FROM THE EDITORS
What ’ s European about Georgia - its identity, history, culture? What makes Georgians dream of Europe as their home, their family? Can Georgians make “ good Europeans ” (to highjack Nietzsche)? These are the questions that the essays below address.
These questions might sound untimely though, as Europe itself is going through an identity crises, but our book is about Georgia ’ s European Dream, not of Europe ’ s domestic nightmares.
Identities are imaginative constructs. This book presents how Georgian political, cultural and esthetic imagination shaped Europe in Georgian minds – directly or indirectly: bringing Europe into Georgian context, or developing ideas and values that bear family resemblance with those European.
For the last three centuries, Georgia gravitates towards a European identity. This has had various motives: the awareness of common roots – Greco-Roman-Christian; seeing Europe as an institutional and broader governance model to emulate in Education, Culture, Social and Economic organization; the quest for stability and security in the context of a hostile geo-political neighborhood. You will come across some names of Georgian authors, poets, public intellectuals, who travel from story to story in this book: Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, David Guramishvili, Nikoloz Baratashvili, Ilia Chavchavadze, Galaktion Tabidze, Merab Mamardashvili – the apostles of Georgia ’ s European identity throughout those three centuries.
If you look at how the modern and post-modern Georgian intellectuals read the history of their nation, you will see one obvious narrative template: we were the springboard of Christianity towards Europe from the Middle East; we were the final stop on the Silk Road for centuries, before the goods of Asia reached Europe; we were the first producers of wine in Europe; anchored in Europe, we were the bridge of the western lands to other worlds. Vaclav Havel ’ s call for a “ return to Europe ” had for Georgians a deeper civilizational significance.
Indeed, the making of Georgian culture has a strong affinity to European civilization, but the historical period when Europe matured into its present form – the late middle-ages, with its Renaissance and Enlightenment – largely passed Georgia by (with the notable exception of Shota Rustaveli, whose 12th century poem was written earlier than its Renaissance analogues where created in Europe). This is the period when European social, cultural and esthetic life forged the liberal and democratic mindset which laid the foundation for modern and post-modern Europe as we know it today. “ Europe is maximum diversity on minimum space ” – as Milan Kundare put it concisely.
But starting from the early 19th century, first through Russia and then directly – Georgians restored their contacts with Europe, absorbing major cultural and artistic tendencies. It was not a blind imitation, but adaptation, translation in the broadest sense of the word – European cultural forms were loaded with Georgian realities. The richest episode in the history of Georgian and European rapprochement, during which “ democratic esthetics ” materialized and, moreover, coincided with political democracy, was the age of Georgian Modernism (1910s and late 1920s). It spanned three dramatic historical periods: the collapse of the Russian Empire, the emergence of the Georgian Democratic Republic, and the Sovietization of Georgia. The so-called “ First Republic ” proved to be quite a successful experiment in social-democracy. As for the Georgian Modernism of that period – it was a genuine explosion of artistic freedom, liberty and diversity in visual arts, theatre and literature.
Sovietization ended with another separation from Europe by Stalin ’ s Iron Curtain. Georgia had to wait until Khruschev ’ s Thaw (late 1950s, early 60s)