Wednesday, November 22, 2006

We - georgians

Polemical notes concerning certain

Social/psychological aspects of Georgian culture

Author: George Nizharadze

A society which cannot combine a fidelity to its own symbols with a freedom of revision of those symbols is bound to perish, whether of anarchy, or a slow atrophy of living, suffocated by useless phantoms.

Alfred N. Whitehead

The Area of Responsibility

Ethics has a well-known "golden rule": treat others the way you want to be treated. This had been formulated in one way or another by many; you can find it in the New Testament, in various proverbs, in the works of ancient Greeks, as well as those of Confucius. A follower of this rule must be considered a person of high integrity; however, from the psychological standpoint, there is an interesting detail: who should be considered "the others"? It would not have occurred to any ancient Greek, even one of the highest integrity, that moral norms also concerned slaves or barbarians. A noble knight, having given a promise to a lady, had no reservations about enticing a young peasant girl. Slaves, barbarians, peasants and other comparable segments of society have never been viewed as people, even formally.

From the earliest period of history, there has always been this division into "them" and "us." "We" are the social group (tribe, kin, nation, class, religion, party, age, professional association, racial unity) which a man identifies with, having a degree of responsibility before other members of the group. Meanwhile, "they" are the groups which are not concerned with the same behavioral norms that "we" use.

Certainly, a given person has the feeling of being a member of several "we" groups, some more important than others. These days, the most common and at the same time most numerous groups of identification are nation, state and language groups, although there is a tendency towards further expansion of the areas of identification (to include Western Europe, the Islamic world, the ecumenical movement and others). If we can speak about any moral progress on the part of the humanity, the broadening, albeit formally, of the "golden rule" may be considered one of its manifestations.

The existence of a global Georgian mentality is a fact. Such realities, traditions and cultural symbols as The Knight In the Panther's Skin, the particular style of raising a child, Queen Tamar and many others comprise the all-Georgia common property. The Motherland, Georgia, the Georgians - all these are the existing identifiers. These values have been actively affirmed in family life, as well as by means of information resources, the education system and works of art. However, observations show that these high values often have a declarative and rather abstract character. In reality, on the behavioral level, one Georgian does not necessarily treat another as an equal fellow member of the "we" group. There is a certain difference between what is said and what is done. In our unpublished survey, the question of "Do you or do you not love your Motherland?" was answered positively by practically 100% of the respondents. However, the question of "What kind of traits do you want to cultivate in your children?" the notion of "patriotism" appeared somewhere near the bottom...

There is the impression that to a large number of Georgians the notion of "Georgia" is at best a symbol of nature, cultural monuments and the customary lifestyle, but not of other Georgians. This is how it goes: my own interests (and those of my close relatives), as well as some monetary impulses, are above the interests of all others. I am in a good mood, so I took out my gun and here I am shooting at the ceiling, who should care?! I am against stealing in general, but if a man I know well has stolen something, I will spare no effort to protect him from being punished. One should defend the Motherland, but I will do my best to keep my son from the draft.

Sergi Danelia wrote, "A Georgian today ends wherever his last name ends, that is, a group of people connected to him through blood or friendly relations. Whoever is not our relative is not considered a human being. He is a stranger, and we don't have to love strangers". These lines were written in 1927, but as recent events prove, the situation has not changed essentially. Moreover, a tendency (especially among young people) has appeared to further narrow the "we" groups, turning them into the "me" groups, i.e. the groups which have individuals considering other members of the group as executors of their personal interests, while performing their duties regarding others only because that is required for the maintenance of their privileged status.

The difference between the two identification types, those of "us" and "me" regarding families has been demonstrated by a study done at American colleges. It turned out that students of Italian descent had lower grades than those of Jewish descent, although there was no intellectual difference. An additional study found out that Jewish students considered high grades a necessary prerequisite for their families' affection, while Italian students were certain their families would love them no matter what their academic or professional successes. What a familiar picture that is. Thus, in my opinion, the majority of the current (and not just the current) Georgian population has a rather narrow "area of responsibility." It covers primarily the circle of one's family, relatives and friends. The Motherland, meanwhile, is largely a declarative, abstract value, and has no influence on long-term behavior. However, it must also be noted that an impetuous abuse of this value (for instance, during the events in Abkhazia) does cause a certain reaction which is anything but weak. Still, even if provoked by a national insult, the impulse is rather short-lasting, supported by momentary emotions, and is not likely to turn into an organized, purposeful lasting action. The narrow frame of the area of responsibility, as well as lack of civil consciousness, determine the atrophy of perception of societal problems (whether that is energy conservation, pollution of the environment, firearms registration, or any other aspect that concerns everyone). As a result, society and each individual member both suffer.

The aforesaid does not imply that an "average" Georgian could not care less about his compatriots. The peculiarity of Georgian culture is that it also consists of individuals, albeit with a narrow area of responsibility, who nonetheless feel comfortable precisely in the Georgian environment. This was noted by Guram Asatiani, "It is striking how a Georgian is usually at odds primarily with another Georgian. However, the two Georgians cannot live without each other, inasmuch they long to compete only with one another".

In my opinion, to explain this paradox, one should look not at the peculiarity of the Georgian character, but rather at the specifics of the culture. The affluence acquired through the support of the "we" or "me" groups requires some manifestation. Let the neighbors, remote relatives, home-folks, guests or simply the passerby notice and appreciate how generous, courageous, influential, eloquent, rich or smart "our guy" is. If that makes them jealous, so be it.

