Peace can be many things. But a popular working definition in Georgia today refers to a situation when the rockets are not yet falling in territory under Tbilisi’s control. This leaves Georgians mostly free to fight in other wars or the wars of others. And while the government catches the fair wind of fear in its sails, some Georgians spend their pent-up energy observing, discussing, and nitpicking the conflicts elsewhere. These days, it was the Israel-Palestine conflict. As the genre demands, the Georgian social media community split into two irreconcilable camps, attacking each other with anything from snarky memes to Facebook posts, some of which could match journal articles in their size, ambition, and (self-)importance. However you look at it, whoever you pin the blame on, pain, death, and destruction are plain to see. And that is reasonably sufficient for the ruling party to keep cashing in its peace dividend, selling Georgia as a “peace island” surrounded by the sea of chaos.
Peace Island may sound like a TV show name, and it indeed is developing into one. The authorities even took a knife to the competition: the access to pirate streaming websites has been cut (again), so the live reality show of their lives is one of the last remaining sources for Georgian escapism. After all, who would have thought that Georgians, out of all people, would be the ones watching from their peaceful misery as the world went down in flames? But wait…
Here is Dispatch and this is Nini from Tbilisi, to tell scary stories about our doomsday state of mind.
We were born to die
Growing up, in our early teens, many of us were fed scary stories of the Beast who had impregnated a “prostitute” in the middle of some desert. The chances were, we were told, that a child was already born out of that ungodly liaison. Maybe the kid grew up in the meantime, turning twelve, the designated age for the Anti-Christ to take over his body and soul. And who knew, maybe that kid was one of us. Not among the girls, though. We knew very well that the best parts were always reserved for the boys. Who would let the woman play a major lead even in the macabre story of the apocalypse!? The only role a girl could ever hope for in this story was that of a “prostitute,” and even there – we didn’t have so many deserts around.
In Georgia’s painful post-independence years, chaos and uncertainty provided a fertile ground for doomsday prophecies like these to thrive. They came in many forms and plots, but all ended with Georgia reaching much-longed prosperity after a lengthy ordeal. The martyred country would rise among the righteous, the story went. It would regain its lost territories, our emigres would finally return to their homes, and everyone would live happily ever after.
So much for the happy end. But oh, how detailed, how delectable was that ordeal that preceded the (promised) joy… The scenarios were so gory and chilling that the prospective prosperity seemed like something to dread rather than look forward to, at least to those still dreaming about the earthly future. The ones hoping to survive the ultimate test would better cancel all their plans and dreams and go and live like saints, denying themselves small pleasures that qualify as sins (and don’t they all?!).
And it wasn’t just oral history – some corresponding videotapes made rounds to re-enforce the message with visual ‘proof.’ The unluckiest of us watched the one with Satan himself addressing the audience to reveal his plans. Spooky scenes straight from hell were artfully portrayed. And, of course, there was this image of the Antichrist who’d pass as a charismatic world ruler and looked in the video like all present-day white populist leaders mushed together… well, perhaps, slightly more charming.
Ah, yes, and do you know that the geopolitics of apocalypse is a thing?! A Moscow-friendly version suggested that Russian saints would guide us to salvation in those trying times. The more nationalist edition happily turned the red walls of the Kremlin into smoking ashes. As for the U.S., well, in both versions, it was flushed by deadly floods – sorry, dear American friends, you climate change deniers had it coming.
Empires were doomed in any case: the judgment day would occur in the (old) Georgian language. Because why would we let anyone mess with our party once we collectively made it to heaven?
And if there is the geopolitics of the apocalypse, the ideology isn’t erased either. What doomsday plot worth its salt not sprout a good-old racist side story? One of the early omens of approaching apocalypse was the election of a black president in the U.S., we were told. So, my dear American readers, while you celebrated Obama’s victory in 2008, the peace of mind of teenage Georgians was seriously disturbed.
More liberal-minded producers of the apocalypse, on the other hand, chose to take it out on George W. Bush. The videos often showed a slow-motion scene of one of W’s eyes straining into the void for no reason. Someone or some force was pulling his attention, and that someone definitely wasn’t his retired dad.
Pains of growing up
Years passed, and kids grew up – with or without the Beast possessing their bodies. But their doomsday mentality didn’t go anywhere. The prophecies thrive among certain groups, feeding from hopelessness and neverending crises. Many channel their apocalyptic obsessions by gluing their eyes to Georgian television, which never disappoints in the doomsday department. And some grew to see those plots dangerously repeating in real life.
And those who have departed shall and do indeed walk among us. Once disgraced officials are resurrected by a certain >>invisible force<< and make the rest of us pay for their original sins. They speak in false tongues of peace and prosperity, while the world burns and misery spreads. But the promised light is nowhere in sight and neither is joy that was promised.
Or is it that we are getting punished for creating false gods?! For all you need to qualify as a deity in Georgia these days is being able to perform the mentioned miracle of (political) resurrection, and a couple of billion dollars in the bank.
Yes, yes, it is Georgia’s informal ruler, Bidzina Ivanishvili we have in mind. And no, it is not only ruling party supporters that have ascribed godlike qualities to him. Just watch Georgian discussions whenever anything, good or bad, unfolds in the country. Nothing is left to chance, and no one acts of her or his own agency. Bidzina is omnipresent and omniscient, everything is HIS plan, and his ways are beyond human understanding. This kind of auto-hypnosis left even Ivanishvili’s fiercest critics with a bitter dilemma: hate the man or pray to him to show his face and end the agony.
This dilemma often manifests itself in Georgian opposition media, where investigative reports about government misdeeds and the profit the big man himself seems to be drawing from it, are periodically followed by paradoxal hopes that Ivanishvili would deliver us by removing despised officials from posts.
Hopes dressed as rumors about him ascending (in his helicopter) from his residence in his native village of Chorvila to flee and doom his party for defeat make for another recurring biblical fantasy.
Just take a look at the latest activity of Ivanishvili’s nemesis, the United National Movement party. On October 19, UNM activists jumped into their cars and drove to Chorvila, in a gesture that baffles the Georgian public. The trip was billed as a protest against the informal (!) ruler, but why did it resemble a pilgrimage to the holy land?!
Believing in higher powers can help many of us to cope. But building a democracy takes having faith in oneself and not needing the Deus ex to resolve our problems. The two may not need to be exclusive. Yet they are hard to combine as long as one prefers the horrific but certain end to endless uncertainty and anxiety of choice.