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Title:Mountains of discontent: Georgian alpinism and the limits of Soviet equality, 1923-1955
Author(s):Bamberger, Benjamin
Director of Research:Koenker, Diane P
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Koenker, Diane P
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Steinberg , Mark D; Randolph, John; Burton, Antoinette
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Nation building
Georgian SSR
Abstract:This dissertation examines the development of an independent mountaineering community in Georgia and its relationship with the Soviet center from the early 1920s until the immediate post-Stalin period. In 1923, a group of Georgian students led by the mathematician Giorgi Nikoladze and the local guide Iagor Kazalikashvili summited the Kazbegi peak, an imposing 5000-meter high mountain located along the Georgian military highway. This ascent served as the foundation for the creation of a nationally oriented climbing community that focused on summiting Georgian peaks through cooperation with local peoples in mountainous regions. Over the next decade, Georgian alpinists formed their own Geographic Society and made numerous summits on Georgian mountains, making the Georgian alpinist community the only non-Russian organization of alpinists in the Soviet Union at this time. As Soviet tourism centralized and became more ideologically rigid in the early 1930s, Georgian climbers came under pressure from Moscow to conform to the new norms of proletarian touring. The centralization of Soviet mountaineering meant that over the next three decades, Georgian alpinists were repeatedly denied autonomy over where and when to climb and were criticized for their insistence on developing alpinism among the mountainous populations of Georgia instead of workers in industrial centers. Officials and tourists from the Soviet center who came to the Caucasus meanwhile regularly highlighted the “backwardness” of mountainous peoples as a way to emphasize the superiority of the Soviet project. As I show, these conflicting orientations meant that mountainous regions became contested spaces where questions about the centralization of control and the proper relationship to local people played out on mountain trails and alpine expeditions. Histories of Soviet nationalities policies have often emphasized the constructive nature of Soviet rule; that is, the many ways that the Soviet federalism succeeded in promoting national identities and national spaces. I argue instead that despite a stated commitment to federalism and the equality of all Soviet citizens, the center consistently infantilized mountainous peoples and denied the projects of non-Russians in developing mountainous spaces. An examination of tourist periodicals, newspapers, and the archives of tourist institutions, both in Moscow and in Tbilisi, illustrates how these “great-power” attitudes represented a deep continuity with nineteenth century visions of the Caucasus and Caucasians. Secondly, by focusing on the works of Georgian alpinists and regional guides, I attempt to show how the meaning of Georgia itself, as both a physical space and an intellectual project, was often formed far from the center. Although the Georgian SSR was envisioned in Moscow, the content of that space was ultimately produced not just in Tbilisi but also in the mountainous regions of the republic.
Issue Date:2019-07-10
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Benjamin Bamberger
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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