Far Away | Naja Orashvili, Giorgi Kikonishvili
Caryl Churchill’s dystopian play Far Away describes a cold world plagued with violence, with people, weather, gravity, animals, heroin, oil, and pretty much everything is at war. In this divided world, one cannot even a bird in a tree or a river. Toward the end of the play, its main character, Joan, is trying to get on the other side of a river, but hesitates, debating who’s side the river is on. Should she trust it? Will it help her swim or drown her? Below is an excerpt from Joan’s monologue.
“Who's going to mobilise darkness and silence? That's what I wondered at night. By the third day I could hardly walk but I got down to the river. There was a camp of Chilean soldiers upstream but they hadn't seen me and fourteen black and white cows downstream having a drink so I knew I'd have to go straight across. But I didn't know whose side the river was on, it might help me swim or it might drown me. In the middle the current was running much faster, the water was brown, I didn't know if that meant anything. I stood on the bank a long time. But I knew it was my only way of getting here so at last I put one foot in the river. It was very cold but so far that was all. When you've just stepped in you can't tell what's going to hap- pen. The water laps around your ankles in any case.”
Beka Tsikarishvili: Anxiety has turned into a part of everyday life, and now I’m even sure if there’s ever existed a life without anxiety.
Anna Kapanadze: I always loved riding in a car. Just looking outside and not thinking. It’s not exactly that you’re at peace. You’re just sitting there. I was riding in a car today, and I realized that here I am, sitting in a car again, not fearing a thing, just looking out the window…. You know how it feels? When you’re really happy because you can just sit there and fear nothing. Not that you can control fear, you either feel it or not. Rational fear is not fear. It’s caution that urges you to survive. But fear, real fear, is very dreadful.
Beka Tsikarishvili: Sheer dread?
Anna Kapanadze: Yes, sheer dread, which you struggle with, which takes away your identity, your thoughts, your beliefs, your memories—obliterating everything.
Beka Tsikarishvili: That’s exactly how the system works through instilling panic, erasing memory, and instigating constant affects.
Nadja Orashvili: Program codes are running our lives.
Giorgi Kikonishvili: And they’re already linked to thought.
Beka Tsikarishvili: This is the logic behind late-stage capitalism, my dear.
Nadja Orashvili: Yes, metaverse.
Power centers create such agendas on a daily basis to work as short-term shock therapy and keep the public in a constant state of deep hypnosis. It’s like a thriller movie that has no end in sight. We are watching these “stories,” with our everyday lives created and unfolding right before our eyes, with constant tragedy emerging to feed on people’s mental state and engaging in this process all influential political groups and persons, media, etc. This agenda forces us to be part of all this every single day. There is an algorithm developed to make us forget yesterday.
In the end, all this evokes indifference and despair instead of empathy. Given the ongoing political and social crisis—especially now that the pandemic has further undermined our mental/emotional state and everyday lives—is society, which has come to a standstill, capable of making changes? Are we strong enough to find a solution?
Anna Kapanadze: When something like this happens for the first time, it’s tragic. But as it grows recurrent, we develop immunity as part of our everyday reality, and you watch these tragedies like TV commercials. And we have no choice. This is our mental defense mechanism at work to help us survive. Some time later, you realize that it doesn’t really matter, and you develop an infantile, neutral attitude.
Sometimes you feel that there’s some empathy remaining in you, but you also realize how impossible it is to gather up the strength to stand up for your ideals. It’s kind of strange. On one hand, you’re defending yourself. On the other, you’re constantly debating, and eventually a human being’s heart grows cold.
Beka Tsikarishvili: First thing to do in such situations is to analyze your current state. Each morning, you expect a new affect for the day. In the end, even the possibility of adequate reflexes is suppressed, leaving you with two options: You either become part of it, or you flee from it. But it’s also clear that there’s no escape. If we’re talking about overcoming this condition, the issue of mass self-identification and collective analysis must be brought to the table. This must be the starting point for a road to changes appear.
Nadja Orashvili: A slew of visible and invisible obstacles stand in the way of raising collective political awareness. At the initial stage, people must win the right to self-identification. However, now that we have an open competition for deepening distrust in society and spreading panic—as part of which peace is rejected and everyone is working on generating public turmoil—how do you picture the beginning of this process?
