What language to speak


Earlier his week, IKV Pax Christi hosted a film screening and discussion with filmmaker Mamuka Kuparadze, organised jointly with the Dutch branch of Amnesty International and Caucasus Interconnect. Mamuka’s Tbilisi-based Studio Re produces documentary films on questions related to conflict, and we had the chance to watch and discuss his latest movie: “Verdict of the August War“.
In this movie, a lot of things come together. People: familiar faces from Georgia (read: Tbilisi), South Ossetia, Abkhazia but also Moscow, and others I whom I would very much like to meet one day. Places: Georgia, in different moments and from different angles; Istanbul; and … no, not Abkhazia or South Ossetia, because this was a movie by a Georgian filmmaker who did not get access to these places, but still tried to construct a balanced story where voices from all sides have a chance to tell their truth (this upon request, as Mamuka explained, of the Georgian public, which unfortunately for a large part had difficulties understanding his previous movie “Absence of Will”, that looked into the Georgian side of the story and asked some tough questions about its behaviour). Stories: from the passportisation issue via refugees and property, to the fate of “Absence of Will” and especially its reception in Abkhazia, and of course the war of August 2008 with its “before” and “after”. A caleidoscope of narratives that triggered a lot of interesting thoughts – as the ensuing discussion with the audience (of students, journalists, NGO people working with the Caucasus and a few “just interested”) demonstrated.

One episode struck me deeply and stayed behind as an image of all the wasted chances, missed opportunities and unfortunate rhetoric that have characterised Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian relations over the past two decades. It was a commercial commissioned by the Georgian government and screened on Georgian TV – as Mamuka told me, one out of a series of five. I am retelling it now from memory, so the wording may not correspond exactly to the original, but this is what I saw: A little boy, 5 or 6 years old, together with his grandfather enters a museum. There, they see a long, mighty sword, and the grandfather tells: “My grandson! In my time, I spoke a ruthless language with our enemies, I had no mercy for them. And you, when you grow up, you should also speak a ruthless language with our enemies, you should hit them hard…” Upon which the commercial turns into a propaganda add for the Georgian army, with smart, well-clad soldiers running through a field, helicopters circling above their heads, tanks, everything looking smooth and stout and very professional. “Brainwashing” is the word a young Georgian journalist who volunteered for the army in August 2008 (also interviewed in Mamuka’s movie) is using, and it is the only word that comes to my mind after mentally watching this add again and again – after a long astounded silence, filled with indignation: how can one use a child for suh a purpose, and then show it on national TV, where no doubt other children will have watched it?!

The beginning looked so good, and there was a real chance to learn from previous mistakes and break through the circle of violence. What if the grandfather would have said: “My grandson! In my time, I spoke a ruthless language with our enemies, I had no mercy for them. But you, you should learn how to speak a different language to them: a language of mutual respect and understanding. You should learn to fight out your differences with words, not swords, and build a country where the interests of all and each have their own, legitimate place…”

Even if this is the type of language for which soon interpreters will be needed, as the younger generations learn mainly Georgian and English on one side, and Russian and Ossetian or Abkhaz on the other – only this new language will lead to mutual understanding…

(“What language to speak” is a repost from Cinta’s blog “Caucasus Dialogues”)


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