Last weekend, due to the holiday on Thursday, my good friends Cristen and Marissa came to town to escape Zugdidi for a few days (although I must say, Zugdidi is beautiful. I would gladly sleep on a parkbench there any time!). We had a few concrete ideas of what we wanted to do while they were in town—ideas that were shortly thrown out the window, from the get go.
Originally, the girls were going to catch a marshrutka around 9 in the morning, putting them in Tbilisi around 2 or 3 pm. The night before their scheduled arrival, Marissa called me to say that plans had changed. “Yev and his students are going to Mtskheta for the festival tomorrow. We’re going to hitch a ride with them! It’ll be free and fun!” “That sounds great, Marissa! So what time will you all be getting in?”
“Well, the bus is leaving at 2 am. So…we’ll be arriving in Mtskheta around 7 am.” That was a huge difference. I mean, I didn’t mind their earlier arrival—I could just wake up a bit earlier and go meet them around 9 or 10 in the morning. Not too bad. I won’t describe the saga of their all-night, nine and a half hour bus ride here, but if either of them does I will be sure to link to it! It was an ordeal.
So, they finally arrived around 4 or 5 pm and we went to have dinner at our friend Nino’s house. It was a wonderful evening.
We hadn’t decided on any concrete plans for Friday—although we did have aspirations of going to Kakheti on Saturday—but I lucked into a great opportunity for us. A few nights before the girls arrived, I attended a birthday suphra for my neighbor. More accurately, I attended a birthday suphra for my neighbor’s five year-old daughter. While we paid our respects to Elena, by drinking wine and having a raucous time, my neighbor Koba asked, “Do you have a car to get to Kakheti?”
“No, Koba, I’m still trying to figure out how we’ll get there.” “Well, I’ll drive you! And would you and your friends like a tour of Parliament?” Koba works for Parliament and has connections. Lots and lots of connections. So Friday we visited school quickly in the morning and, in our primary-color-coordinated dress clothes, headed in to town to have a private tour of Parliament.
We arrived at Parliament and met Koba, who led us to the visitors’ entrance. We were checking in and Koba joked with us, “You all brought pistols, knives, and grenades, right?” We all laughed, “Oh no! I left my grenades at home! Are we going to need them?” “Yeah, you never know what kind of battles we’ll get into in Parliament!” Koba winkingly informed us.
We passed through the metal detectors, kitty cat umbrella and all, and stepped to the side to retrieve our bags and the security guard asked Marissa, “Do you have anything metal in your purse?” “Uh, no. Oh, my keys might be in there.” “Not keys. Do you have a knife?” “Umm…oh shit! I do have a knife in there!” That’s right, everybody. Marissa Needles attempted to smuggle a knife into the Parliament of Georgia. Fuckin’ classy.
I loved going to parliament. Those of you who know me well know that I am a huge history nerd. Those with more specific, relevant knowledge of me will also recall that I am a huge Georgian history nerd. Honestly, that’s why I decided to come to Georgia. Yes, yes, I am here for the children and I’m very happy and excited to be making a difference in their lives, but really I’m here so I can be in Georgia. Ten months ago (Note: Very rough estimate. Please don’t trust this number.) I decided that I wanted to spend my post-graduation year in Georgia, however I could. TLG fell into my lap in the best way possible and so here I am!
How does this all relate to Parliament? Let me tell you. Georgia’s independence is a relatively new phenomenon in recent, modern history. 1991 was not the first time Georgia attained independence in the twentieth century, however. From 1918-1921 Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan experienced a brief period of freedom following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia at the end of 1917. Many of the fringe regions of the Russian Empire broke away at this time. Some—Poland, Finland, the Baltic States—successfully remained apart and resisted attempts at reconquest by the newly empowered Bolshevik forces. Others weren’t so lucky and succumbed to the overwhelming military superiority of the Red Army. Such was the case in Ukraine, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.
