Monday, October 27, 2008

Books more powerful than bombs

One of the more curious events of the Frankfurt Book Fair was the protest staged by a quartet of Georgian authors -- Rati Amaglobeli, Lasha Bugadze, Basa Jankashvili and David Turashvili under the auspices of the name GWARA (an acronym for Georgian Writers Against Russian Aggression, and a strange echo of the punk band GWAR, but no matter…).

The protest, held over two days, took place within earshot of the Russian booths and one can’t help wonder what they thought of the whole thing. Of course, the whole conflict is a muddle of motives – didn’t the Georgia’s start the fight? – and one wonders whether or not it might better have been called GWARO – Georgian Writers Against Russian Overreaction.

Nevertheless, for the protest, each of the four writers penned original essays for the event.

I caught David Tursashvilli’s talk. Rather than try and parse it for you, I offer you his own words:

I feel ashamed yet I have to tell you about this.

After the Russians began their air strikes on Tbilisi I couldn’t think of anything better to do than bring my children down to the yard and then go back to my apartment to find the Russian books we had at home. I had decided to take the books by Russian authors and burn them in front of my children as a sign of protest. However at the last moment I changed my mind.

God saved me from doing this awful thing. I remembered Milan Kundera, who once argued with Joseph Brodsky over the Prague Spring, wondering why the Russians had brought death to Prague with tanks, not books as they once had promised. I still believe that books have much greater power than any bomb. If I had burnt these particular books, how could I have then explained this to my kids?

Though I couldn’t burn their books that day, I nevertheless decided to take them to the Russian Embassy and return them to the people who let us down so much and instead of Chekhov and Dostoyevsky gave us Putin and Medvedev. I collected them up, but at the last moment I decided not to give them back to the Russians. Why? Because I couldn’t tell my daughters more than Tolstoy did when he wrote about Natasha Rostova preparing for her first ball.

Instead my children and I made paper planes, wrote slogans on their wings and in response to the Russian air strikes started to attack the Russian Embassy. We are going to organize a protest action against the Russian aggression here too. Please don’t think that it doesn’t concern you. There are no wards which are only somebody else’s , and sooner or later some war will concern all of us.

We were not surprised by the appearance of Russian tanks because we have been seeing them since as far back as our student days. We didn’t expect the bombs though, in the 21st century, even from Russians. And those bombs, which are being dropped today on Tbilisi and Georgia, target not only the civilian population of Georgia but all those people who believe that the 21st century is a modern and civil epoch. Therefore we expect all of you to join the Georgian writers’ protest against the Russian aggression.

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