“მე გადმოვცურავ ზღვას” – “I’ll cross the sea swimming”

“The ideology of Moscow fought with a special devotion against all values and symbols of the United States, also including jeans, and therefore the Soviet citizens considered, that where there are jeans, there is happiness. In a country where they do not produce jeans, there also does not exist the right to private property, which is one of the bases of independence.
(Dato Turashvili)

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Photos by Jacopo Miglioranzi in the Gldani and Zahesi quarters of Tbilisi

“They called it hijacking, but in fact it was much more the suicide of desperate people. The hijackers were dressed like ordinary people, all of them wore the usual clothes of the jeans generation, only behind Gia Tabidze’s jacket appeared a tie, and he held a world map in his hand.”: Seven lives, seven young people among the many in Soviet Georgia. But the story is not ordinary, although it is about simple desires: the desire for jeans, the desire of freedom.

Gega Kobakhidze, Irakli Charkviani, Giorgi Mirzashvili

“After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I no longer considered it timely to publish this book. I naively thought that the Soviet past of Georgia will be able to become a far away, bitter memory. But I discovered that the past can return, especially if we ourselves are unable to move away from it. We only moved away from that period, but not from the common consciousness of that country, which was called the Empire of Evil, where mercy was so rare, and where, in the first country of the world that was capable of sending people into outer space, they were unable to produce a pair of jeans.”

The story, told by the famous Georgian writer David Turashvili in his book “The Jeans Generation” (original title ჯინსების თაობა, jinsebis taoba, published in 2013 in Italian as Volare via dall’Urss (Flying away from the Soviet Union) by Palombi Editore, as translated by Ketevan Charkviani). The book is narrated in an intentionally “everyday” register, so that the words follow each other like the frames of a film, and is based on the most scandalous and most tragic event in 1980s Soviet Georgia. Seven young Georgians, calling themselves “the jeans generation”, tried to hijack an airplane to escape from the Soviet Union, which was considered a very serious offense at the time.

“Fifteen years ago, on 18 November 1983, a young woman stood, with a bomb in her hand, in the open door of the airplane that had landed at the Tbilisi airport after a failed hijacking attempt. Rain drops trickled down on her desperate face, looking for the inevitable end. She stood in the doorway, holding the bomb, hoping that the Soviet authorities would as soon as possible complete what they had planned. While postponing their decision, the massacre inside the airplane dragged on so long, that everyone, both those standing outside and those sitting inside desired only one thing: that it may have an end. In the airplane, pierced by the bullets, there were several dead both among the passengers and the crew members, many dead bodies laid on the corridor. There were also many wounded, and in the deadly silence they could hear only their moaning, while one of them whispered to Tina, begging her not to explode the bomb.”

Tina Fethviashvili és Gega Kobakihdze

The majority of the young people were sentenced to death by the Soviet government for their naive attempt to escape, for fear that the incident may serve as an example for other Georgian youth.

These are the years of political ferment in the little Soviet republic. Since the arrival of the Bolsheviks in 1921, who put an end to the short-lived Menshevik government (1918-1921), there were fewer and fewer attempts to rebel against the new political course. The faltering attempts of armed uprisings, which were each time followed by a bloody crackdown, were replaced by more peaceful times, when everyone tried to keep to him or herself the small spaces and moments of freedom in everyday life. „After a few years, when armed uprising became utterly impossible, the Georgians attempted to peacefully fight for their democratic rights. It is obvious that they often failed to achieve their goals in this way, but the result of the huge mass demonstration, which was called up shortly before the hijacking in the main square of Tbilisi in the defense of Georgian as an official language, was strongly positive”, writes Turashvili.

In the years of the Soviet republic, the author himself was one of the leaders of the student movement, which often organized demonstrations at the Eastern Georgian monastery of David Gareja, whose territory was used by the Soviet army as a training space.

Dato Turashvili

Or on 14 April 1978, when “a sea of people flocked to the main road of Tbilisi to protest against Moscow, which finally persuaded the Kremlin to withdraw the decision unfavorable to the Georgians.”

