An American friend of mine once said, “You have to go and speak to a man who looks like the guy in The Naked Gun. I was writing an article for the local English language newspaper and was looking for a good quote on Russian-Georgian relations, which were warmer back then.
A giant poster of Leslie Nielsen was staring at me near his room. The table was full of newspapers and some files. We became friends that day, and I cannot remember any events, articles or television reports written by me or any of my colleagues which did not feature Alika, as we all called him, or did not have some connection with him.
Rondeli became the go-to person for foreign journalists, following independence in the early 1990s. No trip to Georgia was complete without him. He was by far the country’s most popular political scientist, and one of Georgia’s leading specialists in international affairs.
Nino Ivanishvili, a veteran correspondent, who worked as a television producer for Reuters, says that Alexander Rondeli wasn’t just a unique person professionally, but also for post-Soviet journalism. He believed in the future, she said after his funeral in Tbilisi. A huge idea generator, Rondeli was all about details, and the big picture.
The day Rondeli died, social media was awash with condolences and memories from his friends, colleagues, journalists, politicians and students. Many of Rondeli’s students became well-known politicians and game changers. “He was well informed and was not afraid to criticize those in positions of power,” his long-time friend Mark Mullen said.
Rondeli’s father was Davit Rondeli, a well-regarded film producer, and scriptwriter. His 1938 film Paradise Lost is one of the most popular Georgian films ever made, framing Georgian society, its problems and its dark sides with astonishing irony. Something Alika also did.
Paradise Lost is about the two snobbish brothers, who have nothing left but their pride in being nobility, in the 19th century. They despise work and spend their entire lives partying and hunting for rich brides. The movie was set in very tough Soviet times for Georgia.
Alika hated the USSR, was a staunch supporter of European-Atlantic integration, and told us to remind ourselves every day that the Russians were occupiers.
Despite the fact that he was ill for years, I never thought I’d lose him. I called Alika almost every other day, pretending to ask him an opinion or seek out a quote. But those were excuses. I just wanted to hear his voice and learn something new.
My close friend Betsy Haskell, who also had a long and friendly relationship with him, often shared his stories and prognostications about Georgia’s future. Alika predicted crisis and failures, lies and disappointments in every political event, including war, elections, rallies and government reshufflings. He was right all the time.
Alika’s last days were the hardest. I called Betsy a month ago to take her with me to see him in the intensive care. She gathered some flowers in her garden and we went. The nurse told us to leave the flowers behind, but Alika smiled from his bed, asking us to take a picture and show him what kind of flowers we were giving him.
It was the last time I saw him. I hugged him.
Rondeli was always about people, and always thought that they were very vulnerable and hated political “dirty tricks” which could hurt Georgia’s reputation abroad and destabilize the situation at home. “If this results in turmoil, only Russia will win, while we will lose everything we have gained in the last few years,” he said.
Photograph courtesy of Helena Bedwell.