Beka Tsikarishvili: Supposedly, others are aware of our experience, and so are we, of course, correct? All four of us represent a group fighting for social change, having been motivated to spur positive transformation within society, something that happens very rarely. In fact, throughout our history since the restoration of independence, whenever society came together for change, it would be suppressed immediately, crashing into something that broke it into pieces. That’s what happened to the national liberation movement and probably other organizations as well. And we also are bearers of this experience that leaves no room for fight. This is today’s social, political, economic, and cultural playfield. In fact, attempts to mobilize society for change is nowadays suppresses in every way. There is no place, space, media, or political force for that.
Giorgi Kikonishvili: That place will never exist on its own because, as long as you aim to change the attitudes and approaches of this governing system, you’ll always be out of place. You must create a place for yourself. You must create a discourse by gathering like-minded people around you, and sharing these ideas with as many people as possible, by discussing, objecting, agreeing.
Nadja Orashvili: Fear is a tool of political influence, but what do we see beyond this hysteria? What concerns and grievances do people have? What scares them the most?
Beka Tsikarishvili: Struggle for survival is the key task for a vast majority of our country’s population.
Anna Kapanadze: People’s anxieties are mostly related to the feeling of abandonment. They are all alone in the face of their problems.
Giorgi Kikonishvili: I remember the headline that once made an unforgettable impression on me. “UK Appoints a Minister for Loneliness.” I was confused at a loss. Yes, the cause is noble, but it gave me the chills just to imagine that people would need ministers to deal with loneliness.
Beka Tsikarishvili: What we have here is the collapse of the social body, with ties between its members practically severed, given their present condition, be it the fight for physical survival or other everyday concerns. I think the recent collapse of a residential building in Batumi is very symbolic. It feels like the whole country is in debris, and someone is yelling from under them that he’s still breathing. This is probably a clear illustration of where the country’s society has wound up.
Giorgi Kikonishvili: I don’t think there’s ever been social unity for agreeing and working on common needs, and for protecting achievements. Maybe it didn’t collapse simply because it’s always been in ruin, and we’re just now starting to identify the problem, the first step toward solving it.
Nadja Orashvili: Besides poverty, the system a whole array of other tools to exercise power. The idea of zero tolerance declared in 2006, and the punitive policy of total control stemming from it, was passed off as an effective way of curbing crime. In reality, however, it operated as a machinery of terror and intimidation.
Tragic events are gradually vanishing from my memory. The generation victimized by a violent drug policy are still reeling, expecting in vain a humane policy of care instead of punishment from the state. In your opinion, how and why did the drug policy turn into a tool of terror, one more powerful than weapons?
Beka Tsikarishvili: Simply because the triggers behind drug abuse were not clearly articulated. It’s not a given, is it? Studies confirm a direct connection between social inequality and widespread drug abuse. Why do we rank 3rd in the world in illegal drug use ratings? Maybe it’s because the country is facing a social catastrophe? A vast majority of the population, those starving and functionless, are looking for dope.
The state fails to address the root cause of this problem, resorting to even worse methods at best, such as repressing and constantly dehumanizing these groups. And yet these groups make up a considerable portion of our society, and they are rejected, alienated, marginalized, and neglected. And nobody’s willing to admit that their condition is a result of our everyday reality.
Giorgi Kikonishvili: What makes it even more tragic is that the entire political specter seems to have an identical approach to this issue. Even verbally, they use the same words to describe them. Let’s remember the most recent case when, during the 2021 municipal elections, we saw how the ruling force used these people for its own purpose, while the political group claiming that it should replace the current government to ensure a change for the better is engaged in total dehumanization, including of its own supporters. But nobody asks how these people have wound up where they are now, or the fruit of what policies they are reaping.
Nadja Orashvili: Although the struggle has resulted in certain legislative amendments, and criminal persecution statistics have dropped considerably, the failure of the systemic drug reform reiterates the state’s determination against relinquishing this leverage of persecution, oppression, and abuse, as clearly evidenced by the tragic death of Lekso Lashkarava, a victim of the July 5 violence. By disclosing secret recordings, the system not only avoided responsibility and put the blame for death on the victim himself, but also capitalized on deep-rooted social stigma, totally discrediting the deceased, as though asserting that neither the life nor death of a drug addict matters.
