The Dispatch

Dispatch – April 23: Igi

“Become Igi” – read one of the many banners of a massive demonstration in Tbilisi late on April 17. On that day, the foreign agents bill, reintroduced by the ruling Georgian Dream party despite its defeat last year, passed its first hearing in parliament, bringing a particularly large number of protesters to Rustaveli Avenue. The banner appears in front of Tbilisi’s First Classical Gymnasium, a historic building to the right of the parliament, and a gathering place for the youth whenever they feel that someone is hijacking their future. But who is “Igi” – or who should become one?

Here is Nini and the Dispatch newsletter, to talk about rebellious youth, their literary inspirations, and bad real-life examples.

Igi (read: ˈi-ɡ-i’) is the main protagonist of a short story of the same name, which is set in prehistoric times. Written in a simple and purposefully primitive language by the famous Georgian writer Jemal Karchkhadze (1936-1998) and illustrated with iconic minimalist drawings by Kote Sulaberidze, Igi tells the story of an archaic man living with his tribe.

Like his fellow archaic humans, the man, Igi, duly follows the brutal rules and traditions of his tribe. But he is slowly thrown out of his comfort zone as unfamiliar sensations begin to overwhelm him. Igi feels hard-to-name changes taking place inside him and is confronted with love, sadness, loneliness, creativity, and other complicated emotions. The change then becomes visual – in a tribe where everyone crouches like question marks, Igi suddenly stands upright. He is different; he is noticed, and in the end, he has to pay for it: like other outcasts, Igi has to jump into the “throat of the Great Sleep” to his death. But not without first inspiring others. Not without leaving behind a small but meaningful legacy.

Most young people have read that story because it is a part of the school curriculum. The short story is one of those works of literature with the tropes of painful transformation and the conflict of the individual against society, all following the path once blazed by the revered Georgian poet Vazha Pshavela. These are often the stories that, despite their obligatory curricular background, manage to win the hearts of rebellious youth. This is how Igi became a cult work of literature.

Those who are still in school or have just graduated still carry in their hearts and minds the ideas and emotions evoked by such stories. Good for them – because outside of the books, all they have seen these past years are the stories of reverse and perverse transformations. And these are the stories of those who once walked among us.

Reverse Igis

They were our lecturers who taught constitutional principles and EU foreign policy. They were diplomats who claimed that they were protecting Georgia’s chosen foreign policy course. They were public defenders who said they cared about human rights. Some knew them from school, others through family connections. They were those respected, well-paid consultants or project managers who spoke some inner-circle bureaucratic language – the ones who actually qualified for those vacancies in international organizations that required fifteen years of experience in a job you never knew existed (facilitating something sustainable within some scope of some input-output…etc., etc…).

Some met them at routine project meetings (which could have been an email) and found them among the well-polished, well-dressed, opinionated men and women who spoke fluent English. Others were CC-ed in their emails, the emails full of acronyms that ordinary people had never heard of, the emails that took all the precautions, used inclusive language, respected everyone’s privacy, those very emails that were supposed to find us well. Then they got bored, or someone approached them, and they began to appear among what the parties proffered as “fresh faces” before the elections.

A protester holds an illustrated banner reading “Become Igi,” Tbilisi, April 17, 2024. Photo: Nini Gabritchidze/

Years have passed, and unlike Igi, they may have missed the moment when something inside them began to shift. Now they are the ones who use language and enact laws to exclude and destroy others. They’ve become lawmakers or government leaders who have violated every principle they once stood for. They vote for laws that declare their former colleagues as foreign agents and undermine the agreed foreign policy course. They have no problem labeling young people as perverts and “Satanists.” They dutifully jot down the proposals to introduce “gayness checks” in civil service, and they do not blink; they do not retort. There seems to be no moral line they won’t cross.

What happened? Were they ruthless careerists from the start? Was it their long-held hatred that blinded them and got the better of them? Or were it those small compromises that silently led them to the point of no return? If the latter is the case, it could be the survival instinct—it’s not just our bodies that can adapt. Our minds, too, can be altered for our comfort. Evolution—at least when human society is concerned—can go both ways.

Of Chicks and Foxes

Whatever happened to them, they now face a major challenger: youthful innocence. The first wave of protests against the Foreign Agents Bill left some activists exhausted and others apathetic. Unlike last year, the ruling party seems better prepared. The struggle is going to be long, and you have to conserve your energy. You need to recharge. But the younger ones aren’t having it.

For the past few days, groups of teenagers and students have been marching in the streets of Tbilisi, keeping the resistance alive with their lively, energetic, and creative protests every night. Their stamina continues to amaze (I confirm – the average recovery time for an aging millennial who dares to follow their routine for a single day is three days).

The ruling party responds by promising them concerts and internships on the one hand and accusing them of being brainwashed by NGOs and the opposition on the other. But will the addressees get these messages? Because they seem to speak a different language – a naive but kind and innocent one, like that of Igi.

They may also find it difficult to understand these reverse transformations, just as they don’t want to believe that the police – whom they look into the eyes during the rallies – will hurt them. Aren’t these policemen, some of them young and some of them the same age as their parents, people too? Will they become Igis – or will their human eyes disappear again, and the demonstrators will find themselves defenseless on the ground, trampled under their feet?

Apparently, what they do not teach enough in school is that a policeman may be human, but a monstrosity, too, is human. It shouldn’t be hard to find enough teaching material – there are plenty of examples in real life, literature, the history of Georgia, and the world. If it happened to someone else, it can happen to us.

Yet there is also an argument to be made for their innocent ignorance. A teacher, Teona Bekishvili, recalled on social media another Georgian tale about a “teacher fox.” The wily fox trains and raises chicks, only to eat them when they grow up. But for some reason, the fox forgets to train and teach the last chick, and it is that last chick that ends up eating the fox—because the chick “never knew that chicks can’t eat foxes.”

“It is not always the time for contemplation. Sometimes it’s time for divine ignorance,” Bekishvili concluded.


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