Yesterday when I was walking down the street I’ve walked hundred times before, I suddenly realized a need for distraction,  a safe escape. I bought this book. I am quite familiar with Milan Kundera, however I knew nothing about his “Ignorance”. I read the introduction which was talking about a man and a woman meeting by a chance while returning to their homeland which they have abandoned years ago when they chose to become exiles. It was saying Milan Kundera has taken the concepts of absence, memory, forgetting and ignorance, and transformed them into a brilliant and moving novel. It was enough. I bought the book right away. If you knew me you would understand why. I had personal reasons for being in that book shop.

Maybe because this book touches different layers of emotions understandable for me, or maybe because I am again thinking of leaving my country, now for longer period, maybe both, nevertheless The Guardian talks about this book as something challenging the “moral hierarchy of emotions” laid down when Homer “glorified nostalgia with a laurel wreath”, Ignorance tilts at the romantic assumption that separation from the land of one’s birth must be a kind of death – just as, for the artist, it is casually and erroneously assumed to be the death of creativity.

‘At Paris airport she meets Josef, a vet with whom she had a brief encounter in Prague, now a widower living in Denmark and making his first journey back. He too finds his emigration was driven by a need to escape – in his case his noxious, masochistic memory. With excruciating insight, Kundera homes in on the alienation of the returning émigré. Trying on a dress, Irene is momentarily imprisoned in the life she might have led had she stayed. For Josef, seeing his old watch on his brother’s wrist “threw him into a strange unease. He had the sense he was coming back into the world as might a dead man emerging from his tomb after 20 years”. His mother-tongue is an “unknown language whose every word he understood”. Their memories are out of sync with those they have left behind. Encountering resentment and “suffering-contests” over who had the hardest time under the regime, Irene is shocked by friends’ indifference to the 20-year “odyssey” that separates her from them but which has become her identity; she is like Odysseus after his 20-year wandering, “amazed to realise that his life, the very essence of his life, its centre, its treasure, lay outside Ithaca”. Irene senses that, as a condition of reacceptance and pardon, they “want to amputate 20 years of my life from me”. [The Guardian’s review]

I am still at early chapters of the book, but one could already sense the feeling that the novel reveals how the selectiveness of memory can create rifts both with our earlier selves and between people who we share a past with. This part is especially noteworthy for me because I only now realized it. You will understand if you ever been at Irena’s place, because I’ve been:

“I imagine the feelings of two people meeting again after many years. In the past they spent some time together, and therefore they think they are linked by the same experience, the same recollections. The same recollections? That’s where the misunderstanding starts: they don’t have the same recollections; each of them retains two or three small scenes from the past, but each has his own; their recollections are not similar; they don’t intersect; and even in terms of quantity they are not comparable: one person remembers the other more than he is remembered; first because memory capacity varies among individuals (an explanation that each of them would at least find acceptable), but also (and this is more painful to admit) because they don’t hold the same importance for each other. When Irena saw Josef at the airport, she remembered every detail of their long-ago adventure; Josef remembered nothing. From the very first moment their encounter was based on an unjust and revolting inequality.” M. Kundera

If you prefer online version, you can find this book here.

I was first introduced to the concept of ‘nostalgia’ in my childhood [The Greek word consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming” and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain, ache”]. Seeing my parents and compatriots suffering for not being able to visit their homes, listening to their stories about home, talking about longing for that particular street, house, bar in the corner, library on the other side, sea, smelling the water brought from that part of the sea, you can easily understand what nostalgia really means. I was introduced to this concept at  the age of 6. My parents and compats haven’t been allowed to visit their homes since…

Coming across the topics of memory, patria, nostalgy, distance, separation, I suddenly recalled an article that recently got me thinking a lot. It touches a little different dimension of being far from home though, not the case when you are forced to leave home due to the war. In ‘What Happens When You Live Abroad’ author talks about fears, prices and challenges of living abroad, the sentimental side of being a divided person because you suddenly realize “that you are now two distinct people. As much as your countries represent and fulfill different parts of you and what you enjoy about life, as much as you have formed unbreakable bonds with people you love in both places, as much as you feel truly at home in either one, so you are divided in two. For the rest of your life, or at least it feels this way, you will spend your time in one naggingly longing for the other, and waiting until you can get back for at least a few weeks and dive back into the person you were back there. It takes so much to carve out a new life for yourself somewhere new, and it can’t die simply because you’ve moved over a few time zones.”

