Outside the Stronghold

Joe Murray

October 30, 1990|By Joe Murray

TBILISI,U.S.S.R. — Tbilisi, U.S.S.R.

I CAME to Soviet Georgia to see what I could see. A lot of it I've seen before.

Right now, for instance. I'm sitting in a car outside the walls of the fortress-like, hillside home of Georgia's most popular leader of the independence movement, Zviad Gamsakhurdiya. Here and there, half a dozen tough-looking young men are lounging in the shade of the trees.

Arrangements are being made for me to come inside and interview Mr. Gamsakhurdiya, but without my interpreter. He's Russian. No Russians enter the premises of Kolkhi. That's what Gamsakhurdiya calls his home, a Georgian word meaning ''stronghold.'' A sign on the gate spells it out: ''Entrance Not Allowed Without Permission.''

It's much the same scene that I found in Soweto in South Africa when I was visiting the leaders of the African National Congress, a house surrounded by walls and tough young men, soldiers without uniforms or weapons, at least none to be seen. It's the same politics, just different names and faces in a different part of the world.

This much I've come to understand about the struggle of a nation's people against their oppressors. It starts out as Us vs. Them. It ends up as Us vs. Each Other.

That's what it's coming to in this Soviet republic that's demanding its independence. My Russian friend isn't the only one not allowed inside Kolkhi. Neither is my Georgian friend, Teya Daracelia, who drove us here. He, too, is in the forefront of the push for independence, but he is part of a different political group from Mr. Gamsakhurdiya. He, too, is an enemy to be kept outside the walls.

What it is is this: the Roundtable vs. the Coordinating Center. Both are working for an independent Georgia. The Roundtable, led by Mr. Gamsakhurdiya, says independence can be achieved only through a newly elected Georgian Parliament. The Coordinating Center says it can be achieved through the existing Georgia Soviet Assembly. If you're like me, you're thinking there has to be more to their differences than that. But everybody I talk to, on one side or the other, says the same thing.

But right now, here outside the walls of Kolkhi, it doesn't look like I'm going to be talking with Mr. Gamsakhurdiya. It turns out he's not here after all. I'm loaded back into the car and headed down the hillside. We're talking in three different languages, English, Georgia and Russia. No one person understands what everybody is saying at any one time, least of all me.

Finally we find Mr. Gamsakhurdiya at the university where he is a professor of literature. His late father was author of some of Georgia's literary classics. These days his son, age 51, lectures more on politics than literature.

This particular morning he is with a group of 26 students and teachers who are on a hunger strike in protest of the Stalin Society, one of Georgia's more than 40 political parties. They say it has no right to exist, that its candidates should be banned from the upcoming elections. The very name represents terroristic programs, they say.

Mr. Gamsakhurdiya, who is here simply to support but not to participate in the hunger strike, is impressive in his appearance. He is tall, gray and handsome. He wears a neatly trimmed mustache. Never mind that he's beginning to thicken around his middle. It's not nearly so noticeable as his ego.

In our brief conversation, Mr. Gamsakhurdiya tells me Georgia must establish a free-market economy, with close economic ties to the West, and that ethnic minorities who reside in Georgia -- that is, everybody who isn't of the Georgian racial majority -- will have equal rights in the coming independence.

''Now they have more rights than the Georgian people,'' he says. ''It is like apartheid.''

Then I ask him what a friend of mine, a Georgian woman married to a Russian, said I should ask him:

''What about intermarriage?''

''Intermarriage is very bad,'' Mr. Gamsakhurdiya said, shaking his head. ''The Russians have used it to, uh . . . ''

''Dilute,'' I suggested.

''Yes, to dilute the Georgian race.''

''And under independence, what about intermarriage?''

''Yes, it must be banned in an independent Georgia.''

That's where the interview ended. But it was just as well. I had heard it before.

Joe Murray, editor-publisher emeritus of the Lufkin (Texas) Daily News, is senior writer for Cox Newspapers.

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