In Batumi, Georgia there are many Ukrainian flags flying and the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine are displayed in shops, on cars and even whole sides of buildings. Georgians relate to, understand and support Ukraine that has a border along the Black Sea as do Georgia and Russia.
The Black Sea is an important shipping water and leads ultimately to the Mediterranean Sea and therefore the whole world economy. Just as the Black Sea port of Odesa is critical for Ukraine to access the Black Sea, directly across the Black Sea is the equally vital port city of Batumi, Georgia where Peg and I are living. We look out from our apartment’s balcony across the Black Sea and often wonder if Russia will invade Georgia as it has before. In fact, Russia’s military currently occupies 20% of Georgia.
Peg and I drove within a few kilometers of part of the Georgian territory claimed by Russia when we traveled from the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, to our judicial duty station in Batumi. We were warned to not try to get near the Russian military installation as Russia considers that a part of Russia, much as it does Ukraine’s Crimean area. And with our American passports, we might become fair game for a Gulag. Just ask Brittney Griner.
As I am writing this column on Sunday morning, December 04 (our son’s birthday, by the way) I am looking out our 17th floor window at merchant ships on the Black Sea. One of the ships has two large metal tanks that occupy almost the entire length of the ship and appear to be equipped to haul natural gas. Many of the ships that go by us are loaded with semi-trailers. Batumi has little in the way of exports except wine; Georgia claims to be the 8,000 year old birthplace of wine. However, as this is both a port city and a warm water tourist destination, a great deal of grain and manufactured materials are imported to Batumi. The concern, of course, is that Georgia with its 37,000 man military would be a mere nuisance if Russia and its million man army decided this port is an attractive excuse to re-claim all of Georgia as part of the historical Russia. After all, Stalin was born in Gori, Georgia and even attended the Tbilisi Spiritual Seminary. Since Stalin was history’s greatest butcher of human beings and presided over the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) for over 25 years, the concerns of Georgians do not seem unreasonable.
Speaking of the U.S.S.R., the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, I am currently reading a book that cites stories from Georgian persons who lived under the Soviet Union. The book contains 70 stories, one for each of the 70 years the U.S.S.R. existed, and was compiled by editor Buba Kudava. In his forward to the book, Kudava addresses the U.S.S.R. name:
“Until only recently, Georgia was part of a country whose falsity began with its very name. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as it was called in full. Four assertions, and all four of them lies!
How, after all, could the term “union” be applied to a group of territories brought together without their consent, through fear and violence, and held together through force of arms? How could the descriptor “soviet” be used when no true “councils” were consulted and no true counsel sought? How could rampant totalitarianism be described as “socialist”? And how could any of the “union’s” 15 sham “republics” be deemed worthy of that name, with all of its associated high ideals?
Four assertions, and the same number of falsehoods.”
Life in Soviet Georgia, ISBN 978-9941-487-64-4 (2021), p. 7
Literature often tells us more than news reports about what actually happened to people and how it felt to those affected by the events. The stories from this book strike me as valid observations of where Russia truly stands when it comes to Ukraine and Georgia and maybe the other thirteen “Republics” of the old U.S.S.R. I understand why Georgians stand with Ukrainians.