If you have ever lived abroad you will understand the feeling of being an ex-pat, always, no matter where you are and who you’ve become. Author puts it brilliantly:

There will always be a part of you that is far away from its home and is lying dormant until it can breathe and live in full color back in the country where it belongs. To live in a new place is a beautiful, thrilling thing, and it can show you that you can be whoever you want — on your own terms. It can give you the gift of freedom, of new beginnings, of curiosity and excitement. But to start over, to get on that plane, doesn’t come without a price. You cannot be in two places at once, and from now on, you will always lay awake on certain nights and think of all the things you’re missing out on back home.

And now, when I am thinking about leaving my home country again, I can’t deny that one reason why I so eagerly try to leave is a wish to escape myself, myself in this country. Years of attempts to convince myself that my country needs me [philosophical delusion] didn’t help. Once you made a decision to come back and now you regret it. You choose to leave again. And there’s nothing wrong about that, no matter how all turns out in the end. When you feel you compromise yourself, when you can’t breath, when “there are just too many bridges that have been burned, or love that has turned sour and ugly, or restaurants at which you’ve eaten everything on the menu at least ten times — the only way to escape and to wipe your slate clean is to go somewhere where no one knows who you were, and no one is going to ask. And while it’s enormously refreshing and exhilarating to feel like you can be anyone you want to be and come without the baggage of your past, you realize just how much of “you” was based more on geographic location than anything else.”

There are no answers for all these, there are no judgments. If you have a choice, you make a choice. And even though I liked this piece of opinion very much, it seems like this was written by someone who is speaking from the experience of her gap years. Undeniably the experience of those who immigrate due to no choice or permanently is completely different and far more complicated…

In the end I leave you with my all time favourite and most moving performance by Mariza who is singing for her compatriots…


The breakaway territory should seek legitimacy through supporting native Georgian rights, not playing dominoes

by Hugh Williamsonm, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Published in: The Guardian
November 19, 2011

They like playing dominoes in Abkhazia. As dusk falls, young men unpack their pieces on the promenade by the Black Sea in Sukhumi, the picturesque capital of this breakaway territory bidding for independence from Georgia.

The fact that Abkhazia is a largely unrecognised state does not diminish the duty on the authorities, as the territory’s controlling power, to meet their human rights obligations under international law.

Yet like playing ping pong in China, shuffling the dominoes in Abkhazia can also resonate with wider diplomatic meaning. In October, Sukhumi was proud to host the domino world championship (yes, it exists). Abkhazia didn’t win – the Dominican Republic had that honour – but it achieved its goal of gaining some international attention. More than 200 players from two dozen countries attended, including a team from the US.

We spent 90 minutes putting these points to Alexander Ankvab, Abkhazia’s de facto president – a can-do politician who takes visitors’ calls on his mobile.

He disagreed with most of our findings, though, and talked about the “new realities” he was building in Abkhazia – realities that the largely hostile international community would have to get used to, he noted.

We said his “new realities” need to be grounded in the rights of the territory’s long-established population.

Abkhazia is only recognised by Russia, Venezuela and two other tiny states, and its status is part of the bitter tensions between Russia and Georgia that peaked in their short war in August 2008.

The two countries’ breakthrough agreement on 9 November on customs arrangements is a sign that compromises are possible. Yet the annoyance in Washington and Tbilisi, and the pride in Sukhumi and Moscow, over such a seemingly harmless domino match (media reports told of intense, ultimately futile pressure on the US domino players, for instance, to withdraw) underline how politicised any dealings with Abkhazia really are.

