For most of the twentieth century, Georgia was as a Soviet Republic, one of the fifteen members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Officially, the USSR was a union of independent states, but their independence could be recognized only within the Soviet system. The identity of nations, national cultures, and national belongings of individuals could be assumed and ideologically supported only within the Soviet state. For the rest of the world, the Soviet republics did not exist de facto; they were not even perceived as nation states, so their existence was only conventional fact.

For the people in the USSR, “Soviet” was more an ideological than a national phenomenon, but in other countries “Soviet” was unofficially equated with “Russian”; most of the people in the world could recognize the Soviet Union only as a “Russian” country, with a “Russian” culture and a “Russian” language. The independence of the Soviet republics was one of the myths of Soviet ideology. Even more mythical was the existence of Soviet National Republics, nations and cultures to the rest of the world. This independence and existence was propagated more within the USSR, for the Soviet nations, than to the non-Soviet bloc nations of the world. This propaganda had to maintain the myth, using the art of Soviet Socialist realism among other methods, to level the self-consciousness of Soviet people. National or individual identity was something that had to be dissolved in the common space of socialist ideas of Soviet country, and in Soviet mass consciousness. As it is mentioned in recent Soviet studies, “Socialist realism also promulgated the idea of the socialist fraternity, the coming together of all people under the Soviet banner of internationalism. Individual nationhood was therefore subordinated to the idea of the greater Soviet ‘family’” (D. Gillespie, N. Zhuravkina, 134).

The existence of Georgian national culture was at the same time real and illusionary: it was real for the people in Georgia and also for the Soviet people, but it was non-existent for most of the people outside Soviet borders, who had a dim or even no idea of the of various nations, national languages and cultures within this country. In this situation Georgian culture found as its most important function the preservation of the Georgian national idea and the prospect of future independence, in fact the saving of Georgian nation. It was a special function, since in most countries the state works to develop culture, but in Soviet Georgia, culture and language worked to develop national identity and the future state. “National identity treated as a collective cultural phenomenon” (A. D. Smith, 1991, VII) could thus save the collective national self of the Georgian people.

National identity is mostly defined as a “cultural norm that reflects emotional or affective orientations of individuals toward their nation and national political system” (A. Tsigankov, 15), but in Soviet times individuals often were not oriented toward the political system of their country. The political system in Soviet Georgia was the subject of official and also unofficial discourse, as “Soviet society can in many ways be seen as a dichotomized society, consisting of two layers, the official normative level, and underlying layer” (H. H. Brockdorff, 148).

In official discourses, the system was presented as the most progressive and historically successful way of governing; unofficial discourses were presenting the Soviet socialist political system as regressive and historically unsuccessful. In Soviet Georgia, there was a break between the political system and the nation or people, and also between Soviet government and the Georgian patriots.

Patriotic ideas, especially the idea of state independence, could not be discussed openly, but it was still possible to express all variety of national feelings through culture, literature, theater, film, music and art. National identity as a cultural norm was not oriented toward the political system, but toward the nation; and as Georgia did not exist as a state, it could confirm its existence through culture. This kind of confirmation was important, first of all from the point of contemporary and future generations of Georgian people, but also from the point of reception of other nations and from the point of continuous existence in history. Political existence was substituted by cultural existence. In Soviet times, Georgians were continuing culturally creative and reproductive processes, which was a kind of compensation for the nonexistence of a State system. Thus, in the Soviet period, Georgia had to intensify its cultural process and to corroborate historical existence in the twentieth century through cultural existence.

Georgian national identity was strongly manifested in culture and in the preservation of the Georgian language. As poetry is connected both with culture and language and it can express ideas and feelings in an influential way, most of the twentieth-century Georgian poets considered it their duty to protect the national identity. The main mission of Georgian poetry in Soviet times was to defend and to develop the idea of continuous national existence, spiritual strength and future independence of the Georgian people. While these ideas could not become the subject of direct language forms, they could be expressed by poetic, metaphoric, symbolic and allegoric forms. This kind of poetry could not be officially interpreted as nationalistic in the literary criticism of that time, but it had a strong influence on the people. This potential of poetry a cultural preserver was discovered by Georgian poets quickly after their country was Sovietized in 1921. From this period patriotically minded Georgian adopted a civic position, and national feelings were strongly expressed in their poetry.

In the 1920’s, the development of Georgian poetry actually changed direction, and after the strong influence of the Symbolist movement we can recognize realistic and civic moods in works of famous Georgian poets, and in Georgian culture as a whole. This change in Georgian poetry is also multi-faceted, as the turn to Socialist realism for the most important Georgian writers was, in reality, a turn to realism.

