• Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland



  • The culture of Georgia has been developing for many centuries, and the fact that the country is located at the crossroads between East and West has played a crucial role in its development and has imparted it with a unique color. A natural environment of uncommon beauty and diversity, historical monuments, the climate, the way of life and the hospitality, have all made Georgia one of the most frequently visited countries of the region.

    Diplomatic relations between Poland and Georgia have existed from the Middle Ages. They were first described in the Georgian chronicle “Kartlis Ckhovreba” (“The Life of Kartli”) written by King Vakhtang VI and edited by his son, Vakhushti Bagrationi, in 1745. But it was in the 19th c. that these relations acquired a new character. Poland divided among three partitioning powers, i.e. Austria, Prussia and Russia, strove for independence. At that time, in the Caucasus the war was escalating as the Russian conquest of the Caucasus highlands continued. Polish rebels were frequently sent here, or to Siberia, to serve in the ranks of the Russian army by way of punishment—they used to call the Caucasus “a warm Siberia.”

    In Tbilisi itself there were more than five thousand Poles. The most numerous among the Polish exiles were the representatives of nobility (szlachta), for they were, as a rule, the most active group within the Polish national independence movements. There were also large groups of engineers, architects, musicians, painters, teachers and physicians pouring into Georgia for economic reasons. Here they continued their work actively contributing to the development of science, education, culture and arts in their new homeland. As it later turned out there was no sphere of artistic or scholarly activity where the Poles had not left their mark.

    In the 1790s Jan Potocki, the famous Polish writer, painter, traveler, archeologist and scientist, traveled to the Caucasus. He did not visit Georgia, but met with Georgians—among them, Mirian Bagrationi, son of the Georgian King Erekle II, and the priest prince David Eristavi. In his book about the Caucasus “Voyage dans les steps d’Astrakhan et du Caucase” (“A Voyage in the steppes of Astrakhan and in the Caucasus,” Paris, 1829) he described both men as “noble and educated persons.”

    The first publication about Georgia to appear in Poland was the book by Stanisław Nowacki “Podróż do Gruzji” (“A Journey to Georgia”). Nowacki was an officer in the Napoleonic Army under the command of Prince Józef Poniatowski. After the 1812 defeat of Napoleon, Nowacki was exiled to the Caucasus as a prisoner of war. In his book written after his return to Poland he described the life of Poles in the Caucasus, the peoples of Georgia, their culture, and the beauty of Georgian nature.

    In the 19th c. in Poland there was great interest in the publications dedicated to Georgia. The most significant ones were—“Wspomnienia Kaukazu” (“Memories of the Caucasus,” Poznań, 1877) by Hipolit Jaworski, “Kaukaz. Wspomnienia z dwunastoletniej niewoli. Opisanie kraju. Ludość. Zwyczaje i obyczaje” (“The Caucasus. Memories of a twelve-year captivity. The country. The peoples. The customs and traditions,” Lvov, 1877), and “Szkice Kaukazu” (“Caucasian Essays,” Warsaw, 1859) in two volumes by Michał Butowt Andrzejkowicz.

    Between 1843-55 many articles about Georgia were printed in the journal “Biblioteka Warszawska” (“The Warsaw Library”). Among others there were the short stories by Leon Janiszewski, a poet and a musician, who remained in Georgia until the end of his life in 1861. Mateusz Gralewski and Kazimierz Łapczyński, Polish exiles to the Caucasus, forcibly drafted into the Russian army as recruits, also wrote about Georgia. Gralewski, as Aleksandr Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas, described in detail the sulfur baths as one of the curiosities of Tbilisi. Łapczyński, in turn, in his memoirs colorfully described the customs of Tbilisi’s inhabitants and the peculiarities of Georgian culture. It was also Łapczyński who translated into Polish “The Knight in the Tiger Skin,” a poem by Shota Rustaveli. This was the first translation ever, written in prose, published in 1863 in the journal “Biblioteka Warszawska.” In his work Łapczyński was assisted by Giorgi Eristavi, an outstanding Georgian poet who was sent into exile as a recruit in the Russian army to the former territories of Lithuania and Poland.

