Russian Culture and Us
Levan Berdzenishvili | Academic Essay | 2021
Naturally, the attitude towards this issue is distinctive. Of course, this is not the same issue as French (German, Italian) culture and us. Russia, as our conqueror, is a former metropolis and today's occupier is a threat from which you must surely free yourself. Freedom is the core value of our era. Therefore, you should free yourself all together, including from a metropolis. Is liberation from the culture of the metropolis part of the liberation program? Is culture a weapon in the hands of the metropolis? You will often hear the patriotic view that liberation from Russia also means rejection of Russian culture. This could lead to the rejection of Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky, the rejection of Mendeleev's periodic table, and other, rather unexpected and bizarre decisions.
Let us consider, for example, if Fyodor Dostoevsky was and is a weapon of Russian imperialism in the fight against a neighboring country? Am I doing something harmful for Georgia when I am interested in the fate of Rodion Raskolnikov, three brothers Karamazov, Prince Mishkin, Nastasia Filippovna, Katerina Ivanovna, Ilyusha Snegiryov?
What should we do when the attitude towards Russian culture hides extreme nationalism and chauvinism? When the anti-Russian rhetoric is clearly unrestrained and contains expressions such as: "Russians have no writing", "Russia has no ballet", "Russians have no vodka", "Russians have not been in space", "Gagarin is an act", "they did not win the war with Germany", etc. Answering this is not easy. None of these allegations are artificial and thought of out of thin air, I have heard all of them in different variations in different languages and different countries. I have heard, for example, that the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky robbed the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, but the details have not been clarified. A few years ago one good and honest man told me, we do not consider Dostoevsky a great writer, we consider Cervantes. I must say directly, I understood then and I understand now that the author of "Don Quixote" has nothing to do with this, the main idea in this statement is Dostoevsky's enmity. The logic here is clear: Russia is the enemy, Dostoevsky is Russia, therefore, Dostoevsky is the enemy. But from the point of view of the "patriots", this is not enough, it must be added that this is a weak enemy. The ancient Greeks, such as Aeschylus in the "Persians", emphasized the strength of the enemy and thus gave more importance to their victories. We are not like them, we have to represent the enemy as insignificant. Therefore, Dostoevsky is not the Great, Tolstoy is not the Great, Nabokov is not the Great, and so on. Russia is the enemy, Putin is the enemy, Russia is the occupier, and what is his weapon? Humanistic writing that fights enmity, fights slavery, seeks the human in a human? Dostoevsky is Putin's weapon ?! And was Thomas Mann Hitler's weapon? of course not. Putin's weapons are tanks, missiles, military-industrial complex, gas, oil, soft power, agency, everything, but not high culture. Once one English religious hierarch joked that, not reading Dostoevsky is a crime, and reading it - a punishment. Not reading Dostoevsky is useful to Putin, because he is consciously or unconsciously directed against Putin, it's this writer who argues that galactic issues are resolved not in the Kremlin walls, but in the human soul, where the battle between good and evil, God and Satan is held. Umberto Eco argued that reading all books is a useful thing, even a phone book. Reading Dostoevsky is a useful activity. Writing in particular, and culture in general, cannot be the enemy of good. Thus the rejection of the high culture of the metropolis for patriotic demands is not only a sign of tastelessness and provincialism but also a pragmatically harmful activity.
Naturally, the word "culture" does not only mean high culture, culture can be both low and lower. We are talking about Dostoevsky, which is read by individuals and, even if it were harmful, would not have been able to statistically harm many. The second issue is, when the Russian low-quality culture sneaks in, for example, pop, and sees a fabulous expansion here, starting from shops and restaurants to taxis and minibusses. And here, too, the harm that will inevitably be inflicted on the consumer of such a culture is of a nature of taste and not of a political one and, moreover, of a state. If a person listens to pop music of dubious quality, that does not mean that he becomes in favor of the aggressive policy of the Russian state, just as the consumption of similar Georgian cultural by-products is not connected with the growth and dissolution of Georgian statehood. In both cases, this is the issue of taste, not politics. Of course, propaganda and elements of soft power can be "hidden" in Russian pop music, but a song that says "I'm ready to kiss the sand you walked on" does not force me to justify occupation, just as "Why did you go to Batumi" does not force Russian occupants to renounce occupation.
