UPDATE: There are reports that Michael Totten's site is under cyberattack, which is not surprising. I'm able to get in, but if you can't keep trying. If the URL changes, I will update the link.
Pravda. It means truth, though in Soviet parlance that word does not mean what you think it means, just as peace didn't. Peace meant the absence of all opposition, and truth had a rather flexible definition. Yet, that doesn't mean that there is not real objective truth.
Today, Michael J. Totten provides some real Truth About Russia in Georgia in what is one of the best pieces of journalism I've ever seen on the region and the history there, much less the current conflict. Pay particular attention to the fact that the briefing he got as vetted by Thomas Goltz.
Today, it is a distinct pleasure to give you more truth on Russia, the Soviet Union, and life under and after. Today, I introduce you to Mzia, and the first part of the reality of her life in Georgia.
My friend asked me to help find old bed sheets for her child’s birth. She was in labor. We gathered water and candles. We went to the dark hospital to help her deliver her baby.
The Russians had cut off all natural gas and electricity to Georgia. A very cold winter was starting. Many people died and old people were especially helpless.
Because we had no hope in Georgia, my brothers left the country to try to provide for their families. I went into the forest to find wood to burn. My mother and I made the fire on the third floor under the stairs inside an eight story building. The people of the building gathered with us for warmth and food.
We lived in the darkness. We stood in long lines for water. Every day I would walk 7 kilometers to my godmother’s house for any flour or sugar she could spare on that day. Then I would walk 8 kilometers each way to University to study. The auditorium was freezing. Sometimes the professors would invite us to their houses and give us weak tea to share while we learned.
This is not so long ago as you may think. This is not a made up story. This is my true life. This was 1991 in Georgia. You may know Georgia from the story of Jason and the Argonauts. King Aaetes and Princess Medea (where “medicine” comes from) were leaders of the Georgian Kingdom of Colchis. You see Georgia in the news now and may not even realize this is the same land.
My name is Mzia (Muh-zee-uh). I live in America and my husband is from Texas. Our daughter is four years old and our son is three. I am on my way to becoming a United States citizen and I am very happy about this. I am from Georgia and grew up in the Soviet Union under Russian domination.
My mother was a teacher and my father was a renowned scientist in the Soviet Union. His travels included Hungary, Germany and Italy, where he learned about different systems of government. This was monitored by KGB.
In a Soviet country, you are expected to be certain things. We were expected to be communists, and atheists. Georgian people adopted Christianity as the official state religion in the 4th Century A.D. We had to fear being discovered as religious people under the Russians. But we kept our trust in God.
I can remember being sick in bed once as a child. My mother had a cross hanging in the bedroom. People wouldn’t see it in the private room but on this day my father’s colleagues came to the house for supper. One of the guests wanted to see me and wish me good health. He saw the cross with Jesus and became very angry! The next day this was the important subject at my father’s place of work. I remember after that day my mother no longer kept the cross on the wall. From then on, my mother kept it inside of a chest of drawers and inside of our hearts.
Another difficulty for my father was the Communist Party. My father refused to join them. I remember he would say the Soviet economy can not last long. My father died when I was thirteen because of incorrect medical prescriptions. He was never to see his prediction come true.
My grandfather had been a hard working agriculturist. He was a target of the Red Army in 1921 when they first conquered our beloved Georgia. Georgia had a long history of independence – frequently interrupted - for more than 2000 years. It has one of the world’s oldest living written and spoken languages. Archeologists discovered ancient cave cities in Georgia with depressions and storage hollows for fermentation purposes. It is believed by many scientists that wine was invented in Georgia. The Georgian word for wine is “ghvino,” and many think the basis of “vino.”
My brother, Malkhaz, is a successful artist. When he attended art college he would sometimes steal away to attend an Orthodox Church service. Other students and the KGB would stage interventions to teach him the folly of going to church. They would preach to him that when he turned to this fake God, he was turning against the true gods of communism, Lenin and Stalin.
The Russians forced a culture of neighbor spying on neighbor. They held extreme distrust of anyone who was not a member of the communist party. They tried to enforce that Russian be the only language. They wanted to destroy the Georgian culture. They erased and ruined ancient treasures of religious art. Language, culture, and religion are basic rights, but to the Russians these are ways to freedom. Therefore, they could not remain.
