The Central Editorial Board for Translation of Fiction and Literary Relations, or simply “board”, as it was always referred to, was established in 1973 on the initiative of the public figure , historian and literary man Otar Nodia (1928-1993), and through the mediation of Eduard Shevardnadze, then the First Secretary of the Central Committee of Communist Party of Georgia.
The “Board” was subordinate to the Council of Ministers: It was that body, which, as a rule, approved its rather sizable budget and confirmed somebody’s appointment as director of the organization. However, the “Board” formally was a unit under the Union of Writers (by administrative order of one of the Soviet republics).
It was the chief aim of the organization to translate the masterpieces of Georgian authors into the foreign languages for popularization of Georgian literature, and to contribute to the adoption of Western thinking in Georgian.
Along with the stimulation of translation of fiction into Georgian, the “Board” made well-directed efforts on the cause of professional study of Georgian literature by the foreign translators. With that end in view, translators were invited from the former Soviet republics, as well as from many countries of the world. The staff of the “Board” spared no effort to provide favorable conditions of work for the young probationers of different nationalities… Thus, among the trainees who aimed to master Georgian at different times were Vaclav Czerny (Czechia), Camil Khrobak (Slovakia), Alice Garris (USA), Selma Anselm (Mexico), Kinoshita Sotoku (Japan), Natasha Sokolovskaya and Natalia Berdichevskaya (Russia) and others.
Judging by its status, the “Board” was a unique organisation throughout the Soviet Union. Thanks to the activities carried out here, the cause of translation, especially that of the translation of Western literature, has acquired somewhat rational and coordinated nature. It was the responsibility of the highly qualified philologists of the “Board” to evaluate the presented translations and select the literary works for translation into Georgian.
Having assembled the best experts of cultural world, the philologists and translators from various countries, the “Board” gradually turned into an intellectual centre, a hearth of free and democratic thinking. It became a home for cultural dialogs, i.e. the place, where representatives of different nationalities and confessions worked together. So, the dream of Otar Nodia and his followers came true.
Every year, the “Board” enjoyed the right of sending the translators to the Pitsunda All-Union Holiday Home for cultural workers, where the translators were provided with the best working conditions and free rest.
Examples of this abound. For instance, a team of translators headed by Naira Gelashvili, a writer and Germanist, worked on the translation of Reiner Maria Rilke’s creative works at the Pitsunda Holiday Home in 1985-1986. They had prepared a four-volume edition of Rilke’s works for publication by 1987. However, because of subsequent political cataclysms that ended with the complete economic collapse of the republic, the activities of translators were suspended, and a great deal of translated material, including the above mentioned four-volume edition of R.M. Rilke’s creative works, remained unpublished.
In 1981-1988, the so-called “Pitsinda Seminars” organized by the “Board” were especially popular. The seminars were attended by the most progressive scientists, writers, literary men and philosophers from all over the Soviet Union at that period. Niko Chavchavadze, Guram Asatiani, Merab Mamardashvili, Givi Margvelashvili, Guram Lebanidze, Vakhushti Kotetishvili (Tbilisi), Arsen Guliga, Andrei Bitov, Bulat Okujava, Alexander Rudenko-Desnyak, Galina Kornilova, Tatiana Beck, Ala Marchenko and others (Moscow), Alexi Gogua, Bagrat Shinkuba (Sukhumi) and many other prominent figures took part in the work of “Pitsunda Seminars” at different times.
The themes of the issues discussed at the seminars were diverse: “Modern Georgian Novel”, “Modern Georgian Poetry’, “Georgian Historical Novel”, etc. In 1988, the seminar was completely dedicated to the 150th anniversary of Humboldt, therefore, to the points of linguistics.
The study and translation of the Caucasian peoples’ literature was one of the major tasks of the “Board”. The personnel of the organisation carried out intensive cooperation with the North Caucasian scientific-research institutes and prepared for publication a multivolume edition of “The North Caucasian Peoples’ Folklore”. The Project coordinator was an employee of the “Board”, a Circassian linguist. Materials in 16 languages of the North Caucasian nations had already been collected by 1985. The first volume of the Adigean Folklore in three languages, Adigean, Georgian and Russian, was ready for publication. However, the above-mentioned situation hampered the implementation of this project.
From 1978, the “Board had been editing the “Saunje” literary magazine, in which the translations of the most significant works by the Western and Oriental authors were published. In 1982, “Board” edited a literary magazine “Ritsa” in Abkhazia. From the beginning of the 1980s “Kavkasioni”, a Russian literary magazine comes out on the own initiative of the “Board”. The magazine was entirely devoted to the works of the Caucasian writers.
The fact that the “Board” came into being in the Soviet reality, can be explained by somewhat “cultural thaw” which took place in the period of Shevardnadze’s term of office. This period is marked with considerable progress in Georgian cinematography, theatre and art; this process was reflected in the sphere of translation of fiction as well.
In 1975, Mikheil Smirnoff, the last representative of the Smirnoff family started cooperation with the “Board”.
Mikheil Smirnoff lived in Tbilisi and was a grandson of Alexandra Osipovna Smirnova-Rosset, a personality well known to the Russian elite society of the 19th century.
