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  • Jack Hubbell

Clash of Cultures

I don't always introduce her with a preface regarding her feeling toward the ongoing war in Ukraine, but there is a sense of need to do so. "She's one of the good ones," an ugly phrase that has escaped my lips more than once since our relationship began. It's hard to imagine being able to say something like that about any other group of humans, but today in many, if not most, places in the world, this is a reality about Russian people.

border stop in the caucaus mountains
Ira, crossing the border. Film: Mitsubishi MX 100 35mm (Expired)

Even more in the Republic of Georgia is this strange modern hostility apparent. It would be grossly naive not to acknowledge that this anger hasn't been earned. A war that took place only a little over a decade ago is still fresh on the minds of many of the Georgian natives. This war was followed by waves of tourists who would come in and behave like most children of superpower nations with a sense of elitism and endless comments about being unable to find a particular store or brand that most certainly should exist in all developed nations countries. Coming from my ever-self-parodying, star-spangled awesome homeland, it is an attitude that I've found deeply embedded in myself on occasion. Yet I feel the words of Ayn Rand best describe the bedrock from where these words and attitudes stem, "Like every other form of collectivism, racism is a quest for the unearned. It is a quest for automatic knowledge—for an automatic evaluation of men's characters that bypasses the responsibility of exercising rational or moral judgment—and, above all, a quest for an automatic self-esteem (or pseudo-self-esteem)."

I never looked too hard to refute these words when I read them in college. The above quote may not be the textbook definition of racism and certainly does not cover all forms of its evilness, but I had gone to a public high school in nowhere-vill America and could plainly remember those with a racist attitude being the ones who truly had nothing else better going on for them outside of their skin color. The problem is that since we are all susceptible to the feeling of inadequacy, we are all equally susceptible to leaning on our own tribe to glean self-worth.

Ira, my partner, walked downstairs one morning to buy some bread. The local shop, like many others in the city, bakes bread called puri (pronounced poo-ree) in a traditional open-top oven called a tone (pronounced ton-AY). The smell in the morning draws you in, and the small price usually has people lining up to the edge of the city block. Ira returned beaming with two large canoe-shaped loaves.

"I ordered it in Georgian," she exclaimed as she placed them on the counter.

Apparently, the man was thrilled by the use of his home language and returned the favor by speaking to Ira in Russian.

man baking bread
Fresh bread out of the oven. It's still my favorite bread shop. Film: Kodak Gold 200

A few days later, I went out to buy bread and decided to go to the same shop Ira had discovered. When I got to the end of the line, I, too, ordered in the native tongue. He handed me the bread and then asked me some questions in Russian, to which I responded that I didn't understand Russian. The woman behind me was incredibly upset by this interaction and stepped forward to shout at the man. I only understood the part where she said "language of the occupant," but it was enough for me to understand the full situation. Ultimately I could also relate to both of the humans involved in the altercation, which left me standing in the middle of the two with an armful of bread, stating, "everything is all right." Eventually, I thanked both of them for different reasons and walked home.

I find myself outraged by Red paint splashed on Russian vehicles, to which I always want to sarcastically ask, "Exactly how many Ukrainian lives were saved by this? All the while sitting in the back of a taxi casually looking at war news like one does for stats on their favorite football team. International conflict is dehumanizing on every level, and not I nor anyone I know is completely immune to its insidious effects.

fuck russia grafitti
Local Grafitti. Film: Kodak Gold 200

I don't have answers to how hearts, lives, and land borders can be mended, but I'm grateful I manage to find beauty in other unpredicted side effects of this conflict. In the city, there are new spaces to visit, populated by those who chose to flee their tyrannical government in search of freedom. My nights are often filled with poetry spoken in a language I don't understand in tiny bookshops with cheap beer and wine. I sit there imagining that I'm surrounded by the same sort of intellectuals who fled when the red army took power one hundred years ago. I listen to the stories of people like my friend Lyonya who rode across the border on a bicycle in wonder, respect, and amazement.

Two guys playing guitar
Me and Lyonya jamming out in Books Bar Tbilisi. Photo Credit: Ira Glazkova Film: Kodak Portra 800

It's nights like this where I find a bit of hope that we can learn from each other and spark new creativity, ideas, and friendships. Recently I had a long conversation with a Georgian army veteran. Mostly we spoke of languages and their evolutions, but the topic drifted near the end.

"Russians have a slave mentality," he said. Slav or Slavic is where the word for slave originated. Their culture has never known freedom. The concept of it can shock them to their core, and they don't understand it when they come here or anyplace where freedom is engrained in the hearts of men."

"Do you think it's something someone can learn?"

"If they want to… yes and then their thoughts and lives are changed forever."

Upon driving to the border to pick up Ira, I came across a man making the same trip via bicycle. "How many kilometers?" I asked. He waved his hand in the direction of the border, thinking about it. and then just said in a slightly aggravated tone, "from Russia!" Film: Mitsubishi MX 100 35mm (Expired)

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May 25, 2023

As a Lithuanian, who lives in Georgia, I feel my angryness was building up to the peak last year I had to leave. Mostly angry at georgians for hipocracy and trying to figure out how to find out "the good ones" from the ones who came last year. I lost closest friend because of my attitude not to pretend that "we are for peace" is enough. I do my best making research about each new place or event, because I don't wanna support russian ignorance. Is it fair? Maybe not. But Ukraine war is felt in Lithuania each day, wherever I go and my nation is doing more than most of countries. I do my best at least from donate…

Jack Hubbell
May 25, 2023
Replying to

Thank you for posting this and thank you for not letting this war become only another nuisance in the news. Lithuania is absolutely amazing in its unyielding support and should be an inspiration to all surrounding nations. I want to take this opportunity to make it abundantly clear that I stand with Ukraine on the issue of the ongoing war and that the above piece is strictly about human lives and a questioning of how helpful certain actions are. Regarding protests in free nations, time will tell, but if this doesn't begin to happen, time will certainly not be kind to those who were silent. Also, here's a great article I read about exactly that because I wonder the same…

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