Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Dezember 2005
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Reforming of the University System or the Globalizing of the Academic Biography in Georgia

Nino Pirzchalava (State University Ilia Tschawtschawadze for Language and Culture, Tbilisi)


One may plausibly imagine every culture in the symbolic form of a cosmic metaphor of a tree. This tree of life and of wisdom has established its roots in the metaphysical soil of any given national culture, which solely for this reason gains and retains its absolute self-identity and authenticity. The trunk of the tree, however, serves as a unifying world axis between the subterraneous roots and the treetop, which is striving for the heavens. Precisely the might and strength of the trunk, together with its capability for transparency, for allowing the passage of light and of its vital sap, is the guarantee for the extent that any given culture is able to overcome its own inherent, traditional, native provincialism, which is more or less immanent in every culture and belongs to its essence. For this specific trunk leads to the top of that tree, whose pinnacle soars to the idea of a transnational-transcultural society and exactly in this manner elevates the native, traditional national provincialism to a pronounced universality of outlook. Right at this point one finds the specific beginnings of a growing together of Europe and Asia. For Georgia, as a country of the center, as a land of cultural mediation between East and West, has in its own way experienced the universal unity between a spacial perception of the world and knowledge of God. This globalized conception of the world has formed that tradition of absolute cultural-religious tolerance, which in his day Goethe expressed with the verse taken from the Koran: "And Allah’s is the West and the East" (2. Sure) in his "West-östlichen Divan": ("God’s is the Orient! God’s is the Occident! Northern and southern lands / Rest in the peacefulness of his hands") (1) and imparted to the verse from the Koran the particular ethos and pathos of enlightened universalism, which in a certain sense is to be regarded as a beginning of the idea of globalization. As a typical country situated in proximity to Asia, Georgia was always turned toward Europe and, according to a pronouncement of Hegel, "This country has never kept to itself what is exceptional in it but has sent it to Europe. It represents the beginning of all religious and all state principles, but their development only took place in Europe." (2)

Considered from this point of view, the tree of Georgian culture appears to face serious problems in its search for a new ideal trunk. Russian culture, once the unifying trunk uniting the traditional Georgian roots with world culture, a kind of world axis or transmission channel, is fortunately or even unfortunately losing its actual mediating function. To refrain from a value judgment, one may probably claim that this original approach to mediation, if no longer abhorred by the youngest generation for understandable reasons (for this period in the recent history of Georgia is joyfully already past), is nevertheless ignored with an attitude of estrangement and rejection. However, the roots of this tree also absolutely require a strong and mighty trunk that has grown together with them organically and inseparably. Otherwise the roots will wither or even worse a pathologically degenerate growth will result as an ugly, eclectic mixture of all kinds of cultural plants. And precisely this possibility represents the greatest danger threatening the culture of a small country. Thus Georgia is once again seeking a new middle, a new center, a new gateway to the big world which is no longer to be sought or found in Moscow.

In this respect Georgia does not constitute any exception, for the process of globalization presupposes exactly this agonizing search for the place and position of a country’s native culture within the framework of the globalized world. This unusual opportunity for a special change of the country’s central focus and point of reference required not only investigations into new centralizing and orientation possibilities, but also into a fulfillment of the centuries- long yearning dream of admittance into the European Community. This sensational experience and consciousness of legitimizing the fateful prospect of belonging to Europe nourishes in this age-old Christian land the hope of finally overcoming, of going beyond the polite, friendly indifference of the elegant, refined world public. One of the reasons for this friendly indifference of the world public could be that the temporal development of this country, one of the oldest members of the Eastern Christian Church, that is to say, of the history of its spatial development, that is, the country’s geography became its destiny. Precisely this destiny predestined an unequivocally "localized" Georgian form of existence. By that is meant an absolute, complete connection of the biography to the landscape, a condition which is difficult to reconcile with the ‘open’ forms of life and thinking.