Incidentally, the particularly unbridled anti-Russian sentiment is sometimes fostered by Russian culture itself, such as Pelvin's highly thought-provoking novel,, Omon Ra", in which the Soviet and Russian space ambitions are questioned.
It is very interesting that in the struggle against Russian culture, they rarely make the argument that Russian writers are not Russians. For example, Poles do not claim that Dostoevsky is Polish. I think a clever strategy is used here. "Dostoevsky is Polish" does not necessarily mean that he is weak, but hatred teaches that Dostoevsky is weak, a plagiarist, untalented, and so on. But what an interesting case this writer is. As you know, according to a well-known version, the Dostoevskies are of Mongol origin. One of the Mongols, Kara-Murza, became a Christian and became a Rtishev, then one of the Rtishevs was givena plot of land, "Dostoevo / Dostoïevo" (the common name for such a gift), to an area that later became part of Rech-Pospolita. Dostoevsky's ancestors also were ennobled to Szlachta by the Tsar of Poland, and when Russia occupied Poland, the Dostoevskies became Russian princes. They could have played the so-called "Gogol's card", but the Poles set out to humiliate the greater writer. They probably thought that this would upset their hated neighbors even more.
This is a fruitless, hopeless endeavor. The great writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky, to say the least, has been confirmed. The simplest criteria is socio-dynamic, how many languages it has been translated to, what the recognition index is, what is the circulation, whether it is transferred to other fields of art, what influence it has had on other writers, and so on and it turns out that he is objectively a great writer, and in the ranking of world literature he may be either first or second, or, in an extreme case, third. We can recall one story here. The end of the last century also coincided with the end of the previous millennium, and the world was overtaken by various types of polls. The best player of the century, the best writer of all time, and so on. One survey found that the greatest English writer was not Shakespeare, Dickens, and Jane Austen, but Joanne Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series. The polls clearly irritated current writers, and in 2002, the Norwegian Book Club invited 100 famous writers from 66 countries around the world to its homeland. Among them were: Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, Susan Sontag, Paul Auster, Milan Kundera, Siegfried Lenz, Julian Barnes, Herta Müller , Antonio Tabuki, Michel Tournier, Genghis Aitmatov, Olga Tokarczuk, Valentin Rasputin, etc. The writers were asked to write down, in their opinion, the ten best works of all time. Based on these records, a list of the Norwegian Book Club was compiled, which stated the hundred best works of all time in world literature. The club announced that Cervantes' "Don Quixote" had won first place with the most votes, the number of votes for the other books was not named. Most of the writers in this list were represented with one work each, for example, Dante with "Divine Comedy" and Stendhal with "The Red and the Black"; some with two, for example, Homer (The Iliad and the Odyssey), Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary, and Sentimental Education), Thomas Mann (The Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain), and William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury and "Absalom, Absalom!"); Some with three - Franz Kafka ("The Trial", "Godol", "Stories"), William Shakespeare ("Hamlet", "King Lear", "Othello"), Lev Tolstoy ("War and Peace", "Anna Karenina", "The Death of Ivan Ilyich") and one writer with four books - Fyodor Dostoevsky ("Crime and Punishment", "The Idiot", "The Devil", "The Brothers Karamazov").
The phrase "we do not want anything Russian" can not be taken seriously. "I do not want anything from an occupant country" is an emotional outburst and, at first glance, understandable and logical, but how is this possible? Do you want electricity and do not want Chekhov? Do you want gas and do not want Tchaikovsky? Why? The answer is simple - conqueror. It is understandable, but we are very old and experienced people, among our invaders, there were Arabs, Persians, Turks and would anyone think that we do not want Arabic numerals, we do not want algebra, we do not want "Layla and Majnun", we do not want Saadi or Orhan Pamuk? Maybe we should go further and not want our own Teimuraz I ?! Independence turned out to be a difficult responsibility. First of all, there is a certain price to be paid for independence. Under the metropolitan, most of the colonial status country was bilingual (we also had trilingual regions). Russian, as the lingua franca of the USSR, was a second language for almost all citizens. Foreign films, for example, were dubbed into Russian. Georgian duplication did not exist either with sound or subtitles. There were places (especially in the mountains) where they did not understand Russian, and during the film demonstration, a cinematographer or some volunteer would offer a simultaneous translation to the audience. There were many anecdotal cases in this regard. The country was practically bilingual, watched movies, TV shows, and, consequently, knew Russian. I remember well how the role of the Russian language increased in my generation during the broadcast of the 1966 World Cup in England (it was the first World Cup that the Soviet Union showed to its spectators). The football TV presenters were legendary people, including Georgians, and we will never forget the reportage of the game between Tbilisi "Dinamo" and "Carl Zeiss" of Jena in the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup in Dusseldorf., Who will forget his words upon our victory: "I can imagine what is happening in Tbilisi!" («Представляю, что творится в Тбилиси!»)
