Georgia Re-Imagined: How a Country Changed its Narrative

On a day when Georgians gathered outside the Parliament to protest a member of the Russian Duma speaking from the speaker’s chair in the Georgian parliament, it seemed all the more important to discuss the country’s future.

ZEG is a Georgian word, meaning the day after tomorrow. In the courtyard of Stamba Hotel, with an old pylon towering up amongst trees, we listened to a panel discuss how Georgia can re-imagine its future.

Natalia Antelava, who hosted the panel, explained how the festival came about (four Georgians and an American walk into a bar) and how the country is a “testimony to the power of storytelling.”

Four empty chairs sat on the stage and apparently one was to remain empty as Natalia informed us that Giorgi Margvelashvili, Georgia’s former president, had refused to come because of the rallies in Tbilisi.

The talk emphasized how, after centuries of having to put up with outsiders barging in on us and trying to write our stories for us, Georgia won its independence.

And independence came with chaos, corruption and vast confusion everywhere. In this confusion, many of the best and brightest minds left.

However, some of them were drawn back.

Valeri Chekheria, CEO of Adjara Group, and Tekuna Gachechiladze, a renowned Georgian chef, are two of those who returned.

For Valeri, Georgia tendency to destroy the past, inspired him to re-imagine the past by creating incredible spaces out of old soviet structures.

Tekuna, having returned from New York, saw the need to give “Georgian food its own choice, its own freedom.”

“I think without traditions, you can’t go forward,” Tekuna said, “but you need to innovate, because otherwise you are going to lose it [the tradition].”

The fourth panelist was much younger. Mariam Aprasidze has just graduated high school and doesn’t remember Tbilisi‘s dark ’90s.

“Georgia has some kind of inferiority complex,” said Mariam, when talking about diversity in Georgia, “We should be flexible and diverse.”

Coming from a family of refugees, she says living in a country that’s defined by an outsider’s narrative is very painful for her.

And by outsider, she meant Russia.

By Mariam Kiparoidze

June 21, 2019