Thursday, February 26, 2009

Georgia and Russia

Michael commented on "Georgia and the Orthodox Civilization" as follows. I respond to his comment below:


Although it seems to be not exactly in tune with your topic here, but let me share with you some of my recollections about Georgia.

That country was named, as you know, in the list of the so-called "Oppressed Nations" within the USSR.

Have you ever been yourself to the "oppressed" Georgia (Gruzia) in the Caucasus?
I myself have been there several times in the 1970s – 1980s, mostly by sea.

Once, in 1989, I happened to travel to the Georgian town of Poti by train. The rail road was laid along the beautiful Black Sea shores. We passengers enjoyed watching the magnificent brine just a few yards from the right windows of our sleeping car, while the left windows provided us with a view of an endless row of two- or three-storeyed impressive palaces, each being surrounded with a huge orange orchard.

As I was travelling across that part of the country for the first time, I was surprised to see such a great number of small sanatoriums (as I thought those to be) stretched in an endless row along the seashores.

My more experienced fellow-travelers told me that those were not sanatoriums, but private houses of common Georgian peasants.

I have never seen such luxurious two- or three-storeyed palaces anywhere in Russia to be in private possession of common peasants!

In fact, the Russian Empire, as well as its successor the Soviet Union, was a kind of a REVERSED EMPIRE.
In every normal empire it is always the Centre that sucks resources from the Colonies.
While in the USSR everything was reversed -– the "colonies" used to suck resources from the center –- that is from Russia proper.

Out of all the 15 Soviet Republics then in the Soviet times Georgia (Gruzia) was the richest one. The "Georgian" (Gruzin) was a code word for a "rich man" among the Soviets.

The Georgians used to sell us Russians their oranges at a price 10 times higher than cost. For example a kilo of Russian peasants' potatoes was usually sold at 20 kopecks (cents), while a kilo of Georgian oranges at 2 roubles (dollars), the cost of both products being approximately equal.

Which is why the living standard in Georgia was at least 4 - 5 times higher than that average in the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (the core of the USSR).

Now that Georgia has "liberated" itself from the Russian "oppression" and become an independent state, we buy oranges from Morocco at a NORMAL just price, and the living level in Georgia has become 4 times lower than that in Russia today.

Of course, oranges are a luxury and potatoes a basic staple diet. No doubt.
What I want to say is that the both products' prime cost was approximately equal, which means that while the Russian peasant had to spend as much time and efforts to grow, say, a tonne of potatoes, as his Georgian counterpart did the same to grow a tonne of oranges, the latter appeared to be much more privileged regarding his income.

A few words about the inter-ethnical relations in the Soviet Union. I cannot remember any feeling of disdain for the minorities.
We Russians had never regarded the Georgians, Uzbeks, Tatars, and all the other non-Russian peoples that were living within our common country as our "slaves" or "captive nations". Never!
On the contrary, they used to be privileged in this or that way. I know the Americans call a practice like that the "affirmative action".

I must admit, however, that we Russians regarded the borderlands' autochthonal peoples as our "junior brothers" because they were unable to do all what we Russians could do, for example, to design, to build and to launch a spaceship, etc.

Yet, this attitude of ours to the non-Russians –- as to our junior brothers –- implied no contempt.
Simply put, it was a clear understanding of their abilities, a sober assessment of what can be entrusted to our junior brothers, and what not.

For example, a Uzbek shepherd was not expected to pilot a jet plane.
As simple as that, and nothing more.

Thus, I can safely assert that there was no racial hatred in the Soviet Union.
At least on our Russian side.


Lawrence's response to Michael:

Interesting comments, Michael. No I have never been to Georgia, but my former father-in-law was Georgian. His family fled political difficulties in about 1905. His older brother was born in Georgia but he was born in the U.S.. His family belonged to the Molokan Church in Kerman California. The eldest brother inherited the family farm. My father-in-law (who raised mink) had been ostracized in a mild way (prevented from being a member of the church) because he married a Swede and because he wouldn’t wear a beard. I recall some event, probably a wedding at a Molokan church. The women were shunted off to one side and the men would rhythmically stomp their feet on the hardwood floors of church.

Interestingly, my former wife always referred to herself as Russian and not Georgian. I accepted that at the time. It was easy since Georgia was one of the SSRs, but perhaps her father’s family found it easier to call themselves Russian than try to explain the difference between Georgia the nation and Georgia the American state.

I had a good friend I worked with in Engineering (at McDonnell Douglas and Boeing) by the name of Eugene Orloff. He was born in Russia and was heavily involved in a Russian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. He designed the spires for their building. They had a building, but many of the old timers (including Gene) didn’t think it was a sufficient building until it had spires. I once asked him what he knew about the Molokan religion and I gathered he didn’t know very much, just that it was a sect that he thought heretical.

Gene had very strong opinions. When his family fled Russia during the Revolution, it was into China and into Japanese captivity. He hated the Japanese. Years ago I bought a Toyota and he was very upset with me.

When the chief priest (I don’t recall his exact title) of the Los Angeles Russian Orthodox Church he belonged to died, Gene believe he would be declared a saint because of some miraculous occurrences that had surrounded the priest’s body. I never heard how that came out. It reminded me of Alyosha’s priest in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

Just one quibble to what you wrote above. I quite agree that a Uzbek shepherd could not fly a jet plane, but if you took the child of that Uzbek shepherd and gave him a first-class education, he would very likely be able to fly a jet plane, if that was his interest. Modern studies in genetics, I think especially of work done by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, demonstrate that there is no significant difference, genetically, in the various peoples of the world. Take the most primitive people of the world and educate them properly, and they will be able to do anything people from a more advanced society can do. I am not speaking here of tradition. Tradition provides an impediment that may in the event prevent such an accomplishment.

Or to put it another way, referencing the age-old “Nature versus Nurture” debate, nature may provide the Uzbek shepherd with the intelligence to become a jet pilot, but where is he going to get the nurture?

And I quite agree about the “colonies” “sucking life” out of an empire. Perhaps the British Empire was able to make India pay, but most colonies were an eventual drain. India certainly wasn’t “paying” when it rebelled against the British and sought independence. The French also discovered that they could no longer afford their colonies in South East Asia and North Africa. In fact Britain seems on the road to even further fragmentation. Ireland sought independence, and there is an independence movement in Scotland. Nothing would be lost, it seems to me, if that were to happen. But Scotland and Wales already have as much independence as they need, it seems to me. Catholic Ireland is another story.


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