Charles King

Borjomi, as any visitor to Eurasia knows, is the highly flavored mineral water produced in Georgia’s Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, located in the mountains stretching south toward Turkey and Armenia.

The park’s natural springs yield a metallic liquid that was probably the most celebrated non-alcoholic drink in the entire Soviet Union, usually taken with a slice of lemon. Although it is credited with curing any ailment from indigestion to halitosis, some people—myself included—find it undrinkable.

A glass of Borjomi was sitting on the table when I interviewed Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi in the summer of 2004, and that glass proved to be the subject of considerable interest a few weeks later when I found myself in Abkhazia.
 
In Sukhum my hosts were a kind Abkhaz couple, who opened their home and introduced me to the marvel of strong morning coffee served with a dollop of evaporated milk. During the Georgian-Abkhaz war, they had fled when the Georgian army invaded. After the fighting stopped, they returned home to find their house ransacked. They were convinced that the perpetrators were their ethnic Georgian neighbors, who had also fled when the Abkhaz recaptured the area.
 
On my first evening with the family, I casually mentioned that I had talked with Shevardnadze only a few days earlier. Their faces dropped. The husband of the household rose and went outside. I heard him calling to a young boy and sending him on some errand.
 
In a few minutes, the boy returned with several friends and neighbors. I was asked to recount my meeting with Shevardnadze, beginning at the top and not skipping a thing. I told them what he looked like, his views on the Rose Revolution, and his sense of remorse about the Abkhaz war.
 
“What did he offer you?” one of the neighbors suddenly asked.
 
“You mean to eat and drink?” I said. “Well, a glass of Borjomi.”
 
The small group erupted with loud laughter and hand claps.
 
“You see, that’s why we can never live with the Georgians again,” one of my hosts said. 
 
"What do you mean?" I asked.
 
“Obviously," he said, "no Abkhaz would talk to you for two hours and offer you no more than a glass of Borjomi!”
 
Charles King
Professor of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University. USA

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