Revolution. These facts could explain many of the things that don’t feel right to me, though not all of them. I’ve never been particularly good at suspension of disbelief, but I’m not sure if that applies to things like spelling and the location of Borjomi. This is probably something that would not even register to the vast majority of people interested in the book, even those who also read my blog, so  I can’t say it’s a deal-breaker.  I also found Slims’ frequent letters to Hillary hard to read…it’s just too soon. I’m usually a character-driven reader, and I didn’t particularly connect to any of the characters in Waiting for the Electricity, which probably made me less of a fan.

This wasn’t the right book for me right now, but there isn’t anything off-putting about it. Despite my quibbles, it was OK. I’d like to hear what others think, and see if they connected more.

Readers, have you read this? Thoughts?

Tomorrow–Sunday, October 27th–is election day here in Georgia.  This time, Georgia is electing a new President.  The primary candidates are Georgian Dream’s Giorgi Margvelashvili, UNM’s David Bakradze, and perennial political fixture Nino Burjanadze.  Margvelashvili is the favorite in the polls by quite a wide margin, but in order to win outright he will have to receive an absolute majority in tomorrow’s voting.  If that does not happen, a second round will occur between the top-two vote-getters, but Margvelashvili has announced that he will step down if a second round occurs, leaving some uncertainty.  (I would not have advised him to make such a statement, but for some odd reason, no one asked me).  So far, the election has primarily manifested itself with nothing more serious than bad traffic when a politician (or their musical supporter) makes an appearance.  For more detail on the elections and some opinions (I’ve tried to leave mine out of this), see these recent articles (and feel free to post others in the comments):

Bitter Feud Dominates Georgia Election (BBC 10/25/2013)
Saakashvili Era Ends as Georgia Heads for Presidential Poll (Financial Times 10/25/2013)
Loss of Power in Georgia can Bring Trial, or Worse (NYTimes 10/25/2013)
Georgia: Presidential Vote to Usher in New Political Era (EurasiaNet 10/25/2013)
Why threaten to drop out of a presidential election you are likely to win? (Washington Post 10/23/2013)
Georgia’s billionaire PM wants to give up office, but will he relinquish power?  (The Guardian 10/19/2013)
Georgia’s Surprising New Normal (Foreign Policy 10/18/2013)
Margvelashvili’s Free Textbooks ( 10/4/2013)

Happy Reading!

Many political analyses of Georgia conclude that what Georgia really needs in order to become a consolidated democracy is a boring election.  And so I wish you all a boring Sunday.  (I’m planning for a day of cooking and laundry, and hope that’s the all of it).

The Independent has just posted a fantastic article about Georgian pop music and it’s political themes.  The list features some old favorites of mine (like Misha Magaria) and introduced me to some new songs as well.  It inspired me to spend a good part of yesterday afternoon watching Georgian music videos on YouTube.  The ones sponsored in part by the government (such as Chemo Tbilis Kalako, Me Mikvars Radja , and the Ministry of Internal Affairs videos) are particularly catchy and well-produced.  Unfortunately, most of these tracks are not available for legal download in the US–a quick search only found Bera’s album and “We’re not Gonna Put In” for sale–two of my least favorite tracks.  Enjoy via YouTube for now!

Georgia will hold Parliamentary elections on October 1, and things are starting to get exciting.  Because of my job I don’t want to post anything political about the elections, but I have definitely been watching the proceedings with interest.  I wanted to honor the occasion with a post, though, so I’ve taken photos of some of the many interesting political posters throughout Tbilisi to share here.  The photos don’t reflect the frequency with which I’ve seen any of these posters in particular–I’ve just taken photos of the more visually interesting scenes I’ve seen and been able to photograph.  Many of the photos are taken out a marshrutka window, so I haven’t been able to capture everything interesting, either.  I hope you enjoy a glimpse of these Georgian election ads!

