Georgia, Russia -- and the Golden Fleece
Before I went on Any Questions last week I did a good deal of homework on Georgia etc. The one thing that was quickly very clear was that there were no ‘goodies’ in this conflict.
It’s certainly hard to condone the continuing Russian aggression. But I cant understand how quickly commenters have forgotten that it was Mr Saakashvili who struck the first formal blow. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he is solely culpable (there is such a thing as provocation), but the instant ‘whiting out’ of the Georgian first strike seems not all that different from the old ‘Turkish invasion of Cyprus’ story. OK, again the rights and wrongs are tricky, but it’s perverse to forget that the prompt to that invasion was a Greek-backed attempted coup.
In Georgia’s case a lot more gets swept under the carpet. For a start, it is a pretty disappointing beacon of democracy for the West to support: no independent judiciary, some recent strategic closing of non-government media, and – so far as I can tell – a good number of opposition leaders in prison (deservedly or not, I dont know).
And there is a good deal of sabre rattling from the American Right. Not just Cheney. McCain’s foreign policy advisor was until recently a paid lobbyist for Georgia. Surely that makes a difference. Pointing this out, tends to get you labelled as ‘anti-American’ – as if being opposed to right wing Republicans was the same as being opposed to America. (It seems, if you believe the report in the Sunday Times that even Condoleeza Rice was trying – unsuccessfully – to put the brake on Saakashvili.)
The bottom line is that the vast majority of us are quite ignorant about the Caucasus. I don’t know any Russian beyond the alphabet and I know no Georgian whatsoever, never mind Ossetian. It helps a bit that my husband does know Russian and has recently been to Georgia, and receives e-mail pleas and justifications from both sides. But, for the most part, like almost all of us, I'm dependent on very filtered news.
In any case for a classicist, as my fellow blogger pointed out when we were discussing it last week, Georgia signals one thing above all.
That is the famous Golden Fleece and the dysfunctional family of the ruling house of Colchis, a city-state situated somewhere in what is now western Georgia,
This is the complicated story of the mythical Greek hero Jason, who was sent by one of those malevolent relatives, so common in Greek myth, to bring back the fleece of the golden ram – the marvellous animal which had carried the boy Phrixus away from his wicked step-mother to safety in Colchis.
There is no happy ending. For Jason, with his crew of Argonauts, managed to capture the prize, and closely guarded, fleece – but only with the help of the king’s daughter – Medea, the witch of Colchis, who had fallen in love with him (she's pictured at the top). She notoriously slowed up her father who came in pursuit, as she and Jason escaped with the fleece, by killing her own brother and scattering his limbs in the sea – for her father to pick up.
The sequel is no less horrid. Medea had children by Jason, but when he was threatening to leave her for another woman , she sent a poisoned dress to the new bride and so killed her -- and, just to complete the punishment of her faithless lover, she killed the children too.
The distant mythological past of Georgia casts a nasty shadow over its later history.