Motorcycle Explorer Issue 17 - Page 50

Travel Story: lawrence bransby - georgia

Georgia greets us with a large billboard featuring a smiling young lass encouraging us personally to visit the local casino and lose all our money. Just behind the casino billboard is a church. I'm not sure if there's any significance in the order of placement and what that says about Georgia, but placing a church within a hundred metres of the border seems to echo the mosque placed an equal distance from the entrance into Turkey.

Tit for tat.

The mosque is bigger.

But the Christian character of Georgia, distinct from the Muslim character of Turkey, is reinforced by the placement of crosses at the roadside entrance to and exit from most cities and villages as well as large crosses mounted on prominent hilltops. Even the Georgian flag features the bold, red cross of St George and, just in case you missed it, smaller bolnur-katskhuri crosses (like the German Iron Cross) in each quadrant.

Five crosses for Georgia beats just one Islamic crescent moon and star for Turkey. It feels like the Crusades all over again.

The significance of the flag, though, is important to Georgia's history. The Jerusalem Cross can be seen on a fifth-century Georgian map and has been a prominent symbol of their identity for centuries. Until the Russians banned it, that is, and replaced it with the Red Banner in 1921. Like many other formally independent states, Georgians woke up one morning and found themselves suddenly absorbed into the Soviet Union.

But after its collapse, shortly before declaring independence in 1990, the hammer and sickle was banned and the centuries-old Jerusalem flag with its five red crosses was re-introduced. However, the new president, Eduard Shevardnadze, refused to endorse it. It was only when his successor, Mikheal Saakashvili, succeeded him in 2004 after the Rose Revolution that it became, once again, the national flag of Georgia, coming full circle.

Sadly, though, this chaotic and violent transformation of Georgian society has not yet ended. Two regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have succeeded from the new state and are leaning towards a supportive and welcoming Russia who backed them during the Russo-Georgian war in 2008. The stalemate continues. The two de facto independent states remain defiant, even now, so we discovered, denying road access across their territories. Georgia's leaders maintain that they are still an integral part of their sovereign territory but under Russian military occupation.