Yesterday -- May 26 -- was the Georgian Independence Day. Interestingly, May 26 is the day that Georgia first (and briefly, temporarily) won its independence from Russia in the 20s, not the day that the country won its independence most recently, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. And that was only a very short twenty six years ago.
There is something very different, and very humbling, about witnessing a culture where most people alive can remember their Independence Day. This isn't like the 4th of July in America, where our independence happened 200+ years ago and we've pretty much dominated wherever we wanted to ever since.
The schools were closed on Thursday, of course, and I slept late, took a hot shower (woot!), and made it downstairs a little after noon. My family had a big spread going on, and extended family over. We toasted and ate and toasted, and slowly it began to dawn on me a little what this holiday meant to the people who were sharing their table with me. There were no fireworks. No barbecue or beer. But we lifted our glasses filled with homemade wine and said gaumarjos! to Georgia, to Sakartvelo. Gaumarjos literally means "Victory!" We say "Cheers!" or "here's to you." Georgians say "Victory." What they have won, and the cost of that victory, is always in their minds. And we toasted our families -- my mother and father, my sister and brother-in-law, my grandpa and grandmas, my aunts, uncles, cousins. We toasted my Georgian host family, and Obama, Saakashvili, and the collective future of Georgia and America.
In the evening I went with my host sisters and host cousin into the City Center to watch Poti's Independence Day outdoor concert. It was a lot of fun, and my favorite part was an interpretive piece by a theatre group. They dramatized Georgia's struggle against Russia, and it was a surprisingly moving performance.
|Georgian singers in traditional dress. I love Georgian polyphonic singing.|
|The beginning of the interpretive piece.|
|Georgia trying to get out from under Russia and being pushed back down...|
|But aw crap, Russia's back.|
|And finally, Victory! Gaumarjos.|
The most recent invasion happened not quite three years ago, during the South Ossetian conflict. As in every war, there is truth and there are lies on both sides. But I think it goes without saying who is the underdog here. And I think about Russia's invasion of Georgia, and how it compares with my own country's all-too-frequent military presence in other countries. Was Russia acting to protect the South Ossetian people? Possibly. But just as in all political actions -- including the U.S., there is always more than we see on the surface.
Hollywood has decided to make a movie about the 2008 war, called Five Days of August. It will premiere on June 5 in Georgia, and hopefully will come soon to the States.
This is not my country. I miss Whole Foods, "History Will Be Made" commercials, mimosas, screens on windows, my Corolla, my family and friends, and direct answers to questions. But I feel privileged to be here nonetheless. This is a country reinventing itself while holding fast and true to traditions that have survived thousands of years and countless invasions. Here's to you, Sakartvelo. Victory.