Should Georgians Sing and Dance in Russia?
These days, this question is a subject of passionate debate in Georgia. Many recoiled in distaste to see Moscow this month hosting a so-called Tbilisoba, an annual, Oktoberfest-style festival of Georgian arts, national crafts and cuisine held in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Some accuse participating Georgian pop stars of selling out to the Kremlin, while others speak of the need of building cultural bridges amid animosity.
In Soviet and early post-Soviet times, Russia was as much of a main outlet for Georgian song and dance as it was for the country’s fruit and vegetables. Given the modest size of Georgia’s show business, many Georgian performers still turn to Russia, with its massive showbiz industry and remnants of nostalgic appreciation for Georgian culture.
After 2008, some Georgian showbiz stars quit on Russia, and Tbilisi discouraged cultural exchange events. That approach changed with the Georgian Dream’s advent to power in 2012, and the lifting of the Russian embargo on Georgian food-products.
Yet, still, part of Georgian society thinks such performances are inappropriate so long as Russian troops remain stationed in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and help separatists prevent the homecoming of thousands of ethnic Georgians who fled these regions. They see irony in the same pop stars participating in Moscow’s Tbilisoba who previously performed in patriotic, anti-Kremlin concerts in Georgia.
Among such contrasts is singer Nini Badurashvili. She was part of a disco quartet that tried to mock Vladimir Putin with the “We Don’t Wanna Put in” song at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. Also on hand in Moscow was Lela Tsurtsumia, whose exotic glamour allegedly had George W. Bush erupt in compliments when she performed during his 2005 visit to Tbilisi. Both singers were regulars at ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s flag-waving musical powwows.
Both women now say that their Moscow Tbilisoba performance was meant for the Russian capital's sizeable Georgian Diaspora, and asked that foreign-policy disputes stay out of it. But the event’s sponsorship by the Moscow municipality and a generally Kremlin-friendly Georgian Diaspora group, led by the murky expat-businessman Mikheil Khubutia, did nothing to allay suspicions within Georgia.
Khubutia, though, doesn’t let that get him down. “The Georgian and Russian peoples love each other genetically,” he claimed in comments to Maestro TV.
Georgia’s cultural scene is also divided on this matter. Earlier this year, to show solidarity with Russian-besieged Ukraine, the internationally acclaimed, state-funded Georgian National Ballet Sukhishvili cancelled a show in St. Petersburg.
During a March tour of Ukraine, the Sukhishvilebi, as they are known, had added a Ukrainian flag to their signature military dance, performed a Ukrainian folk dance, and ended at least one show with a hearty “ukrainas gaumarjos!” (“Victory to Ukraine!”) .
"I don't think this is the right time to be performing in Russia," Nino Sukhishvili, director of the company, said of the cancellation-decision at the time. “No matter what we say, sports and culture are politics.”