Soviet television did not like showing foreign films. They only remembered them in times of trial or distress. A time of trial was, for example, on Easter night, there was the threat that a Soviet citizen might go to church. That is why at such times high rating films would be shown on television. For years, it was an American remake of Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, The Seven Samurai, a Western "The Magnificent Seven", which statistical viewers knew by heart, of course, in Russian. I am reminded of the words of the bandit, Calvera, to Chris, the leader of the forces of goodness in this film: “You, such a person, have returned because of this small village ... («Вы, такой человек, вернулись из-за этой маленькой деревеньки…»)
Our intelligentsia was principally bilingual. There were those in Georgia who knew Georgian poorly or did not know it at all and spoke about literature in Russian. Most of the students in Russian schools in Tbilisi and Batumi were Georgians. Our "cool girls" did not want to speak Georgian, while art workers used Russian as their working language. In Otar Ioseliani's films, you can see Russian-speaking girls. Elite drunken boys and girls reciting poems by Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, Akhmatova, and so on. We were well placed in the Empire, better than we imagine, but the poems of these great poets, even if known by heart and recited in Russian, did not add anything to the Soviet Union.
In the USSR we had more freedom compared to the other republics. As a native of Batumi, I have had contact with foreigners since childhood. Batumi, as you know, is a port city and was full of foreign sailors. As a resort town, there was no shortage of tourists. We were not afraid of communicating with foreigners. The word "change" appeared, cigarettes and jeans were sold, and illegal currency exchange transactions were taking place. We remember from "Master and Margarita" that Mikhail Berlioz and Ivan Bezdomny consider a foreigner who speaks Russian well as very suspicious and, in general, they see an enemy in a foreigner from the very start. We were not like this, we had much more freedom than Russia. The route of elite foreigners in the Soviet Union mainly included Moscow, Leningrad, and Tbilisi. There was a second option: Moscow, Kyiv, Tbilisi. The famous Beatles song „Back in the USSR” names exactly these three regions, their concerts were planned here, which was never carried out for unknown reasons. Donald Rayfield, a great friend of our country, a Russianist and Kartvelologist, says that the USSR was no longer in Georgia in the 1970s. In fact, in conditions of greater freedom, some renounced national culture. More freedom was also expressed by the fact that some patriotism was permissible, for example at school, but lighthearted and harmless.
Nevertheless, a negative attitude towards Georgian culture was considered to be a good tone among educated people. A professor might have asked, "What is so special about your Rustaveli"? And it was these people, who did not see Georgian culture in Soviet times, who now offer us to not see any other culture. It is amazing the indifference we show about learning about the life and culture of neighboring peoples. We do not even have basic knowledge regarding Armenian culture, while it existed, students studied on the Faculty of Armenology more out of hatred than love. This is the attitude which we show, we are not interested in the culture of our neighbors and now we are trying to include the culture of the neighboring former metropolis in this matter. It is said that the Russian language is no longer spoken and it was replaced by English. English could not replace anything, knowledge of English could never be as massive as Russian was. A colony is bilingual. An independent country is monolingual. Independence is the greatest achievement, and monolingualism is also the greatest threat. Even if the whole of Georgia does nothing, but start translating, we will still not have the resources to assimilate world culture. Consequently, we do not have textbooks, from mathematics to medicine and the humanities. Our level of education has dropped in every field and this is not unusual. Naturally, we could not give up independence because of this.
