25-28 February 2021
An online festival of Georgian writers, with food and song inspired by the cafe culture of the first democratic republic of 1918-21
Presented by Artistic Director Maya Jaggi and Writers’ House of Georgia
With partners The British Library in London and Words Without Borders in New York
Two days of British Library online events on 25 and 27 February 2021, and two alternate days of Writers’ House Tavern Encounters streamed on YouTube and Facebook on 26 and 28 2021.
All events are FREE to watch again during Tbilisi’s year as UNESCO World Book Capital 2021-22. British Library events are also available via th British Library Player.
Georgia is a country in the southern Caucasus mountains where Europe meets Asia, with a Black Sea coast, ancient vineyards and a rich Literature with its own language and alphabet. This legendary home of Medea and the Golden Fleece is also the little-known site of Europe’s first nationwide experiment in democratic socialism: the Republic of Georgia of 1918-21. This brief moment of independence from Tsarist Russia fueled a starburst of
modernism in literature and art, when the arts spoke to each other, and women shone as artists, not just muses.
Window on Freedom: Introducing Georgia’s First Democratic Republic of 1918-21, a 20-minute documentary specially made by the festival, contains three personal views on the republic and its artistic cafés from historian Nikoloz Aleksidze, writer Zurab Karumidze and artist Levan Chogoshvili. Shot in Tbilisi under Covid restrictions, and including rare newsreel footage and archive photographs, this film takes viewers inside the former Kimerioni café, Writers’ House and the National Gallery’s Pirosmani rooms.
After the Russian revolutions of 1917, Tbilisi became a multi-ethnic haven for writers and artists fleeing the disintegrating Tsarist empire; a ‘Paris of the East’. Its vibrant artists’ cafés – such as the Fantastic Tavern, Argonauts’ Boat, Kimerioni and Peacock’s Tail – were cosmopolitan crucibles of the avant-garde, nourished by Georgia’s ancient culture of feasting and toasting. Symbolist poets the Blue Horns and Dadaists mingled with Cubists and Futurists who were inspired by the tavern paintings of self-taught artist Niko Pirosmani. Art of the period survives on Tbilisi’s former café walls, including Stepko’s Tavern by Lado Gudiashvili – the festival’s banner image – painted in 1919 for the Kimerioni café, and now in the basement of the Rustaveli National Theatre.
The doomed republic was curtailed after 1,028 days by Red Army invasion and Soviet occupation on 25 February 1921. Though astonishing innovation continued in Georgian theatre and cinema, Stalin’s great purges of the 1930s were a brutal coda. Many writers and artists were exiled or executed. Others committed suicide.
On the centenary of the Soviet occupation, and the 30th anniversary of the restoration of independence in 1991, some of Georgia’s most celebrated novelists, playwrights and screenwriters reflect on what the republic means a century later, the legacy of Stalin’s purges and Soviet times, and the cultural resurgence of the past 30 years. Further topics include Georgia’s pioneering women in the arts; Russia as an imperial power; LGBT writing; music & protest; the challenges of translation; and Tbilisi as a city of memory.
Opened with a song by British-Georgian singer Katie Melua (who is also in conversation about her songwriting influences), the festival includes polyphony by the Cambridge Georgian choir Chela and clips from Nana Ekvtimishvili’s acclaimed feature films (including My Happy Family, streaming on Netflix).
Georgia’s Fantastic Tavern: Where Europe Meets Asia is a digital sequel in the pandemic era to Where Europe Meets Asia: Georgia25,[https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/09/politics-upstages-art-as-georgias-writers-reflect-on-25-years-independence] the UK’s first festival of Georgian writers, directed by Maya Jaggi in London in 2016 in association with the Georgian National Book Center, to mark 25 years since independence was restored.
‘When the Bolsheviks invaded Georgia in February 1921, the Red Army not only crushed the democratic republic but swept away its modernist avant-garde and the café culture that nurtured it … Seventy years of Soviet rule left a sense of rupture that many in today’s Georgia seek to repair.’ – Maya Jaggi in History Interrupted: Georgia’s Broken Thread.
With the Artistic Director’s introduction in wordswithoutborders.org, the free-to-access online magazine for international literature in New York, are newly translated extracts of novels by four festival writers that have made waves and won awards in recent years:
Archil Kikodze: The Southern Mammoth (tr. Maya Kiasashvili)
Lasha Bugadze: A Small Country (tr. Maya Kiasashvili)
Tamta Melashvili: Eastwards (tr. Donald Rayfield)
Davit Gabunia: Falling Apart (tr. Adham Smart)