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  • Jerome Kocher

80. Sports and More

Standing in line at the airport I was sandwiched between two Armenians who lived and worked in Germany. The first had lived there for sixteen years and even then the German language was not easy. But he could speak English and Russian thanks to Armenian schools that mandated two foreign languages. The other Armenian wore a futbol jersey with a name on the back. Not following the sport I asked who it was. “That’s my name!” he said with pride. A recreational player but fan of FC Bayern Munich. 

This brought up the hot news topic of the day! The European Futbol Championship starts this week in the host country of Germany. Even though Georgia and Armenia are not in the EU they are eligible to play if they qualify. As he explained it, Armenia is on the outer boundary line of what is considered European leaning culture. But the Armenian team did not qualify, maybe never has. But Georgia on the other hand beat Greece to qualify for the Championship tournament. Greece was totally  embarrassed at losing to a “fringe” country, not even in the European Union. Georgia on the other hand is happy to be invited to the Big Dance. They won’t win it all, but let’s imagine if they do. Would this give them yet a better resume to become an EU member? 

Armenian Futbol Team

Are sports more important than human rights or democratic principles? Probably not. The locals here have a name for their type of democracy. They have a “democrator,” a hybrid of democracy and dictatorship. That’s because in these post Soviet Republics  there’s a tendency for one man to surprisingly be re-elected over and over again, and when he’s finished, then his son is elected. Turlmenistan would be the classic example. As far as human rights are concerned I do know from experience that pedestrians are not written into the Constitutions of the Caucasus countries. Autos will stop if you are directly in front of the car, but they will speed through a green lighted crosswalk if there is an opening. It’s like basketball. Are you willing to take a charge for the team? Except in this case there is no free throw. Another EU consideration.

Unexpectedly on the plane, a woman two rows in front of me feared she had a heart attack. The intercom asked if there was a doctor in the house. I saw one woman step up and converse in Russian with the "patient.”  The other Armenian I had talked to in line was also there. He seemed so engaged and present. I later asked him what happened. He said at 35,000 feet sometimes blood pressure can be affected. They brought out the arm cuff and took her blood pressure more than once. I said I thought I heard Armenian, Russian and German being spoken in the exchange. “Were you a translator?” He replied, "No, I was the doctor.” Wearing a T-shirt and jeans from Armenia, who would have thought that? I was embarrassed by my stereotype thinking. He should be the advocate for membership in the European Union. 

I then asked him the basic question. Did his parents miss the Soviet Union? Were they nostalgic for its Golden Era in the 60’s and 70’s? He needed no time to think and didn’t hesitate to reply. “No, my grandparents were killed by Stalin." His family was quite clear about the values and priorities of the Soviet system. All of a sudden the history of the 1930’s and “The Great Terror” were all too real, all too present. In that moment, time itself collapsed, just like the Soviet Union.

Bringing it again to the present and the heart attack situation. "Was the Russian speaking woman also a doctor." Yes, she was.  He speculated that maybe she was on the flight because people living in Germany can’t fly to Russia under the current restrictive sanctions due to the war in Ukraine. They have to fly to Armenia as an option, then transfer to Russia from there. I’m thinking, that’s one benfit of not being in the EU. Brussels can’t tell you where to fly. But I gained a newfound respect for my Armenian friend, Edgar. He was a "doctor without borders.” It happens all the time he said, referring to the phrase . . . “Is there a doctor in the house?” He had worked in trauma and emergency. He liked the German health care system because a patient could choose any doctor of their preference and the public health care system would cover it. 

But back to sports. I later was sitting with the futbol player and asked what he played in Armenia as a kid. Yes, futbol . . . but also chess, of course. Everyone learns to play chess in Armenia and Georgia. That should also go on their EU resume. Sounds pretty progressive to me. But maybe that’s why pedestrians have a lower value. They’re just pawns on the board. And cars are moving like rooks and bishops. That’s problematic. 

The European Championship starts this Friday, It's unpredictable. Will its intensity match the political earthquake from last Sunday's elections for the European Parliament which saw a surge of success for nationalist and right-leaning sentiment? Who will become the fan favorites on the field? I'm not a futbol/soccer fan, but I know where I stand.

Go Georgia!  Go Caucasus! Maybe next time, Go Armenia! They could use a little support!

Credits: All graphics are courtesy of others.

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1 Comment

Jun 13

Such engaging commentary and new-to-me perspective on these now not-so-distant countries, a real human interest point of view....

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