Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Fascist and the Communist

The Fascist

I met the Fascist at a party. I had followed a girl out onto the deck, which was just a tiny area crammed between the low walls of the house, with a wood staircase going up to the laundry lines. When she left, I had already got trapped in a political conversation with a Georgian. It has always struck me as strange that in America, we're told that politics and religion are two topics that are forbidden to discuss when meeting someone for the first time. In Georgia, these are always the first two things brought up in a conversation, after the initial "Do you like khinkali?" and "Do you like Georgian girls?" array of questions. This guy skipped directly past that and went straight for the kill - Abkhazia.

"Abkhazia is a Russian conspiracy," he told me. "There are no Abkhazians. There were just some mountain people brought down by the Russians and then they sent the Georgians to Siberia. Stalin was the worst man for Georgia."

"It's an interesting version of history. Stalin was a bad guy for most of these places," I said.

"He was good for the Russians, he was a Russian."

"He was Georgian. He was born in Gori."

"This does not matter. A Georgian cannot do a bad thing. He was not Georgian," he said. "Look at World War II, the Soviets fought for nothing, they were monsters. The Nazis at least fought for a good cause. Hitler had good ideas."

"A good cause? Killing Jews you mean?"

"For the good of the German people. What were Stalin's people fighting for?"

"I still can't see what good Hitler was doing for everyone else. Stalin at least had or used the idea of Communism." I was out of drink and this guy kept on talking. I should have kept my mouth shut so I could have escaped - but I always have to have the last word, which is always to my chagrin, as I imagine hitting my head into a brick wall over and over after realize that it is often I who continue such idiotic conversations.

"No, the ways of Hitler are profound. They would have done good for every country. There should be a purification of people. But Stalin's policies only brought us to where we are today, losing Abkhazia to the Russians."

"I don't think Gamsakhurdia did much to help," I said. Gamsakhurdia was Georgia's first President, notable for such quotable sayings like, "Georgia for Georgians!" and splitting the country into pieces as it fell into civil war.

"He was the only one who did anything to help!"

"Okay, listen, I've seen a lot of this Nazi crap growing around Tbilisi." It's been a somewhat recent change that there's been some Nazi graffiti sprouting up around the downtown. Every morning, on my walk to work, downhill past the World War II monument and another monument to those who died along Georgia's path to freedom and independence, is one tunnel that takes the pedestrian to an overlook of the zoo, where tigers, lions, and bears pace back and forth, imagining better days of their own freedom from tiny, concrete cells. Painted on the cold, gray, cement tunnel walls, large and bold, are several "SS" symbols, some swastikas and the messages: "We will rise again," "No niggas!" "Fuck niggers," and in Georgian, "The system must fall." I have to walk by this every time, tempted to spit and piss on it. In other places, like in Vake, there is a huge "Sakartvelo NSGAP", NSGAP being the German acronym for "National Socialist Georgian Workers Party." This is only in addition to smaller, less obvious places across town and the metro where swastikas have recently been scribbled.

One other ex-pat friend also pointed out to me once, "You know, there are a lot of Mein Kampf copies in Georgian available at booksellers in the tunnels." I hadn't observed this before, but now every time I walk the tunnels, I usually see two or three books for sale. Either some book overlord is pushing the sale of the books, or it's recently seen a rise in popularity. Of course, I'm not against reading books, even Mein Kampf, but books like that need to be read in context.

Back to the party, squeezed tightly on the deck with this guy. "Georgians are not Nazis!" he said.

"I'm not saying they are. Just I've been seeing a lot of this graffiti around."

"That graffiti is in the US and everywhere else, too," he countered.

"I've lived in the US for 27 years and never saw any Nazi graffiti. Granted, I was never in neo-Nazi rich areas, I'll admit to that. But this isn't a discussion I want to have. You are a nationalist dick and that's all. Now if you'll excuse me." With that, I left. I tried my best to mingle with everyone else, and to ignore the infuriated Georgian guy I left out on the balcony - I wasn't overly keen on getting into a discussion about how Georgians were the first and best race.

A friend of his came up. "I want a word with you on the balcony," he said. "You were talking to my friend."

"Listen man, I don't want to talk about politics. We're at a party. Have fun. Drop it."

"No, this isn't about politics, it's about friendship."

I was trying hard to not tell him I didn't particularly care about their friendship, but he already had his hand on my arm, pulling it back out to the deck. "Now, my friend says you were calling Georgians nationalists and dicks."

"I wasn't, I was calling your friend that."

"Don't ever call Georgians nationalists or dicks!"

"I wasn't calling Georgians that. I wasn't speaking in general. But now I think you're a dick, too."

"Georgians are not dicks!"

"You and your friend are," I said. "I know lots of Georgians; I love the country, I'm not calling everyone a dick. Just you and your friend. Now if you'll excuse me." I went back inside, having to squeeze between him and the door. Luckily though, he didn't follow and let me be. I was pretty sure I was going to have to fight my way out of that predicament, but thankfully they dropped it or forgot about it and I was again able to drink in peace, without talking to any strangers about politics.

The Communist

I met the Communist only a few days after the party. For some reason, God decided to lob a herd of socialists my way, I guess to see how I would handle it with my furious proletarian strength. Or maybe as some awkward joke he and Marx were playing, in that Utopian world of Heaven above. I often have to take a taxi to work, since my private lessons tend to run quite close to my lessons at my school, meaning I have to make quick material out of my commute. Selecting a taxi in Tbilisi can often be difficult for a foreigner - as it is in any city - and even when speaking Georgian, the average foreigner often has to face prices two or three times higher than the local. The ones who appease the foreigner are either super nice or really crazy - and sometimes a mix of the two. The Communist picked me up in a black Volkswagen sedan with a web of cracks on the windshield looking like a bullet ricocheted off it at one point in time. As he rolled down my neighborhood street, he came to a brusque stop behind a long line of cars and a cacophony of honking.

"What is this?" he exclaimed in Georgian. And then he asked me a question which I failed to understand, but I nodded so it seemed I did. Then he repeated the question. I realized then that the question couldn't be answered with a nod.

"Maybe you know Russian?" I asked.

He exclaimed with delight when he realized I could speak Russian. "Does this happen in your country?" he asked. It occurred to me that that's what he was asking earlier in Georgian.

"Traffic jams?" I asked. "Sure."

"But do you see why this one is here?"

"No," I said.

"Someone is up ahead parked in the middle of the street. Do people do that where you're from?"

"Nope," I said. "I guess not. It is an unusual place to park."

"Where are you from?"

"America," I said. I always bit my teeth that this answer, because often it would mean my cab fare would automatically go up a few lari, even though I had negotiated it ahead of time. He didn't up my fare though, however he did tax it with a long diatribe on Marxist economics.

"I tell you, everything was much better twenty years ago," he told me. "America has it right, right now, but look at us. Marx wrote that there was a process, an economic process, that society would evolve from a capitalist state, to a socialist state and then finally to a communist state. We had the socialist state. The Soviet Union! It was a socialist state. And here we are, going into a capitalist state. That's the wrong direction! America is going in the right direction. You were capitalist and now you're headed towards socialism. You're starting to care of your older folks, improving education and all that. What are we doing? They're just feeding us to dogs here."

The taxi pulled up in front of my school, where I was able to escape the discussion on Marxist economics and get back to my work.   

1 comment:

  1. Odd but I learned more about Georgia in 20 minutes reading ur posts, than in 24 years living in Tbilisi...