Hence a typical picture: a rich village is full of palatial houses, while the "central territory," such as the main road, is in utterly decrepit condition. Or the yards and lobbies of apartment buildings, not to mention public restrooms are turned into garbage dumps.

In 1904, in St. Petersburg, a book entitled The Caucasus was published. Its author, one E. Velichko, had served in Georgia for a long period of time. Velichko was what we call a dyed-in-the-wool imperialist chauvinist, holding anti-Semitic and especially anti-Armenian principles. However, he had fine feelings about the Georgians, albeit a bit culturally patronizing. He called Georgians "my brothers", and considered them the most solid support for the Russian Empire in the Caucasus, due to their exceptional loyalty to the Russian Czar. His views of the negative sides of the Georgian character are all the more valuable since they do not contain any obtrusive antipathy. Velichko cites this example, which he claims is typical.

One Georgian prince spent his time in debauchery and luxury, and once killed a man in a fight. He was subsequently exiled to a remote Russian district, where he earned everyone's affection and respect with his honesty and hard work. He introduced silk-worm breeding and gardening to the region, and even became a governor's agricultural advisor. However, as soon as he came back to Georgia, he indulged in his former activities, and was killed in the next fight.

There are so many such examples that one can speak of a certain pattern. We know of a great number of individuals who, being in an alien cultural environment, gained international fame and authority in the spheres of art or politics, but became victims of petty ambitiousness and scheming once back in their native lands. It is not by chance that, after Georgi the Shining, our country has not had any politician or leader able to realize any positive long-term programme; in fact, has anyone (with the exception of Ilia Chavchavadze) ever had one?

It is the cultural environment, the system of declared and real values and accepted norms of behavior that determine the national character. Whoever does not cross the boundaries of commonly accepted norms is successful. As Erich Fromm notes, social character is formed according to cultural demands; the latter, however, do not always coincide with the demands of real existence. The power of a culture is determined by its dynamism, i.e. by the degree and speed to and with which it can produce new values in accordance with changing conditions.

Velichko also wrote that the life of Georgian society, especially that of its higher classes, was growing progressively worse. The mode of life was being destroyed due to the contradictions between the historically developed character and the new social and economic conditions. It is not that easy to change your way of life.

Whatever is meant by the "new social and economic conditions", this observation is correct, even from a cultural standpoint. The Georgian nobility, with its leaning towards debauchery, with narrow temporal horizons and areas of responsibility, its arrogance, wastefulness and remnants of a heraldic code and infantile individualism, had no future. If the Georgian people could be saved at all, it could have only been accomplished by following the path propagated by Ilia Chavchavadze, that of forming the national consciousness and relying upon honest workers. However, the wheel of history started revolving in a completely different direction, and Georgian culture produced a certain model of adaptation to the Soviet regime. It may sound tragic and comic at the same time, but it was the same infantile feudalistic mentality and the aforementioned behavioral norms accepted by a substantial part of the population, that befitted Soviet reality, especially in the post-Stalin period.

Georgia and the Soviet Regime

The Bolshevik Revolution used, subsequently making it a part of societal life, some tendencies characteristic of Russian culture, such as collectivism and aggressive anti-individualism, a purely negative outlook on the concept of wealth, tradition of strong state power and a messianic sense. However, all of that was done under the aegis of Marxism, which, at least in form, was very much concurrent with Western European thinking and the Protestant ethic. The categories that Marxists operated within, such as "productivity of labour", "surplus value", "class struggle" and "societal progress", were strange and alien to the majority of the Russian imperial population. It is clear that in alien cultural conditions these terms only preserved their names, while their content changed dramatically. Such notions as democracy, efficiency of productivity, profitability, political party, service and many others, had completely different meanings in the West and the Communist East.

Very soon after, the first victim of ideological declarations appeared: the value most alien to the Russian cultural environment: efficiency of productivity. It was substituted with various surrogates aimed at producing the illusion of efficiency, such as giant yet unprofitable plants, quantitative indexes, manipulation of figures, propagandist talk, banal lies concerning "surpassing the five-year plan objectives", "counter plans" and "Socialist competitions", etc. In the early Soviet years, a certain role was played by mass enthusiasm, determined by the illusion that the USSR was at the vanguard of history; however, it turned out to be a poor guarantor of economic power. Meanwhile, the economic foundation of the Soviet Empire was determined by the colossal natural resources of the gigantic country (incidentally, the exhaustion of these supposedly inexhaustible natural resources determined the need for perestroika. We know the results, although not quite all of them yet).

Once again, in line with Marxism, the productivity of the "workers of intellectual labour" was accepted as a measure of "progress". The "goal established by the Party" was reached using purely Soviet methods. There was a massive increase in the numbers of writers, scholars and people with higher education in general. These "Soviet intellectuals" were not required to demonstrate any commercial success or produce any high-quality works; rather, they were required to support and glorify the regime. Since under Soviet conditions it was a lot easier to simulate intellectual and creative rather than physical labour. As such, the "rules of the game" offered by the regime attracted a vast number of people who with minimal effort and equally minimal levels of responsibility could provide themselves with a fairly comfortable standard of living.

The national problem was "solved" in a similar fashion. Officially, the peoples within the USSR were considered to be equally "progressive" and "socialist" (although some cultural distinctions were allowed, producing a large number of folk ensembles). Hence the creation of institutions alien to the particular cultural environment, the' establishment of academies, universities, industrial giants, film studios, etc. All this required substantial financial resources while only serving prestige. Equivalence of degrees, ranks and titles meant that a dissertation written and presented in, say, Dushanbe was considered equal to that written and presented in Tallinn or Moscow, even though the scholarly value usually differed considerably.