It was confidence and liking for the personality of Otar Nodia, as well as the specificity of the Center’s activities that occasioned Mikheil Smirnoff to take this bold step. The point is that Mikheil Smirnoff dreamt of making a family museum of his two-storeyed house located at 20, Galaktioni Street in Tbilisi. The museum was suggested to be part of the Central Editorial Board for Translation of Fiction.
In 1983, Department of Literary Relations starts functioning in the building of Smirnoff’s house. The owners of the house lived in one room, and the personnel of the Centre occupied the other room. At Mikheil Smirnoff’s request, the “Board” makes every effort to achieve Smirnoff’s cherished dream and release his family house from the tenants, who had been put in the building by the Communist authorities at one time.
In 1985 Mikheil Smirnoff died. According to his last will, Mikheil Smirnoff left his property (the house and exhibits of the family museum) to the “Georgian people”, more particularly, to the “Board of Translation of Fiction and Literary Relations of Georgia”. At present, only part of the organisation, the Department of Literary Relations is functioning in the house of M. Smirnoff.
With the coming of “Perestroika”, the “Board” renewed relations with the foreign countries. The Chinese colleagues from the Peking Institute of Literature and representatives of business circles visited the Centre and having familiarized themselves with the activities of the organisation, they came out with a suggestion to establish the Centre of Chinese Culture attached to the “Board”. The employees of the “Board” were invited to Peking several times.
The extension of creative area associated with the political processes of that time nourishes the personnel of the “Board “with fresh vital energy. The staff is getting ready for self-financing. They seek the means to provide, at least, the publishing activities and not to be dependent on the state budget only, but come up against a serious obstacle on the part of the Writers’ Union of Georgia. The point was that the Union of Writers pressed towards capturing Smirnoff’s house to make it a source of revenue. At that time the Union was supported by the political grouping “Round Table – Free Georgia” headed by the former dissident, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and, as a result of their joint efforts, the organisation disintegrated. One of its offices located in the centre of Tbilisi (at 2, Dadiani Street) had been sold and a struggle started for Smirnoff’s house.
Thanks to Otar Nodia’s and his followers’ tireless and desperate struggle the building was retained and the museum was saved.
During the 1991-1992 civil war in Tbilisi, the employees of the Centre guarded the building and defended it at their own risk.
The above-mentioned processes undermined Otar Nodia’s delicate health and he died in 1993. The Georgian writer and public figure, Naira Gelashvili, came to the head of the organisation. The same year, on her own initiative and under the resolution passed by the Council of Ministers, the Centre for Cultural Relations – “Caucasian House” was
established on the basis of the former “Central Editorial Board for Translation of Fiction and Literary Relations” , which is the successor of the “Board”.
The activities of the Caucasian House, as a cultural-educational and peacekeeping centre, attract attention of the foreign, and namely, German organisations. That was a consequence of Naira Gelashvili’s relations with the German political and cultural circles and her book “Georgia – The Paradise in Ruins”, written in German and published in Berlin in 1993. The author suggests the initiative of a Caucasian house as the idea of regional integration.
In 1996, on the initiative and recommendation of Mr. Noifeld, Chief Councilor of the German Ministry of Economics, the German Society of Technical Cooperation (GTZ) provides financial assistance to a one-year cultural-educational program of the Caucasian House.
At the same time, the Heinrich Boell Foundation of Germany expresses a wish to cooperate with the Caucasian House and finances two international conferences on the problems of the Caucasus held in 1996-1997.
In 1995, Jorg Henle, a German Maecenas, who is one of the founders of the German-Dutch HORIZON Foundation, intends to publish an anthology of Georgian writers’ works in German. He suggests Naira Gelashvili to take the responsibility of the editor, who, in her turn, invites Mr. Henle to attend the All-Caucasian Conference in Georgia. Jorg Henle familiarizes himself with the activities of the Caucasian House, appreciates the work of the personnel at its true value and promises Naira Gelashvili to help.
In 1998, on Mr. Henle’s recommendation, the HORIZON Foundation carries out reconstruction and restoration of the Caucasian Houses’ damaged building. At the same period, the City Municipality rendered assistance and the remained three families were provided with housing, therefore, the entire building was released from the tenants.
In January 1998, a new long-term project “Cooperation with the Heinrich Boell Foundation” was launched at the Caucasian House. It was in 1998 as well when a cooperation of many years with the HORIZON Foundation started, and the latter finances almost all cultural-educational programs of the Caucasian House.
On 4 November 1999, a Registered Union – “Centre for Cultural Relations – “Caucasian House” was established by the staff of the budget organisation, which, with the assistance of the foreign partners, donors and some other like-minded persons carries out a number of educational, peacekeeping, general and cultural projects.
At present, the “Centre for Cultural Relations – Caucasian House” is an organisation, which actively participates in cultural and political life of Georgia. The House has undergone many severe trials. From time to time, it becomes a target of destructive forces. However, in spite of this, it remains abreast and still is the place of dialog for representatives of different cultures and religions. The Caucasian House is a micro-model of the peaceful, democratic and humane Caucasus.