Ambassador Degnan's Remarks at the Museum Opening of the Repressed Writers Exhibit
Dear distinguished guests, thank you for coming today. I’d also like to express my appreciation to Natasha Lomouri and the team at the Writers’ House for their hard work and close cooperation with us on this project.
It is a great honor to be standing here in the Writers’ House, one the most beautiful and important cultural sites in Georgia.
This house is a powerful symbol of Georgia’s unique and wonderful literary tradition and also of the Kremlin’s historic efforts to deny and subvert Georgian identity. It is a symbol of the repressive forces Georgia has endured, and the courage and fortitude of the Georgian people.
After the April 9 massacre in Tbilisi in 1989, when Soviet troops killed dozens of Georgian citizens, the great writer Otar Chiladze addressed a nation in mourning with these unforgettable words.
“Our greatest crime was nothing more than the aspiration for freedom. … and even in times of disaster we must continue along the path of self-determination, of self-assertion, and of self-awareness.”
The Soviet Union understood that creativity and independence of thought were incompatible with occupation and control. Writers were threats that had to be repressed or eliminated.
Many of these writers are well known, such as Mikheil Javakhishvili and Titsian Tabidze, who were tortured and murdered by the Soviet police, and Paolo Iasvhili and Galaktion Tabidze, who were driven to suicide.
Right above where we are now standing, on July 22, 1937, Paolo shot himself while Beria’s show trials were taking place in these rooms.
Many more were killed before their time. Even though history will never know their names, we can still remember them, as a Georgian poem says:
For all those who left behind no grave,
Who, as clay, lined the walls of secret tunnels,
Whose bones were scattered across frozen fields,
The end has not yet come.
This museum, these poems, and these writers, show us the results of authoritarianism in the past. But they are also a reminder that the threat continues.
In the 1930s the Kremlin sought to repress Georgian writers, many of whom had studied in Europe, labeling them foreign agents and threats to Kremlin’s dominance. However, Georgia has a long history of engaging with western Europe and an amazing literary and cultural traditionseparate and distinct from Russia’s. Even today there are those who try to deny Georgia’s historic ties with Europe and try to undermine Georgia’s ties with the West, arguing that Georgia’s natural place is with Russia.
However, we see what Russia’s friendship brings – it brings repression and destruction and denies Georgia its unique identity; it seeks to destroy Georgia’s culture.
Standing here, we are reminded that there is no middle ground. The Kremlin silences those who challenge its power, and the more power it takes, the more of us it will silence, as it did violently in Georgia in 1921, in 1924, in 1931, in 1937, in 1956, in 1989, in 1993, and in 2008, and is still doing in the world today most notably in Ukraine.
This house is a symbol of the Georgia’s will for self-determination, independence, and a prosperous European future.
We remember great writers and statesmen, such as Ilia Chavchavadze, who dedicated his life to preserving Georgian culture and language and combatting Russification.
This house is a symbol of political freedom.
We remember the First Democratic Republic of Georgia when Noe Jordania enthusiastically proclaimed in 1920 “here the road of Georgia and Russia have parted. Our road leads to Europe!”
If not for the Soviet Occupation, Georgia would be a prosperous European country today.
This house is a symbol of what Georgia has endured.
Against the will of the Georgian people, the Soviet Union broke all diplomatic ties with the West and carried out decades of purges that saw nearly 30,000 Georgians murdered or exiled. It is important to remember those victims of Russian dominance – they fought to express Georgia’s identity and culture.
The best defense for Georgia’s unique culture, traditions, and way of life is to forge closer ties with the West which will bring prosperity and democracy empowering the country to better preserve its diverse and beautiful heritage.
We are here to remember the past, yes, but also look to a future of cooperation and share prosperity. I would like to extend my thanks to Natasha Lomouri and the staff of the Writers’ House for their passion and dedication to freedom of expression, and to the democratic principles we share.
The Kremlin will never have the final word, not in this house, nor in Georgia, nor in Europe.
Today, this house has become a symbol of Georgia’s creative freedom and internationalism. We must remember the past even as we work together to forge a better future – a future safe from authoritarianism and Russian aggression.