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Georgia, Russia: Interethnic Relationships

See Global Voices special coverage page on the South Ossetia crisis.

Tbilisi-based LJ user shupaka writes this (RUS) about what it feels like to be an ethnic Russian in Tbilisi now:

Today once again I've been asked – how do they treat Russians [in Georgia]? Won't it get them in trouble if they speak Russian in Tbilisi?

My mother is Russian and my mother-in-law is Russian. I asked them, just in case – how do they treat you here? Aren't they oppressing you? Mamas say – no, they aren't oppressing us.

They are Georgian citizens, these mamas of mine, and they are getting as many problems from the Russian leadership as all the other Georgian citizens.

It's easier for my mother-in-law – her parents live in Ukraine; to mama it's tougher – her father and sisters live in Siberia.

Mama speaks Georgian at work, in the street, in stores and on public transportation. With some accent, though, and not always without mistakes, and stranger often ask her: “Sadauri har?” That is, where are you from? Georgians love it when a non-Georgian can speak Georgian.

And my mother-in-law speaks Russian most of the time. And she also teaches Russian to children – a few times in the evening every week she reads the likes of [Korney Chukovsky] and [Nikolay Nosov] to the neighborhood kids. And the number of her students hasn't decreased – she has as many as she had before the occupation.

I've conducted an extremely silly experiment today – I was addressing people in Russian. On a bus, I was saying ‘ostanovite, pozhaluysta‘ ['please stop here'] instead of ‘gaacheret,’ at a store I was asking for ‘butylku borzhoma‘ ['a bottle of Borjomi mineral water] instead of ‘erti bordjomi,’ at a drugstore… well, et cetera. I haven't noticed any negative reaction.

Earlier this month, on Aug. 12, LJ user voinodel (Vadim Rechkalov, Russian war correspondent for Moskovsky Komsomolets) posted this “monologue” (RUS) by Ms. Lobzhanidze, a resident of Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, Russia:

- My son-in-law is Ossetian. My 8-year-old grandson would be Ossetian, too – on his father's side, that is. I myself am Russian. By blood, that is. But in my passport, I'm Georgian. They've canceled [the 'ethnicity' line] in passports now, but my last name is Georgian, I've inherited it from my late husband. My son is Georgian in his passport, too, and by blood as well – if, of course, you look at his father's side. He's married to an Armenian. And who am I after all this – my grandson is Ossetian, while my granddaughter is Georgian – if, of course, you look at her father's side?

But I'm most concerned about my son. Anything can happen now. The [South Ossetians] will now come back from the war angry. And they'll begin… I don't even know what to expect…

I thought I was paranoid. I called [the police]. What should I do in this situation, I asked. You see, my son is Georgian. A policewoman asked: and where is he registered, what's his citizenship? I say, he's registered in Vladikavkaz, Russian citizen. He was born here, has never been to Georgia. Doesn't approve of Saakashvili's politics. But our last name is Lobzhanidze. What shall we do?

The woman listened to me carefully and said: take all precaution measures. We've been flooded by all kinds of people, she said. Try to protect him. Don't let him out in the street on his own. How old is your son? He's 30 already, I reply. How can I not let him out. And the policewoman continues: well, I understand you, the situation is tense, but we can't give every person an officer [to guard him/her]. Have there been incidents already, I ask. No, she replies, not yet…

P.S.

All the relatives of [Ms. Lobzhanidze] sit at home since Aug. 8. They don't even go to work. But that's only those who are on her husband's side. The Armenian and Russian relatives don't seem to have anything to fear. Not yet.

  • Rita

    I am a graduate study in the US and am hoping to conduct some research in Tbilisi. I speak Russian only. I would love to learn Georgian to some degree, but realistically, I will mostly be speaking Russian in my every day interactions. Will this be a problem? Will people view me negatively because I don’t speak Georgian? Thanks for any comments you can give.

  • Kara

    I’m in a similar situation and would love to know someone’s opinion. I’m a bit daunted by Georgian…

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