The official requirement of Soviet ideology was to retract individualistic moods and to serve Socialist ideas, to use the method of Socialist realism, and to go over to “Socialist rails.” Accordingly, Soviet poets had to extol the Soviet system and create entrancing hymns to the Communist Party and its leaders. Among most approved themes were the heroism of Soviet workers, the unity of Soviet nations and the bright future of Communism. Almost every famous Georgian poet had to write compromising poems in order to survive and create the illusion of devotion to the Soviet system.

The censors would also accept poems written about one’s native country. Preferably this would be optimistic poems about the heroic present and bright future within the Soviet Union, but poems on the historical past were also accepted, since this past was crowned with Socialist success (of course, it was not possible to mention non-Soviet perspectives or the independence of Georgia). The Georgian Symbolist poets Galaktion Tabidze, Titsian Tabidze, Paolo Iashvili, George Lionidze and Valerian Gaprindashvili actually changed the nature of their poetry. Beginning from the end of the 1920’s, fewer and fewer Symbolist poems are found in their works and they began to express strong feelings of love for their native country. Official literary critics interpreted this as some kind of turn towards Socialist realism. Patriotic moods were not openly discussed within the Georgian national context, and words like ‘mother country,’ ‘native land’ and ‘homeland’ were not strictly defined as Georgian. For example, Galaktion Tabidze’s famous slogan “We give our hearts to our country!,” which could mean not the Soviet Union, but his native land.

This cultural turn in Georgian poetry can be understood as a turn from symbolism to realism, from devaluation to real values, like mother country, mother tongue, and nation. The slogan of the Georgian Symbolist group “Blue Horns” in the beginning of the 1930’s, “returning to the land”, was officially interpreted as acceptance of Socialist realism, while it can be understood as a return to realism. Georgian poets rejected their Symbolist individualistic spiritual and aesthetical searches. Instead they started to manifest national feelings, often dramatic and full of readiness to sacrifice themselves for their country (Titsian Tabidze and Paolo Iashivili, among thousands of Georgians, were in reality sacrificed in 1937).

It stands to reason that Georgian poetry of World War II and the post-war period was filled with Soviet patriotism. The Georgian national idea was merged with the ideas of just war, strength of the Soviet country, and the heroism of the Soviet people. But poets of the younger generation Lado Asatiani and Mirza Gelovani continued to express their national feelings in poems, which still remain among the most patriotic Georgian works.

In the 1950’s, a new wave of patriotic poetry appeared with a new generation of Georgian poets: Mukhran Machavariani, Murman Lebanidze, Anna Kalandadze and Shota Nishnianidze. Aesthetic changes in their poetry did not signify a change in approach; the Georgian national identity is openly declared in their poetry. They did however renew the attempts of Georgian writers to establish Georgian national and cultural selfdetermination and preserve national identity. The poetry of this generation appeals to each individual to determine him or herself as part of national history and culture. “Nations cannot survive without cultural history. One of the most deeply rooted collective emotions is a people’s defense of self-determination. Creativity, artistic and literary movements, as well as people’s sensibility to achieve (and preserve) independence, reflect a capacity to discover, reconstruct, depict or invent a distinctive collective self” (N. Gutierrez, 7).

This generation of Georgian poets was indeed inventing a new model of collective self, no longer connected with the Stalinist model of Soviet people. They emphasized in their poetry the national belonging of the Georgian people, which should be seen separate from the Soviet collective self. Their poems intensified the feeling of personal identity and thus allowed the reader to feel his/her own personality within the national sphere, not to be impersonalized in the Soviet non-national conglomeration. Personal and national identification was opposed to impersonalization and acculturation. National self-determination was comprehended as a possibility of personal self-determination. The poetry could indeed provide “a powerful means of defining and locating individual selves in the world” (A. D. Smith, 1991, 17).

Journal of Eurasian Research Vol. 2, No. 1 Winter 2003 Since Soviet ideology strictly prohibited religious discourses, national ideas were presented as the most important values. Georgian poetry at this time equated the idea of serving the nation with that of serving the absolute truth. This was the continuation of a tradition, strengthened by the generation of Georgian poets “Samotsianelebi” in 1860’s, and by the most celebrated representatives of this generation, Ilia Chavchavadze and Akaki Tsereteli. These poets, among others, were presented in Georgian poetry as spiritual leaders of the nation.

On the whole, Georgian poets were trying to portray in their poems the most respected individuals of Georgian history: suffering heroes ( Dimitri Tavdadebuli, Ketevan Tsamebuli, Tevdore), and kings (Vakhtang Gorgasali, David Agmashenebeli, Tamar Mephe, Mephe Erekle); also included were ‘archetypal’ places (Mtskheta, Uflistsikhe, Vardzia), landscapes (Kavkasioni) and monumental architecture (Svetitskhoveli, Djvari, Gelati). The experience of Georgian poets agrees with the common model of using the “components of the national imagery” (N. Gutierrez, 11).

