Zaal Andronikashvili, Ilia State University/Leibniz Center for Literary and Cultural Research.
This article first appeared (in Georgian) on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Georgian service page. It has been insignificantly adapted by Civil.ge for an English-language audience.
“Sack me, if you can!” gloated Vice Premier Tea Tsulukiani facing the journalist after having snatched her microphone. Through her words, the arrogant government speaks, the government that has realized its power is no longer checked, that it can abuse and ridicule its opponents, but yet, lives in fear, that it might have to answer – one day – for its actions. This fear, well justified, pushes it to commit more violence. It will go as far, as we, the citizens, would allow.
The government both wants and plans to go further in its abuse. The man who works as Prime Minister of Georgia said, that the will of the majority is above the constitutional rights of the minority. That the state should obey not the constitution, but the will of this majority. The mic-snatching Vice Premier added, that the state may not be able to protect the minority if it goes against the wishes of the majority.
In reality, the “majority” these officials speak of does not exist: it is yet another mask that the government wears to justify its actions, after having finally dropped the pretense of legality.
The government still tries to conceal its violence. It plays the victim, trying to argue that its actions are, in fact, defensive, against the violence of its opponents.
Who are these opponents then, who abuse the government? The officials say these are the minorities (in this specific case, the LGBTQ community) and the media.
Those who accuse the media of violence, draw an equivalence between the words and the fist. Holding a different opinion or a discordant worldview is thus equated to physical violence. If this notion is held true, then beating or, in extreme cases, killing someone who is different from you, is possible, is justified. This is exactly what VP Tsulukiani says and does.
Certain forms of governments are prone to such tricks. George Orwell has described them in his dystopic “1984”: “The War is Peace” is one of the most known slogans he coined as an epitome of such ideological “flip”.
But let us try to follow the trail of thought that equates violence by word or by thought to physical violence, trace its origins and see, how appropriate it is to use it.
The notion of epistemic (cognitive, knowledge-based) violence has emerged in French post-structuralist discourse and in post-colonial studies in the 1970s. Gayatri Spivak, an American literary theorist, has expanded on the ideas of Michel Foucault and Edward Said in her seminal article “Can the subaltern speak?” These thinkers argued, that subjugated, or “subaltern” groups suffer epistemic, as well as physical, violence since they are bereft of the right to speak for themselves. Others speak about them, and in their name, robbing the subaltern of their voice.
This very notion – that the oppressed groups suffer from epistemic, as well as physical violence – is instrumentalized by our government. Paradoxically, the government, that claims not only to represent, but to be the majority, that has the army, police, prosecution, courts, official and unofficial ideological machinery, hate groups, and troll factories at its service, that employs violence both in word and in deed, claims that it is, in fact, the victim of violence by others.
And how are these “others” abusing the government? Simply by existing as “others”, by assuming and vindicating their difference. To the government’s eyes, they are violent, because they refuse the government’s own perception of what is real and what is “normal”.
In fact, this whole ideological fog obscures the void: the only thing the government really wants is to preserve its power by any means, including violence.
When Vice Prime Minister, the Minister of Culture Tea Tsulukiani employs physical violence, verbal abuse, and cynical ridicule against the journalist, supporters of the “Georgian Dream” clap and say she has a great sense of humor. Only eighty years ago, party supporters were clapping for the executions of the “enemies of the people”.
When MP, Doctor of Law Shalva Papuashvili manhandles his female colleague on the parliament floor, he tramples morality and says he did not employ violence – she did. MP Papuashvili’s party colleague, MP Tsilosani agrees – perhaps the opposition MP wanted to throw poison in the Speaker’s face, she asks. Eighty years ago, people were shot for less.
The language of the violent government is self-reproducing – it always says the same: when a citizen or a group of citizens counters the government, they are subjected to violence and then accused of being violent. The government presents itself as a mere victim.
What the Prime Minister and Vice Premier essentially tell us, is that we have left the Constitutional space and entered into the space of violence, albeit dressed into a festive ritual of countering the enemies of the state and the church. This violence is, still, thinly, but veiled.
The LGBTQ community is its first victim, in many ways, the easiest victim. It is serving as a sacrificial lamb – a role that might be later assigned to others. Those who think themselves protected, or believe that they are not belonging to any kind of minority, are mistaken. They have two possible roles to choose from: either that of a potential victim or a passive collaborator in violence visited on others.
The only essence of this government is its strive towards undivided power, there is no other, hidden meaning. It is ready to dress its power in any kind of ideology – in 2012 this was Social Democracy [the Georgian Dream is the member of Socialist International], today it is piety and the defense of the church. But its piety is just as fake as its social-democracy was.
During its 9 years of governance, the only objective this – otherwise inept – government pursued with gusto and efficiency was to destroy the political opposition and neutralize free media. During these nine years, this objective could not be fully achieved through legal means, or by bending the law. After July 5, the government has decided to switch to violence. So far, this violence is exacted by the hands of subordinate, but formally external actors – muscled men on the leash of the security service and the Patriarchy, who are aided by the inaction of the police, which is fast becoming tantamount to collaboration.
The continued governance by the Georgian Dream will mean only one thing: unbridled, violent rule by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili and the financial or social groups that are close to him. The political space is being eviscerated, it has been emptied of the concrete political meaning. What remains is the struggle for saving democracy and statehood. The political space – with its differences and debates – would have to be re-established after this struggle is won.
Georgia is not the first country where oppression takes root, but it is still hard to accept that this is happening to us.
It is hard for many to accept this reality. Nothing much has changed in their own private lives. The machinery of violence has, so far, spared them. So they believe that everything is fine. Whether or not Georgia will survive as a democratic state will depend on how many of its citizens would refuse to stay silent, avert their eyes, and keep posting flowers and bees on social media. How many would refuse for Georgia to become a plaything of the oligarch, who is speaking in the name of the majority and agitating its puppets to cynically abuse the powerless?
We already saw one of these puppets, full of pent-up hatred, cynical, yet still fearful, throw down a gauntlet – “Sack me, if you can!”
Let us prove, that we can.