As a result of these and comparable processes, the USSR became a closed system, possessing all the formal properties of a developed Western-style industrial state; however, it was nothing more than a game of "progress", a game taken seriously by the "players" themselves. The Soviet state could be compared to a vehicle, or rather an armoured vehicle, which looked just like a real one but did not run. It needed horses to move from one place to another.

This then is a schematic portrait of the social/cultural environment in which the people, united into a "family of brothers", had 10exist, and which required some adaptation. The adaptation was so specific that, in my opinion, it would be useful to draw a parallel with some selected laws of biological evolution. In natural conditions, a species is more or less adapts to existing ecological factors, which is one of the results of long-term evolution. However, artificial selection exists, which involves a man creating a new species with a utilitarian or decorative goal in mind, producing a certain desired effect, such as an increase in milking capacity, weight, difference in colour, etc. The species' qualities required for existing in natural conditions are lost, and thus a new artificially created species is almost always doomed once returned to the natural environment.

In my view, Georgia developed a certain model of adapting to the Soviet regime earlier that other peoples of the USSR, one determined by certain historic properties of the national character. However, a relatively chance factor also played a large role: I am speaking of Stalin's Georgian ancestry.

I have already mentioned one of the qualities of Georgian culture, that of loyalty to a remote power, and a constant struggle or competition for gaining some, however little power at local level. It is not surprising that a compatriot in the position of remote ruler had a strong influence on Georgian consciousness, especially considering that the few existing carriers of healthy national ideas had been destroyed or exiled. This ruler, who enjoyed unprecedented power and authority, was quite naturally turned into the symbol of national identification (a simple mechanism: the "father of the peoples" is Georgian, you and I are, too, which means we reflect his glory."). This was enhanced by inner curtsies: a Georgian was among the people who raised the victorious flag over the Reichstag, Soviet films showed extremely positive images of Georgians... All this has increased the traditional Georgian hypertrophied sense of honour and dominance, not on the individual but on the collective "we" level. Besides, worshiping Stalin in Georgia was enhanced by another circumstance.

Having analyzed a very interesting myth about Amirani, Grigol Robakidze concluded that one of the leading qualities of the Georgian soul was willfulness; Amirani was said to be the personification of that quality. This is a very profound observation. Willfulness, which is the prevalence of one's wishes over commonly accepted norms of behavior (and, consequently, a nihilistic approach to lawfulness) is a substantial property of the Georgian character. Willfulness is also a real and meaningful value of Georgian culture'; therefore, the most "willful" individuals enjoy obvious piety in the mass consciousness, even if they have caused great disasters in the lives of numerous people. This is a cause for the concealed sympathy for the traitor, murderer and rapist Zurab Eristavi, which surface's in folk poems. This is also a partial explanation for the phenomenon of Stalin's personality cult.

Stalin was not just loved despite destroying millions of people he was loved because he personified the most extreme case of willfulness, free of any restrictions. While this infantile mechanism of a charismatic leader's cult was to various degrees characteristic of the whole "Soviet people", it had a special, deeper resonance in Georgia.

The phenomenon of Stalin, and the Georgian ancestry of the "father of the peoples" developed, recreated and enhanced two important tendencies in Georgian society: that of the cult of unrestricted power, of "willfulness" and also that of the sense of individual and group domination, which served as a foundation for the Georgian model of adaptation to the Soviet regime. It only started forming after Stalin's death. During the period of his rule, unifying efforts were so strong that the specific properties of the culture and National character had not received a chance to form into a system. This only became possible after Stalin's death, and, in my opinion, happened in Georgia earlier than anywhere else; the impulse came from the tragic events of March, 1956.

Stalin was dead. Following a brief period of confusion, Khrushtchov rises to the throne (the same Khrushchev the "great leader" had been known to hit on the head with his pipe, and make dance around). This was enough to sway the authority of the leader and the regime in the eyes of the Georgians. After all, in a totalitarian slate the political system is firmly connected to the image of the leader; in Georgia, meanwhile, positions and social roles are traditionally personified. Therefore, we seemed to like the regime inasmuch it was linked to the name of Stalin.

However, Nikita Sergeevich [Khrushchev] suddenly showed some teeth and noisily threw the "father of the peoples" off the pedestal. This circumstance considerably sped up the process of alienation from official Soviet ideology and values in Georgia.

It is remarkable that mass consciousness in Russia developed in a fundamentally different direction. There, a belief was spread (even among the most refined intellectuals) that Stalin was personally responsible for all the tragedies, due to his "perverted" interpretation of Marxism, while the Socialist path itself was considered to be absolutely right, as long as "Leninist norms" were restored. This signifies that for the Russians, the Soviet version of socialism had become an important component of the national identity. This is partly true today as well.

It was precisely the motive of defending a symbol of national identity that was responsible for the March unrest in Georgia. This symbol had turned out to be powerful enough for the first serious act of protest in Soviet history to occur. However, the turmoil resulted in a terrible tragedy. The system clearly demonstrated that any attempt to influence official policy-making or the ideological sphere was doomed. The Georgians learned their lesson well; perhaps even too well. The aforementioned traditional Georgian type of relationship to power was restored: the 10yaVindifferent view of remote power structures, and (within the suggested "rules of the game") concern about one's own self and the narrow "we" group, was declared a "national endeavour".