This atmosphere does not make independent human rights work in Abkhazia very easy. In our meetings with Abkhaz officials on this visit, that came as no surprise, and Human Rights Watch rarely opts for the easy ride. But it means that, as in other territorial conflicts, a different, more creative approach is needed to protect the rights of ordinary people by the key players involved. In this case, those players include Russia, with its strong military and financial backing for the territory.

Continue reading

Georgia Wants UN Mission, ‘But Not at Any Price’

Georgia is in favor of maintaining UN observer mission, “but not at any price,” Giga Bokeria, the Georgian deputy foreign minister, said on June 5.
UN Security Council will meet on June 12 to discuss the matter and the resolution by the Council is expected for June 15, when the current four-month mandate of UN observer mission, monitoring situation on the both sides of the Abkhaz administrative border, as well as in upper Kodori Gorge, expires.
Civil Georgia reports.


U.N. Secretary-General Revises Report on Abkhazia under Russian Pressure

Publication from Eurasia Daily Monitor
By: Vladimir Socor

Russia no longer needs to veto the U.N. Security Council’s (UNSC) resolution on the mandate of U.N. observers in Georgia, which expires on June 15. Intimidated by Moscow’s veto threats, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and some key UNSC members have bowed to Russian demands and agreed to change key wording in the Secretary-General’s report that recommends a new mandate for the observers.

After UN report story, now Benetton in Abkhazia

Hürriyet Daily News reports, that Benetton Turkey, the Turkish arm of Italy’s leading manufacturer, announced the opening of a store in Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia. Benetton Turkey became the first global brand to do so, after opening up a store in Tbilisi, Georgia.
"Abkhazia is the door that opens the historical Silk Road to the sea. It has a strategic importance with its tourism and sea transportation," said Zeynep Selgur, general manager of Benetton Turkey, in a statement yesterday. "Benetton was the first global brand to open a branch in Turkey in1985. We are proud to continue this trend in Abkhazia. We would like to continue our investments in Turkic Republics and in Cyprus."

What will be the response of Georgian government?

Refugees in Georgia accusing UN secretarygeneral of “unprecedented inadequacy”

Congress of the refugees expressed concern on the unprecedented inadequate approach to the existing realities in Georgia in the report of UN Secretary-General submitted to the Security Council. For the first time, the UN secretary general’s report does not fix that the territorial integrity of Georgia is inviolable and a traditional phrase "Abkhazia, Georgia" was removed from the text, the congress’s Chairman David Gulua said at a news conference on May 25. "On the backdrop of the Russian aggression in August 2008 and occupation of the country’s large parts, we accept such an approach as an attempt to hush crimes of the aggressor-country and its fifth column against humanity," he said.
The refugees’ congress has sent a special address to Ban Ki-Moon, which expresses its strong protest.
"It is categorically inadmissible for us and inadequate approach to the criminal regime of Abkhazia causes surprise, which seized the power via the genocide and violence," the address said.
Congress of the refugees said that it knows the price of the negotiations well. Therefore, the congress waited patiently and with hope that the peace process under UN auspices would have made a real prospect of resolving the conflict. "But from this point of view, the UN secretary general’s report – the subject of extreme concern, since called into question the integrity and the fundamental principles for which protection the UN was founded. Therefore, we believe that the approaches outlined in the report are contrary to the UN Charter and fundamental principles of international law. We state with a sense of responsibility that such an attitude could lead to a new escalation of the conflict," the Congress states.
Georgia, Tbilisi, May 25 /Trend News

Abkhazia moves troops to Georgian border

 A regiment of the Eastern group of forces is being moved to the border with Georgia on order from supreme commander-in-chief, President of Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh and on instruction from Defence Minister, Colonel-General Mirab Kishmariya.
The troops are moved “to perform tasks to protect public order,” Alexander Pavlushko, the Abkhazian deputy defence minister, told reporters. He said the regiment of the Eastern group of forces “will assist border troops in the protection of the state border.” Itar-Tass