    Another Pole, Piotr Zawilejski, was on friendly terms with the prominent Georgian poet and soldier General Alexander Chavchavadze, whose name was connected with the hapless plot of the Georgian nobility against the Tsar’s autocracy in 1832.

    Close friendship bonded the renowned Georgian poet Nikoloz Baratashvili and Tadeusz Łada-Zabłocki, a Polish poet exiled to the Caucasus for anti-tsarist activities. Łada-Zabłocki was known in Tbilisi for his campaign to establish a public library. Once it was opened, he donated a large number of books to the library, which was glowingly described in the contemporary press (“Kavkaz,” 1847, no 4-1).

    At the end of the 19th c. two Georgian newspapers “Droeba” (“Time”) and “Iveria” repeatedly published materials about Poland. “Letters from the road” (1863)—travel notes from Poland by Petre Nakashidze, a Georgian social activist, were published regularly in the journal “Sakartvelos Moambe” (“Georgian Daily”). Nakashidze, who witnessed the Polish January Uprising of 1863, wrote an account of the rebellion in an allegoric and veiled form. As a result tsarist censors closed the journal altogether.

    Documents found in 1958 in the Odessa Municipal Archives certify that in 1863 the Georgian community sympathized strongly with the rebellious Poles, and that volunteer contributions from Georgia to the Kingdom of Poland were transferred through the port in Odessa. The existing data confirms that contributions came from the representatives of all nationalities inhabiting Georgia at that time, i.e. Georgians, Armenians, Russians, Ossetians, Assyrians, Azerbaijanis, Greeks, Germans, French and also the community of Polish exiles.

    In the 1850s both Russia and Georgia, which was a part of the Russian Empire, witnessed the dynamic expansion of capitalism. As a result Tbilisi became the administrative center of the entire Caucasus. Formerly an oriental city, Tbilisi acquired new European traits. Large foreign investments accelerated the development of the most important branches of the economy. Industrial production increased rapidly, and many Russian and West-European banks established their offices here. Many splendid public utility buildings were constructed and the city’s infrastructure improved a great deal.

    Polish architects left a significant mark on the appearance of the city. In the 1840s and 1850s Aleksander Zborzewski worked as Tbilisi’s city architect. He was a graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. From the 1880s Aleksander Szymkiewicz, another prominent architect, worked here. Under his supervision many important city buildings were built, e.g. the Conservatory, the Rustaveli Theater (in cooperation with architect Korneli Tatishtshev), the City Courthouse, and the House of Treasury, as well as residential houses in Gudiashvili, Uznadze, and Chonkadze streets.

    At the end of the 19th c. the cultural life of the city was booming. Theatres were built, the Italian Opera was established and various cultural societies were founded. The Polish intelligentsia was always involved in the city’s cultural activities. The network of publishing houses grew, especially in respect to periodicals. It is worth mentioning that Jan Tchórzewski, a Polish writer, was a founder of many periodicals in Tbilisi at the time.

    It is evident that the names of Poles living in the Caucasus were connected with major cultural events of that period. Exiled to or born on Georgian soil, they absorbed the local culture. They studied it, developed it, and enriched it. It may be said, without any exaggeration, that wherever Polish artists manifested their talent, be it in painting, graphics, sculpture or pedagogic activity, they added a golden page to the history of the development of the Georgian culture. Zygmunt Waliszewski, Henryk Hryniewski, Ilia Zańkowski, Michał Wadbolski, or Stanisław Horno-Popławski, whose biographies may be found in this volume, were the artists whose great creativity contributed to the enrichment of the treasury of the cultural heritage of Georgia.

    Henryka Justyńska, Polish artist in Georgia, Tbilisi 2006, Introduction, p. 14 - 16

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