From the 1950-1970’s, more and more new poems were appearing, using the national codes and archetypal symbols of the Georgian nation. People expected from the poetry the expression of national feelings and the manifestation of national spirit. It is significant that the manifestation of this type of poetry was associated not only with the historical past, but also with the vivid contemporary cultural and emotional process, which was strengthening the feeling that the nation still had enough inner potential to protect the national self. The Georgian nation was still continuing to produce and reproduce the signs of living patriotic feelings, a testimony to the strength of national identity, which is indeed understood “as the maintenance and continuous reproduction of the pattern of values, symbols, memories, myths and traditions that compose the distinctive heritage of nations, and the identifications of individuals with their particular heritage and these values, symbols, memories, myths and traditions (A. D. Smith, 2001, 30).

Georgian poetry was in fact carrying out this mission; the public mood was led by poetry. The poet was able to express the ideas and feelings that could not be openly discussed. Of course, the most important and prohibited idea was that of Georgian state independence. Before this period, Georgian patriotic poetry was more concentrated on inspiring the Georgian people to love and serve their country, but beginning in the 1960’s the idea of independence began to be presented through symbols, metaphors and allegories in M. Machavariani’s and M. Lebanidze’s poems (e.g. the symbol of oak, which will come into leaf again, in Machavariani’s poem “Saba”).

This kind of work required courage and artistic mastery from the poet. The public had to trust the author and the author had to be sure that his words would be well received by the public, that they would have the effect of self-identification of the nation. The poems had to be ambiguous: the idea had to be hidden from the censor and but clear to the reader, who could have the feeling of contact with some secret hope of national independence.

At this time, literary criticism could discuss the patriotic themes in Georgian literature, but it was still impossible to touch on the idea of independence. However, by the end of the 80’s, with “perestroika” and some freedom of public process, this idea became widely discussed in Georgia and other Soviet republics. From 1988-90 it was not only the topic of national culture, but also of “national movement.” Different informal parties and political groups started to organize meetings and demonstrations, at which Georgian patriotic poetry was also recited to a mass audience. In the speeches of orators and in newly created newspapers people could recognize the familiar ideas and codes of Georgian poetry. It was a time of explosion of patriotic moods and also of patriotic poetry; collective emotions were expressed in poems, as it was common in traditional Georgian poetry. Many professional and amateur poets wrote new poems and published new books full of national feelings, manifesting love of homeland, hope of freedom and independence, and articulations of national identity (as in the beginning of the 90’s publishing policy was changed, the authors could publish their books on their own).

While the quantity of patriotic poems increased, it did not affect the direction of the poetics. The young poets, as well as amateurs, followed the poetical traditions of the elder generation. It became clear that this generation shaped not only the national identity of the Georgian people, but also the poetic constructions and models of Georgian poetry. If a poet wanted to express his/her own patriotic feelings, it was quite easy to find shaped images, metaphors, codes and meters. This created a monotony in the patriotic poetry of the post-Soviet period. It is also significant, that this kind of poem often sounded like slogans. Poets were able to express their feelings and ideas openly, without any need to avoid the censor by creating ambiguous works full of double entendres. These positive changes in the literary sphere did not affect changes in patriotic poetry, and new masterpieces were created quite rarely.

However, changes in post-Soviet Georgian poetry still occurred, but they were associated with the self-identification of young poets (Dato Barbakadze, Davit Chikhladze, Zviad Ratiani) not only in the space of traditional Georgian poetry, but in the cultural space of twentieth- century Western poetry. They were trying to avoid established poetic patterns, which had already become cliché, and to begin the process of poetical experimentation. The new orientation in post-Soviet Georgian poetry did not conflict with the construction of national identity, but this generation did not see as its goal the defense of national ideas. Georgian culture of Soviet period had already fulfilled this mission. New goals were associated with personal and poetical identification, which could also be understood as the important part of cultural and national identification.

The main idea of Georgian patriotic poetry has been realized in the post-Soviet era. Georgia has attained state independence, but political and economic difficulties have made it difficult for the independent state to protect its society and culture. Feelings of frustration and exhaustion appear in Georgian poetry of the 1990’s. In post- Soviet times, the concept of national identity needs to be reinforced not by individuals, and not by culture, but also now by the state.

Bela Tsipuria
Associate Professor
Department of Modern Georgian Literature
Tbilisi State University
Tbilisi, Georgia


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