Sergey Tretyakovs (1892-1939) writing on different cultures pursues a clear propagandistic message, which is hard to overlook. In Svaneti an entirely new world had to be built: The Svans, in Tretyakov's view, did not live in a grown culture that was significant for itself. According to him, the Svans, imprisoned in the geographical space, led a life like in the early Middle Ages. The medieval buildings and towers have no value; they merely preserve a dusty love of freedom and the musty mould of blood revenge. They are also a constant source of conjunctivitis, which is rampant among the Svans. In Tretyakov's view, the Soviet system made the Swans into human beings in the first place, into Soviet people. See Part I of Tretyakov's Text: An overview on “Gorge People” (1928) by Sergei Tretyakov: Svaneti in the Soviet period See Part III of Tretyakov's Text: The new Svaneti and the people who build it
Part II: The Soviet pioneers liberate the Svans locked up in the mountains by building roads and thus gain their trust.
But next to the old Svaneti there is the new Svaneti. And the new Svaneti also has blood enemies. And even against them, it turns its will; it sharpens its knife and its gaze.
The worst enemy of the new Svaneti is the pathway. The typical Svaneti path is not wider than a tight-fitting caftan, which tightens the lungs and windpipe of those who wear it so that they can hardly breathe. And it is just as difficult for the fresh wind of a new life to get into the swollen and ailing lungs of the mountain gorges.
There are only two paths out of Svaneti. One route leads over the Latpari Pass. But half of the year the Latpari Pass lies under a meter-high snow cushion. The other way leads along the Enguri valley to the settlement of Dzvari in the Mengrelian lowlands.
Until two years ago, people told each other terrifying stories about this path. To get up the Enguri valley, at one point you had to go halfway under the Zungari Massif, which descends towards the river. There a kind of gully had been driven into the rock. The rider had to dismount here and stoop down to pull the horse behind him.
At another spot, at a certain rockface, which is so-called Red Rock, the path that follows the sloping mountain range became even narrower. Loaded with bundles, the horses could not walk this path. So they had to be repacked, and two people were needed to lead the horse over the dangerous place. One person grabbed the horse by the tail and pulled it towards the mountainside, the other person held it by the rein.
Nevertheless, it often happened, especially in winter, that a horse slipped on black ice. Then the horse and the load crashed into the deep. So the animal and the collective farm’s work got lost in the wild river of the Enguri, which never freezes over because of its wild flow.
Today, the rock face located at this spot is called Prochorov Rock. This name has the following origin: In 1921, Silvestr Naverjani initiated an uprising against the Mensheviks. The Mensheviks were already weakly represented in the region. The Svans have always been proud of their freedom. Most of all, they were proud that not even the tsarist army risked advancing to them.
The Mensheviks (Russian: меньшевики́) were one dominant faction in the Russian socialist movement. The Democratic Republic of Georgia was a stronghold of the Mensheviks. In 1923 the Menshevik faction was banned officially.
The tsar's army was somewhat reticent in its garrison in Mestia, but they controlled the region by the use of arms, as the destruction of Khalde in 1875 shows.
After the establishment of Soviet power, part of the Menshiviki fled, the other part hid. Those who hid stirred up the Svans: „Nothing good comes out of the Bolsheviks. They will smash your clans and say: Do not respect your mother, do not respect your father, and do not respect your grandfather. They will take bulls and pigs from you and drive you from the meadows and barley fields. The Bolsheviks will close the churches and desecrate your graves!“
In the following, Tretyakov's interest is to present the Svans' struggle against the Bolsheviks as a fallacy. The Svans had been agitated against Soviet socialism by the Mensheviks as a result of false information. Furthermore, the aim is to highlight specific stereotypical characteristics of the Svan ethnic group as components of a national character. Tretyakov emphasizes the desire for freedom, courage and ability for strong commitment as characteristic features. With these 'national attributes', the Svans are now fighting for the realization of socialism.
But what could be worse for an orthodox Svan than the desecration of the memory of his mortals? Driven by their old heroism and their thirst for freedom, the Svans, therefore, decided to repel the Red Army unit advancing from Dzvari.
They ambushed the soldiers at the Red Rocks. Then, they shot from the opposite bank of the river at those running along the narrow path.
Commander Prokhorov was the first to fall into the Enguri, crashed on the rocks and the river swallowed him. Thus the Red Rocks became the Prokhorov Rocks.
Six years have gone by since then. I passed the place where the bullets of the Svans hit the Red Army soldiers. There is no trace left of the narrow path. It was widened to a metre and a half and piled up with gravel. Freshly planed beams, fastened with iron clips, separate the road from the noise of the water flow.
In his text "Biography of Things" (1929), Tretyakov wrote that it was the task of socialist art to show how human activity changes things. Here it is the biography of a single path that forms the poetic centre of the text section. The sacrifice of commander Prokhorov, who is stylized as a martyr, enables the Svans to repent. The path becomes a safe way through the creative power of man. Thus man shapes the real geography of the Soviet Union by transforming things.
The smell of blasting is in the air. A dozen cheerful Red Army soldiers, their upper bodies burnt red by the mountain sun, are beating boulders out of the rock face with hammers and chisels. Other Red Army soldiers plane, file and lay trunks as bridges over ditches.
The commander tells me that the pioneer battalion has been working here for the second summer. It has built many dozens of new bridges from the logs cut on the steep slope.
Svan foresters with long axes are walking along the path. And much more help. Whole villages set out to repair, widen and fortify trails where the pioneers are not working. Loamy scree slides down incessantly, slate detaches, and stone blocks break away.
However, there is a great deal of persistence on the part of these people. They want to see the wheels of wagons finally rolling on their paths. The Svans manage a workload that usually takes seven days in just two days. They are the best ground workers in the entire Caucasus. Their work performance you can only compare to that of the Subbotniks.
Heavy gun salvos break out of one rock outcrop after another. It smells like gunpowder. The charges from the cannons are pounding deep into the rock. But this time they don’t hit the Red Army men’s flesh: this time they hit the stone flesh of the cursed rocks that block the way to Svaneti for fresh air.
Back to part I of Tretyakov's Text: An overview on “Gorge People” (1928) by Sergei Tretyakov: Svaneti in the Soviet period See Part III of Tretyakov's Text: The new Svaneti and the people who build it
Translation: © Stefan Applis (2020); please note: the translation of the text from Russian into English cannot reproduce Tretyakov’s particular linguistic style in all sections. For the sake of clarity of content, the focus will be more on conveying the perspective of content.
Tretyakov first published his text in the 15 April 1928 edition of Pravda.