Here?s the thing: this country is small. Tiny, even. Russia?s military involvement in Adjara is no joke, and the money that comes through the Adjaran port and the border with Turkey isn?t either. When the bridges get blown up, they?re blown up a few hours? drive away, and the economy of all of Georgia is affected, as are your tax dollars, particularly if you?re American, as are your gas and oil supply, as are the people I hang out with every day. These are real people, and a lot of them are better read than you. Nobody here needs a teacher to tell them how to write, read, do journalism, paint, run a revolution. They need an open interchange of dialogue about all of those issues, but not a deus ex machina.
This is why I think deriding everything that goes on in post-Soviet space as “absurd” ? including the whole cult of thinking the Turkmenbashi is funny, so don?t even go there ? is a colossal mistake. Those are real refugees starting to come over the border from your banal “tinpot dictator” joke. This coldness and ability to distance from what?s going on is one of the reasons US visitors quickly lose sympathy and friendship here, and I?d bet a lot of other places as well, and it’s one of the things in my own relationships here that I people anticipate from me as a westerner, and which I constantly struggle to counteract. It?s not really all that funny; it?s a goddamn dictatorship, under which people struggle pretty damn hard to do whatever they can – even if, yes, it means that it’s ten lari to cross a river on a pony.
And another thing: history shows that people sometimes choose dictators because dictators work in concrete, viable, short-term goals: win the war, get the gas on, let us live our lives and hold our heads up. I think our responsibility is to make democracy a viable, justifiable, immediate alternative that fulfils or at least explains all those things, something I don?t see happening with any sort of clarity in places emerging into contact with the United States. Irony is not a useful weapon of international change.