Monolingualism is a cultural problem. What problem can Dostoevsky create if no one can read him? The liberation of Georgia was followed by a great translation and publishing boom. We mostly translated from English, however, we did not forget the Romance languages either; High-level translators appeared: Chiladze, Japaridze, Akhvlediani, Badridze, Tskhadadze, Dumbadze, Kantaria, Pipia, etc. Now a new trend is emerging before our eyes, the great translators have started translating from Russian. Even Chiladze took on Russian. The time has come when a professional translator is translating Fyodor Dostoevsky, this is a direct sign that for us he is turning into a part of culture again. You leave the metropolis, you lose its language and its culture is not dangerous. Culture is not a problem at all, the problem has never been in real culture, the problem was in the KGB, Georgian and Russian Chekists, informers, Komsomol and party activists, KGB, GRU agents, etc.
Stalin was hated for being a gray, unnoticed and uneducated man. Trotsky started to paint Stalin in black colors, and the others followed. Stalin, meanwhile, read 300-500 pages a day, even having a special lamp in his car to read a book. This is confirmed by the books of the excellent historian Simon Sebag Montefiore. It is objective data. It is not worth learning much from Stalin, but we can learn at least one lesson. Stalin's library was full not only of Lenin's works but also of books by ideological opponents, Plekhanov, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin. Stalin read them and saw no danger in that. Stalin was reading Trotsky and so, why should we be afraid to read Tolstoy?!
A good book is not a danger. A book should not be a threat at all if it is not Gladkov's "Cement" or this type of socrealistic absurd. The foundations and basic characteristics of socialist realism (folklore, ideology, specificity) were dangerous not only in Russian culture but also in native Georgian literature and culture. And yet it is surprising how many non-Soviet books were written, how many non-Soviet directors came to the cinema, how many bold ideas were "accidentally let through" or "snuck in" by good people. When such books were written in Russian, Russian culture was useful to everyone. Gladkov, Nikolaeva, and other similar authors are not, but it is obvious that Platonov and Pasternak are more Russian culture than even the Nobel Prize winner Sholokhov and the whole army of Serafimovichs.
It is very important to us how Russian culture saw our country. I will not reveal a big secret if I say that Georgia has always been the muse of Russian literature, especially Russian poetry. Starting with Pushkin and Lermontov and ending with Mayakovsky and Pasternak. One of Pushkin's deepest poems begins: “Upon the hills of Georgia lies the gloom of nighttime; / The Aragva (river) roars in front of me.” («На холмах Грузии лежит ночная мгла; / Шумит Арагва предо мною.») This is the poem, of which the last words are: “And my heart once more burns and loves /
Because love it must.” («И сердце вновь горит и любит — оттого, / Что не любить оно не может.») Lev Tolstoy remembered the five months he spent here as a young man so well that at the end of his life, when he ran away from home, he was going to Romania. Saying that if they did not give him a passport there, he would go to Tbilisi, Georgians are good, they do not count anything.
Even in recent times, Russian politics has failed to use the high Russian culture to re-conquer the so-called "Neighborhood" with the so-called soft power. They prefer the power of gas and oil, electricity, and tanks in comparison to the power of Dostoevsky and Gogol. It is a bit strange that the Russian Tsarist and later Soviet empires did not pay attention to integration or its extreme form, assimilation. This applied to us as well. It was a matter of great pain for us, if someone, who was ethnically not a hundred percent Georgian, says that they are Georgian. Moreover, even Georgian scientists were worried that Zidane, Tigana, Tresor, Henry, and Djorkaeff were playing for the French national football team and now they are worried that Mbappe is playing. One of the biggest problems for us was if a citizens of Armenian origin would say they were Georgian. Georgian nationalism fought against assimilation. The purity of blood was the aim. Even the Soviet Union could not assimilate. They had a funny project called "Soviet People" and they did not even have a unified Soviet criminal code. There was one for Russia, one for Georgia, and none for the Soviet Union. The formation of the Soviet people needed the Soviet language. This could not be created artificially, as for assimilation, out of fear that some Armenians, Georgians, or Jews would not want to be Russian, they had a special nationality column in their passports and questionnaires. When the British Empire disintegrated, a community of 54 countries was formed, and sympathies remained with each other. Canada and Australia do not hate the UK and do not seriously discuss whether Shakespeare is great or not. Of course, there are examples from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as well. However, the name of the greatest contemporary English writer is Salman Rushdie and he is Indian.
