Ada Nemsadze                                                                                                                                                                            # 8 

 National Identity Issues in Tales by Alexander Kazbegi


Abstract: Identity is the main issue of the subjective reality, establishment of a person’s identity by some typological category. There are social, cultural, ethnic and group identities. Giving consideration to the Georgian (and not only Georgian) reality, we think that the national identity is essential among all types, which often appears the basis for other types of identification. Every big nation becomes the bearer of some great idea during its history, which gives spiritual sense to its existence. For the Georgian state such was the idea of national freedom, which has become the indispensable condition to obtain and maintain the national identity. It has been noted that the identity, experiencing pursuit, starts to develop in an individual. Giving consideration to such opinion, it becomes clear why averting the national identity crisis is a permanent problem for us. According to Alexander Kazbegi’s stories we can freely talk about existence of the national identity problem in Georgian reality of the XIX century.

Emerging any problem is the direct result of outer space disruption. Outer space is leading to chaos, which is conditioned by invasion of the Russian forces. Such chaos shall turn into the outer space again, which is possible to obtain by gaining the national identity. This is the main idea of Alexander Kazbegi’s stories.               


Key words: National identity, signs of national identity, crisis


 Studying national identity is not only very important but also quite a complicated task. First of all, it requires specifying the term of nationalism.  Notwithstanding the fact that the word “nation” or its equivalent have existed for many centuries, the doctrine of “nationalism” in a modern way has been used since the 18th century. It consists of three phrases: the first one is associated with educational activities and social self-determination principles; the second one is connected with the revolution in France, and the third one is the German romantic idea of Volk (folk): the unity of a society is based more on history, tradition and culture, than on political identity. The political doctrine which we call nationalism today (Sanikidze… 2001) has been created out of these very three phases. Thus, it is very clear that it underwent the perfection mostly during the third phase, when the nationalism set the protection of its own cultural and ethnic identity as a primary mission.

Concerning the identity, it is a major problem of psychological and sociological studies of the 20th century, implying a man’s psychological view about his/her own ego. Identity in sociology is considered as a certain mechanism, system of norms. There are several types of identity such as social, cultural, ethnic and group identities. In a monotonous society each individual has a complex of identities which acquires him uniqueness and inimitability. Taking into consideration Georgian reality, and probably not only Georgian, we believe that among other types of identity the national identity is the most important, often appearing as a certain ground for other sorts of identification.

As of the notion of “national identity”, it is the issue of utmost importance and responsibility. This is indicated by the fact that one can easily find the definition of the terms nation and nationalism everywhere in sociological dictionaries, at the same time, however, it is almost impossible to find such editions which contain the notion of national identity. Nevertheless, if we refer to the tradition based on western studies, certain signs can be defined here as well:  national identification is the part of social identification; the individual, different from the society, participates therein; the issue of national identity is the most problematic and actual during modernization (national …).  Many sociological problems can be raised and studied in a fiction, because it is the verbal exposure of such ethnic characteristics that describe the one or another culture. Finally, based on sociological studies and linguistic analysis of a fiction, the following can be concluded: acquiring national identity means maintaining and protecting by historically one people of all ethnical features that have been created for centuries in a society of human beings having common traditions and cultural past.

During its history each big nation becomes the carrier of a sacred idea, inspiring its existence.  Such sacred idea for the Georgian state during its history has been the idea of national freedom. In tales by Alexander Kazbegi, the fight for maintaining national identity takes place in the 19th century in the Russian imperial environment.  Imperial system has features which directly erase the identities of nations therein on different levels – language, culture, and customs, fighting against traditions and ruining individual’s national consciousness. Based on the analysis of relevant fiction texts, several opposing signs can be singled out. These signs contain the ongoing process of ruining or maintaining the identity, such as the collapse / protection of signs of national identity; Identity revealed in linguistic signs; Russian national identity signs against the Georgian ones.

