In the hills that surround and define Tbilisi, a solitary villa overlooks the city, a testament to the power of capitalism and the free market. It is an obscene display of wealth, complete with security, a giraffe, and a shark tank. The villas owner has a personal fortune of several billion, equal to 50% of tiny Georgia’s GDP.
The day before my host brother took me to see the villa, I had the opportunity to visit Georgia’s modern communist party headquarters. The Vice President was even kind enough to give my classmates and me a tour and a history lesson. As it turns out, Stalin was a decent fellow, whose reputation was smeared by western propagandists. His purges were nothing more than lies from the west, but also they were not Stalin’s fault, his deputies committed them and he was never informed. The Vice President made both those arguments, that they never happened, but that if they did, it still wasn’t his fault.
Despite his apparent obliviousness and blatant historical revisionism, this modern day communist did make some interesting observations. He referred to the many homeless people in Tbilisi, and to the obscene wealth of some of Tbilisi’s citizens. And he said that the communists would never have allowed such a situation.
A popular proverb in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union was “everything they told us about communism was false, but everything they told us about capitalism was true.” This rang especially true in Georgia, where well connected people looted state industries and a prolonged state of civil war broke out. A generation of profiteers broke out, acquiring Gatsby like wealth and power through similarly shady enterprises. Our friend, the fellow on the hill villa, made his fortune looting Russia’s iron industries, moving back to Georgia upon retirement. These are not capitalists providing for their fellow citizens, but rather oligarchs exploiting the system.
Jealousy of the rich is a natural phenomenon. It’s hard to imagine what a billionaire needs with all that money, but I sure as hell wish I had it. But focusing all your energy on the 1% ignores the plight of the rest. Georgia is far richer on every measurable indication of the economy, but more importantly, richer in a societal context. Democracy is strengthening year by year, and human liberty is incalculably higher than in the soviet period.
In Georgia, a communist party is openly able to operate without harassment from the authorities. In Soviet Georgia, a free-market party could never have existed. Dissent was tantamount to death. Now don’t get me wrong, I personally think that communism, socialism, and centralization of state power are the worst things ever to happen to humanity. But however abhorrent I find their views and opinions, I will defend to the death their right to say them. For this is the basis of freedom. A great irony was that the communist party headquarters was founded on the spot of a tsarist era illegal printing press. The tsarists tried to stamp out communist activity by criminalizing them, and we all know how that turned out. And then the communists also restricted freedom of speech. Only now with the evil capitalists do all have freedom of speech.
To conclude, in Georgia and the rest of the free world, there are massive issues in our current system. But for now I will focus on homelessness. An appropriate response is to show compassion directly, or to found or work with an NGO. An inappropriate response is bloody revolution, and enforcing any “solutions” with a bayonet. Don’t let your hatred of the man on the hill be more to you than your compassion for everyone on the low ground. In one system, everyone, yes even the man on the hill, has Liberty to thrive. In the other, everyone suffers equally.
By: Mohammed ElSarhan
Term: Summer 2016