Redjeb Jordania died on July 15, 2021, almost 100 years after his birth in the French town of Vanves in December, 1921. People often remember Redjeb as the son of Noe Jordania, the Head of the government of the short-lived Democratic Republic of Georgia (known in Georgia as the First Republic). Indeed, Redjeb was a living link to the First Republic, a novel political experiment which to this day remains neglected by scholars, and by Georgia’s politicians and historians. The First Republic lasted two years and eight months (May 1918-February 1921) before it was occupied by the Red Army; it was a brave experiment in democracy, amidst civil wars and contesting Great Powers seeking dominion in the Caucasus after WWI. It is true that many of us who love and study Georgia cannot untangle Redjeb from the history and politics of his country – he would not want us to do so – but Redjeb was more than a link to the past, he was a force in the present. All of us who knew him, never ceased to be astonished by his talents and energy, even in his eighties and nineties when he was traveling back and forth to Georgia to organize conferences, promote the history and achievements of the First Republic, and to reconnect with a homeland he had not been able to visit before 1990.
Redjeb was multi-talented – a composer, a professor, a boat builder, a writer and memoirist, and a wonderful raconteur. I first met him in 1998 at the Harriman Institute, Columbia, along with his partner Peggy (together for 41 years), when we were celebrating the 80th anniversary of the First Republic. That same year (1998), Redjeb convened the first major international conference in Georgia on the history of the First Republic. It was a joyous event and I always remember Redjeb at the heart of the conference, pulling things together without money or support, bringing the conference to life through his willpower, enthusiasm, and dedication. He was celebrated on Georgian TV and in the news as a living memory. Not only did he look like his father, Noe, but embodied the return of the forbidden past, unspoken and uncelebrated for over 70 years under the Soviet regime.
Redjeb tied us to the lost era of Georgian republicanism, but did his best to tighten the knot that connected modern Georgia to Europe. Throughout the 1990s, when Georgia was seen as a failed state, Redjeb sponsored English language programs in Georgia, and participated in conferences in the U.S. and Europe on Georgian history and contemporary politics. He was active in returning the “Château” in Leuville, near Paris, to the newly independent Georgian government. The “Château” played a central role in the life of the Georgian government in exile, which continued its struggle for Georgian independence throughout the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. Redjeb spent much of his childhood there during the balmy Parisian summers and was concerned about its future. In recognition of Redjeb’s contributions to defending the legacy of the First Republic, along with his dogged championing of Georgian culture, Redjeb was granted Georgian citizenship in 2012 by Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia.
Redjeb raised an important question, and he was the first to do so – why was it that the First Republic was not commemorated or celebrated in Georgia itself? Why were there no monuments, no parks or universities named after the founders of Georgian democracy? This is a puzzle and it should be rectified. Fortunately, the situation in Georgia today is changing, which Redjeb lived long enough to see. Young Georgian scholars are curious about their country’s modern history, and both during and after the 100th anniversary of the republic in May 2018, we have seen the publication of abundant materials from the Georgian National Archives on this extraordinary period in Georgia’s history. This is above all Redjeb Jordania’s legacy. He reignited the curiosity of modern Georgian citizens in the Democratic Republic of Georgia. He reconnected them to this defiant little republic which between 1918-21 was recognized by European social democrats as one of the most democratic states in the world. With the death of Redjeb Jordania, we have lost a great friend, a talented musician, a recorder of Georgian history, and a patriot who defended modern Georgia as best he could when no one else was paying attention.
by Stephen Jones
Professor of International Relations
Mount Holyoke College, July 23, 2021.