At best, Sandro Gogoberishvili makes a few heads turn when he walks along Tbilisi’s streets; at worst, he gets insulted. In traditional and devoutly Christian Georgia, his powdered, pale complexion, black lipstick and darkly painted nails make for a look people often label as “satanic.”
“People just do not understand that [we] Goths have nothing to do with satanism,” explains the 25-year-old art student, who has been a Goth since his teens. “Our aesthetics and philosophy don’t prevent anyone from being religious. I am a believer myself. I just don’t go to church.”
Gogoberishvili, the lead singer for the Goth rock band Killer Manson, is one of the few Goths in Georgia, where the subculture probably counts fewer than 20 followers. As elsewhere, their looks highlight a fascination with death that attracts mostly negative attention.
“The times I have been called a satanist just because of my appearance . . .” sighs Gogoberishvili. “People don’t understand us. This is the problem. Often [the verbal abuse] got close to a physical clash, but I always try to resolve the conflict. It can be quite difficult.”
The Goth subculture emerged in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s among fans of Bauhaus, the first rock band to be dubbed “Gothic” for its gloomy lyrics, heavy-metal-style rhythms and eerie vocals. Yet Goth is more than music.
Georgian Goths tend to favor 19th-century Gothic literature and find beauty in the dark passages of history in the Middle Ages. One 23-year-old Tbilisi Goth, who uses the name Tosha Mortiss, described the group as “people who express their melancholic and dark inner world, nihilism toward society, through their appearance, which is a tool of expression along with art and music."
But tolerance of that form of expression has its limits. Sociologist Tinatin Zurabishvili, the research director at the the Tbilisi-based Caucasus Research Resource Centers, notes that traditional societies, like Georgia’s, “oppose what they don’t know, what they are not familiar with and tend to confront those who [look] radically different from ordinary people.”
She has a point. In the summer of 2016, a group of hardcore Georgian Orthodox activists disrupted the opening of a Tbilisi heavy-metal festival. This April, two members of the Greek metal band Rotting Christ were detained when they arrived in Georgia for a series of concerts. The band alleged that its name had prompted suspicions of satanism and terrorism. The government did not elaborate, but released the two men.
As with heavy-metalists, skepticism toward Goths is also not unusual in western Europe, where Goth music festivals regularly take place. British sociologist Dr. Paul Hodkinson, author of the book “Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture,” maintains that, rather than being a threat, Goths are often likely to be on the receiving end of hostility.
But 28-year-old translator Nana Beruashvili, a Tbilisi Goth educated in Germany, detects a difference between western Europe and Georgia. In western European countries, curiosity and skepticism toward Goths focuses more on stereotypes about their appearance than on religion, she believes.
“People would ask questions like ‘Do you always wear black?’, ‘Do you never go out on a sunny day?’ and so on,” she says, while, in Georgia, where Orthodox Christian traditions are robustly observed, people link the Goths’ image with Satan and the underworld.
Questions and comments like “Ah, are you satanists?,” “Do you kill cats in cemeteries?,” “Why do you have this symbol on your neck?” or “It's a satanic symbol!” are common, agrees Gogoberishvili.
The handful of individuals who identify as Goths in Georgia strongly reject the label of satanists.
“Satanism is itself a religion, by the way, and some of [its followers] do not accept any divine power. Satan is a symbol of freedom for them,” comments Beruashvili. “All of this has nothing to do with being Goth.”
But one Goth has seen signs of change in how some Georgians relate to their movement.
“People pay less attention to me,” recounts Mortiss. “What attention I receive is mainly from men or young boys hanging around with nothing to do, [rather] than from conservatives or devoutly religious people.”
Thirty-two-year-old Killer Manson violinist Teona Kvrichishvili, who, like many Georgians, was baptized an Orthodox Christian, maintains that being Goth is just “a way of life.”
“This subculture is inside me; it fits my character,” explains Kvrichishvilli, who also works as a music teacher. “The style was too strange and too alien for my parents, but they got used to it.”
August, 2018 Religious Beliefs