Friday, 22 March 2013

BE-ing Georgian

“To be, or not to be, that is question” –Hamlet

My mind spins around this phrase all the time. What is it to be anything? How does one define oneself? Does one let others do the defining? Is it done through words? Mood? Culture? Song? Food? Buildings? Politics? Gender?

For me be-ing is very present-participle, very here and now, very elemental. Sometimes I am all water, then there is a fire in me that propels me forward, or there might be  the solidity of the earth which holds me or the aspiration of the air. I am mood and spirit and centre force. I am my own yardstick full of character traits and rights and wrongs and I am love. Am I a citizen of the world or tied to a collective conscious that has grown from living in one place for so long? Is my –ing based on a past culture or do I live entirely with my character and personality here in the present carving out each day as new water passages through soft rock?

What is it TO BE?

To be English, to be Italian, to be German, to be French or to BE GEORGIAN?

I saw this poster on Facebook, posted by Georgian friend and there it was again,THAT THOUGHT.

‘Yes, but what does it MEAN??’

I looked to the Georgian media and was shocked at what Damien M Guinness had written in his article, ‘Has Feminism arrived in Georgia’ (1) which showed quite clearly that is has not as the TV show designed and manipulated to show the very worst of male macho-ism, ‘Women’s Logic,’ shows. 

Images of scantily dressed women answering patronising, degrading and manipulative questions is described by Georgian feminist protest leader Ninia Kakabadazae when she says,

'The programme makes women look stupid and reinforces dangerous stereotypes, in a country where women are often viewed as intellectually inferior'

My own experience of working with the Georgian media was markedly different but just as defining. Interviewed by The Patriarch’s own TV channel I was ‘told’ to change my top no less than three times for fear that the tiniest bit of flesh below the collar-bone might show. Images of women bounce across social net-working sites across the world but those coming out of Georgia which play on the stereotypical Virgin verses Whore look – are disturbing.

Take this one I saw today on Facebook

Translation: You don’t know what to expect. And, yes that is a dagger you see before  you.

I asked my sister, who knows of my involvement with Georgia, and who works as an education officer at a prison here in the UK, what the ‘under-belly’ of society thought about the idea of what it was to be Georgian and what she came back with shocked me. All prisoners no matter where from held the same view. Georgians were thugs, the worse kind of criminals, emotional-less, calculating, ruthless, cold and dangerous.

Whilst I have had mixed experiences with Georgian personalities I did not want to ‘boil them all in one pot’ as one particular Georgian saying goes so  I asked Georgians themselves what it meant to BE GEORGIAN.

It would appear that Be-ing Georgian is tough. The question threw many of my Georgian friends into a frenzy of past/present double-think and some, recognising the complexity of the question choose not to answer, telling me it was something they had never thought of before and that it was too complicated. (Did that make them lazy or were they not comfortable sharing?)

There was a lot of talk about soul and character and individuality.
‘But how does that make you Georgian?’ I asked. ‘It’s about being emotional, being connected to the ground, being natural’ another answered. Well, I’m all those things, I thought and I’m not Georgian.

The word patriotic and nationalistic came up a lot. This and a claim that as a country that has constantly been oppressed, invaded and persecuted part of be-ing Georgian seems to be  a desire to stand up and fight for freedom and democracy.

Patriotic democracy? Nationalistic freedom? Mmmm another oxymoron.

OK but what characteristics would you use to define a Georgian personality? I kept asking. What is it to BE Georgian?

‘Music defines us, the mood of music’ came one reply. ‘What kind?’ I asked and a link to the Basiani ensemble (members of the Patriarch of Georgia’s choir) was posted on my wall.  Uh oh, another double-think moment. I represented one particular choir here in the UK for 3 years and I understand, probably because I sing Georgian song,  that the mood of different types of folk music helps to define characteristics of different regions. For example the songs from the grape growing region of Kakheti  mirror the movement involved in working the land for grapes whilst those songs from Svaneti are harsher, stronger, more dominant with a crashing stone bass sounds which  reflect the landscape and the hard physical labour which must go into surviving in remote mountainous regions.

Sacred church song however is sung to strict rules and allows for no variation. It is supposed to be sung by those with a pure voice that comes from a pure soul. Unfortunately as I know to my own personal cost, that this is not always the case.(2)

‘Not as holy as would be expected’ describes the apparent hypocrisy which frustrates not just me but the feminist movement in Georgia who speak angrily about the ‘Do as I say, not do as I do’ attitude of the church especially towards women.

So, in order to challenge certain perceptions that just keep re-appearing I kept pushing the question – what is it to BE Georgian, what characteristics does a Georgian have?

Then, finally, this answer came in this response.
We are,

‘Unique in everything, love, hate, wisdom, silliness, we can be mean, generous, decent and rude, open-hearted and tricky at the same time. Can you find any other nation in the whole world who is so versatile? We LOVE fame and fortune more than anything! We can criticize a man to death and ban him, but worship him when he’s dead and bring a sea of flowers and heart-melting toasting at his funeral. We really are a nation who are from ancient roots and we can boast this over the world, making other nations feel desperate and low’

This perceptive Georgian woman is a neurologist (3) who has thought a lot about this question as the unexplained nature of her people intrigues her as well. She then went onto write about how the character of a Georgian can only be based on the ideas of the past, which are:

'A past of stories of decency and knight-ship, mysterious and powerful women and tales of ruthless vendetta.'

As several other Georgians have also told me, the good intellectual, moral and spiritual core has gone from the present day Georgian - eliminated over the years by Russian persecution. What is left behind are beautiful but empty toasts to a past which seems to be being re-written somehow, much like our own King Henry VIII re-wrote his present in order to woo Anne Boleyn when he re-enacted and romanticised The Knights of the Round Table fables.  

Like Good King Hal’s portrayal, that present was based on an illusion of the past.

Is Georgia now doing the same? Is Georgia trying to re- define and re-sculpt an image of a Georgia that it wishes to portray to the world but one which is beyond its own abilities? Is this  what makes the Georgian so difficult to define?

The reality it seems, and I guess this is why it took so much digging to find some kind of  answer, is that the modern Georgian is an echo of the past – only the negative traits remain.

Before being -ing there was bravery, genuine hospitality, tolerance, wisdom, creativity and ‘being nice’ by nature, now there remains visible only negative traits, laziness, excessive drinking, supra's where offense is easily taken, empty toasts to fairy tales from the past made into glories fables  and the assumption that Georgia is God’s chosen land and that no-where else could ever match it for its beauty, nobility, richness of culture, heritage, history and past. 

No humility in there then.

All of this manifests itself in an arrogance based on assumption.

Is that what it is to truly BE Georgian?

I truly hope not.


(2) The Holy Choir of The Patriarch of Georgia is of a combination of several choirs most notably Basiani and Shavnabada – of Basiani I have no personal experience.
(3) Mariam Velijanashvili

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