The Dispatch

Dispatch, April 3-9: Resurrections

Echoes of April 9 – Georgia’s unsolicited parks and squares – God summoned to deliver judgments – Easter’s grammar battles

Spring is kicking in with full force in Georgia. Days are getting warmer, longer, and brighter, the grass is growing greener, nature comes alive, and the air is drenched with a sense of rebirth and resurrection. The rest also appears to follow the pattern: yesterday, the Orthodox Church marked Lazarus Saturday, commemorating Christ’s miracle of raising a man, Lazarus, from the dead. Today, some Christian churches celebrate Easter, while the Georgian Orthodox parish enters Holy Week and prepares to mark Christ’s rising from the dead next weekend. 

Also – on this day 32 years ago, Georgia itself was reborn as a free and democratic republic.

Here is Nini, and the Dispatch, to follow the country’s many life-and-death journeys.

THE NANAS On April 9, 1989, a massive pro-independence rally in Georgia ended in a massacre: Soviet troops went to brutally disperse the peaceful crowd with spades and gas, resulting in the deaths of 21 civilians, mostly women. On April 9, 1991, two years after the massacre, Georgia would proclaim the restoration of independence to end seven decades of Soviet rule, choosing the date that would also acknowledge the sacrifice of those in 1989. In the following decades, those events and the area of the Rustaveli avenue in front of the Parliament in Tbilisi, where the violence took place, developed somewhat sacred, emotional, and political meanings. The echoes of April 9 reverberated during every bloodshed, violence, protest, or victory that this place would see, and the place would see many of them. The place would also produce its heroes. Today, President Salome Zurbaishvili awarded medals of honor to two women – Nana Makharadze, the famous “woman with a flag” from April 9, 1989 events, and Nana Malashkhia, the famous “woman with a flag” from recent rallies against the foreign agent laws.

PARKS AND RECREATION But as much as the country went to admire its heroic Nanas, the rulers grew to detest the battles they waged and the place where those battles were fought. When the previous administration moved the parliament building to Kutaisi, a historic western city, many saw it as an attempt to kill the “Rustaveli avenue politics” refusing to buy into the official version of “institutional decentralization.” The new, current administration returned the legislature back to the capital city but is now facing the same problem with Rustaveli Avenue politics. A new creative solution was found: in 2020, the space got suddenly fenced off for protracted rehabilitation works and emerged with jagged grassy patches, which made rallying inconvenient and offered plants that, some complained, give off a weird scent and cause headaches. Still, the waves of protests continue to break into the new design: the place hosted a rally yesterday and is hosting another rally today.

With parliament emaciated, demonstrators took to frequent the area in front of the Government administration. The Georgian strong and powerful have proven once again that they would rather hear jackhammers than the sound of public discontent. On April 7, Tbilisi’s second-busiest protest site suddenly got slated for another jagged extravaganza nobody requested. The decision was so sudden that no demands for permits seem to have been filed with city authorities. Some recalled that Georgia’s second President, Eduard Shevardnadze, had fenced off the same area in 2003 for the same reason, but to no avail – the “Rose Revolution” swept off his party and government. Perhaps, some architectural decisions shall never be brought back to life? 

GOD DELIVERS “Only God can judge me” is a relevant message in a country where judges fail to do their job. Last year, it was Tea Tsulukiani, Georgia’s longest-serving justice minister, who proudly posed with the wall adorned with this message in an art zone that she (as the freshly minted minister of culture) opened in the former prison building. (Admittedly, this action was sufficiently loaded with parallel symbolism to count as a modern art installation in itself).

Recently, the government propagandist Shalva Ramishvili, whose odium surprises even those of us used to the olfactive excesses of Georgian politics, held on to the same phrase from the rap legend 2Pac when the wave of public shaming spread to include his estranged wife and his son, who harshly and openly criticized him.

And the judges themselves have been increasingly bothering God above to show them the way to the heavenly gate when other, more earthly gates slammed closed following the U.S. imposed travel restrictions. Levan Murusidze, believed to be the big boss of the Georgian judicial “clan,” invoked the Holy Virgin, saying he would prefer to travel to Georgia as the country “apportioned to St. May,” referring to widespread religious belief that Georgia was a special place destined to be evangelized by the Virgin Mary herself.

Perhaps seeing too many requests coming his way from one location, the Lord introduced travel bans of his own: late in March, a landslide risk emerged unexpectedly at the Rikoti pass linking Georgia’s western and eastern parts, disrupting the cross-country travel amid upcoming Easter holidays. While authorities partially restored the traffic yesterday, the acts of God are not yet completed, so the corrupt judges may have to rethink their travel plans inside the country, too. True, some say shoddy public works were responsible for the Rikoti debacle, but whoever believes – knows, and whoever looks for signs – finds them. 

FIGHT ANNOUNCEMENT Easter stands out as one holiday where Georgians do not contest the celebration date. Georgians like to fight over two Christmases (December 25? or January 7?), two New Years (January 1? or January 14?), two independence days (April 9, 1991, or May 26, 1918?), two days to commemorate German defeat in WWII (May 8 vs May 9), and two dates – August 7 and August 8 – to mark the beginning of Russian invasion to Georgia in 2008. But when it comes to Easter, the dates are not in question. Maybe simply because it’s a moveable feast and we are too lazy to overinterpret.

But to each feast, its controversy: for years now, Georgians have disagreed on how to correctly pronounce in Georgians “risen” in “Christ is risen!” – a standard Easter greeting. Some prefer the modern grammar form “Kriste agdga” (ქრისტე აღდგა), while others greet on holidays with the more archaic form “Kriste agsdga.” An extra “s” that makes all the difference.

This battle of preferences, however, often gets so ungodly, particularly in our vicious battlefield of choice that is social media, that it might one day indeed trigger a rupture. Until that happens, some linguists tried to mediate, arguing that Christ’s resurrection presents an exceptional and unique case when both versions are kindly allowed as parallel forms. 

But parallel forms are not for a country that prefers division into parallel realities. The day we tolerate parallel forms will be the day when we also tolerate different opinions, start listening to each other, and overcome divisions that obstruct the nation’s prosperity. That day has not arrived yet. So all we can say – Happy Easter to whoever celebrates it, whenever you celebrate, and in whatever grammatical form you prefer to celebrate it!

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