Author: Sopo Japaridze
When I was a teenager, I read this novel where one of the main characters, a doctor, was blacklisted from all jobs due to his political affiliations being different from the ruling party.
Those around him, narrate the psychological decline he goes through, wasting away and alienating his family and friends while he suffers from being barred from his profession.
I remember this moment so sharply since having very little experience of my own in life, I had never thought that a person could be killed in more ways than physical death. Of course, I realized this through literature, but if I had just looked around, I would have seen my mother going through something similar as an immigrant woman in her forties forced to start over in a foreign country because her country had collapsed, where her medical and biology degree didn’t mean anything. She was considered less skilled than an 18-year-old American student who recently graduated high school. With the gracefulness and self-sacrifice of so many women immigrant women, she worked jobs–and many jobs–below her skills and qualifications for her children and family. My mother also wasted away even with her unlimited charisma and intellect, and eventually, it led to her untimely death.
Last month, I was overwhelmed with the feelings I had suppressed within me but came flooding out when doctors who were let go from the Iashvili Children’s Hospital, many of them who had worked there from the opening day of the clinic, over 40 years ago. Though they had “survived” the immediate breakdown of the Soviet Union as many did not, by keeping their work and overcoming periods of no pay and severe medical supply shortages, they didn’t manage to survive the onslaught of libertarian commercialization of every part of life. This free market political cancer found its home with the least resilience towards capitalism, the post-Soviet space where inexperienced and irresponsible “dissidents” were celebrating the defeat of the great evil, USSR.
They were so busy detailing the wrongs of the Soviet Union, they never questioned the wholesale acceptance of capitalism–the freer, more private, the better, they thought! These doctors are the latest victims of this unregulated free market euphoria and of the standard treatment of the past as something to be dismissed completely.
As someone in her 30s, I am hopeful about my future not because the future seems hopeful, but that I have time to fight alongside others into making a better world for my child, and others. I was born in the decline of the USSR and the transition didn’t destroy me like it destroyed so many people close to me. I grew up in an era where everything is precarious. I never lived in a country, neither the US nor Georgia, where the government and society ever cared about me or anyone else besides business and the rich. I have been told from the beginning that nothing is guaranteed, not a career, not a house, not healthcare, not clean air, not food, nothing. I have always felt disposable because I grew up in capitalism, savage and raw that is both in the US and Georgia. I have never felt the care of the moderate welfare states of Europe nor the guaranteed economic security of the USSR. My expectations from governments and corporations were too limited to ever be disappointed.
But what of the people who lived most of their lives and careers in the place where they had things like guaranteed jobs and careers, housing, dignity at work? After being a doctor since the 1970s, new private owners (who happen to be Bank of Georgia) can come in and lay you off without justification, without any regard for who you are, and pay a measly sum of compensation–all within the law. How do you treasure all the moments of being a doctor for forty years, the good and the bad, the memories we take with us to the grave, with such an ending? When your entire identity, being, experience has been a doctor and that has been infringed at the capstone? How does one deal with the humiliation and degradation as the final days of one’s career?
How painful it is to end one’s career and life at such a horrible period of Georgia. The joy workers and people in many parts of the world must have felt in the 30s and post-World War II when they know life was going to get better for them. They were going to have better job security, increasing wages, decent pensions, etc… All those people that had struggled for decades were going to get their relief, how amazing that must have been for them. A better tomorrow did come for millions of workers. In the last thirty years, it has been the reverse trend. People are ending their lives with little dignity.
There are many ways to kill someone. Most of the professionals nurtured in the Soviet Union are deemed obsolete. There are myths told of them that they aren’t really qualified, that they are all corrupt. They are treated like relics from the past, not to be treated seriously or with dignity. Their livelihoods and meaning in life can be taken away carelessly, without a second thought. Every time they utter dissatisfaction of the current socio-political system, someone accuses them of propagating Russian propaganda or nostalgia for the USSR.
Jobs and careers aren’t something to be taken so lightly, they are often tied up with the whole being and experience of the person. Disrespecting people who have been working for decades through first internal humiliations like moving them around to different department, disregarding their knowledge and dismissing their input, and then finally laying them off without any explanation is the reality most of the professionals raised and trained in the USSR are ending their lives here.