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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Negro is not niggardly and the best offense is defense

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I just visited to catch up on some local news and see the president has tasted a bit of his own shoe leather.

Remember the Washington DC mayoral aide David Howard, who had to resign for saying the word "niggardly" when referring to the tight budget he would have to manage? Fortunately, this is Georgia where even losing a war with Russia won't make a president resign, which is why I'm surprised Misha is getting some heat for calling his Prime Minister a "negro."

The deal is, Misha got pissed off when he found out some Spanish tourists got shaken down by some knucklehead customs officers. The article states Misha turned to some Finance Ministry guy and Prime Minister Nika Gilauri and said, “... are we Negroes or what? Explain to me why are we acting like savages?”

The president's press service released a statement regretting the president's comment was misinterpreted, which is not an apology, mind you.

“Words said by the President of Georgia have nothing to do with any race and they were not used in the context of racial discrimination,” the statement also mentioned.

But the word negro
is either a derogatory slur or an old school racial description. It is nothing else. I don't understand why Misha just didn't say "Russian." Nobody would have noticed and it would have been an accurate description.

Speaking of Russia, Misha is on one of his civil defense benders again, going on about how
Georgia should develop a military industry and that every village should be prepared to defend itself against a Russian invasion.

"There should be small, trained teams in each village and each settlement with minimal required arms so that everyone should be able to defend own land, village, street, town and region,” the president said.

If the president had been in a Georgian village during the August 2008 war, then he would have seen that even a large trained team couldn't protect villages from being bombed by Russian planes. If he had actually talked to people in these villages then he would have learned that they are tired of being pawns in a conflict between Putin and Saakashvili, they don't want to be armed with weapons to protect their homes, they want water, gas and jobs.

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Yes, Russia is occupying Georgian territory and yes Putin wants to string Misha up by his nuts - you cannot deny the threat is still there. But how many wars must Georgia lose before the president stops saying stuff like, “If the enemy force decides to advance from the ethnically cleansed territories, each and every square meter of the Georgian land should burn beneath [the enemy force] – that is the task.” ?

And if the president was earnest about the plan to win the hearts and minds of the separatists, why would he say "Georgia’s eventual political goal is to liberate our territories and to achieve full de-occupation?" Georgia has been saying that for nearly 2 decades and look what it has achieved. I think it's fair to say that if this talk loud and carry a small stick diplomacy hasn't worked well these past 20 years why would it now?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dinner of Champions

Back before the fall of Shevardnadze, I went to do research on a story about Chidaoba, traditional Georgian wrestling. It was mid-winter and the Federal Wrestling Association building was predictably unlit and unheated, but dozens of wrestlers steamed the hall with body vapor and broke the chill. The faded cement walls and patchy wrestling mat looked like they had sucked the balm out of every dripping pore of each man that every donned a singlet in Tbilisi for the past 50 years. I don't have to tell you what it smelled like.

Between whistle blows, Coach Otar Tatishvili, a former USSR Olympic champion, introduced me to several current World and Euro champs. Otar was an expert of Greco-Roman wrestling and couldn’t help me with Chidaoba much, but did invite me to a banquet to honor the 50th birthday of his friend the police chief and former Olympic wrestling medalist.

I met Otar outside the restaurant, where bull-necked men in dark suits greeted each other with hand shakes, kisses and smiles. It wasn't just a birthday party, it was a reunion of world champion athletes: wrestlers, boxers, and blackbelt medal winners. I was the only guy whose ears didn’t look like tenderized veal medallions.

A couple hundred people, give or take, filled the room to capacity. The tables were loaded with standard luxe Georgian fare – caviar, roast piglet, etcetera, etcetera. The cop’s parents were sitting at a long table on the stage. They were also celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

In the United States, politicians often pop out of the lawyer mold. In the Caucasus, and in Georgia at that time, the mold that forms wrestling champions, forms politicians and prosecutors and the like. I understood why parents sent their sons to Otar to learn the finer points of Greco-Roman wrestling. In America most of these guys would’ve ended up as doormen or bodyguards, here they had bodyguards.

The vibe was what you would expect a banquet hall full of aging athletes to feel like. Laid back testosterone all settled in the gut. The wives, with trounced postures, chain smoked. The Chief’s wife had twelve inches on her husband in high heels. He had about fifty pounds on her, all held up by his belt, rolled under itself. Her two sons looked just like their dad only they popped out of a donut mold, not a wrestler's. Their wives looked like mom.

With a glass full of wine in one hand and microphone in the other, the tamada made long-winded toasts accompanied by the obligatory feedback from the blaring sound system. A former wrestling world champ of 1978 stretched across the table and said in English, “Me world champion wrestling. He, world champion blah, blah, blah.”

I sat next to the Vice President of the Wrestling Federation. He leaned into me and translated each toast in a nutshell. “Gia, Euro Champ 1976… Vaho, World Champ 1980… Tatiana, the first female wrestling referee in the USSR…” It was getting rather daffy.

Everybody stood up for a toast to Konstantin Vyrupayev the first USSR gold medalist in wrestling, in 1956. He was big and bald and kept his glasses on his head with a black shoe lace.

We also stood up for a toast to the Chief's wife, although I was the only person at our table to actually drink. Even when she came up to greet us, all the men stood, put the glasses to their lips but didn’t even wet them.

I saw the Chief again in November 2003. His riot cops were guarding the chancellery as thousands of protesters were challenging them at the foot of the stairs by the Freedom Square metro. When they got the order to let us through, everybody cheered and congratulated the dumbfounded police as they passed by them. Slouched against a wall with a cigarette drooping off his lip was the Chief, as tenacious as an empty bag of potato chips.

“Gamarjoba! Rogora khar?” I said. “Remember me? I was at your birthday party!”

He returned my ironic smile with weak smirk, an expression he hadn’t worn since the last time he was pinned.

(top image lifted off; 4 year-old wrestlers Georgy Bibilauri and Dzhambulat Khotokhov. From, ear from

A story by Brian Bernbaum, CBS July 2003:

"Wrestlers Georgy Bibilauri and Dzhambulat Khotokhov had both hoped for victory, but they settled for ice cream instead. The pair, two of the world's largest preschoolers, proved evenly matched Wednesday in an unusual contest in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Khotokhov, a Russian weighing 123 pounds with a height of 3 feet 11 inches, is the world's largest 4-year-old, according to the match's organizers. Tbilisi native Bibilauri, who turned 5 on Wednesday is 4 feet tall and weighs 112 pounds. After the boys tied on the mat, they went off to celebrate Bibilauri's birthday with ice cream and chocolate.

Georgian wrestling champion Levan Tediashvili, who refereed the match, said he admired the boys' sportsmanship.“They are fantastic kids,” he said. “These two giants give off such positive vibes. We Russians and Georgians should follow their example.”

The match's organizer, Georgian journalist Tengiz Pachkoriya, said he came up with the idea after reading a newspaper article about Khotokhov.
“They became friends after spending the day together yesterday,” he said. “I hope the friendship will last many years."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Identity theft Azerbaijan style

A real Eldar Namazov

“As long as this corrupt regime fails to leave the scene, we will stick together,” said a man named Eldar Namazov. But he had no idea how some things would stick.

I came across a hilarious story by comrade Ali I'd like to share about the virtual cloning
of the former aid to Big Daddy Heidar Aliev and current opposition guy, Eldar Namazov.

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