Meanwhile, the "rules of the game" changed considerably after Stalin's death, primarily because the repressive organs had lost their power, and the nomenclature, in turn, gained it. The state security organs had certainly preserved theirs; but the slave labour of the political prisoner and "prophylactic" acts of repression were things of the past. The "Iron Curtain" was somewhat raised as well; standards of living were slowly improving (mainly due to extensive housing construction). Fear, typical of Stalin's time, was being replaced by caution. The regime has preserved two pillars of the system: ideology and politics, which mere mortals were denied access to. A Soviet citizen was given a small degree of daily freedom, a small social space which the state did not usually invade (although it reserved the right to do so if need be). The citizen and the state signed an unwritten agreement: the state would not invade the citizen's personal life, and pretend not to notice his obvious violations of official laws, while the citizen, in turn, would not mess with ideology and politics. This "agreement" determined the existence of the Soviet state for three decades, and these were the "rules of the game" the Georgians understood at once. Starting in the 60s, outside Georgia a particular stereotype of a Georgian is formed, that of a moneybags, a tradesman, a profiteer.

This stereotype signified that Georgia was entering a new phase of adapting to the new Soviet regime. Contributing to the development of the so-called black market economy in Georgia was an important cultural property. The thing was, the implementation of the above "agreement" was only possible through informal contacts. We are aware that the informal "we" and "me" group contacts (friendship, kin...) had a special meaning in the Georgian culture.

Some may think that the formation of the black market economy signified the installation of some capitalistic elements. That is not so. The Soviet black market economy was a child of the Soviet deficit economy. The major regulator of the market, competition, was absolutely alien to the Soviet economy. Therefore, a "Soviet capitalist", or a schemer, lacked all the qualities characteristic of a Western businessman, by virtue of excluding the notion of "honest business". Due to the fact that any commercial activity was unlawful, every man involved in it automatically fell into the category of "dishonest". And whoever is officially considered to be in that category, even artificially (artificially, since the Soviet regime had forbidden one of the most natural spheres of human activity, that of commerce), will be free to make more serious moral compromises in the future.

Besides, the old negative, "feudal" notion of commerce in Georgia, the belief that a "merchant" is a liar and cheater by default, had by definition determined the attraction of people of dubious morals to that sphere. In both Russian and Georgian culture, dishonesty is a critical component of a merchant's role. Sociology tells us that the social role itself dictates behavioural norms to its carrier.

The misfortune was that such activity was officially unlawful, but was unofficially allowed. Therefore, any respect for the law was gradually being lost, while the principle which read "if it is not allowed but I really want it, it is allowed" was being born. On the other hand, society started living in peace with other illegal actions, such as theft, bribery, etc. It is not surprising that the black market economy soon spread all over the place, and started to steal from its own citizens, along with appropriating some of the nation's wealth. There was practically no societal sphere left free of the tentacles of corruption, theft and cheating.

At once, Bolshevism had destroyed a century-old system of regulation of societal life. All the values (good and bad alike, regardless of what we mean by those terms) which in another society would provide an individual with an opportunity to reach a high social status had been rejected. Among those values were talent, diligence, wealth, ancestry, enterprise and physical appearance. In their place, a single value was installed, that of loyalty (or rather a Soviet version thereof), which was essential for acquiring any social status. In the post-Stalin period, with a certain complication of societal life, other values appeared alongside loyalty: position, money, a circle of influential friends and relatives. All this was intertwined, but it was possible to make distinctions. As far as talent, diligence and professionalism go, their "price" had dropped even more considerably.

The post-Stalin reality, with all its irrationality and absurdity, declarative commitments and unwritten laws proved to be fertile soil for many tendencies and potentials characteristic of Georgian culture. We can name a few: hospitality, competence in personal interrelations, demonstration of dignity and domination, the primacy of "me" over law and order, the strength of "we" groups, egocentrism, superficial effects, alienated loyalty to remote power structures, etc.

One important circumstance has to be emphasized. The tendencies characteristic of the Georgian style serve as adaptation mechanisms, developed in the course of recurring wars, chaos and uncertain future. Poverty had always been their companion. To be more precise, the system of adaptation mechanisms and values born in Georgian culture was economically helpless, deprived of prosperity as a value of its own (in cultures which had developed such value, there is a corresponding attitude towards money, work and time): wealth had to be spent, the sooner the better, since it could be taken away the next day. Thus, we have not developed any behavioural or mental instincts directed at saving money.

However, in the post-Stalin period a unique situation was formed, whereby in the conditions of a "feudalistic" lifestyle, and in large part due to it, it became possible to gain relatively stable social well-being, and amass considerable (albeit unlawful) wealth.

Starting in the '60s, the hole in the "Iron Curtain" started delivering Western goods of a more or less fine quality. There was also the onset of Soviet production of "civilized" goods directed at individual consumers: motor vehicles, refrigerators, furniture, television sets... Housing construction was growing. In Georgia, all that caused what we would call a consumer boom. It was Erich Fromm who noted that consumer psychology was especially strong in Socialist countries where deficit was typical and ethical mechanisms of regulating the process of consumption were not present. The system of informal connections was very effective under Soviet conditions for all kinds of "procurements", "arrangements", gaining money, positions and privileges. It turned out that a person who had a friend or relative in any state institution, from a supermarket to a Ministry or the Central Committee, was a priori more privileged, compared to "others". But the "others" wanted to live, too! Therefore, money, this universal equivalent of connections, became a compensating device. The results were quick, as many sections of the population started "making money".