As for the hijacking, public opinion was sharply divided. Many regarded the hijackers as terrorists, while others claimed that life was so horrible in the Soviet regime, that it made it acceptable if someone wanted to escape by hijacking.

Before the tribunal

“The public opinion of Tbilisi and all Georgia was very divided. People were in shock at what happened, but no one knew anything for sure, no details were published. In the newspapers and on television, the regime spread the version most favorable to them, to influence public opinion. The state, which had a total control of the means of mass media, saw fit to make the hijackers appear as monsters and criminals even before the start of the investigation. It was quite urgent to develop this image, because in Georgia at this time there existed already the first trends of anti-Soviet thought, and part of the society had started to defend the hijackers.

Even before the book was published, the story was already taken on stage, when Eduard Shevardnadze became the leader of the new Georgia. The state theater rejected the presentation of the piece, but private theaters gladly gave it space. A giant poster of the première was set up in front of President Shevardnadze’s house, reminding him of “the jeans generation”. In fact, in 1983, at the time of the tragedy, Eduard Shevardnadze was the first secretary of Soviet Georgia.

Eduard Shevardnadze

“Mr. Vazha understood, about what, or rather about whom, Shevardnadze wanted to speak with him, and he intentionally went in jeans to the building of the Central Committee, where his children’s fate was decided. Mr. Vazha had no jeans, so he looked for a pair of jeans in the room of his sons. It was not easy to find one, because the his sons’ room had been searched and ransacked so many times, that he stopped to put it in order. It would have made no sense, because during the next search it would have been turned it upside down again. Therefore Mr. Vazha sought long, until he found a pair of jeans, which still had the smell of his sons. He put it on in front of the mirror, and he went to the building of the Central Committee. At the entrance of the building of the Central Committee, where he was granted an entry permit, everyone, from the lowest-ranking employees to the highest-raking ones, was shocked to see the man, who had an appointment with Shevardnadze, because it was the first time that someone summoned to the Central Committee had worn jeans. Shevardnadze was leaning over his desk, and at first did not even hear the man’s greeting. Then he noticed Mr. Vazha’s trousers, and when he motioned at him to sit down, he took a good look at his guest’s jeans. He looked at him angrily, and perhaps he understood that this is how the father wanted to protest against the judgment affecting his sons.”

The desire to escape the Soviet Union would call the youth on the streets again a few years later. The 9th of April, 1989 is for the Georgians the day of “the Tbilisi massacre”, celebrated today as ეროვნული ერთიანობის დღე erovnuli erianobis dghe, the Day of National Unity, which left twenty dead and several hundred wounded on the cobblestones. And this desire is manifested in the words of one of the greatest contemporary Georgian singer-songwriters, Irakli Charkviani, who at the time of the events was a friend of the accused:

But why, didn’t you want to fly?
I have always wanted to fly. I want to fly, and I have no doubt that I will, but not by airplane.
The Russian interrogations officer thought in silence for a few minutes about Irakli’s answer, but he did not understand what this young Georgian boy referred to. Finally he asked a new question of Irakli only to break the embarrassing silence:
And if you do not manage to fly?
Then I’ll cross the sea swimming.
Cross what?
The sea.
But how?
By the power of the song.
Are you joking with me?
I’m not joking.
Can we write it down in the protocol, such as you said?
Yes, sir.
How should we write it?
Exactly how?
I’ll cross the sea swimming…

Irakli Charkviani (1961-2006): Паспорт / Союз. An interpretation of Mayakovsky’s “Verses on the Soviet passport”. Russian and English text here.

Irakli Charkviani (მეფე Mefe – „The King”): მე გადმოვცურავ ზღვას – I’ll cross the sea swimming

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1 comentario:

xopxe dijo...

Hmmm, the whole first paragraph, the quote from Dato Turashvili, sounds very silly (no private property? Really?).
And all this emphasis on jeans makes them look more insanely criminal than tragic.