Gazing at the flickering screen transmitting apocalyptic images reminiscent of a Hollywood disaster movie from my hometown, I was speechless, barely able to believe my eyes. Admittedly, after reading about "a heavy flood" in Tbilisi on one of the social network sites, I remained slightly skeptical of the gravitas and complete authenticity of the numerous posts. We, the overly emotional and impulsive Caucasians, tend to exaggerate and embellish every little detail. Alas, this time around, it was more than pouring rain I was witnessing from across the other side of the Atlantic via satellite television. It was my native Tbilisi, the city where I was born and had spent the first nine years of my childhood, walking the same streets (including every Georgian kid's favorite attraction, the city zoo) that were now barely recognizable.
I have always been honest about my bi-cultural - and somewhat conflicted - national identity. Having lived the past two decades of my still young life away from Georgia, my formative years were spent abroad, primarily between Russia and the United States. In this day and age of political and inter-national tensions between our two neighboring nations, it is close to a mauvais ton to admit one's affiliation to the "frenemy" country. After leaving my native home during the Georgian Civil War of the early 1990s, many (including close friends and family members) criticized my parents for "abandoning" our Georgia for a "better life" in Russia. Little did they realize how much we had to endure during the first years of our immigration that coincided with the tricky period of my early adolescence.
My dual national identity was tested for the first time during the August War of 2008, when completely refraining from taking sides was next to impossible. I struggled to maintain my loyalty to both countries that had given me so much, but understandably, the depth my roots and the boiling heat of my Georgian blood eventually prevailed. In any game, and particularly one as ugly and complex as a bloody war between two countries, the smaller, weaker nation becomes the underdog that gains both sympathy and empathy from the majority of spectators all around. I, of course, was no exception. Had I felt or behaved otherwise, I may as well have stabbed my native land in the back at the most vulnerable time in its recent history.
Yet, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't openly admit that often times, I strongly disagree with most of what has been unraveling in my hometown as of the past several years, particularly on the political and social fronts. Many ask why it is that I, a young Georgian woman, have decided to stay away from home, "living in immigration as a stranger in a strange land." Truth be told, I never do feel like a "stranger in a strange land," at times jokingly referring to myself as a "serial immigrant," the kind that most Georgians in Georgia today frown upon as the unwelcome traitors of our motherland.
Personally, I don't consider myself to be an "unpatriotic Georgian" for the simple reason that I have chosen to live in a country that has offered me more appealing opportunities to pursue my musical career and current studies, which, quite frankly, would otherwise have been out of my reach from a geographical standpoint.
If we do, indeed, consider ourselves part of the ever-globalizing world, and better still, a European community, there should be no shame in representing our native country abroad and building a new home without forgetting our roots and where it is that we come from. Neither should we be reluctant to allow our compatriots to both pursue their dreams and goals in another country and remain as loyal and supportive of their homeland in absentia as they would be if they had never left to begin with.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to cross paths with immensely bright and successful Georgian expats in the West, who despite having barely spent any time in Georgia, had somehow managed to do more for our country from afar than some of the current citizens of our capital who swear by their "undying patriotism."
Indeed, I am proud to call myself a fellow Georgian, currently living, working, and studying abroad who has never forgotten her roots, but refuses to blindly nod to every faux pas just because we can't seem to be able to admit to our own mistakes. It takes some distance, time, and a healthy dose of objectivity to maintain a 20/20 vision, even when we would rather turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. But the love for the motherland remains stronger than ever, no matter what. And a flashy demonstration of superficial patriotism is nothing more than a subdued form of exaggerated nationalism.
This Op-Ed was originally published by the Georgian Journal.
Photo: Author portrayed in Tbilisi, Georgia, circa late 1980s. (From personal archives.)