Galina Petriashvili, Tbilisi
At some point, a phenomenon called ‘the New Russians’ came and went in Georgia. Neither the crimson jackets, nor the ‘tough’ guys throwing up gang signs were observed in the South Caucasus. The Russian community here was traditionally represented by techies and ‘nerds,’ employed at several enterprises, as well as in scientific and cultural institutions (before the collapse of the USSR).
It was a modest community that always knew its place – it kept a low profile and never overtly exposed itself before the titular nation. But who then was overtly exposing themselves at that time and where? Only in the KPSS (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), and only done by the working class.
In the 1990s, the community suddenly got older and dwindled in number. It was hard for it to recover from the moral (and for some people literal) slaps it received as part of the patriotic civil unrest at the end of the 80’s until the beginning of the 90s. Everyone who had at least some place or someone to go to, left the country. The Russian-speaking youth dashed off to study. Those who were fluent in foreign languages left for Europe and the USA.
Having kicked up their heels at the closed factory entrance gates, middle-aged people headed to live with their relatives in neighbouring countries. Even the Doukhobors, who had been indifferent for ages, abandoned the country, beguiled by the messengers from the north. Finally, they wrote how they had been left there in the midst of a drunken, rampant Russia.
And those who stayed in Georgia were far from being ‘new Russians’, but rather the most unpromising ones (including the author of these lines). Like the majority of the population, they also lived in poverty, using kerosene stoves and getting along on beans and dry bread crumbs.
Meanwhile, the exodus continued – the Slavic part of the population was literally evaporating, shrinking in number. For a certain period of time we were hardly noticeable. Whereas now there is a ‘Russian boom’ in Georgia! By the word ‘Russians’ I mean a broader group, even wider than the Slavs, including all Russian-speakers who have travelled from post-soviet countries.
What has brought them here?
A political chill in the North is not the most important reason. From time immemorial, the South Caucasus has been accomplishing two paradoxical aims – punishment and gaining freedom. People were not just forcefully exiled here, but many fled of their own volition, seeking freedom and healthy relationships. The North was regarded as the pinnacle of civilization, political pressure and ‘societal hypocrisy’, whereas beyond the Caucasus range, there were mentally healthy ‘children of the mountains,’ who possessed a more tolerant and a innocent outlook.
The political reasons for fleeing Georgia are still paramount. Persecuted people still flee to Georgia, and not only from Russia, but from neighbors closer to the border as well. Politicians, journalists and human rights activists from Azerbaijan and Armenia find refuge in Tbilisi. Some of them settle here for a long time, while others just transit through the country.
This trend is still ongoing with regards to Russia. Unilateral visa travel rules, attractive opportunities for business, a ‘wider window’ to Europe – all of these things increase the intensity with which people come from from the North to the South.
The Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine has had its impact. People who are unwilling to be part of it, those who have lost their homes and whose relationships with relatives on the other side of the conflict have been ruined by propaganda travel to our country.
They also have some economic reasons. Though life in Tbilisi is expensive, it is easier to make ends meet here, as opposed to Moscow or St. Petersburg, where the cold climate is also a factor. So, if you rent out your apartment there and lease one here…well, you catch my drift.
A few tales:
A hotel manager from Novosibirsk. She doesn’t have political motives. Instead, her motive for coming here was just a personal one. However, these feelings disappeared and her relationships crumbled, but she decided to stay in Tbilisi. She has found new ‘motives’, made friends, got a job, bought a flat. She is socially active, successful and happy.
A Reiki teacher from Donetsk. He left there before the war. There is no place to return to now. He has opened a school. He is working and is thinking about applying for naturalization. This story can be included in a series with similar ones under the common heading ‘skills exchange.’ There are teachers of yoga, transcendental meditation, Chi Kung, respiratory gymnastics and other skills, philosophy and arts. They bring their skills to us. There are also many people who come for our arts, technology and skills. They are wine makers, alpinists, ethnographers and filigree enamel fans and polyphony lovers. They travel here to learn, to adopt our experience and advance their skills.
I’ve omitted other migration groups: Australian farmers, Chinese owners of small businesses and the African youth, because what’s important here are ‘the Russians,’ that’s to say, Russian-speakers. There is something very interesting ‘boiling in our pot’ now! It’s hard to tell what it is exactly, but it’s quite obvious that social life has become more diverse and lively; a spectrum of civil participation has been more vivid – a bigger ‘underground’, more rallies and more flashmobs.
That’s how it is for us. It’s probably not the same for everybody, but the author of these lines likes it. Why so? There are several reasons, including obvious economic and demographic ones. These guests bring some fresh business ideas; these new citizens enrich the genetic make-up which is rather important for such an innumerous nation. There are also more serious reasons. The visitors come to us with interest and undying sympathy. This is a very strong impulse and maybe that’s the exact determining factor of development. One who comes here with love receives that very love, multiplies and spreads it, feeling free and enjoying the kind treatment of others.
Georgians have always been ‘selflessly glad’ to host guests, and now it better understands these guests diverse benefits. The inbound tourism has a positive economic impact on the country, and the migration rules are getting more liberalized. This is the most important positive trend happening now.
The broader and diverse the public spectrum, the farther it is from dictatorship. At least, that’s what one would like to believe.