Exploring the “Other” Georgia

When I told people that I’d be interning in Georgia this summer, they often thought I meant the state of Georgia. Instead, I’m in the much older capital of the country of Georgia, Tbilisi. I’m here interning at the Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), a think tank here that works on everything from infrastructure and development to an annual Tbilisi International Conference.

Irina Guruli, Deputy Director of the EPRC; Nick Bailey, the other Stanford intern; me; and Nino Evgenidze, Executive Director of the EPRC

One of the first things that struck me about Tbilisi on the drive from the airport was the mixture of different architectural styles, especially the combination of very modern buildings and older styles of architecture. This is evident particularly on the main street that leads into the old part of the city, Rustaveli Avenue. I’ve spent most of my free time here so far exploring the old part of the city, and I find this mix of old and new fascinating. There seems to be construction almost everywhere in the city, but the older buildings stay alongside the new.

The mixture of old and modern architecture, as seen from a fortress on a hill in the old part of the city

I’ve only been in Tbilisi for a week but I already feel like I’ve learned a lot about Georgia and its relationship with the region. My only previous exposure to the post-Soviet region was a Bing Overseas seminar to St. Petersburg the summer after my freshman year, which felt more like a western European city with Russian signs and Russian citizens. I was excited to come to Georgia because of my interest in the region, and Georgia as a post-Soviet country is particularly interesting because its still trying to fully ingratiate itself into Europe. It seems very proud of its status as an Associate Member State of the EU (there was a poster displaying this achievement before going through passport control at the airport); there are EU flags flying on most of the government buildings and in other places with the Georgian flag; and it also still has hopes for joining NATO. Although Georgia wants to join Europe, Georgians may not feel very European. When polled they apparently feel like they’re somewhere in between Europe and Asia, which fits with the fact that Georgia and the Caucasus have served as a crossroads between the two continents for thousands of years.

Because Georgia was under the Soviet Union for 70 years, the Soviet influence seems to have mixed with Georgia’s distinct culture. This can be seen in their own language with its own alphabet (which I feel confident in saying I won’t be able to decipher before I leave), different food (which is thankfully better than Russia’s), and Georgians’ hospitality. Most Georgians however also know how to speak Russian (especially among the older generations), and there are still architectural symbols of Soviet rule, such as the TV tower on top of the hills surrounding the city which apparently could be found in the capitals of most Soviet states.

The Soviet-era Georgian TV tower can be seen in the background

Everyone at the EPRC has been incredibly friendly and welcoming, helping me get settled into my apartment and find my way around the city. I’m mostly going to be working on one research project while I’m here, which I still have to fully determine but will likely be something related to Russia’s hybrid warfare and/or disinformation campaigns in Europe. I’ve already learned a lot but I’m definitely excited to learn more this summer, both through my research project and about Georgia and the region more generally.

Written by Gabriela Levikow ’18, History major, FSI Global Policy Intern at The Economic Policy and Research Center in Tbilisi, Georgia.