It is notable that the average citizen was especially annoyed (due to everyday contact) by the "deceitful behaviour" of the workers in service industries, such as store clerks, taxi drivers and waiters, as well as peasants selling goods in the market. No one considered that people of that category could only use money (and not friends or positions) to receive health care, get their children out of the draft, communicate with the law enforcement agencies or buy cars.

Eventually, the heaviest oppression was felt by an honest hardworking person, who had neither money nor an important position or influential friends (or considered it undignified to address them), who attempted to live off his own labour, but found himself at the bottom of the societal pyramid. He became the embodiment of weakness and stupidity; moreover, he had to pay his "tribute" to the "powerful", which became an almost universal rule of living.

In a word, Georgian culture could adapt wonderfully to the totalitarian Soviet reality. Those tendencies which worked in the given social/cultural environment were developed and enhanced; however, as demonstrated by the period following the collapse of the Soviet empire, they turned out to be major obstacles for existing in an independent political/social/economic organism, to say nothing of liberal democracy.

The law as a category of jurisprudence had never been too popular in Georgia. The aforementioned Georgian willfulness, as well as the powerful influence of Asian despotism, had annulled the law as a norm placed above the will of any individual. Soviet law, it can be said, legalized lawlessness. Constitutions and civil codes were being written, international agreements signed, but that was done for the sake of putting on a civilized "face". The Party and so-called "power" structures were above any law. That was further enhanced by the aforementioned unwritten agreement. Clearly, in such conditions it would be of no use to speak of any legal consciousness; therefore, in the Georgian environment, the attitude towards the law assumed a specific form: the law is a highly annoying thing which power structures use to limit my self-interest, my "willfulness".

The law therefore must be considered only to the degree that it is represented by the power and force behind it. As soon as that power weakens, becomes careless, foolish or merciful, the law turns to ashes and nothing restrains "willfulness" any longer (we are currently witnessing this). On the other hand, the law holds no value for a representative of any law enforcement agency. The most important thing for him is to catch a careless criminal, to thus serve his own self-interest (that of money, career, etc.). Thus, the major goal is not to reduce crime, but to catch an unlucky criminal – a gamble, that is.

Let us recall the campaign which ten years ago tried to emphasize the use of seatbelts in motor vehicles. The drivers assumed that it was an infringement of their own freedom in their own vehicles. The highway police, on the other hand, received a new source of income, hunted the "unattached" drivers down, fined them and released them without attaching the seatbelt. I recall a remark by one officer, who had noticed a voluntarily "attached" driver: "What's wrong with you? Are you grudging five roubles?!" However, a compromise was soon found: on seeing an officer, the driver threw his seatbelt across his chest like some sign of honour, and having gone by for some two hundred metres, freed himself from the "attachment". However, the most important thing is that no one was interested in the seatbelt's actual purpose, which is safety of the driver and passengers.

One can say that the law, one of the basic values of the civilized world, came to us "twice broken". In the environment of Russian culture, it had been bent according to the will of the ruling class, while in Georgia, the ruling class was topped by the local regulator of social life, the system of informal contacts, followed by money.

This "double metamorphosis" occurred with many Western values and social institutions. The institution of higher education also lost its primary function, that of nurturing qualified experts. However, it gained other functions, such as prestige, draft exemption or the opportunity for students to live separately from their parents. Such absurd phenomena as "protected" test-taking and the selling of diplomas, to say nothing of the admissions hysteria, have become customary. The results: formally, Georgia occupies one of the highest positions in the world as far as the percentage of formally educated experts goes. In reality, the level of education and qualifications here is extremely low.

It is clear that in such a social/cultural environment many values were doomed to perish. We have almost abandoned elementary professional ethics, responsibility for our production and pride in a job well done.

As always happens, changes in the value system and the emergence of new priorities, have found their expression in the language. Such formerly unknown expressions have emerged as "to push through", "his man" and so forth. However, perhaps the most expressive word, reflecting like a mirror the style and mood of our society, is "to swindle".

In a country where a relatively normal life is impossible without breaking the law and oppressing your fellow countrymen, where the government promotes the above activities inasmuch it lives according to the same norms, "swindling" becomes a rule for living, which is absolutely understandable, even somewhat justified. However, our misfortune is that the late totalitarian style of living has never been radically changed even in the current situation. At least so far... We seem to have run ahead of our narration.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, N. Karamzin wrote that one could express the situation in Russia with a single word: "stealing!" It seems to me that if we substitute it for "swindling", it would fully express the situation in Georgia in the '60s- '80s. Swindling was active in two spheres: that of the black market economy and the power structures. These were the spheres that active, sometimes very talented people were drawn to. We can speak of a Georgian schemer and a functionary as two complete social types, who are not losing ground even in the changing situation of today.

To support the latter, I will cite an interesting ethnic/psychological phenomenon: the cult of power, which is the single most important characteristic of totalitarianism, has taken very different forms in Russia and Georgia. In Russia, an official primarily represented state power, by virtue of which he/she was somewhat deindividualized. In Georgia, on the contrary, one's official position was the measure of how successful that person was at "swindling". That was the measure used to judge people, while such things as competence, morality and smartness moved to the background. Such a hierarchy of values, social/cultural demands and expectations have formed social types and national character, and had a profound bearing on an individual entering this system.