Nation is an upper form of the development of an ethnical group, which stores collective memory as well as features specific for national character. According to Max Weber, significant attention is paid to cultural components of social process: values, symbols, orientations, traditions (interethnic …1996: ). Therefore, the observation of any customs, fight against the tradition violators is the rescue, first of all, for national identity. Such protection and storage goes on intuitively. Individual becomes the keeper of cultural signs and the carrier of an ethnical code. Many examples of this can be found in the tales of Alexander Kazbegi: raising hand against your fellow brothers without a reason is not allowed (Why he made us kill him? God cannot be deceived, that I would not have raised my hand willfully against my fellow brother” (“Elgudja”)); the community’s decision is the law for everyone (“those who have ears, listen! All of you have to obey the word of community, like god’s order” (“Elgudja”)); all kinds of disagreement within the community is to be solved by the community itself (“if you are hurt by your own neighbor, get your neighbors together, look for seniors and obey to what they are to tell you” (“Patricide”)); love should be the only reason for marriage (“how would any power scare you so that you become able to take your woman out of your family and give her to the man whom she does not love? Let the man alike die” (“Patricide”))

The examples above depicts that the national identity is realized in the language of the culture to which the human belongs. The cultural language, and not the social, economic or political relations, is in privileged situation in this process. Verbal language should also be considered within the cultural language, because all traditions or customs have their own linguistic expression. Linguistic approach is very important when ascertaining the issue of correlation between the nation and language. For example, like in Humboldt’s concepts about national features of a language: the form of personal existence goes on through triangular (individual – nation – mankind) and not through bipolar (individual – mankind) relationship. Humboldt’s definition of a nation can be used as a good example of this point: “A nation in this regard is the intellectual form of a mankind impressed in this or that language” (Ramishvili 1995: 23). Hence, in terms of linguistics, the individual enters the unity of a mankind only by crossing the step which is called nation. Besides, it is an intervening step, that is in order for a human to prove and expose his/her own personality, he/she should, first, identify himself/herself with any ethnical group, and only after that will he/she be able to engage into the unity of a mankind, and thus considering himself/herself as its part. Humboldt’s linguistic analysis proves the role of a language in the process of formation and maintenance of national identity. Social studies also recognize the big importance of a language in this process: “National identity primarily is presented in verbal form, which is daily transmitted by speaking language” (national…).

Language, when needed, brings to the surface what is deeply rooted into people’s collective consciousness. Curse and oath formulas, as such, can depict ethnical character very well and represent the signs of national identity to be reinforced. Alexander Kazbegi’s fictions contain many examples of this. The following oath from “Elgudja” can be considered as an illustration:

Damn him who breaks his word and does not spare relatives, who betrayed his own homeland and king, may he be with neither shelter, nor home. May he always fail in hunting or gaining a victory over his enemy!” (Kazbegi 1955:67-68).

Such formula of traitor’s damnation, which is the way of communication between elder and people, represents the common opinion not only of a single man but also of the whole community and exactly serves as a protection of ancestors’ heritage. The lack of house, shelter and home, notably being unable to settle down, is the failure of the foundation the national identity should be built on. Therefore the traitor should be sacrificed for its sake. At the same time the contrary can be implied:  He, who is devoted to his country and fellow brothers, should enjoy all these.

In order to accomplish national identity the existence of national group is necessary for determining similarities between them. This is “the unity of human beings formed as a result of historical developments of the society, which demonstrates (explains) its own integrity by imaginary or real unity of origination, ethnonym, common language and history, common culture and relevant models of behavior” (national…). The least includes traditions that are observed by each member of the group. In case of mountainous Georgia the rituals of hospitality, avenge, marriage, respecting the community’s decision, wailing for the dead, hunting, and etc., could be considered as such “relevant models of behavior”. In brief, the model of behavior means:  in a given environment any member of a national group is acting in conformity with the environment established by and inherited from its ancestors and not with his own will. Nonetheless, the human who was raised according to such traditions does not have the feeling of resistance against the environment. The resistance between the relevant model of behavior and the person’s individual desire comes only when the process of replacement of traditional customs by Russian rules started. This phenomenon not only breaks one feature, but it also threatens to the others: common language, culture, ethnonym. Many such examples are kept in Alexander Kazbegi’s tales. Mainly those who entered Russian service disagree with the customs. However there are two groups: ones who do it for their own well-being (Gagi Chopikashvili (“Elgudja”), Girgola (“Patricide”), Gorjasp Gudushauri (“Tsiko”), nobleman “Aprakune”(“Tsitsia”)), and the others who care about the future of the country and try to ease the existing situation by the position they have (Svimon Chopikashvili (“Elgudja”)). So called degraded highlander does not care much about observing his ancestors’ habits. On the contrary, sometimes they see the fairness in execution of Russian laws: “it is not a big thing our community! I am talking to you in the name of law” (Kazbegi 1955:210). The division of space has caused the reappraisal of values. This is natural during big social and political changes. Even in the mountainous Georgia the sanctification of the sacral started after the establishment of the Russian order. In order to protect the space identity it is necessary to make equal replacements. This pattern is not observed in Alexander Kazbegi’s texts, because the customs of the mountain were replaced by the Tsarist law which had no value for one simple reason - it was not based on justice. The new laws ruined national identity as well as caused moral degradation. The sanctification of the sacral was mostly observed in the language, because it exactly reflects the changes made in the consciousness of personality or society: “The God has disgraced both, you and the community” (“Elgudja”). The appearance of the issue of national identity is directly linked with the collapse of space identity: the space is identical unless it is protected by the fair law of the mountain, and its collapse starts when it is replaced by the Russian law.

The Russian empire was proud of its military power and the reason for this was only the majority in number of soldiers.  Such unilateral and limited ideology creates imperialistic awareness, which, by its own, rouses the inferiority complex within the nation. This can be proved by constant humiliation and offence towards captured people from the side of Tsiarism. Russian official having no better education, courage and dignity than courageous mountaineer, stares at him from above. Therefore he resorts to force to get what he would not have been able to get voluntarily from the seized nation: “It is Georgians’ obligation to treat each Russian with dignity and respect” (Kazbegi 1955: 113). This is also the subconscious demonstration of the inferiority complex. The son of the state which is constantly oriented on expansion relies on military strengths of his country. At the same time it is the sign of the Russian national identity which directly opposes the Georgian signs of national identity. These signs are being formed in opposition. Tales, In this way, bring forward the important customs, rules, traditions typical for the nation and confront them with Russian ones. In this confrontation the tendency of self-superiority becomes visible which is the necessary condition for the survival and the protection of national appearance.

The appearance of any problem always and everywhere is a direct result of space disintegration. The space (in our case – Georgia’s mountainous region, where orders and justice were secured by firm rules of the mountain) moves to chaos, caused by the intrusion of the Russian power. It is necessary to turn this chaos back into space again which should be done by regaining national identity. Such is the major idea of Alexander Kazbegi’s tales.





Interethnical …1996: Interethnical World, 2 volumes (by edition N. Dubov), Moscow, 1996 (in Russian).

Kazbegi 1955: Kazbegi A., Compositions in 2 volumes, volume 1, Tbilisi, 1955 (in Georgian).

National … National identity in post-soviet social space (in Russian) - http: //   www. planetadisser. com / work / work _ 41474. html.

Ramishvili 1995: Ramishvili G., Content’s Inter-lingual difference by linguistic and cultural theory point of view, Tbilisi, 1995 (in Georgian).

Sanikidze… 2001: Sanikidze G., Kiguradze N., Modern International relationships. World  Politic Globalization, Tbilisi, 2001 (in Georgian) - http: // www. nplg. gov. ge / gwdct  / ndex.php?a=term&d=5&t=6426; Internet.



Volume 4, Issue 2


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature