They risk their lives for us

The U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, John Bass, recently criticized Georgian journalists.

He said they don’t ask difficult questions, aren’t skeptical towards answers they receive, avoid certain topics, and aren’t asking follow-up questions after receiving vague answers.

That’s bad.

Bass thinks this low level of journalism is partly due to a lack of professionalism and partly due to a biased editorial policy at certain broadcasting organizations.

I agree with both reasons, but I place more blame on government-controlled broadcasters.

No big news. The problem exists throughout the world and the results are similar—journalists support the ruling party rather than battling on behalf of the general population. And I’m not sure how I’d react if I were a journalist in Georgia who was not lucky enough to work at an independent news organization. I like to think that I challenge authority when necessary, but . . . it’s difficult to walk in another’s shoes.

I realize that the photojournalists in East Timor depicted in this 6-minute video are censoring themselves, but they deserve respect. Jose Belo and his peers are challenging authority. They are not only risking their jobs, but also their lives.

That’s good (which means I’m proud of them).



Sandra Roelofs, Georgia’s First Lady

(My smart, sensitive wife, Susanna Melo, wrote this story)

The interest in Sandra Roelofs’ book, The Story of an Idealist, raised the number of International Women’s Association’s book club members from 8 to 80! In the home of Mieke Langenberg, IWA’s president and wife of the Dutch Ambassador to Georgia, the author started the meeting by sharing that Dutch publishers approached her to write her story because it was “fairy tale-like” and would appeal to many: “Provincial Dutch girl falls in love with Prince Charming and becomes First Lady of Georgia.”  She agreed to write the book, but only if she could describe the process that she, her beloved Misha, and Georgia had gone through up to the Rose Revolution. Today her book has been translated in about 5 languages and the latest editions have an additional chapter about the first four years in government as well as an epilogue about the war of August 2008.

For those that are following Keith’s blog, I would like to point out that I am not a journalist as he, nor do I keep up too much with politics.  My interest lies in human behavior so I will share some of my impressions of Sandra Roelofs rather than discuss the First Lady’s and her husband’s influences upon Georgia’s political transformations.

I went to the book club meeting with a keen interest in hearing from a woman with whom I felt a bond, for some of her life experiences reminded me of my own: she came from a very loving family; she seized opportunities to study and travel abroad at a young age, and she enjoyed studying foreign languages.  As a young adult, she developed an interest in social and developmental issues.  While attending the Institute for Human Rights in Strasbourg, she met her “Georgian prince,” Mikheil Saakashvili, and followed him to New York City for a period of graduate studies.  Her account of living on a very small budget reminded me of when my previous husband and I left Brazil for graduate studies in the U.S. right after we got married and had not a cent to our name!

Intriguing, as well, was Sandra Roelofs’ account of adapting to still another culture when she moved to Georgia after living in the United States.  There were interesting accounts of meeting her husband’s family members for the first time; experiencing cultural differences and expectations, especially while raising her first born son; learning the Georgian language, history, geography, culture and traditions, all of this happening at the same time that she was looking for ways to grow professionally and continue developing her personal interests. For years, she was the breadwinner of the family, working for the Red Cross and the Dutch Embassy; she even started her own NGO, the SOCO foundation.  To top things off, living in Georgia initially was not so easy due to crime, periods of water and power shortage, political unrest, and so on.

Copyright Mila Holloway, 2011

Given these facts, one has to admire Sandra Roelofs for being so resilient, so resourceful, and so willing to leave behind a sense of security to adventure into a new world of an unfolding stream of unexpected events!

My admiration grew for the First Lady of Georgia by the time I completed her book, but meeting her in person just confirmed my first impressions of her.  She is a beautiful woman inside and out.  She is a compassionate and caring person; one sees this through her work and services that she provides to those in need.  She is energetic; one senses this through her involvement with her family, friends, work, travel, and duties as First Lady.  She is intelligent; she speaks several languages, sings, has worked in many institutions, earned a nursing degree not too long ago and continues to seek opportunities to learn and grow in a variety of areas.  She is natural and beautiful; one observes that she needs no make-up or jewelry to enhance her looks.

On several occasions throughout the book, the author describes herself as a “down to earth Dutch girl” and how her upbringing and all of her life experiences have helped shape her into the woman she is today.  I must say that Georgia’s First Lady is a woman of character who has not let power, prestige or beauty get in the way.  Her actions speak for themselves. This is the legacy she leaves for Georgia, her adopted country.

The “ties” that bind us together

Copyright Baadur Koplatadze, 2011

People who know me know that I like unusual ties. As a visual communications professor, I think it is appropriate that my trademark is visually interesting ties. When I gave some presentations in Tbilisi in April 2011, I wore a couple of my favorite ties. Then I was invited to a press conference at the American Embassy to announce the Journalism School Partnership Program between USC’s SJMC and GIPA’s CSJMM. I can’t remember if I wore a tie, but I remember that GIPA’s rector (like a president) did not wear a tie. Moreover, I clearly remember that Giorgi Margvelashvili said that Georgians don’t wear ties. OK, I thought, but I was not convinced.

Later the same week, Maia Mikashavidze took me to a piano recital in a beautiful concert hall. I studied the way the men were dressed and, indeed, found that none, or almost none of the men wore ties. Giorgi’s statement was confirmed. When I returned to Tbilisi September 1, I didn’t bring any of my ties.

Last night the American ambassador, John Bass, hosted a cocktail party to announce the arrival of the embassy’s new Public Affairs Officer. The invitation said “business attire,” and I work black slacks and a white long-sleeved shirt. As you have undoubtedly predicted, every man—at least 100—was wearing a tie except me. No problem; it is not the first time I’ve been under-dressed and feeling a bit foolish.

Then . . . I saw the rector, Giorgi, at the ambassador’s home, and guess what? He was wearing a tie. So we joked around for a while and had a good laugh.

Giorgi asked me how I’ve been enjoying my stay in Georgia. I said I’m having a great time—I love the people, the food, the scenery, my apartment, and so on. I just don’t have a tie, I joked. Giorgi immediately removed his tie and gave it to me. He was insistent. I agreed to take his tie on the condition that we “share” it. So, we shared the tie, and now this incident has become one of the stories that “tie” us together.