Monday, April 25, 2011
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Since I'll be traveling, I'm planning to organize a project to help out with this work after the holidays. Hopefully by the winter we will have a better picture of the long term needs arising from this crisis. In the meantime, a group of former Peace Corps Volunteers have started an initiative to help out with the current basic needs of displaced people. You can visit their website here.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Peace Corps has completely pulled out of the country. All of the new trainees were sent home almost immediately and the remaining volunteers are safe in Armenia. I finished Peace Corps a week before the war began. The most frightening aspect of all this is how quickly the situation spiraled out of control. When I left the country two days before hostilities there was no indication that this would happen.
A few people have asked about my opinion of this situation, and I can give it now that I am a private citizen. As I see it, no side is innocent in this conflict. The Georgians were reckless to initiate the conflict in South Ossetia. The siege of Tskhinvali (the South Ossetian capital) was brutal and probably unnecessary. If the Russian statistics are true, the death toll of the battle will be around 2,000. Of course, the Russian response has been totally disproportionate and totally out of line with any international norms. The Russian regime has proven itself to be a brutal, oppressive 19th century-style power. The West owes it to Georgia and all emerging democracies to stand up to Putin and Medvedev.
In the meantime, the innocent civilians of Ossetia and Georgia are caught up in the crossfire. These people have been my friends and family for two years and it is heartbreaking to see what is happening to them. Fifteen years of progress is in jeopardy. I can only hope that there is something left of Gori when the dust settles.
BBC - Violence Flares in Georgian Town
New Republic - How the West Botched Georgia
NY Times - Georgia Says Accord Broken as Russia Occupies City
EurasiaNet - Russian "Imperialist Boots" Stomp on Georgia
EurasiaNet - Georgia: Scene of the Outbreak of Cold War II?
Thursday, August 07, 2008
"Heavy Fighting" in South Ossetia
For those of you who have seen the news in the last few hours, the South Ossetian conflict, which has been boiling for years now, has become very violent. The threat of a new war is growing. I have every confidence that Peace Corps will take care of its volunteers; for me, I am safe in Turkey. We can only hope and pray that this violence does not spread further and threaten the progress for which my friends in Georgia have worked so hard.
In the meantime, for those of you looking for updated news, as always, I recommend www.civil.ge and www.alertnet.org.
Friday, April 04, 2008
So Much for Winter
It was generally agreed that this winter was the worst in a decade. In December and January, the temperatures were well below freezing. I heard rumors of Siberia-like weather in certain areas of the country, but this goes unverified. What I do know is winter here can be no fun. My wet clothes froze almost immediately when I put them on the line. I could literally fend off attacks with my solid underwear.
Making life even more difficult was the fact that my water pipes froze in early January and did not thaw until February. Apparently insulating pipes were a little too bourgeois for Soviet planners. A single faucet in the courtyard of my building remained, thanks to the fact that it was kept running all day and night. Once a day, the residents of my block would trudge down, buckets in tow and fill up.
But, life hasn't been all bad. Before I moved into the apartment last year, my landlord installed a modern gas heater. This heater can make an entire room toasty...so warm, in fact, that I could loose my long underwear (much to the envy of my other Volunteer friends). In March, as if the gods were feeling sympathy for us, the weather warmed suddenly. The snow and ice disappeared. I stopped using the heater. Life suddenly became more bearable.
Central heating is indeed a blessing, but an early spring...that is a miracle.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Stalin's Big Day
I'm sure it seems strange to an American that Stalin would still be held in such regard, and I realize that so far I have written very little about the "Stalin cult" here in Gori and, to a lesser degree, in all of Georgia.
We all know what Stalin did while in power. Many Georgians here in Gori recognize that, though some either deny it or play it down ("He really didn't kill that many people...the capitalists are making it up...."). Its also important to realize what was accomplished during Stalin's time--the U.S.S.R. was taken from an underdeveloped cluster of nations to an industrial power rivalling that of the United States. They beat Hitler and got the bomb. So, for a lot of people, Stalin has come to represent what was once great about Georgia.
Here in Gori, of course, Stalin is alive and well. We have Stalin Street, Stalin Park, five statues of Stalin, the Stalin Museum and Birthplace... Gori's floundering tourism industry is just starting to understand the kitchy goldmine they're sitting on. Already, the Stalin Museum's admissions price has been raised to an outrageous 15 lari (about 8 dollars) and the giftshop sells Stalin busts and mugs. I'm holding out for Stalin tshirts.
Of course, Stalin continues to come up in everyday conversation here. At the supra table, we inevitably drink to his memory. How do I deal with it? Whenever it comes up, I always invoke the Big Three--a toast to Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. Its always a winning toast and one that always gets an approving nod from the nostalgic pensioners.
I am cold, but not dead...
I'll post more on all this meore...