Professor Dan HEALEY: "Oxford University is keenly interested in Georgian affairs"

01.06.2023 (Caucasian Journal) While the Britain’s Oxford University is hosting its second Georgia-Oxford Forum “Georgia In A Changing World” tomorrow on June 2, Caucasian Journal has interviewed Professor Dan HEALEY, Georgian Programme Coordinator at the Oxford University’s School of Global and Area Studies, author of many books on social and cultural history of Soviet Union and post-Soviet states. 

We are thankful to Professor Healey for taking time to answer our questions on the very eve of the Georgia-Oxford Forum

Alexander KAFFKA, editor-in-chief of CJ:  Dear Professor Healey, I guess your agenda must be especially busy these days due to the Forum, but that's also one of the reasons why your answers are especially topical. May I start by asking what the Oxford University’s Georgian Programme is about, and how popular is Georgia among the Oxford students?

Dan HEALEY: The Georgian Programme at Oxford University has grown organically over several years. We have a number of different initiatives. They are all housed in the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies – but we collaborate with many other branches of the University. So for example, we have 17 students currently learning the Georgian language, from absolute beginners (I am one of these students - მე ვწავლობ ქართულს) to accomplished literary translators. Our teacher of Georgian is Lia Chokoshvili, and she is amazing, inspiring, and extremely effective. Another part of the language work she does is literary translation and publication of Georgian literature in English. The highest-level students participate in a Translation Seminar run by Lia, and they produce quality translations of Georgian classic and modern literature into English. Right now they are working on Goderdzi Chokheli’s novel Human Sadness. It will be published in English by Dedalus Books, with support from the Georgian Writers’ House. And they’ve just published a bilingual edition of the fables of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani from his Book of Wisdom and Lies. Future work by the Translation Seminar is generously supported this year by the Ministry of Education of Georgia.

Another major part of the Programme involves early career Georgian scholars, who come to Oxford for a one-year residency. This is funded by the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation of Georgia (SRNSFG), for the benefit of Georgia’s young generation of researchers. During their year in Oxford, the young Georgian post-doctoral scholars meet with Oxford professors and researchers to discuss their mutual interests; they present their work in seminars; and they use the networks and resources of Oxford to produce new works of research. They also convene a Georgian Studies seminar in Oxford to show their research, and those of colleagues they invite, to our interested audiences in the University. We currently have three visiting scholars – a social anthropologist, a historian, and an expert on Georgian manuscripts, working in the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, all working on topics in Georgian studies. You can see their profiles at this link.

Georgia-Oxford Forum
Since 2016, we have hosted 15 visiting Georgian scholars on this exciting programme. 

AK: This year’s Georgia-Oxford Forum is already the second one on the row. How can you assess the significance and scope of this event?

DH: We’re very excited about this event, which is a flagship of our Programme. I believe that it demonstrates that Oxford University is keenly interested in Georgian affairs and especially in the academic study of Georgia’s humanities and social sciences. We have speakers from the worlds of education, policy-making, diplomacy, and international relations. This year’s Forum is going to be bigger and more diverse than ever!

AK: May I ask who’s the main sponsor of the forums and the Georgian Programme in general? Do you think the level of financing is adequate, and is there anything that might be done to make the Georgia-related activities more effective?

DH: Much of our sponsorship comes from Georgia itself: the SRNSFG is a key player, and we benefit from the support of the Embassy of Georgia with its broad range of contacts in the Georgia-UK community of partners. We’re extremely grateful for this support and couldn’t produce the Forum without their participation. The Oxford School of Global and Area Studies provides administrative and logistical support for the event, which is held in St Antony’s College, another important partner. We’re always looking for ways to identify more support from partners in Georgia and elsewhere – Oxford University has a Development Team that assists us with fundraising activity.

 Fight for EU membership, democracy, and a decent future!

AK: Your main area of expertise is Russia, in particular the history of sexualities and gender, medicine, and GULAG - correct me if I’m wrong. How did you get interested in Georgia, and is it connected to your current research interests?

DH: I trained as a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union and when I was a student in Russia in the 1980s-90s, I quickly learned that Georgia had a huge reputation for excellent culture, cuisine, and wine! I first visited Georgia in 2011 to do archival research on the medical system in the republic, as part of a larger project about doctors in Stalin’s Gulag camps. Georgian doctors were sent to work in the camps of the Soviet Far East and North along with other Soviet medical personnel. I have been returning regularly since that first visit, and I have visited Svaneti, Kakheti, and the area around Tbilisi too. I also enjoy reading contemporary Georgian literature: Aka Morchiladze, Nino Haratishvili, Zurab Karumidze…

AK: I am sure among our readers there are many young people who might be attracted to the idea of going to Oxford or other British universities for study or research. How feasible is that, and is there anything that you would like to tell them, in practical terms? 

DH: I always recommend reaching out to the professors, programme directors, and staff who run the course you want to come and do. Nothing works like personal contact, and you will find out much more than just what’s on a website if you send a brief email with some focused questions. And they want to hear from you!

AK: In her 2019’s interview, the Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili made a “tongue-in-cheek bid” to take the United Kingdom’s EU place which was to become vacant after Brexit. “We will be very happy to take the place left by them,”- she said to Euronews. Can you say a few wordsabout the significance of Brexit for UK, and – perhaps under that angle – about Georgia’s EU aspiration?

DH: I voted ‘Remain’ in 2016. A majority of British people now think Brexit was a mistake. Our economy is worse off and falling behind our neighbours’ by a painful margin. Some of our politicians were extremely dishonest about what we would gain by leaving the EU. Others were confused, demoralized, and frankly, careless. Our political class across all parties has displayed a sad lack of care about the national interest – IMHO. Do not let that happen to Georgia: fight for EU membership, democracy, and a decent future. 

 AK: Thank you very much for the answers, and good luck to the Georgia-Oxford Forum!

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