Georgia: Disco Music Used as Vehicle for Peace
An October 13 disco concert by a band headed by a former member of the 1970s pop sensation Boney M has become the latest strategy in Tbilisi’s efforts to woo breakaway South Ossetia back into its fold.
With an armed soldier standing overhead and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili grooving to the beat with fans below, Marcia Barrett, an original member of Boney M, performed hits ranging from "Daddy Cool" to "Rasputin" in front of an audience of hundreds in Tamarasheni, a Georgian-controlled village a few kilometers from the capital of breakaway South Ossetia,
Organized by the anti-separatist movement Kokoity Fandarast (Kokoity Farewell), Boney M, long a favorite band in the former Soviet Union, was chosen by Fandarast leader Vladimir Sanakoyev to be a "peace emissary" to the people of South Ossetia. The Georgian government picked up the undisclosed cost for the performance. "This is [a] disco approach to conflict resolution," President Saakashvili told a BBC reporter under the din of the all-time favorite, "Sunny."
Vladimir Sanakoyev elaborated on that theme: "In a conflict zone, people want to hear music, sing songs and dance. [Music] is a peace process method which promotes stabilization," he commented. "Boney M’s music – not just the words, but the beat and rhythm - have a Caucasus temperament," he added.
Whether the South Ossetia conflict zone had actually been serenaded by the "official" Boney M is disputable, however. The rights to the name are being contested in court by former group members.
The detail, however, was meaningless to fans who drove in caravans or hiked over a rough mountain bypass road, lined with armed soldiers, to attend the free concert. An occasionally gyrating Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava and a ramrod-straight Dmitri Sanakoyev, head of the Georgian-controlled South Ossetian district, were also on hand.
The original Boney M visited the Soviet Union in 1978; memories, apparently, still linger on. "Boney M in Tamarasheni," commented Malkhas, a man in his 30s from the nearby Georgian town of Gori. "I don’t believe it." [For additional information click here]
The concert falls on the heels of an economic development campaign, which kicked off last winter as a strategy to persuade residents in Ossetian-controlled territory to accept a Tbilisi-backed peace deal. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. So far, Tamarasheni, just a few kilometers from breakaway South Ossetia’s capital of Tskhinvali, has a newly paved main road, modern electronics superstore, cinema/entertainment complex, and soccer field, in addition to a hotel, gas station and swimming pool under construction. Live music is the latest addition to the campaign.
Kokoity Fandarast has also enlisted Georgian singers and musicians to boost the popularity of their drive to oust the separatist de facto president, Eduard Kokoity. An October 3 concert in Kakheti, a region in eastern Georgia, initiated the campaign, with performances moving steadily closer to Tskhinvali. The Saturday concert featuring the de facto Boney M group marked the finale.
Tamriko Khizanishvili, de facto culture minister of Georgian-controlled South Ossetia, states that more concerts are planned for the future, putting the relatively modest turnout for the Tamarasheni gig down to difficulties traveling over the gravel mountain pass that skirts Ossetian-controlled territory.
Group members, however, seemed unconcerned that they were playing in a village still occasionally hit by sniper fire despite a long-standing cease-fire agreement. "I fought cancer twice and won. I’m never scared," Barrett responded at an earlier press conference.
Back-up singer Marcus James avows he doesn’t think of danger in South Ossetia because the concept is negative. "The main thing is to have fun and forget about the negative. Our best weapon is peace," he affirmed.
Paul Rimple is a freelance writer based in Tbilisi. Alexander Klimchuk is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi.