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12 May, 2009 07:00

Unlikely bonds: Russian and Georgian friendships continue despite protests

Georgia's opposition has promised to both continue demonstrating in the capital Tbilisi, and to take its protest into the provinces.

This is in spite of what the opposition described as constructive talks with President Mikhail Saakashvili on Monday night. Although the President reportedly offered some concessions, there was no progress on the key demand for him to step down.

Many people believe Saakashvili's resignation will help solve some of the country's problems, including strained ties with Russia. When it comes to cross-border relations, however, members of the public are finding their own way.

Rolan Novitsky came all the way to Tbilisi to meet someone he knows only by name and photograph.

During last year’s war in South Ossetia the Russian cameraman met a Georgian journalist online.
It was a strange time to strike up a friendship: their governments were at war and the political temperature was running high.

“I really wanted to help somehow, just a person who is craving for peace while living in a country where the war is taking place all the time,” Rolan confessed to RT.

“I wanted to share my support and be there at the moment, but I had to work, so I couldn’t come to Georgia,” he explained.

During the war many Russian websites were blocked in Georgia, but people still found a way to get onto them, and Lika was one of those people.

The 29-year-old journalist has spent the past five years working for a private Georgian television station. It was through a social networking site called ‘Classmates’ that she and Rolan found each other – as did millions of others who were on opposite sides of the virtual battlefield.

“I thought it would be interesting to get the opinion of a Russian guy. It was very nice to find a person who could understand me. Russians and Georgians can of course be friends. As people we don’t have anything against each other,” Lika said.

Not everyone agrees. Nodar Davituri, a Georgian web-developer, says people used the internet to vent their frustrations at Russians, rather than befriend them:

“When a person can’t go to war, the only choice left over where to fight is through speech. Georgians want to talk with Russians, and the internet is the only way we can hear what they are saying. It also gives us the chance to put across our views as eyewitnesses to what is going on in our country.”

For the second month now, the streets of Tbilisi have also become a rallying call for Georgian voices, but the anger of opposition demonstrators is not against Russia, it is directed at their president Mikhail Saakashvili.

Other measures are being used which try to heal the rift between the two countries. A society of Russian friendship in Georgia has around 500 members where people from the two countries mix happily.

Religion is also playing its part. One of the ways the friendship club hopes to improve relations between both countries is by holding daily services in Russian.

The services take place in one of only two Russian churches in Tbilisi and at the moment Russian services are held here only once a week. The Georgian Patriarch is expected to give his approval.

That link could help repair some of the damage done as a result of last year’s war. It also shows that the personal can overcome the political when it comes to being friends.