Reality and Literary Fiction (Otar Chkheidze’s “Artistic Revolution”)

The 90s of the 20th century were "tragic pages" of the history of Georgia - the Georgian-Ossetian conflict (the so-called War of Tskhinvali) and a civil confrontation in Tbilisi (the so-called War of Tbilisi) were followed by the series of defeat and national depression. This period was depicted in the Georgian fiction. The Georgian president Zviad Gamsakhurdia was in the epicenter of peripeteias of the 90s. His personality was quite interestingly presented in "Artistic Revolution" - a novel of the famous Georgian writer Otar Chkheidze.

Zviad Gamsakhurdia wrote in one of his essays: "No one must be surprised, that I begin speaking about Shelley with his death. The end of a poet's life is often the beginning of a "genuine comprehension" of his work. This ending is always symbolic and points to the essential" [Gamsakhurdia, 1991: 229]. Zvaid Gamsakhurdia's tragic death [1] is a key of the comprehension of his life and political activity. Its representation in the Georgian prose and especially, in Otar Chkheidze's work attracts great attention. It's a well known fact, that the events of the last decade of the previous century were depicted in the trilogy: "Artistic revolution", "White bear" and "Bermuda triangle". Two of them ("Artistic revolution" and "White bear") describe last period of Zviad Gamsakhurdia's life and work.

The title "Artistic revolution" comprises an intrigue. Can the military overthrow of the government be artistic? The famous French film director Jean-Louis Barrault wrote in his book "Reflections on the theatre": "A lot is said about a theatrical lie and falsehood - as if the actor creates illusion and for that reason, his/her role-playing is a deception. A deceived obeys the performance and believes in it. Even in this case, he/she is in the captivity of the lie.  When we speak about an actor or a spectator, a paradox is the result of the co-participation of two deceivers" [Barrault, 1980: 5]. The artistry means the imitation of truth, a transition of a spectator into the illusionary world (i.e. deception). Hence, when the above mentioned events move into the reality, they have bad results. Otar Chkheidze believes, that a pre-condition of the tragedy is viewed, when the imitation and falsehood determine a destiny and a future of a country.

The author speaks about the 90s of the 20th century with the doubt and grief: "A country is a big theatre and a theatre is not a theatre any more... actors ran into the streets: famous and   unknown. The theatre rushed into the streets. It came from there and dwelled there" [Chkheidze, 2002: 34]. Imitation and deception ingrained in the Georgian society of the 80s-90s. Persons began searching for their leading (or episodic) roles. Everybody tried to fish in troubled waters. Everybody tried to replace the main character (at the theatre or in the life): "Diomede wished all his life: if Akaki is ill, if he breaks his neck, if something happens with him, I will enter after the first act to avoid the failure of the performance" [Chkheidze, 2002:125]. Diomede represents an ambushed society, which waits for a desired role and if a director (life, fortune...) does not give it, the sentence will be passed to him (it...). Otar Chkheidze's novel "Artistic revolution" depicts a "role deprived" society and a country destroyed via artistic, false and imitated feelings and emotions.  

It's obvious, that at the end of the 20th century "... democratization of the society and the disappearance of the "care" of the party facilitated the publication of works presenting the problems of our society. Pluralism was established in the Georgian literature and art. Socialistic realism was not the only method in the Georgian cultural space" [Gaprindashvili... 2010: 158]. However, the principles of pluralism were not unknown for Otar Chkheidze even at the end of the century: "Otar Chkheidze was the first in our writing, who rejected a pattern of the socialistic realism and ideological dogmas via the creative practice and an artistic word" [Sigua, 2004: 3]. 

"Artistic revolution" was written in 1993. Its plot develops on the background of the dramatic events of autumn of 1991 and the first week of 1992. Byron expressed significant ideas about depicting tragic events and distancing via time. According to the writer's point of view, the talent is not enough for creating a tragedy. The passage of time is necessary for calming down. Only after a particular period of time, one can trust the memory and create a worthy work [Дьяконова, 1974:57]. This position is not unknown to Otar Chkheidze. He considers distancing via time as a necessary factor of the assessment of tragic events: "Events need time, they have to pass, to part from us, they will be seen better after some time, a writer will better depict them... yes, it is seen, clearly, perhaps tomorrow a twilight will cover it... I am counting the left years on my fingers, I cannot wait for something" [Chkheidze, 2002: 15]. 