Shortly thereafter, Giorgi Gakharia, a supporter of the repressive drug policy and architect of the May 12, 2018 police raids—who publicly pledged but eventually failed to reform the drug policy—himself became a victim of his own system. The manipulation of the issue of drug abuse in order tarnish his image during the recent election campaign has exposed the drug policy as a punitive mechanism that is still very much alive, loyally serving the system and sparing no one. And the fears and phobias widespread in society provided fertile ground for this manipulation.
Beka Tsikarishvili: The ongoing power shifts separate and destroy us, set us against one another, make us hate and doubt one another, blackmail us, and make us lose common ground—and that the rationale behind this conflict. Needless to say, problems and issues unaddressed by society are used as a tool by authorities. The same is true of the queer community.
Nadja Orashvili: Unfortunately, the system, which I hoped had collapsed, is still here, very much alive and kicking. It’s hard to admit, but it’s true. Although we have more than once come to terms with the unification of the system and society into one body, the system can be dismantled or transformed only through the empowerment of people. But when social relations are totally dehumanized, we, isolated in a closed circuit of hopelessness, are treating one another with distrust, doubting friends and losing faith in fellow fighters. It’s hard to convince yourself, much less others.
I often think that we should seek a way out in total nihilism, but can we afford despair, especially now that the ghost of the opinion police is watching us like a hawk to jump in when we stumble? That’s why we’re keeping a low profile, not moving, not even breathing, doing our best to avoid any possible missteps. But this very silence of yours then becomes a problem, because you are told to say what they want to hear, to stand where their truth is.
Anna Kapanadze: From my personal experience, for a long time, I would get scared every time someone knocked on my door, thinking that it’s the police. Not because they would necessarily hurt me. I just had a premonition that it was the police. Now that years have passed, I’m somehow over these thoughts. But, instead, now I get a feeling that it might be someone in general who will hurt me.
Beka Tsikarishvili: It’s horrible to imagine that you don’t trust people around you anymore! It’s a nightmare! The fear of police might not be as bad, really.
Anna Kapanadze: And I don’t know what’s worse, the violent centralized system or a society that is supposed to stand by you, but also scares you.
Giorgi Kikonishvili: To revive that mutual trust, let’s go back to culture and the system of education that supports this culture. The entire school education system built on correcting mistakes. In fact, that was the only purpose of teachers. They had to underline mistakes with red ink and correct them. That’s it. But that underlined text didn’t tell you what you did right, what interesting findings you had, what you expressed, what was on your mind, what you liked. These things were hardly ever pointed out. The same is true of culture. We, as a society and friends, must focus on pointing out mistakes, and on correcting mistakes not just for the sake of having corrected them, but to move forward, to solve problems. That’s how merciless we are toward one another, and that’s why we’re losing common ground.
This is arguably the worst condition society has ever been in—everyone is afraid of everyone, all against all, and every man for himself. I am convinced that the same fears we have are found in them whom we fear. Overcoming these fears and being open about our thoughts may show that many people are in the same condition but are unable to speak up. And that may be another step toward ending division and reaching an agreement.
Beka Tsikarishvili: That’s the only weapon society may have, I’m talking about consolidation, but the presently waged fight under the pretense of consolidation is in reality a destructive fight. Today’s warring political forces, with all their historical experience, are more inclined to tear apart and separate, the reason why promises and impulses of consolidation must be sought elsewhere. For me personally, the Rioni Gorge is one such example of consolidation.
Nadja Orashvili: Loneliness is the greatest fear of our times. But today’s dominant discourse of individualism builds precisely on loneliness.
Looking at contemporary political processes and ongoing transformations, we may assert that the whole world, and not just our country, is plagued by isolation, seclusion, and alienation from one another. Simulation has replaced physical contact with reality, and we, as a result, don’t even know where the boundary between the real and the imaginary lies. Technologies that, ideally, are designed to draw people closer have gained total mind control to separate us, while our fleeting moments of happiness are fully dependent on the algorithm.
Anna Kapanadze: Happiness must be the most treasured thing for human beings. But where do we find happiness?
Beka Tsikarishvili: Fighting for the benefit of society is the ultimate joy and happiness. And that’s where the solution lies.
Nadja Orashvili: But is worth stepping into the same river twice?