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Opening Speech: Constituent Assembly 12 March 1919

On 12 March 1919 the freely elected Constituent Assembly of Georgia has gathered for its first session. The eldest member of the Assembly, Social Democrat Silibistro Jibladze has delivered this inaugural address at 12:19.

His speech is a great example of the political rhetoric of the time, now sadly lost, as well as the reflection on complexity and confusion of the times.

“So I have lived to witness this day! While at the end of my long life, I can say that I’ve lived many a happy day, but this one still stands out.

My old age gave me the chance to witness this great, double holiday.

Members of the Constituent Assembly! May I firstly salute you with all my sincerity, with all my heart!

Silibistro Jibladze was born in 1859 in a village of Amagleba, Ozurgeti municipality.

Having graduated Ozurgeti religious school, has continued education in Tbilisi Religious Seminary in 1879, but was expelled in 1884 for slapping Seminary’s reactionary rector Pavel Chudetski (who was later stabbed and killed by another student, in 1886). He was one of the founders of “Mesame Dasi” (Third Alliance) the first Social-Democratic group, established in 1892. Led Tbilisi branch of Social Democrats in 1898. He actively participated in 1905 Revolution, organized the killing of the Caucasus Chief of Staff General Fedor Gryaznov in 1906, who led the reprisals against 1905 revolutionaries.

He was arrested and deported several times by Tsarist authorities.

From 1917 he was elected to the Georgian National Council. In 1919 – the Constituent Assembly. Remained in Georgia after 1921 Soviet occupation and headed political resistance movement. Publicly challenged Stalin during his speech to the Tbilisi railway workers on 13 July 1921. Was arrested, then released due to health reasons and re-joined the resistance. Died on 17 February, 1922.

Let me congratulate you with this great day, the day when our people come of age!

Let me salute also the representatives of the foreign nations present here: Great Britain, the cradle of democracy! France, the motherland of the Revolution! The great United States, symbol of freedom! Switzerland, though small, but protector of all those who are persecuted!

I believe and trust, that the high culture of these cultured nations will spread its mighty light also on our small Republic.

Long live to all the nations of Russia, who have freed themselves from the claws of the tyrannical Tsar!

Salutes to our neighbor Republics – Derbeijan [as Azerbaijan was pronounced then – Editor], Armenia and the Republic of Mountaneers. Greetings to the representatives of the new Polish Republic, representatives of Lithuania and Ukraine, of Greece, Spain, Norway and Holland.

May I now greet warmly our government and its leader, Mr. Noe Jordania. They have carried with dignity the weight of the unusual historical moment bestowed onto them by destiny.

Hurray to your cunning, to your work!

Members of the Constituent Assembly! May your presence be welcome into this white hall, where who knows how many dark deeds were committed! [the Assembly met in the former Palace of the Russian Viceroy – Ed.]. May you find your rightful home, here, where the enemies of people have prospered at the expense of these very people, while crafting the chains of oppression.

Blessed be the foundations of the great edifice of statehood, which you have been called to construct.

The passage of history has bestowed this task upon you in difficult times. We are witnesses of the events, of transformations of the scale yet unseen in the world history.   Movement, transformation is the very essence of life, but this truth, now evident to us all, was once hidden even from the most scientific of minds. Aristotle could not imagine statehood without slavery. This was the case, because the process of development was too slow. Now, the wholly different picture unfolds before our very eyes. It seems that history itself awoke from its long slumber, opened its eyes and saw its sins for the first time. With terrifying slowness it had moved, but now, as if realizing the weight of its own crimes, as if to compensate for its past it gave way to its steed, once constrained.

We see this steed move forward with its terrifying speed. We see the horrible destruction this movement leaves in its wake. The states are being destroyed, the [feudal] titles, though decayed, yet still powerful are eliminated, the seats of kings anointed, which spread terror into world are smashed into debris. It is as if the life itself can no longer fit into its own body, changes its skin, and enters the path of renewal and refreshment. The new knot of social relationship is being tied.

Naturally we ask ourselves – what have we lost, and what have we gained in this international upheaval? The answer is short: we have lost, what our democracy has longed to lose, was striving to bury, has set itself as a primary ideal – we have thrown the Tsar’s tyranny into the very abyss that it has dug in front of the long-suffering working people. This is the greatness of the February and March Revolutions.

