ESR 1 Blog February 2022: Gabor Erlich

I am not going to be able to say anything smart this time, I am afraid. And frankly, I am not even sure whether it is time for me to say anything, really. There is war in Ukraine. My words cannot help those facing Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, but also in Russia, as well as in Georgia and other places. But still, I have to write this entry now, so I will talk about a very personal aspect of this horrifying and deadly situation, I hope you forgive me for doing so.

As you might know, I am a native of Hungary. I was working at an English language bookstore and café in Budapest for a couple of years after earning my MFA in intermedia arts. Back then, the Central European University was bringing a very diverse international academic community to the city. Many of CEU’s staff and students found refuge from the noise of the inner city underneath the fig trees in the almost hidden garden of my workplace. To me, it was an extraordinary experience being able to get to know some truly amazing scholars, many of whom have become comrades and true friends over the years. I made friends with this Georgian guy Dato (and his classmate Jack from Northern Ireland). Suffice it to say I knew almost nothing about Georgia at that time. We spent a lot of time together debating geopolitical issues that both of our countries have been facing, and many of these issues are still key elements of my current research such as internal othering, double-dependency, the East-West slope, etc. I learned a whole lot about the fascinating and troublesome history of Georgia, while Dato (and Jack), hopefully, had a better grasp on their temporal locality and its challenges. Then the summer break was approaching, and Dato kindly invited me to visit him in Tbilisi. Despite the precarious conditions of the hospitality industry, I managed to save up some money and went to Georgia for ten days. This was some six years ago now. In case you were wondering whether I liked it there, I say just this: I have lived and worked there for two and a half years, my partner is Georgian, and I keep returning to Tbilisi whenever it is possible. For the lack of a better phrase, I would say that Georgia is my second home.

The reason I am telling you this now is that this life-experience has changed my understanding of the region in a very deep way, and even more importantly, it has been helping me to look beyond the constraints and invisible borders of some of the cognitive patterns I developed as a Hungarian. I am not saying that one must live in a place in order to know about it, not at all. I do say though that relocating for the first time has had a major impact on my worldview. And relocating to Georgia was the best risky decision I have made so far. I learned the difference between periphery and semi-periphery on the ground, to be precise. Now, in the midst of these frighteningly dark days, it is only enough to filter out most of the ill-informed, single-minded, yet utterly entitled commentary.

The Georgians are sadly all too familiar with life overshadowed by Mr. Putin’s aggression, especially since the 2008 war. Crucially though, at the same time, Georgia, and especially Tbilisi is a vital refuge for those Russians who had to flee Putin’s regime for some reason. A hundred thousand people gather in front of the Georgian Parliament, Georgians, Russians, Ukrainians, and many more, to stand together, showing their solidarity and condemning Putin’s war. There is a strong regional common sense that makes it almost tangible: the people do not want this.

And this common sense seems to be the norm elsewhere, too. Thankfully, despite Mr. Orbán’s xenophobic regime, Hungarians are organising themselves and offering help at the border for those arriving from Ukraine. So are the people of Poland. This is the bare minimum we could do now. Respect for all those actively helping, and long live to the peoples of Ukraine!


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