The Georgian version of the "socio-cultural response" to the specific "rules of the game" of the totalitarian regime, or the Georgian adaptation model, has turned out to be so adequate that I would even dare say that the period covering the '60s through the '80s could be considered one of the least troublesome in our history. Peace and the bare minimum were guaranteed, sources of extracting money were plentiful, cultural life (in the narrow sense of the word) was abundant, as various festivals, exhibitions and conferences were held; theatre, movies and sports blossomed; the streets were full of smiling, pleasant people. There were certainly problems, too: corruption, drug use, crime and many others, but practically no one perceived those as vices of Georgian society (although it must be noted that in that period, too, there were voices of warning. For instance, there was an article by A. Bakradze, entitled An Acute Cry and also a film by O. Ioseliani, Pastorale). At best, all drawbacks were ascribed to the regime, which was largely responsible for what was happening.

In principle, for Georgian public opinion, if we can speak of such a thing, the idea of a different lifestyle was quite alien (it is indicative that no Georgian writer had any utopian works "shelved" due to the impossibility of publishing them in the Soviet period). Some spoke of independence, but only as some abstract, distant idea. The narrowness of the "horizon of time" was evident there, too.

History, however, continued its march. The Soviet regime swayed, and the ghost of an independent Georgia was suddenly quite close. Our society was quite enthusiastic about it, as if it had been fighting day and night for the destruction of the socialist camp and the country's independence. Although a good observer would have noticed that the concept of freedom was understood in a very specific way in Georgia, as the exchange of a bad master for another, a good one. This was expected to happen soon, within a couple of months. NATO forces were expected, along with a rain of dollars, open borders, Mercedes cars... When it turned out that the candidates for the role of the good master were scarce, we were delighted and thankful to place the precious load of freedom and responsibility onto one individual who was foolish and insolent enough to say, stay with me, I will take care of everything. Soon, it turned out that he could not do a thing, either; it also turned out that sacrificing the minimal security and prosperity given by the former master was the price to pay for freedom, and we lost them after becoming "free"; freedom, as it turned out, has brought little good and a lot of bad...

Perhaps someone will contradict me, stating that everything was different, but one fact is absolutely certain: Georgian political and economic life, as well as public opinion, are marked by immaturity and infantilism. Infantilism is quite typical of "homo Sovieticus" in general, as it is for anyone brought up in a totalitarian system. However, in Georgia, this trait has much deeper roots.

"The Line of the Mother" and the "Last Child Syndrome"

In the cultural environment of first the Russian Empire, and then in the Soviet pseudo-civilization, Georgians acquired certain traits of civilized nations. I imply a drop in the birth rate and the subsequent rise in the value of human life. This was determined by a social/economic, psychological and political situation hitherto unknown to Georgian history: peace, relative security and prosperity, and the spread of consumer psychology. Understandably, with the reduction in the number of children on one hand, and the growth of material opportunities on the other, the "share" of love and care per child was growing as well. However, since living in a stable and relatively comfortable situation was a wonder to us, in Georgian culture there were no traditions or practices suitable for such a lifestyle, not even pedagogical ones. The old traditions (such as the practice of raising the children of noble descent in peasant families) was abandoned, while the "culture of wealth" was never born.

In these conditions, a new style of upbringing and relations emerged in the Georgian family; we can call it the line of the mother. Its essence is comprised of doubtless love, incredibly close emotional contacts, forgiveness and the principle that "my child is always right". As far as the line of the father is concerned, it implies the cultivation of a sense of fairness, responsibility, self-discipline and duty, as well as the realization of a principle, "everything has its price".

In optimum conditions, as a child matures, the line of the father gradually replaces the line of the mother, with a sovereign individual eventually forming. In reality, however, it is much more complicated. Analyzing Western culture psychologically, Erich Fromm notes that in Protestant ethics, the line of the father has almost crossed the line of the mother off, determining many of the vices of Western civilization (the solitude of an individual, deficit of emotional contacts). With Georgian culture as an example, it becomes evident that the opposite case scenario creates even more problems.

As I had mentioned earlier, the line of the mother has always been traditionally powerful in Georgia. This is witnessed by the special place that the word "mother" occupies in the Georgian language, consciousness and culture in general.

Many Georgian male first names speak of that, too: Bichiko, Nukri, Guguli and others. They clearly express a subconscious desire on the part of the parents for their child to always stay little, never grow up, but be sweet and cute all the time. The tendency is understandable as it represents a psychological reaction to the social conditions of feudalistic Georgia, the constant worrying, troubles and uncertain future. In times such as those, a mother (or any other caretaker) is driven by a powerful motive: to fully use the opportunity for a close relationship with small children (especially the youngest, the last one), give them all her love, keep them comfortable... Since some day, sooner than it seems, they will cease clinging to their mother's skirts once and for all and take a weapon in hand. And who knows how their lives will turn out, whether they will ever be able to return to the family hearth...

However, historic conditions had changed. There was no longer any immediate danger to a grown-up's life. Still, as we know from psychology, a reaction cultivated under certain environmental conditions loses its adaptive function and receives an autonomous status. This has happened in Georgia as well. The line of the mother has become a cultural and national symbol. The well-known monument, "Mother Georgia", a woman with a cup and sword, was so organic in her make-up that no one thought of asking the question of where the father was and what he was doing.

Eventually, a very curious phenomenon developed. It is difficult to find another country where children would be as steadily chained to their families as in Georgia. An individual over thirty years of age with a family of their own, is still economically and socially dependent on their parents. In the parents' view, a child is still a child, in need of constant care and protection; their pride and joy, an essential part of their "we" group.