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“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” is the inscription on a New York City Post Office, and thought of as the motto as the US Postal Service.  Now, I don’t know if Georgian Post has a motto, but some things will certainly “stay the couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”.  Such as passports.  Apparently, you now have to show your passport in order to SEND mail through the Georgian post.  I can understand the rationale behind providing identification when mailing a package, or even an envelope, but being asked to show my ID when I’m sending a postcard seems a bit silly to me.  Since it’s nothing more than a piece of cardboard, it’s quite obvious that there is nothing nefarious hidden within.  I should also point out that this regulation is new–I’ve been sending postcards and even letters on and off for two years now, and I’ve never been asked for my documents in order to send things, just relatively large sums of money.  They tell me this is a new regulation, and my Georgian friends confirm.

Now, I swear I’ve read an article somewhat recently about Saakashvili suggesting reforms to the postal system, but I can’t find a citation at the moment (if you know anything, please share!).  I am, in principle at least, 100% behind the idea of reforms to the postal system.  From what I’ve seen and heard Georgian Post is pretty much a mess, and addresses are often just a suggestion of where something might be located.  Reforms to the postal and address system would, for me at least and I assume for many others, do a great deal of good on a day-to-day basis.  But being asked to present my passport in order to send a postcard just seems silly–less a reform and more a return to a Soviet-style system.  Furthermore, Georgia is actively working to encourage tourism.  Tourists often like to send postcards.  Tourists will likely be taken aback by having to show their documents to do so.  This new postal regulation seems to work against many of the other reforms and changes that are underway in Georgia now.

So, if you’re expecting a postcard from me, you’ll have to wait a bit longer.  In the meantime, read my blog postcards as a way of keeping yourself entertained.

This evening, former Minister of Interior Vano Merabishvili appointed Prime Minister, replacing Nika Gilauri. article here.

Parliament with “Made in Georgia” decorations for the Independence Day celebrations

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.

Musical performance for Independence Day

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.

Em’s brief encounter with President Saakashvili
(don’t worry, I won’t quit my day job to do PhotoShopping)

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.

Happy Independence Day!

(from Wikimedia Commons)

May 26 commemorates Georgia’s independence in 1918 from the Russian Empire and the short-lived independent Democratic Republic of Georgia (for a little more information, read my Super-Brief History of Georgia, or, you know, Wikipedia.  Or a book.  Books are good…)  The bulk of today’s celebrations occurred in Kutaisi with the opening of the new Parliament, but there was quite a party down on Rustaveli.  I’ll do another post later when I have my camera cord to share some pictures, but the weather was beautiful and I saw Misha!  (Misha would be more formally known as President Saakashvili)

Here‘s my follow-up post.


I have mentioned before that one of the things I love about Georgia is the country’s general willingness to try new things and follow through on crazy ideas , but, but, but the recent New York Times article on the new city of Lazika raises some of the major problems that this can also cause.  There is such a thing as a project that is just too rushed.  I’m not opposed to the development of new cities on the Black Sea Coast–they’re potentially a great way to increase tourism in Georgia and bring some revenue into the country–but in building a city there’s a bit of background research that needs to be done first, and the criticisms of the Lazika project are totally reasonable.  How will the city stand in a swamp?  Who’s going to live there?  What will be the environmental impact?  I love the can-do attitude in Georgia, but I think it’s important to keep some realism about what you reasonably can do, and adjust plans accordingly.

View from a still incomplete fancy hotel at Anaklia in Summer 2010.

I’m particularly interested in the Lazika issue because I got to visit the (now) resort

Incomplete hotel in Anaklia, summer 2010. Note also the livestock on the beach.

town of Anaklia as part of some research on the Georgian tourism industry in Summer 2010.  Now, I hear, Anaklia is a lovely resort.  At the time, there was one mostly-completed hotel, one half-built hotel, and cows on the beach.  At the time, I was really impressed with Anaklia’s potential; it really seemed like an ideal resort: beautiful and relaxing.  I suspect, though, that part of what I loved about Anaklia was the solitude.  Now that it’s developed, I imagine the feel of the town (well, last time I was there it was truly a village) is quite different.

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