It is shameful and absurd not to find a common language07.01.2009 | 10:18
There are no more than 50,000 ethnic Russians left in Georgia. Before perestroika was introduced, there were at least seven times more - up to 350,000. But they began to leave on a mass scale from 1991 onwards, because of the slogan "Georgia for Georgians" that was being implemented in the country.
Then Russians and non-Russians - Armenians, Greeks, Azerbaijanis, Ukrainians and others (nowadays representatives of more than 120 nationalities live in the country), - and even Georgians themselves began to leave because of the numerous economic and political cataclysms which have afflicted their little homeland with distressing regularity.
How are the remaining Russians getting on here now? We have spoken about this with Nikolay Sventitsky, president of the international cultural and educational union "The Russian Club" in Tbilisi and director at the Griboedov Russian Academic Theatre in Tbilisi.
"Since the August war life for everyone - both Russians and Georgians - has got harder. Here there are economic problems, as well as political and psychological ones. Nobody has confidence in what tomorrow may bring. I'm constantly wanting to take somebody to court for this attack on people's mental health - my own and that of my relatives, friends, all the people living in this country.
But I just don't know who the defendant would be. I'd like to call both Russia and Georgia to account. I'm not a politician or a lawyer, and I can't give political assessments of these events. But as a cultural figure, I can say the following: we, two nations of the same faith, two neighbouring countries, can't find a common language between us - and this is just shameful and absurd."
"Have attitudes towards Russians changed?"
"In Georgia even the August events and the wave of hostility towards the Russian government that has followed have not given rise to anti-Russian sentiment. There have been some isolated incidents when one neighbour has exploded at another: "clear off back to Russia where you belong, why are you bombing us..." Such things could also have been heard in the early 1990s, when a wave of nationalism swept across the country.
But I'll repeat that these are just isolated incidents - both now as they were back then. And occasionally in Russia too, Caucasians are called "black..."
But, thank God, there is no discrimination in Georgia along ethnic lines. Yes, there have become fewer Russians, just as people speaking Russian generally. Yes, Russian is now almost a foreign language. Since the August events we haven't been watching Russian TV stations.
As a result, the role and significance of theatre has become all the greater. The Griboedov Theatre works come what may. Over the New Year festivities we put on a performance of "The Tale of Tsar Saltan" for children, which was timed to coincide with the 210th anniversary of the birth of Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin. And there were practically no empty seats in the hall."
"In previous years New Year shows were put on with the support of the Russian Embassy in Georgia. It bought up some of the tickets for children from impoverished families and orphanages. Since the August events, however, diplomatic relations have been broken off. Who helped the theatre to carry on its good traditions?"
"Now we just have to hope for the resumption of diplomatic relations. In Georgia many people want this to happen. They come to our office and ask whether talks are going on to this effect...
As far as the New Year show is concerned, we've had to make do without any help from Russia. The charitable foundation "KARTU" (financed by the famous Georgian businessmen Bidzin Ivanishvili) helped the theatre. Thanks to them 4700 children will see the show for free. Kids from socially impoverished families, boarding schools and orphanages will come and watch the New Year show, where they will be given presents. I want to stress that children from the regions - Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Dmanisi, Gori etc. - will be brought to watch our show."
"Do people in the Russian provinces know Russian?"
"Unfortunately, even in the capital young people no longer know Russian. If you stop a 20-year old person on the street, you'll be convinced that this is the case. And if you try to express outrage, saying how can he not know the language of Pushkin, he will reply: but why would I? And you'd have to admit that on the whole this young man would be right. He has no motivation to learn it.
Young people have no opportunity to travel to Russia or study there. In Georgia there aren't even any free courses for learning Russian, even though the Goethe Institute carries out courses for people wanting to learn German, the British Council helps people to learn English, and the French embassy organizes a similar programme.