According to the Georgian literary criticism, Otar Chkheidze did not support a loser or a winner during the depiction of the political events of 1991-1992. He boldly presented the truth, which was not acceptable for everybody [Sigua, 2004:3; Kukhianidze, 1999: 3; Chkheidze, 2008:776]. Otar Chkheidze did not name authentic characters. He did not use allusions. Otar Chkheidze was not an apologist of Zviad Gamsakhurdia and often expressed his critical attitude towards the ex-president (even in the novel). The writer presented impartially dramatic events and opposition within the Georgian society.     

The main character of "Artistic revolution" is president Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The development of the plot enables us to see him in different situations (watch him from different angles). Otar Chkheidze's attitude towards Gamsakhurdia changes according to the peculiarities of the events and president's decisions.  In the beginning of the novel, the author writes about him with some kind of irony and doubt: "The throne shook. It shook as soon as he sat on it... possibly, to bundle up" [Chkheidze, 2002: 45]. Otar Chkheidze mentions, that the desires of superiority and reign are the major factors stipulating the opposition of the society: "Everybody wants a throne. The throne is one. A slavish soul was filled. A throne is a dwelling of a holy spirit. No one is saint. The sinless can throw a stone. Everybody will throw, as if everybody is sinless" [Chkheidze, 2002, 41]. However, the writer tries to find the reasons of hatred towards Gamsakhurdia in his previous mistakes and personal characteristic features. Moreover, Zviad had a famous father - a well-known Georgian classic Konstantine Gamsakhurdia. This fact can explain the jealousy towards ex-president: "They felt envy, because his father was Konstantine, because he had the Kolkhian tower, a peacock and a young deer were the objects of jealousy too" [Chkheidze, 2002: 79]. Otar Chkheidze sees more serious reasons. Zviad wished to change pro-Russian orientation of the country: "The president wants to hear nothing about Moscow. He does not want to listen to the Russian speech" [Chkheidze, 2002: 197].  In addition, the persons, who occurred "in the needed situation" "at the needed time" demonstrated their ingratitude: "They knew nothing: he informed them about declarations, the freedom of a person, the nation and freedom... he dressed them in new suits, taught them how to tie the ties, he, he did everything, tied their ties, when taking them to the supreme council to attend the first session" [Chkheidze, 2002:237]. The author does not forget Zviad's mistakes made before his presidency. Moreover, when Chkheidze analyses the event of the tragic night (April 9), he does not spare Gamsakhurdia and other leaders of the national movement. The writer describes previous minutes of the fatal massacre in the following way: "there was a flock and a kind shepherd tried to drive it away. The flock did not move. It obeyed false shepherds and stood doomed" [Chkheidze, 2002: 56]. This episode depicts the rejection of the request of the Patriarch of Georgia by the leaders of the national movement (among them was Zviad Gamsakhurdia). The protesters did not move and became the victims of the fatal massacre.     

Despite the "heaviest situation", the president stayed calm, especially, at the end "as if the president dozes, as if, as if. His eyelids fall down. Move up. Move down. Move up. Fall down: what do they want, the brave men brought up by him... the hatred will eat us. The eyelids fall down" [Chkheidze, 2002: 236-238]. Zviad Gamsakhurdia recalls, that he has often been the reason of his mother's tears and sleepless nights. He could choose a calm life of a famous classic (a successful scientific career, working in quiet libraries and achieves) for bringing joy in his mother's life... but he could not betray himself, his father and Georgia, which had a "light-red flag". The author gives a scrupulous description of the episode of president's leaving. Zviad Gamsakhurdia tries to save the lives of the members of his family. The same can be said about dozens of solders and members of their families [2]. Otar Chkheidze gives "one phrase" description of Gamsakhurdia's last dreams, hopes and reasons of his presidency: "He ordered to pack away. It was his last presidential order. He was still looking at the map. Everything was ready. They will give a report. He is standing up, looking at the map again. Candle-light is reflected on his face. He stands up, stands still, stands still, puts down the pencil, puts. "...will be... our... our... will be our..." goes away looking at the map. The pencil lies on Tao-Klarjeti" [Chkheidze, 2002: 363].  Unfortunately, the end of Tbilisi's war turned into the beginning of the national depression and series of defeat. The novel depicts this fact via a symbolic scene - an archangel leaves Tbilisi: "flies over Tbilisi, destroyed Tbilisi, ruined Tbilisi, sinful Tbilisi, having no idea about its sin. Archangel Gabriel flaps its wings and leaves glacier. They fly together for a moment. Afterwards, the archangel disappears. A flyer says: "It seemed, that a top avulsed from the glacier. I thought it would fall into Tergi. No. It contracted, flapped the wings and disappeared" [Chkheidze, 2002: 367].

