For those of us who have grown up living in a country that has been free and well-established for centuries, a celebration of independence can feel like little more than an egotistical flexing of one's militaristic or nationalistic muscle. However, living in a place where true independence is only ten years old, celebration is much more than showy pomp and circumstance.
I do not purport to know much about the long, detailed, and very complex political history of Georgia. Actually, I know very little of it. I know that cave-dwellers, kings, legends, saints, and monks have played large parts in the early days of the region's development. I know that raids and conquests by group after group of Ottomans, Turks, Persians, Romans, and Russians (not necessarily in that order) have warred over it. I know that the political system has changed over millennia of existing civilizations from monarchies, dictatorships, republics, to the latest presidential-parliamentary republic. The vast amount of history, and by that, I mean number of years of settled civilization, makes it daunting to learn in six months. At first, I was completely clueless about anyone important in Georgia's history, but I finally recognize some names of great kings or important saints from centuries ago. I have tried getting a grasp on the recent political history, but it is incredibly complex.
I relay all of that to say that tomorrow is Independence Day. On May 26, 1945, Georgia was declared to be free at the conclusion of World War II. However, the country was absorbed by and fully controlled by the U.S.S.R. until 1991. At that time, with the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the country elected a president and parliamentary officials, but there was much dissent and unrest between those who supported staying under Russia's rule and those who wanted to become completely independent. It wasn't until the Rose Revolution in 2004 when the present Georgian president was elected, that the country has had any semblance of order and unity. And it is still not without political turmoil (Abkhazia and South Ossetia).
I will be taking the overnight train to Tbilisi tonight to head north to Kazbegi for the long weekend with my friends Katherine, James, and Maria. There are planned demonstrations and parades in the capital tomorrow. Despite the warnings that were sent from the U.S. Embassy, I want to see what Independence Day is like in the capital. As a pacifist, any show of militaristic strength doesn't sit well with me, but I want to see what it is all about anyway.
I'll post some photos and relate what I see.