For exactly this reason, in the global era the transition of this form of existence from the first modernity to the second is difficult and hampered, since it means changing all forms of Georgian life and thought from the state of localization to the state of openness. In other words, it makes considerably more difficult the globalization of the biography and its preparation for a transnational existence, the meaning of which can be expressed by the universal formula of social proximity, despite geographic distance or social distance, despite geographic proximity. If one considers from this perspective, from this point of view, the reasons for the reserved, jovial, charmingly indifferent attitude of the Western world toward martyred Georgia, which has suffered many amputations without anesthetic, then one can see through the well polished surface of the impersonal, neutral friendliness and the patronizing good will to the absolute, doubled pathos of distance, which from the two-fold perspective of estrangement knows no experience either of social or of geographical proximity. This fact is also valid apart from the fact that over time the ever more intensive equipping of this geographically distanced area is taking place with that kind of indispensable decoration, which creates an illusion of overcoming the above-mentioned social distance. Consequently, this area is richly overloaded with the accessories considered indispensable for the global cultural scene, beginning with McDonalds and ranging up to commercials for Marlboro and Snickers or Blue Jeans and Coca-Cola. Despite this reality, however, the fact remains self-evident that this abundance of what the international community regards as daily necessities scarcely brings the Georgian people any closer either geographically or socially to that part of the global society which is not bound to its own location but inhabits the entire world. This fact takes on special importance within the academic sphere, where the importance and function of biographies of translation, that is, of the universality of these biographies, presumes the constant necessity of translating between one’s own and foreign cultures. Precisely in this activity exists the necessary prerequisite for the globalizing of biography in a general sense and all the more for academic biography in a narrower sense. Precisely that is the clear goal and purpose of reforming the education and university system in Georgia.

In the context of these developments and tendencies, Georgia tries to create within the world society, which is stratified and polarized in a new way, a specific illusion of its belonging to the globalizing processes not only by adopting the indispensable everyday requisites, but also by the country’s serious effort to make real reforms in the area of education and of the university system in order to take a worthy place within the budding and forming new kind of socio-cultural hierarchy of worldwide validity.

Only by the productive adoption of true values, which are supernational, can it be possible for a small country like Georgia to escape that threatening danger which means for the country and its culture the loss of its own uniqueness. Viewed from this perspective, the situation of Georgia is made more difficult in two respects. This nation, which played the most important role of mediation within the post-Soviet sphere of influence, has not yet definitively overcome its bilingualism. Most information comes from the shadowy realm of that duality of language, with Russian designated as the language of officialdom and of the state. This past is kept alive in the public’s memory primarily through television commercials and TV soap operas. That situation serves as a model example of the language vacuum. The main characteristic of this phenomenon is that all English-language texts are first disseminated in Russian translations; only much later do they reach the public in bad Georgian translations. Precisely in this distorted act of translation and communication lies the danger of transforming the entire culture into a pathetic surrogate, making the whole country into a third or fourth rate copy, which in addition through badly functioning copiers is created without any quality. As a result, it is not the modest attraction of globalization that is frightening, but its surrogate substitute.

And possibly in this difficult, transitional, fateful situation one might speak of a very special unique role of our university for languages and culture. Precisely at this university, where in the meantime almost forgotten Russian is rather successfully taught along with English, German, French, Swedish, Dutch and Polish thanks to the support of various international institutions, the attempt is being made to better know and understand our native culture, our native tradition, in a dialogue with other cultures. For only in the dialogue of cultures is an illuminating light cast upon one’s own culture. But every dialogue presumes the knowledge of a common language. As a mediator of languages of different cultures, our university not only attempts to foster old partnerships, but also invites new friends and new partners to a broader stimulating dialogue.

© Nino Pirzchalava (State University Ilia Tschawtschawadze for Language and Culture, Tbilisi)


(1) Goethe, West-östlicher Divan, Werke in 6 Bd-n, Frankfurt am Main, 1977, S. 344

(2) G.W.F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte , Werke 12, Frankfurt am Main, 1995, S.132

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For quotation purposes:
Nino Pirzchalava (State University Ilia Tschawtschawadze for Language and Culture, Tbilisi): Reforming of the University System or the Globalizing of the Academic Biography in Georgia. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005.

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