In conditions of material sufficiency, low birth rates and relative social stability, all of the above is manifested by the children being taken care of for decades, surrounded with maximum comfort and protected from dangers and troubles.

In the Baltic states, or in Chechnya, for instance, they loved Russia with its army far less than in Georgia. However, despite that, the tendency to prevent the children from being drafted has developed on a larger scale in Georgia. The explanation is quite simple: the Georgians have avoided not the Russian Army per se, but rather an uncomfortable environment for their kids.

Ideally, a child, an adolescent or a young person has to be provided with money, an apartment, a car, protection, a prestigious college and a well-paid job, and they have to be protected from the law, all of which he takes for granted. In extreme cases, respect for labour, money or another person outside the "me" group, is alien to them. Their self-interest and personal desires are primary. In other words, a typical infantile egocentric individual is formed, the kind the French call "/'enfant terrible".

Here is a recent case. A young man was kidnapped and the parents contacted for a large ransom. The family started bargaining, the ransom was reduced by half. They managed to scrape together the necessary amount and brought the son back... The son made a scene back at home: how dare you bargain when the deal concerned me! Eventually, it turned out that the "kidnapping" had been orchestrated by the "victim" himself.

The line of the mother in Georgian culture has also had a profound bearing on collective psychology. Several generations have already been raised on the social and spiritual basis of two principal motives: individual comfort and security, and the force, dominance (even illusionary) that is willfulness. If these two are not satisfied, aggression is accumulated, which is suppressed until a certain moment.

The problem is that willfulness and security are incompatible, if only because there are other "willful" people around. In time, the social space of a child goes beyond that of his family, to include the yard, friends and the school. It turns out that in the eyes of others, he is not the centre of the Universe. The child is anything but psychologically prepared for that fact. The family comes to the rescue again, as serious conflicts are settled with the help of the parents. Thus, children are once again assured that whatever happens, there is a force which will always protect them.

Later, by the time children are 12-13 years old, their own personality surfaces. This is something parents are not prepared for. They increase the degree of their care, primarily in the form of "monetary compensation", which, strictly speaking, represents a "bribe" given to the child in exchange for not moving away from the family. Georgian teenagers (13-19 years old) accept this "bribe" as a given, even demand it, being used to a certain level of comfort, and at the same time are troubled by their own "inferiority", the inability to live on their own. The ways of solving this conflict vary, but most bear the stamp of infantilism. One of the solutions is an early marriage, and a double burden placed on the parents.

A remarkable fact: among the causes of divorce in Georgia, conflicts with the spouse's parents are the most common. The percentage of such divorces is much greater than that of divorces for any other reason.

Another typical way of solving the aforementioned conflict is an almost full severance of family connections, and a search for individual comfort (or a surrogate) on one's own. However, that is reached not by means of hard work or a profession, but by "swindling," petty theft or speculation, most likely followed by more serious crimes.

The subject of crime has another connection to the generational conflict. Since the 1960s, as the Georgian adaptation model to the Soviet regime was starting to form, a "dual morality" became one of its primary attributes. On the one hand, all the ritual demands of the regime had to be met; on the other (on an informal level), one had to live by a set of completely different rules. The middle generation, with a few exceptions, easily adapted to that situation, all the more since the new rules of the game were a true liberation compared to the hell of Stalin's times. To a maximalist consciousness typical of an adolescent however, the difference between official propaganda and real life was too obvious. A true moral vacuum appeared, soon to filled, as principles borrowed from the criminal's "moral code" were affirmed; these were quite primitive and clear, repudiating both the official pseudo-morality and the attitude of the older generation. The strongest wins, no cooperation is permitted with state structures, especially the law enforcement agencies; moral norms are applicable only to "our" circle, other people (parents often included) have an "applied" purpose; finally, the negative attitude towards work becomes even more acute. Clearly, in youthful circles these principles were not as literal as in criminal spheres, but a "thief's understanding" has had a bearing not only on Georgian youth, but on the entire society as well. The results were especially evident after 1990.

It is remarkable that the moral vacuum, caused by alienation from Soviet ideology, and later developing in the Russian youth environment, was not filled by the "thief's understanding", but with a military morality. Since the late 1970s, youth gangs have been formed in various regions of Russia; their characteristics include strict age subordination, harsh discipline, physical training and an inclination towards collective violence, which is absolUtely alien to the "me" and "we" groups of the Georgian youth.

Finally, there is the question of drug use, which has become a true pandemic in Georgia. This is a complicated phenomenon, requiring extensive complex and specialized research. Here, we shall mention only a psychological aspect of drug use which is also an infantile attempt to solve the conflict between the aspiration for independence and the habit of living in comfort. Awhole subculture has been created which is almost completely closed, unreachable and beyond the influence of "adult culture". Affiliation with this culture, acceptance of certain behavioural norms and lifestyles create in a young person's mind an illusion of self-sufficiency, as well as one of liberation from typical psychological complexes (fear of reality, inferiority complex and aggressiveness). It is extremely troublesome that using drugs has become a sign of independence, of "adult behaviour" in teenage circles. Some high school students sometimes deliberately prick their veins with pins to demonstrate with pride the "honourable" marks of the "needle" to their peers.

