Metropoles can have irresistible charms. Even a city as chaotic and stressful as Tbilisi keeps attracting thousands of people from “the rest of the country.” Some come for survival. Others – to find themselves. Some come to disappear, and others fail to find themselves and disappear into urban anonymity.
But those who stay behind, in their native, small places, still have things to look forward to. One such thing is being seen: getting noticed in the street, being shown as an example, and getting recognized for who you are.
This warm culture of mutual acknowledgment most profoundly manifests itself during town festivals, a tradition that has been coming back to life in recent years across Georgia. These are days, often in the months of autumn, when a series of fairs, concerts, and other colorful events are meant to celebrate the best of the past, present, and future of entire municipalities. But this year, in Georgia’s two restless districts, the celebrations were shaken up by unusual and quite contrasting disruptions.
Here is Nini and Dispatch with stories about principled principals and men’s battles with umbrellas.
On Principals and Principles
“In a town where injustice reigns, I cannot be an honorary citizen, …” a middle-aged man says into a microphone as he addresses the crowd.
“Turn it off, turn it off!” a male voice is heard from behind the scenes.
“…because…” – the first man keeps fervently moving his jaws, but no one can hear his voice anymore.
A viral video from Chkhorotsku, an opposition-minded municipality in Georgia’s western region of Samegrelo, shows school principal Dimoni Arakhamia being silenced while making what should have been a routine speech of gratitude. It was a town fest, and Arakhamia was receiving – but not accepting – honorary citizenship.
The award is an integral part of town celebrations and something to be excited about. The community’s most distinguished members live to see getting the recognition they earned through years of working hard and serving their town. Crowds cheer with sincere applause, and families are proud. This year, too, local authorities did not forget to put Arakhamia, an accomplished school principal, on the list. But the joy of landing on that list could not beat the frustration of being missing from another list, the one no less important for his social role and professional life.
The celebrations came at a time when protests raged in Chkhorotsku’s three public schools after the Ministry of Education failed to nominate their heads, including Arakhamia, for the elections of principals. The process of appointing school heads may look democratic on paper: the ministry nominates, and it’s up to the school board to freely elect the best candidate. But when the best candidates never make it on the list, it draws suspicions.
A trend of politically motivated appointments of principals has been long rumored throughout the country and evidenced by individual testimonies, security service leaks, and statistical irregularities. Principals with no party affiliation have reported political pressure during election campaigns. But the conspicuous meddling isn’t limited to democratic damage: it has long destroyed the social fabric of smaller communities by sowing distrust among its key members and pushing them onto more humiliating, self-serving ways on their paths to the desired positions.
This can be very painful for Georgian peripheries. Often lagging in economic development, these places struggle to develop their own ways to survive and thrive. No professional is just a professional here: doctors, civil servants, artists, and entrepreneurs – all are part integral to a closely knit social network vital for local development.
And this is particularly true for teachers, on whose individual commitments and sheer enthusiasm the future of younger generations often depends. It’s up to them to seek out talent, motivate them, and provide them with chances to match those growing up in more privileged environments. And nothing makes a town more proud than seeing its kids reach the top.
But where locals see their intellectual leaders, ruling parties see but election campaign instruments. So the usual happens: political will to control prevails, stirring divisions and indefinitely delaying the time when the country’s regions regain their much-missed role of assuring the more equal and diverse intellectual progress of the country.
Before that happens, it is nothing but a logical conclusion that the festivities meant to celebrate unity quickly turn into a farce.
What do we see when we look at the sky?
A wholly different drama unfolded in Tsalenjikha, a neighboring Samegrelo municipality with wild nature, divine rural life, and a strong sense of community. In national media discourse, Tsalenjikha often comes up as the sole Georgian municipality with an opposition mayor and a place that gave the country its international football star, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. But in the world of literature, the municipality is known as a home to Terenti Graneli, a passionate and melancholic poet of the early 20th century.
It was Graneli, and his tumultuous personality, to whom the municipality dedicated its annual festivities. And rightly so: Graneli was a dreamy man who’d stare at the sky with his big blue eyes, dream about flying, and contemplate death. Forever crushing between his sense of beauty and feelings of pain, he’d turn his suffering into many extraordinary pieces of poetry.
“That I am unable to fly, it already means demise” (მე რომ გაფრენა არ შემიძლია, ეს უკვე ნიშნავს გარდაცვალებას)
This is a line in one of his most famous poems. And trust us, It sounds much better and far more moving in the original language.
The poet died in 1934, aged 36, allegedly succumbing to illness but also general resignation that came after the Soviet occupation of Georgia and would eventually silence the best voices of that era. Some even suggest the regime killed him. His name was rehabilitated, and his work was rediscovered only in later Soviet years. And his native town decided to never forget about its tormented kid.
So when the big day – Terentoba – arrived on October 12, Tsalenjikha was covered with countless umbrellas of different colors hanging in the sky. We don’t know why the organizers had in mind – were they simply copying practices from elsewhere? Was it a tribute to their poet’s obsession with the sky? The fact is, the umbrellas up there would easily direct the gaze of visitors to Graneli’s favorite destination.
But, alas, not everyone was ready for that lyrical journey. A small group of local men arrived at the scene, looked up, and were hurt by umbrellas stealing their sunlight.
“You need an umbrella when it’s raining. And on a sunny day, it’s ladies who need an umbrella,” one man complained. His pals, too, aggressively protested. Evil voices linked these men to AltInfo, an ultraconservative movement known for its untamed urge for hate violence and a unique kind of colorblindness, which makes it unbearable to see any color but black. To trust the local media, the group was particularly triggered by several rainbow-colored umbrellas… you know why. Those rainbows were duly removed from the sky after the protest.
We are sure the majority out there were ready to appreciate the artistic touch or to ignore it. But it often happens that one or two loud predators are enough to silence a larger community of aesthetes. So, after the dust settles and these men are done saving the world from umbrellas, we have one very poetic question for them to grapple with: how low can one fall for it to mean demise?