A year ago, 23-year-old Tbilisi architecture student Davit Enukidze left home and got his own place. In many countries, that might not seem like a big deal. But in Georgia, as elsewhere in the Caucasus, it can cause shock and dismay.
When Enukidze, an only son, told his mother, a single parent, that he had decided to move out, “she even started crying,” he recounts. “The first day was the worst. She was on her knees and begging me not to leave. I told her that I had already decided to move out. She was calling me every day to find out how I was, what I was eating and whether I was alive or not.”
In Georgia’s communal, interdependent culture, the concept of the family is sacred. Unless a child is moving out to create a family, there is no need for them to lead an independent life, the thinking often goes.
Much of this notion dates to the Soviet era, when the right to private space simply did not exist.
But the disconnect goes deeper: Georgian parents often see themselves as a buffer against a harsh, outside world. Some fear that a grownup child living alone is more likely to use recreational drugs or have a promiscuous sex life.
“My father and grandmother . . . thought that I could not make it on my own,” recounts 22-year-old Giorgi Tkemaladze, a Georgian Technical University student from the regional town of Kutaisi, who shares an apartment in Tbilisi with three friends. “They were saying that I was a kid and there were thousands of things that could happen to me, but now they’ve gotten used to it.”
While parents eventually may give males the benefit of the doubt, their anxiety holds strong for women. For many, a girl moving out and living without a “caretaker” -- ideally, a male relative -- is simply unacceptable.
Tkemaladze’s roommate, 21-year-old Giorgi Mindiashvili, an Ilia State University sociology student, notes that though his parents readily agreed to his living on his own in Tbilisi for his “personal development,” they rejected his older sister’s attempt to do the same. She now studies in Kutaisi.
Until a daughter is married, many Georgians see no reason for her to leave her family home.
When 28-year-old political-science student Sesili Butkhuzi decided five years ago that she wanted to live on her own, her family, she says, “took it very badly.”
“They did not get why should I be moving out when I had a home.” Butkhuzi’s mother, who, herself, lived in Brussels, argued that “I was free even if I lived with my family.”
“It took me a year to explain to her. We were arguing constantly. It took a lot of time for her to understand . . . “ elaborates Butkhuzi, a part-time bartender who now resides with her ailing grandmother.
That runs particularly true outside of the Georgian capital, in Georgia’s more conservative regional towns and rural areas.
When 23-year-old Tamara Tabukashvili told her Kutaisi family several years ago that she intended to live on her own and attend university in Tbilisi, they objected that “I am a girl and I don’t have a father,” she says. (Tabukashvili’s father is no longer living.) They wondered, ‘How are you going to livealone? Don’t you need someone to take care of you?’”
Relatives usually try to take on that role. Once Tabukashvili moved to Tbilisi, her local relatives constantly checked on her at work and home, she says. She found the attention stressful.
“I had the feeling that no one was thinking about me; they were concerned about the family name and honor. However, I had support from my mother. If not for her, nothing would have worked out.”
Tabukashvili’s mother, Maia, believes that, at 18, “[I]t’s already time for a young person to take on some responsibilities and learn to cope with them.” While parents might find the initial change difficult, she adds, “it’s essential to let [their children] find their own way independently.”
Tamara Tabukashvili now lives with a roommate in downtown Tbilisi.
For 21-year-old Nino Silgadze, also from Kutaisi, the desire for that kind of private space was so strong that, after living with relatives, she almost took a room in a Tbilisi State University dormitory without electricity.
Now in regular accommodations, she considers herself lucky. “I can hear my classmates complaining that if they would move out, their moms would kill themselves and their fathers simply would not allow it.”
Rati Tsiklauri, a 22-year-old psychology student at Georgian Technical University, believes it all comes down to gender.
“In our society, it's OK for a boy to have private space -- even if only for sexual freedom -- whereas for a girl, it’s vice versa. It’s kinda, like, a girl needs much less space, somehow. . . Even if they’re 30 years old, it’s expected that they’ll live with their parents.”
To find their own space, some young Georgians set their sights on more distant destinations than an apartment or dorm room in Tbilisi.
Tsiklauri lives in Rustavi, about an hour’s drive from Tbilisi, with his mother and teenaged sister. Though he calls a move to Tbilisi “a great relief for those from rural areas,” he himself is considering attempting a move even further away – to western Europe, to continue his studies.
Says Tsiklauri: “It’s easier to create a personal space far away from your family.”