On National and Personal Pride

My host brother’s grandfather has been staying with us for a few days now.  He’s nearly ninety years old and is very frail, so I expect that they’ve decided to bring him here to die.  With two barriers between us—age/senility and language—I couldn’t rightly say that we’ve gotten close, and he doesn’t seem to have much interest in talking to me, but I find the old man’s presence at once troubling and comforting.

Last night I sat outside with my host brother, mother, father, and grandfather, and my host brother being the only one of them who spoke English, he selectively translated some of what they were saying about the grandfather.  I learned that he had fought in World War Two in the Soviet army at seventeen years old, being decorated for bravery, wounded in action, and celebrated as a hero.  Evidently his story is included in a lengthy book about Georgian soldiers in the War, and there may be (it was unclearly explained in three languages, two of which I don’t understand) a documentary about his service.  What was completely clear was that he had received medals from the Soviets, receives a pension to this day, and everyone in the family is extremely proud of what he did.

But what he did was for the Russians.  The country these people hate—or at least hold a grudge towards.  It was clear that this pride was not for the Russian military action, it was for this one brave man’s courage and loyalty, but there was none of the same framing of heroism you sometimes hear about American Vietnam veterans.  They say “He showed bravery in the face of danger and loyalty to protect his fellow soldiers,” but choose to leave off the requisite statement that “The war was evil and the purposes pointless, and he performed his actions out of pure determination for his fellow [Georgians/Americans/etc.].”

It could be the language barrier, but my experience with Georgians is that they take every opportunity to be as specific as possible about their views on the past.  That they choose in this instance to leave off the usual disclaimer, I find significant.  I can’t help but see this as contradictory towards their usual indictment of Russia: when a Georgian family member fights alongside Russians, then Russian actions are as unassailable as Georgian actions.  I can’t help but be troubled by this reasoning.

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Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Idiot, part 1, chapters VII-XVI

In this second section, it’s become clear that all of the plot’s action revolves around Nastasya Filippovna.  Ganya has been courting her out of greed as Totsky has evidently promised him seventy-five thousand rubles to marry her, though Ganya has attempted to get out of the marriage.  Soon after the prince finishes speaking to Elizaveta Prokofyevna and the three Epanchin daughters, Ganya gives Myshkin a note to give to Aglaya that essentially says that he will break off the coming engagement to Nastasya Filippovna with only a word of assurance from her.

Both Aglaya and Nastasya criticize Ganya for his need for guarantee in this.  Aglaya to the prince about him:

He knows, however, that if he broke it all off, but by himself, alone, not waiting for a word from me, and even not telling me about it, without any hope in me, I would then change my feelings for him… But his soul is dirty: he knows and yet hesitates; he knows and still asks for a guarantee.  He’s unable to make a decision on faith.    (84)

And Nastasya to Ganya directly as she taunts him and the prince at the end of Part 1:

And you, Gnachka, you’ve missed Aglaya Epanchin; did you know that?  If you hadn’t bargained with her, she would certainly have married you!    (169)

Torn between financial necessities created by his fallen family (his father is shown to be entirely mentally unstable and unpredictable, and they’ve resorted to renting out their insufficient apartment as a boarding house) and love for Aglaya, Ganya misses both.

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