To compensate for their inferiority complex, our youth has some favorite "toys", such as weapons (power, safety and dominance) and cars (comfort, wealth and independence). Piety to these things is so great that the language does not even have any jargon abasing their names. It is also remarkable that a favorite "toy" of foreign youth, the motorcycle, is completely ignored in Georgia, perhaps due to the fact that it does not provide a sense of safety and comfort.

In light of the aforesaid, the general mood of Georgian public consciousness and its reaction to the events of the past years also became understandable. This mood manifests itself with strong emotional protests against the regime, active yet hasty consumption of everything hitherto forbidden, a complete, absolute ignorance of the fact that independence and freedom carry the burden of heavy responsibility, confusion, longing for a "better life", annoyance with everything and everybody, profanities in the direction of the "old master" and expectations of assistance from the latter, complete disorganization, a search for the "new master", and a virtual belief that the Virgin Mother will settle matters herself... The microsocial model has repeated itself on the macrosocial level.

I would like to be understood well. A drive for independence is a very noble feeling, there can be no doubt about that. However, the realization of this drive is only possible if adequate resources are present. The Georgian model of adaptation to the Soviet regime was effective when the country was a dependent political unit, when central government provided, whether well or poorly, for such critical spheres as safety, order, energy, public transport, etc. In that situation it was possible to live the way we did. However, when the net of friends-relatives is the primary social regulator, when the horizon of time is narrow, when small groups are the centre of the Universe, when honour and private property are not respected, when one's position is viewed as a source of privileges, when the line of the mother dominates and the infantilism of society becomes global, a construction of a normal independent state is impossible.

According to Conrad Lorenz, oncologists consider the immaturity of cells a major cause of malignant tumors. Cells like that grow without "considering" the interests of the whole organism, while the surrounding tissues "treat" the sick cells as if they were normal, feeding them...

A truly horrifying metaphor.

However, there also exists a phenomenon of the ability of complex systems (such as a nation) to reorganize and readapt themselves. A spontaneous public appearance of an energetic social group, a carrier of a new constructive ethics, may change and turn today's very unpleasant situation for the better: it may even gain the support of the masses. However, so far there have not been any promising signs. Hopeful sparks do not make for a fire. The situation is complicated all the more by the fact that egocentric people cannot imagine that someone may think differently or have different moral values. Therefore, they take propagators of new ideas for hypocrites who are fighting for their own egotistic interests under the cover of new ideas, or for aggressors fighting the egocentrics, personally, which is why egocentrics do their best to prevent anything new from happening.

The future will show whether a nation is able to overcome its habitual life and obsolete traditions, and develop an adequate response to the demands of history...

George Nizharadze (b. 1957, Tbilisi) - social psychologist, author of works on cross-cultural psychology, national values and stereotypes, evolution of culture; head of the Psychology of Culture laboratory at the Institute of Psychology of the Georgian Academy of Sciences; head of the monitoring group at the International Centre for Conflicts and Negotiations.

This article was included in the OSCE published book: The Caucasus- Defence of the Future. You can download the short version of this book from here

Update: Gaga's other articles on my blog



Alex said...

Kidev ertkhel mogesalmebi, Levan. Once again I want to express to you my appreciation for your tireless efforts aimed at popularizing Georgia's image. I find your blog to be very informative. I find a lot of very useful information on it and I must say that you seem to be always a step ahead. I would like to start exchanging e-mails with you. You can contact me at
Sauketeso survilebit,

Writer'n said...

Yo Levan! This was quite a piece of Georgian Reality! Very interesting reading indeed. I downloaded the essays too. And now I finally got an explanation for the hillarious Georgian driving...and a LOT more.

I think I must get more stuff written of this man.

Alex: I don't know if this falls in the cathegory of popularizing Georgian image..hehehe.

Ekaterine said...

Uznauria (samzuxaroa) rom am avtoris saxeliz ki ar makvs gagonili, ara da rogori produktiuli mkvlevaria. Very interesting, but a bit depressing paper:-). Does he mostly write in English or? I would like to read more of his writings (in Georgian, in English).

Levan said...

Thank you Alex for your kind words, I sent you mail I wonder if you got it. I would agree with Writer'n that it is maybe just opposite than popularizing Georgian image..

Eka I have some other articles from this Author on my Blog in Georgian, Russian and English.
I think that Gaga's articles are one of the bests explaining Georgian cultural psychology and much more..And I am also proud that he is my friend!

Writer'n said...

Levan: I read the article carefully, and must say that this is one of the best articles I have ever read. It is difficult to judge the content, but for me as a sociology student it seems to explain a lot of what I have noticed about Georgian culture. The article is a disection of the culture and points to features that are more or less present in most cultures. Still the discussion about the "mother line" is particulary interesting. It is not a very optimistic article, but people do adapt to different conditions, hence it's a question of time. But there is also favourable issues with family. We see it as problematic when family disintegrates as it tend to do more and more in highly developed countries where people persue their careers in other parts of the country, cities, and focus more on themselves. The "anomie" Durkheim describes is more prevalent in Europe than in Eurasia perhaps as it seems. Anyway, give my regards to the author, and tell him I had a particular interesting evening reading his article. ( I downloaded the essays from Caucasus too)

L.K said...

ara es statia ra mizans emsaxureba ver gavige, sakartvelos "popularizacias naklebd" ra miznit dade es , sauketeso mxridan ro gagvicnos inglisurenovanma sazogadoebam.... tviton statia dzalian momewona magram, rogor pikrob ra shtabechdilebas datovebs wamkitxveze (qartvelebs ar vgulisxmob)...