This new generation is lucky to have seen the burial, but has not felt on its young body the horrible claws of the double-headed eagle [of the Romanovs].

But this is too little, this is not enough. It is not sufficient to destroy the old. It is vital to build the sovereignty of people on the rubble of the sovereignty of emperors, to establish a firm edifice of statehood on the crypt of the old regime. And from realization of this task, comes our second ideal: the plenipotentiary Constituent Assembly.

The Constituent Assembly was to be the crown of the Revolution, the foundation to solidify its gains. The Russian democracy has carried this idea for the whole 9 months and has given it birth in terrible pains. But its weakness became immediately apparent. The Russian democracy could not sustain its offspring and like some animal has devoured it. The October coup [the Bolshevik revolution] has thrown the great ship of the Revolution into the abyss of anarchy.

Next generations will perhaps bless our democracy and our government, which has not lost its head, did not despair in these trying times. Our democracy has saved our little boat from the fate that befell onto the larger ship of the great Revolution, despite being moored upon it for the whole 100 years with strong bonds. We managed to navigate obstacles and terrifying cliffs emerging from the depths of the sea of anarchy and have arrived here, into this harbor, with this cherished treasure – our own Constituent Assembly. Obviously, this is not a result of the blind accident, as some try to present it, but of the maturity and wisdom of our democratic thinking. There is no area of human wisdom so difficult and full of secrets as politics, an woe to those whose political leaders don’t have the cunning to penetrate these secrets and find the way through the labyrinths of this dark art. Any step wrongly taken, might become fateful for the whole people.

What good have those political parties done, Dear Colleagues, to their own people, who think only about perdition and misfortune of others? What are our own footloose Communist-Bolsheviks plotting and trying?! About immediate establishment of socialism not only in Russia, but the whole world, about lifting the peasants of Russia into the higher social order on the bayonets of the handful of Red Army soldiers?!

Our democracy rejects this road. We are confronting the [political] cannibalism and hatred of the neighbors by the principles of solidarity of nations and of good neighborly ties. We confront the communists’ deadly experiments with foresight. We wanted to join our forces with the Russian democracy and be on their side in combat, in peace and in sorrow. But the reality has belied our hopes. The waves of anarchy have split us apart and sent us loose. And when we gave ourselves full account of this reality, tried to consolidate first in the frames of the whole South Caucasus [South Caucasus federation was formed after the Bolshevik revolution], and then within our own Republic, our “well-wishers” have condemned our tactics. When things went worse for us and our lonely Republic so much, that the very matter of our physical existence came into question, we chose existence over non-existence and escaped the perils, our “well-wishers” have not only condemned us, but considered our actions a betrayal shouting: the world is going to hell, and us with it, while you work for your own survival?!

This is the essence of the barbarian [“bushmen”, in text] morale: when they are attacking you with naked swords, they are wishing you well! When you try to protect yourself from these attacks – that is a horrible thing to do! So let’s leave the barbarians their barbaric morale, and continue on our own way, on the correct way that has led us many a time from the difficult circumstances, that has helped us sustain the gains of the Revolution.

Gentlemen, today is the second anniversary of the Russian revolution. Our grateful democracy will not forget the great gift of the Russian democracy and we honor its heroes, who fell on the altar of humanity. Two years have passed since enemies from all sides are attacking our hard-gained freedom. Honor and glory to the select sons of our nation – the National Guard and our young Army that have defended and sustained our freedom with their sacrifice.

Now, Gentlemen, the fate of this treasure, carried through flames of battle, is in your hands. We cannot say that this freedom is in any way assured, protected from threat. We see no end to the chaos that the horrible World War has thrown the enlightened world into. But one thing we can say: people that have protected their identity through the centuries, people who have braved the northern winter, people who have shown the ability to develop politically and as citizens under the thick and cold ice of tyranny – these people cannot vanish and they won’t allow the hard-gained freedom to go to waste.

So, long live the free democracy of the free, independent Republic of Georgia!

I salute you again and wish you all success and all the freedom to do your work!

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian)

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