Perhaps Russian culture was not a threat even in Soviet times, as it was not intended for assimilation. As you remember, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was a very peculiar process. The three Slavic countries signed a new union in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the other Soviet republics were not there, and the USSR thus disintegrated. Someone celebrated, someone did have a mood to celebrate (us, for example, because of civil strife and national tragedy), but in some countries they saw it quite differently, they arrived from Central Asia and were forced to form CIS.
When Academician Sakharov called us a small empire, we were saddened. We were also saddened about aspirations of liberating Abkhazia and Ossetia. We do not understand what a state is. Many thought that freedom was to fight against autonomies and national minorities. We did not use the example of the Roman Empire, we could not keep minorities as friends. We even looked down on them for permitting them to open a national university.
In 1978, a group of friends and I formed an underground political party, the Republican Party of Georgia. The party had its own printed gazette, the "chapel." My wife and I printed the first 13 copies on a typewriter. What did we write? That our enormous national resources (citrus, tea, water, wine) are being "hoarded", stolen by Russia. We thought that our economy would prosper alongside liberation. How could we have imagined, that economically we were unprofitable for Russia and Russia was supporting us? That we could never build the Vaziani Military Airport, which can accommodate an aircraft of any size, that it would take thirty years to build one metro station, and we would not even dare to dream of building an entire metro. A colony does not know the truth about itself.
Modern Russia can not use the benefits of its own culture. Putin has never used Russian culture for anything. How can he use Pelevin and Sorokin? How can it use a large part of the culture, which is the enemy of the empire? Even how can it use even singers like Boris Grebenshchikov and Andrei Makarevich? How can he use Yuri Shevchuk, if he seriously criticized President Putin on live TV? How would the Soviet Union use Eisenstein, Shostakovich, and Pasternak, if it was constantly on the lookout for their destruction?
Interest in Russia from the greatest Russian writers in world literature will be aroused, but the love of Russia's can not be aroused. So the culture that was against autocracy, did not serve the Russian Empire, the Soviet Empire also needed writers Serafimovich and Gladkov, poets Demyan Bedny and Konstantin Simonov, they fit perfectly into the understanding of the Red Empire, how should Pasternak be used against you? By the way, I always wondered why they needed to sacrifice Pasternak, was he Solzhenitsyn or what? He just told the modest truth about the Civil War. In terms of intensity, it was not one-hundredth of Shalamov, even one of Shalamov's stories was more dangerous than the whole of Pasternak's work. I thought it was dangerous that our girls did not speak Georgian, that our side was dangerous.
What happened in the end?
The Soviet Union failed to create Soviet culture. The biggest achievement in this regard was the title of the newspaper "Soviet Culture".
The Soviet Union failed to establish a "new historical unity, the Soviet people."
There is no such thing as two Russias, just as, there is no such thing as two Germanies, this is true, but that does not mean that we should turn our back at only//one Russias culture.
The threat is the Russian state, its military, economic potential, its soft power, propaganda, and secret service // spy network activities. Russia has no cultural weapons. Why couldn't it create it? Because Putin is a dwarf compared to the great Russian culture. Russian culture is much larger than Russian politics. This is the right view, it is the same in our case. How can Rustaveli and Ivanishvili be compared? It is the same there. I do not want to discuss the qualities of the Russian people when they say that their main values are patience and suffering. In fact, collectivism, lack of individual freedom, and mass ignorance of their problems are their main problems.
Time passes. We diverge from each other.
It is very interesting, how the culture of Russian social behavior rubbed onto us. We mastered the culture of behavior for a long time, but, it is not hereditary and therefore is no longer dangerous. First of all, it was an unserious attitude towards labor, followed by a patriotic explanation of theft ("he is a good man, he steals from Russians"), finding the fast way out of a problem, with a bottle of cognac, and so on, corruption. The simplicity of Russia penetrated many components here: turning Lazishvilis into the millionaires, Bidzina Ivanishvili, and a Bryntsalov into the billionaires - the Soviet Union was a country of worship of “D” grade average students.
Now the time for "A" grade average students is coming.