Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Why I'm not a Reporter: Lack of Objectivity Edition

Tense times everywhere, these days, and the Republic of Georgia is no exception.

A fascinating spectacle is unfolding in the wild, uncontrollable west of the country where parliamentarians and well-coiffed ministers are squaring off with warriors and wise men from another time. It's as perfect an illustration as you could ask for of the whole untamed spirit of this place in the modern world; at times wearing modernity like an ill-fitting suit.

In the Civil War that dismembered Georgia in the early 90s, the Kodori Gorge was the only part of separatist Abkhazia that never fell into the secessionist hands. Since then, it has been defended by a local militia chillingly called Monadire: the batallion of the hunter. I am sure if I could speak with one of the Svans living in Kodori, fighting with Monadire, he would describe his defense of the far-flung valley in terms of the fighting his father had done, and his father before him, and his father, and his. The long grey line, stretching back into that place where history blurs into myth. Defending home the only occupation worth knowing.

President Shevardnadze tried to co-opt the militia, brush it up a bit with a smart shine and a uniform. He made it an arm of the defense services, not that these enlistees would answer to any orders, should anyone be so foolish enough to offer any. But there was a revolution back in 2003 and Georgia is now European and Modern and a few cobblestones away from coronation as "the next Prague." And one simply cannot have half-cocked and mountain-wild paramilitary units running amok and defending the motherland god-knows-how all in the name of the Ministry of Defense, can one? So in 2005, Monadire was disbanded by the Minister of Defense.

But this week they've come back in a fury. The leader of Monadire, (a warlord says the press with a palpable tremor) is chest-thumping his defiance to the central authorities. The government demands that the men surrender their arms and Georgian troops are slouching towards Kodori. President Saakashvili becomes completely unhinged, issues a speech flecked with profanities and threats and worse still, words like "ours" "us" and "them." Parliamentarians have boarded their jets and Ministers have summoned their press secretaries.

Meanwhile, in another age, Kodori gathers itself for something it must know well, and prepares to settle the matter among its own. While rhetoric flies in Tbilisi, the council of elders has gathered in Kodori. The reports say that these respected citizens, who really run the valley, are in negotiations with the warlord on the one hand and the Ministers of Defense and Interior on the other. Men of means and power, all of them, their guns and laws supplicant before the old ones who rule by the dictates of history and tradition.

The seriousness of the matter simply can't quite dispel my enchantment for the storybook of it all. backgrounders here and here, for a start.


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