During summer in Tbilisi, time seems to stop as people slow down to cope with the heat. Jacopo Miglioranzi shares his impressions of life in the Kommmunalki, where the effects of political and social change are felt, yet modern Georgia feels still far away.
“Soviet power plus electrification make no communism.” I had been living for a couple of months in Tbilisi, in the flat of a friend, in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. Kommunalki, concrete blocks, house numbers written with spray paint, old block numbers discolored by time. Underwear and bedclothes hanging from the fragile metal supports of the balconies. Stray dogs. Taxi drivers sleeping in their cars. Summer. Men under a canopy. Smoke of cigarettes. Butts scattered around. Ritual sounds and screams. ნარდი, nardi, backgammon. Guys flock around hoping to steal some secret. From the seventh floor, where my apartment is, you can see almost everything in almost the whole quarter. The trees, the stray dogs, the slow suburban life. Women coming with huge shopping bags. Summer. Forty degrees in the apartment. Outside, tired towers supporting the electrical wires.
Tbilisi has sunken for days under the sticky smog mixing itself with the heat. The elevator, ლიფთი, costs 5 tetri each time. I’m told that in Soviet times the money went to the “head-block”, a kind of an administrator who would address the maintenance. By now, the “head-block” has disappeared. There remains the elevator and the ten floors of the kommunalka. The city cannot be seen from here. The historical center is too far. The view reaches up to the concrete kommunalki of Didi Dighomi, the other huge neighborhood on the outskirts of Tbilisi, which in recent years has had an impetus in the real estate business.
The government has changed, but they keep building the იყიდება houses. This is how they are called, because on each building of this suburb, be it old or new, appears, like the name of an anonymous owner, the inscription იყიდება, “for sale”, and a phone number. The periphery is depopulating. Old families depart. New ones do not come. The economy is going down. Summer comes. The collapse of the lari, then comes inflation, unemployment, emigration. Georgia comes. The city is far, far away from my tower. No big supermarkets. Nothing like “Goodwill” in Didi Dighomi, no “Tbilisi Mall”. The city is far away.
The hydroelectric plant is still there. Slow pace. An old Soviet cement factory is still working. Different shifts, different job. No longer the bright socialist future. Last stop.
The prison, the bank, a food shop and a fruit and vegetable shop. In this rectangle, in the unbearable heat of the asphalt in the summer months, in the agressiveness of the stray dogs, I began. First learn to live, and then the language. The slow and tough life of the neighborhood. The screams of the neighbors, drunks, fights. The neighborhood getting quieter day by day. Departures. The Soviet project intended the kommunalki for the workers of the hydroelectric plant and their families. The Soviet Union suddenly disappeared, and along with it, the jobs. The streets of the neighborhood have names that evoke the imagery and meanings of a fallen ideology and era, the bright future of technology: “Energetikosi”.
Now, Google Maps is much more precise. You can see well the volumes of the buildings (all the same), the street names have changed. They are well suited to the new political and historical course of contemporary Georgia. Names of Georgian politicians and personalites, not necessarily recent. History is always bouncing around here. Even in a suburban street you can represent a community, a nation. You can make politics and make the feeling of belonging to something bigger. Not any more to a regime. The identities are reforged. Graffiti on the wall, მიყვარხარ. Stickers, “Dinamo Tbilisi”. Freshly painted synthetic futsal camp, a gift of the redevelopment policy of ex-President Saakashvili. Only the street names remain, the posters are torn. The star ქართული ოცნება, “Georgian Dream” shines dimly. Ivanishvili. The government changes, the names change. The kommunalki, the stray dogs do not change. The generations change. Will it change?
This article was originally published on Rio Wang.