The Russians see freedom as a kind of danger. They believe this threat to the government can not be tolerated. Before the Russians, Georgia was conquered by other powers: Mongolia, Persia, the Byzantine Empire. We have always fought hard to keep our language and our culture.
The Russians were asked to help us defend against the Persians in the early 19th century and forgot to leave until early last century. Then they left only until 1921 when they forced us to be part of Soviet Union.
I finished school in 1988 and the Soviet Union started to collapse. This was an incredible time! In my young mind a whole new world started to open! The Nationalist Democratic movement leaders taught us that Georgia could regain the independence the Red Army stole away in 1921. We had hope.
I remember my elders were fearful. But my younger generation dreamed of being a free democratic nation in the 20th Century.
On April 8th 1989 I was asked with school friends to go to the television studio in Tbilisi for an interview about education. As soon as we arrived we had to leave through an emergency exit. The station was blocked by Russian tanks. I can never forget what this was like.
The next day thousands of peaceful demonstrators gathered with prayer books and candles. They went to the main Government building to defend the constitutional right of the republics to sovereignty. Russia wanted to remove this right. We had no separate government but it was important to us to keep our separate identity. At 3:00AM Russian tanks and soldiers cleared Rustaveli Street. They used shovels and poison gas. Sixteen people, mostly women, were killed. Even a young school girl was slain. Hundreds were injured in a stampede and poisoned by the gas. I remember the fear of the gas there in the days after. Russia made it clear that we had no right to express discontent. It was very sad. We knew our women were killed by the Red Army. This is after Georgian men, our protectors, were forced to fight and die for Russia’s horrible war of conquest against Afghanistan. Russia controlled the radio, television and newspapers. But we knew what happened.
I saw people throw the Soviet flag and stepping on them as a way to protest the Russian tanks surrounding my eight story “Khrushchev” apartment building. We wanted an end to communism in Georgia. We wanted a new, free, humane, democratic country. We saw this as the beginning. We elected President Zviad Gamsakhurdia with 85% of the vote. He died very mysteriously. Many believe the Russians assassinated him.
In 1991 Georgia declared independence. The Russians left, but for a very big price. Nobody that leaves Russian control is ever forgiven for thinking that they can aspire to anything better. Right away Russia gave arms to minority separatist groups in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These groups were promised the land once the Georgians were driven away and ruined. A civil war began. The Georgians had no real army. And we were destroyed by the separatists in the provinces.
On August 14th in 1992 when Russians provoked the war inside Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze sent a message to the democratic world asking for help to Georgians to keep their sovereignty and end the war started by Russians using separatist leaders in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but nobody got involved, nobody showed interest in that matter. So Russia became the only player in Caucasus region.
I remember very clearly that the separatists were burning Georgian books from schools and churches. I remember many Georgian refugees that had no food or shelter. We watched hundreds of thousands of the ethnic Georgian majority displaced and many thousands killed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We watched mothers and children killed and bodies mutilated.
The Russians forced Georgia to accept Russian ‘peacekeepers.’ The Georgians were never allowed to come back. The Russians gave the separatists that helped them passports. They made the Ruble the only currency in the separatist area, but they still pretend to be neutral. To my mind it is important to see how Russia and its supporters ignore Georgia’s will - then and now. Georgia’s history and Georgia’s rights are treated today the way they were treated then, as if they did not matter.
We rejected communism. Therefore, Russia rejected us. They denied Georgia any food, fuel, medicine when the Soviet Union fell, and they controlled all of this. They stole everything they could when they left. What they could not take, they destroyed.
Many believe the Russians came back to Georgia now because they never forgot. They never forgave us for embracing democracy, they wanted us to pay. Really, it is a celebration that Georgia survived at all. For almost seventy years we suffered under communist brutality. Georgians were not allowed to thrive under the Russians. We worked hard as a nation to relearn how to think and how to live free.
And now today all we have done is being taken, again.
Stay tuned, as there is more to come from Mzia and on all that is happening.