As it was already mentioned, "Artistic revolution" depicts precisely the dramatic pictures of Georgia of the second half of the 20th century. Moreover, the author draws historic parallels and presents those historic persons of the previous century, which determined the destiny of our country at different periods of time. Therefore, the characters of the novel can be classified in the following way: a) Historical persons of the 19th century, who got orientation on the "coreligionist" northern neighbor - Russia: King Erekle, Grigol Orbeliani, etc. King Erekle appears several times: firstly as a character of Nikoloz Baratashvili's poem: "Kind shepherd, I entreat my kingdom to your holy flock - firstly he doomed it and now he was asking to entreat it" [Chkheidze, 2002: 207]. This phrase shows the author's attitude towards Erekle and his political course. Hence, afterwards, the description of the tragedy of Krtsanisi explains the King's decision: "Erekle's supporters left him and he almost fell into the hands of the bloody enemy.  He was left, left to the enemy. They stepped away to "watch an amusement" [Chkheidze, 2002: 208]. According to the writer's point of view, a position of "a viewer of an amusement" is deplorable for everybody, because, finally, the viewers and the loyal ones are similarly punished - a foreign force enters the country for raiding. Suddenly, appears Grigol Orbeliani, who attends to the duties of the management and speaks with his former table companions - Lopiana and his friends - from the position of Kazakh-Russians. He will not even refrain from wiping them: "Firstly was whipped a person, who cried out as a chief" [Chkheidze, 2002:147]; b) The second group comprises historical persons, whose apostate position determined Georgia's historical fate in the beginning of the 20th century: Akaki Tsereteli, Noe Zhordania, Stalin.... "Tsereteli makes an appeal to the public for the defense of the government, Stalin appeals for overthrowing it. Two unlucky Georgians, who "are fighting" in the far north" [Chkheidze, 2002, 65]. At that period of time, the country did not lack "amusement loving" persons, who thought only about their glorification. Therefore, the expansion of Georgia by Russians was carried out in 1921. It resulted in 70 years of "red hooded" Georgia; c) The third group comprises the writer's contemporaries, who shared a cruel fate of the country at the end of the 20th century. The events of the 90s were connected with their names. Otar Chkheidze showed vividly his attitude towards the variegated society, which opposed the president. It seemed, that the representatives of this society had nothing in common, but the writer "clearly" indicated to the connecting mark - they "were puffed out with the spirit of Moscow, they looked with Moscow's eyes, they tried to please Moscow"[Chkheidze, 2002: 190]. These persons "were deprived of their roles. He deprived them, because he did not believe in them". They "change the masks, coquette, present themselves as the apostles of kindness, but, in fact, they are filled with jealousy, the passion of priority chokes them" [Chkheidze, 2002: 329]. 

Otar Chkheidze's civil position is shown on the background of the above mentioned historical excursus. It is connected with the consideration of the feeling of responsibility before the future of the country. The author mentions, that the 20th century got rid of two catastrophic disasters - communism and fascism. The 21st century faces a threat masked with the name of democracy. In this case, it does not matter, "what will eat us: a wolf or a dog having the color of a wolf" [Chkheidze, 2002: 220]. The author believes, that Georgia's political course must be oriented on Europe. If we helped ourselves, Europe will be aided too. Does Europe's future and salvation depend on Georgia again? Can we find enough strength to bear responsibility for Europe's future? It's obvious, that the problems of the novel are presented in the national and universal consciousness. Therefore, "Artistic revolution" and the problems presented in it have still been discussed in the Georgian literary space.

[1] The debates about killing /committing suicide are still going on.

[2] The given episode is repeated with a documentary precision in eye-witnesses' stories. This fact became known to the society after the publication of the novel [Koridze, 1999].


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