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Georgia, Between Hope and Fear

By Redjeb Jordania
Thursday, August 21, 2008

I cannot help being anxious about what's happening to Georgia. My daughter is in Tbilisi with my grandson. Her husband, Sandro Kvitashvili, is the minister of health and social services. I don't know how dangerous his job is each day, whether he is on the streets, possibly exposed to gunfire. I don't know how he will cope with all the dead and wounded, how he is helping the refugees. All humanitarian activities are his responsibility, and Russia has blocked many of the routes necessary to transport goods. My daughter communicates with me online and assures me that Tbilisi is relatively calm. She thinks that she is not in danger. But there are frequent disruptions to our connections, and I would worry even if there were not.

Our family's ties to Georgia run deep. My father, NoƩ Jordania, was president of the first democratic republic of Georgia. He was forced into exile in 1921 when the Red Army invaded and incorporated Georgia into the Soviet empire. I was born in Paris and later moved to the United States; our family could not safely return to Georgia until the Soviet Union fell. Nevertheless, the country of my ancestors was never far from my mind.

When I was a child in French schools, my friends were the children of Georgian exiles. In everyday conversations, Georgia was constantly mentioned. My father told me so many stories about his birthplace, Lanshkhuti, that this village became more real to me in many ways than my French surroundings. The most important day of the year, after my own birthday, was May 26, Georgian Independence Day.

As I became older and learned more about our culture and history, the 1921 invasion of Georgia and even the 1805 takeover by the czar became so clear in my mind that they could have been events I had actually witnessed.

My first visit to Georgia was in 1990. The country was gripped by revolutionary fervor. Demonstrations were taking place everywhere; the Georgian Communist Party was in full retreat. The most significant and emotional moment of my life came then at age 69: I was invited to address the newly elected Parliament as a symbol of continuity between the first republic, of 1918-21, and the free republic about to be reborn. Afterward, I wrote in my diary:

I made a conscious effort not to feel, to hold myself tightly, not to give way to emotion. I knew that if I allowed the slightest chink in my armor, I could easily be overcome. . . . Then I spoke, in my faltering Georgian, and was greeted with tremendous ovations. Only later I realized that it was not what I was saying that counted the most, but the reality of my being there in the flesh, addressing deputies who had been freely elected by a free electorate.

The prospect of a free electorate was unthinkable just months before I addressed the Georgian Parliament. Now, the hard-won freedom that was such a heady prospect 18 years ago is in danger of being suppressed again -- by the same Russians who suppressed our nation and people for almost 200 years. This is extremely painful for all who love Georgia. But it helps that the situation is different this time.

In 1805, the West did not even notice the takeover of Georgia. In 1921, the so-called great powers did not care enough to do anything except make verbal protests. But this year, the whole Western world, led by France and the United States, has taken notice. They have intervened to achieve a cease-fire and are sending humanitarian supplies.

I want to believe that my family will be safe, that diplomacy will prevail and that Georgians will remain basically free. But in what conditions? With what restrictions? I am heartened that people everywhere are paying attention. But history is not on our side. I am filled with as much apprehension as hope.

The writer lives in New York.

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