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The Dispatch

Dispatch – September 3: FOMO

There are three dominant fears that have tormented the souls of Georgians more recently: fear of crashing mountains, fear of floods, and fear of missing out (FOMO). These should not be too unlikely in a country trapped between two seas, high mountain ranges, and everlasting geopolitical limitations. In turn, what unites all these anxieties is a claustrophobic fear of getting stuck. A sense of paralysis, of being locked out, has haunted the country’s inhabitants for a while, leaving many with bulging veins of impatience on their foreheads.

Until somebody finally escaped. 

Here is the Dispatch, and Nini, from a country that is longing to untangle itself from unwanted constraints – be they physical, political, or intellectual.

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Things have not been the same here since the Shovi tragedy. Media and social media these days are flooded either with doomsday videos of people running away from collapsing cliffs, or warnings of more doom as a result of government actions or inactions. It is unclear what suddenly got into these mountains – is it climate change, God’s wrath, or nature following the logic of Twitter algorithms? But the scary phenomenon pushed many of us to seek peace of mind in previously neglected places. This is how Georgians, after decades of urban migration fever, started rediscovering the beauty of the countryside. 

As August neared its end, the images of foggy green valleys and unrenovated village homes, with a background narrative of warm and mystic childhood memories, started competing with frightening reels of falling rocks.

Why not stay there, in that childhood abode, and settle? What awaits us anyway in the hot and dusty capital city, which – the bigger it gets, seemingly has less to offer? These were the thoughts on many Georgians’ minds.

But then the night fell, beauty vanished, and the rustic guests were left stranded with their own shadows. The fear of missing out (and of losing jobs) started creeping in, whispering into their ears that they were not ready, not yet, and that it was time to go back to whatever hell the city prepared for them.

On August 28, the Assumption of St. Mary on the Orthodox Georgians’ calendar, is a public holiday that completed a long weekend and an even longer vacation season. People packed their things, got into their cars, and headed to Tbilisi. All of them at the same time. And – predictably – all got stuck in a mother of the traffic jams between the new tunnels of the currently renovated Rikoti pass, a chokepoint linking the country’s west with its east.

The construction going here is feeding the collective phobia of falling rocks: the road that hugs the cliffs and a Chinese construction company with a questionable reputation make for a dramatic mental image. Especially since a couple of relatively small accidents happened already.

It does not help that the chokepoint opens up in Surami, a townlet famous for the old fortress that could be single-handedly responsible for all national claustrophobia. The old Surami fortress has a spooky backstory: the legend has it that when they were building the fortress to repel the approaching enemy, the walls kept collapsing – until a wise man advised that stable and durable construction required someone’s only son to be built into its foundations – alive – which was promptly fulfilled. The walls held up and survived. Our national mental health – not so much.

But well, instilling the idea that the defense of the homeland demands sacrifice was more important than psychologists’ bills back in the day, and the story of a weeping mother checking up on the progress of construction has haunted most Georgians since early childhood.

When the holidaymakers finally passed the traffic jam and reached the capital, Tbilisi wasn’t having it. The next evening, heavy rains flooded and paralyzed the streets. The mayor’s office found street vendors to be useful scapegoats – their wares are clogging the floodway, apparently.

Unclear, to what extent we could stretch the scapegoating talents of this professional group. But by the end of August, everything appeared to be badly stuck somewhere.


The sense of blockage was most felt in politics. It started picking up after the Ukrainians resisted – bravely AND successfully – Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This left many supportive Georgians with the desperate urge to act, to do something on their own, and to (re)gain a sense of control. But this bubbling aspiration fell onto the rock of the government’s caution. The sense of stalemate worsened, as previously shut doors in the West started opening up, but the government refused to walk into them – unless being dragged and actually made a decent effort at trying to shut one or two.

In August, the Georgian absence at an “enlargement” meeting in Athens touched the nerve. And while the pro-Western folks were fretting over it, secret paper wars were taking place between President Salome Zurabishvili and the Prime Minister’s office, declining her requests for European trips to boost her country’s EU candidacy prospects.

The confrontation bubbled up to the surface when President Zurabishvili went anyway and the government threatened to impeach. Zurabishvili defiantly posed from Berlin and Brussels.

And just like this, the charm of the new political season dawned, a thrill that everyone craved was back. The figurehead president instantly became a channel to project the long-harbored collective drive to break free, and the fact that Georgian Dream did not possess enough MP votes (100/150) to deliver on their threats made the show even more enjoyable. 

Zurabishvili’s smiling (mocking?) Instagram picture from the Euro-rail turned her into a Gen-Z idol: hundreds of “Girlboss girlbossing”, “Mother mothering” and “Slay queen” comments (and lots of nail polish emojis) under her post were meant to demonstrate that she was the one to win Georgia’s younger hearts and minds. (Much to the grumpy comments from the millennials that remember Zurabishvili’s antics, and only a night after the charismatic frontman of Imagine Dragons did his best to charm a big audience doing a government-sponsored gig).


But is the excitement there to stay? Or bubble out, like even the best French champagne is bound to do? Perhaps it is not Zurabishvili’s personality or even her ideas that matter, but an act of defiance in itself: a presidential dash to Europe that may leave doors open for others? And perhaps a sudden change of heart about Zurabishvili – who, a grand-daughter of emigres from free Georgia – embodies both an aspiration and a contradiction of combining Georgiannes with Europeanness, is more than superficial?

She is not the first woman from an older generation who benefits from the more relaxed approaches of younger fellow citizens. Months ago, Mzia Getsadze, a singer of unconventional style (and another ‘slay queen’) who, after decades of personal and career struggles, found a sudden TikTok fame – in her 50s. That fame soon broke the boundaries of social media, and youngsters started crowding concert rooms to enjoy her show and cheer her on. Only a few years ago, the same performance was more likely to expose her to public ridicule.

Younger Georgians are easing the rules of what to remember, what to embrace, what to forgive, and what to resist. This may or may not translate into political breakthroughs now, but perhaps a social change is afoot. After all – the worst blocks are the ones in our heads.


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