Here's how it goes, and stop me if you've heard it before: The spiritual leader of Georgia, one Patriarch Ilia II, raised a protest about a Buddha statue in Tblisi, saying that it would be unallowable in "a holy land" and reminiscent of the Persians (who, y'know, were not cool with the whole Buddha thing themselves). It's a ridiculous quote on it's face, I won't argue that.
But the Patriarch's got a point. The writer of this EurasiaNet piece, Mr. Lomadze, writes how The Buddha Bar is a part of " a posh recreational space in the city's historic downtown" and mentions that hey, there's a mosque and a synagogue downtown. As if Tblisi just needs some urban renewal, like Baltimore or something.
It's disingenuous to mock the Patriarch for this. I can wear my "I've been to Tblisi" hat, here, y'know. Tblisi has a little island of "posh recreational space" inhabited by expats and Misha's select, and then there's acres and acres of slums. Because of the inscrutable goofiness of the Georgian language, there's no intermingling. You have the Anglophone or, at best, Russophones, who talk with the well-educated Georgians. And the rest are just fodder.
I was grossed out in Tblisi because I was smoking cuban cigars and drinking high-end vodka, listening to Manu Chao sing of torching the fat cats, and in a country where I didn't understand one word. I'm hardly a bloody-heart sort of guy, but I did recognize the inherent creepiness of it. That bar area is like a FOB of businessmen. The Buddha Bar is a symbol of these, to pardon the phrase, capitalist leeches who don't give a fuck about Georgia. People who are doing their time to build up their exoticness cred, maybe cover a little war or somethin' about sticking their thumb in Ivan's eye, and then go back and REALLY start making their money. Misha's mistake was thinking that these guys were the America who'd support him, and not the actual rest of the people who were a bit more realistic then them.
Georgia, of course, ain't that exotic. And it's getting far less so. Misha's latest machinations involve a series of hotels on the Black Sea and other things that made me write:
There's too much room for corruption and graft. Too much of an excuse for Americans to talk about "helping Georgians" and not giving a damn which ones they help. Lots of rich, connected, Georgians will benefit. Lots of poor Georgians will be disillusioned.I'm pretty sure this falls into the same category. People see the country as place to make a quick buck, and they don't really care about the long and complex history of the region. It's not full of people, its full of sales opportunities! I know this may sound overly snarky, but I am very concerned here. It's really disheartening for me to see, after all the digital ink spilled by Joshua Foust and the gang over at Registan, that absolutely nothing positive has come out of Afghanistan. That things are completely and utterly fucked with a minimal sense of accomplishment in Afghanistan. I'd hate for Georgia to follow that path, and the Buddha Bar reminds me of the "drinking in Kabul!" stories of old and new.