This period of sovereignty for the Caucasus is my favorite! I think it’s Georgia’s favorite too! Sure, there were good things about being part of the Soviet Union, I suppose. But there’s this great sense of nostalgia and romanticism for the all-too brief lifespan of the first Georgian republic. Parliament in particular is decorated with photographs and flags from the previous independent state. Seeing as this is my specialty/expertise, I was greatly enjoying our tour of parliament. I won’t bore you with more history and I’ll spare you the half-dozen or so photos I took of historical photos and statues. Instead, let’s focus on the bill I passed:
The first room we were taken to was the First Republic Room. The way Georgian Parliament works, we later discovered, is that every other week is devoted to debating in Committees. Bills are proposed and debated by the relevant committees and then, the following week, all Bills are brought before the full Parliament for ratification or rejection. Saakashvili has to sign Bills into law and it’s unclear to me whether Parliament has override powers. I do know that the Constitution is getting revamped right now to give Parliament more power vis-a-vis the president. Pretty cool I guess.
So in the Committee Chamber our tour guide told us we could stand/sit behind the podiums/at the desks of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman for photo opportunities. It was awesome! We rotated so that everyone could be at the podium for their own camera. We were already giddy with excitement and we hadn’t even gotten past the first room!
After the Committee chamber we were shuffled onto the floor of Parliament–aka where the magic happens.
Our guide told us that visitors usually stuck to the balconies and were not allowed on the floor, but that because we knew Koba, exceptions were made. Every seat had a slot for the Members of Parliament to stick their ID card in to vote. Lots of parliamentarians had left their cards in there, so in theory we could have voted right then and there! Instead we took some more goofy tourist photos!
After putzing around on the floor for a good long while, our guide ushered us out of the chambers, informing us that a session was about to start. We hurried out and walked down a large marble staircase. As we descended we passed a woman on her way up. The guide asked if we knew who she was, but of course we didn’t. “She’s the chairman for the committee on rules and procedures.” Woah! Cool! “Can we get a photo with her?” “Yes, of course.”
We went back upstairs to meet this woman. She introduced herself in flawless English and, while shaking my hand, mentioned, “I recognize you from TV!” It’s true, yes I am on tv. But seriously, I just got recognized by a well known politician. That was pretty cool. Also not the last time I got recognized that day.
We spent a little while looking at the gifts to Parliament from foreign countries (Every self-respecting major governmental office of a nation has a cabinet full of goodies!) and then headed around the Chandelier to look at more photos and artifacts.
Our guide did a great job explaining all the history of Parliament and parliamentarianism in Georgia, showing us copies of an old code of laws and another of the original constitution (Awesome!!!). She was extremely patient and well-informed (as one would expect from any PR Chief). She also spoke great English! Her name was Khatia, I’m pretty sure.
I’ll spare you photos of books and photos behind glass for real this time, and skip ahead a bit into the story. We saw a small chapel and a memorial to the patriots who struggled against the Red Army in 1921. It was all very tasteful and (presumably) informative. It was in Georgian, of course, so our understanding of it was greatly hindered.
What we did learn, however, was that the site of Parliament used to be the grounds of a large Cathedral/Monastery. After the Bolshevik conquest of Georgia in February 1921, unfortunately, the Soviets blew up the church, as they were wont to do, and eventually (in the 1930s, I want to say?) built the current building that houses Parliament. All that remains of the old church is a wall in the basement that houses the small chapel.
We met up with Koba who offered to take us to the Parliamentarian cafe in the other wing. As we walked past the Floor we saw a few Members of Parliament rushing to make it to the session–they were late already–and the media packing up their equipment. It wasn’t until we reached a staircase much further down the hall that we realized a man with a camera was following us.
The bright, camera-mounted light gave him away and we all looked back as the paparazzo peered over the railing. Koba stuck up his hand and declared in English, “No comment!” with a laugh. We Americans were quite surprised and shocked that we were being followed by a camera. Koba shut the cafe door in the man’s face (in his camera?) and that was the end of that. I’m not sure if we made TV that night or not. Maybe I should ask the Chairman of the Committee on Procedures and Rules?