Titsian Tabidze (Georgian: ტიციან ტაბიძე) (March 21, 1895 – December 16, 1937) was a Georgian poet and one of the leaders of Georgian symbolist movement. He fell victim to Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge, was arrested and executed on trumped-up charges of treason. Tabidze was a close friend of the well-known Russian writer Boris Pasternak who translated his poetry into Russian. He was commonly renowned simply as Titsian.
Tabidze was born to a Georgian Orthodox priest in the province of Imereti, western Georgia, then part of Kutais Governorate, Imperial Russia. Educated at the University of Moscow, he returned to Georgia to become one of the cofounders and main ideologues of the Blue Horns, a coterie of young Georgian symbolists founded in 1916. Later, Tabidze's combined European and Oriental trends into eclectic poetry which significantly leaned towards Futurism and Dadaism, while also paying tribute to the classics of Georgian literature, which had so notoriously been attacked by the early Blue Horns. After the establishment of Soviet rule in Georgia in 1921, he chose a conciliatory line towards the Bolshevik regime, but did not abandon his Futuristic and decadent style despite his half-hearted attempts at praising the "builders of socialism".
Tabidze was a close friend of the conspicuous Russian writer Boris Pasternak and the correspondent in his Letters to Georgian Friends. Pasternak knew Titsian as "a reserved and complicated soul, wholly attracted to the good and capable of clairvoyance and self-sacrifice." and translated his poetry into Russian.
Early in 1936, the Soviet press published several articles critical of formalism in the arts. Titsian Tabidze and several of his colleagues such as Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, Simon Chikovani, and Demna Shengelaia came under fire for their "failure to free themselves from the old traditions and forge closer contact with the people." Some writers, horrified by the emerging political purges in the Soviet Union, accepted the criticism in public recantations, but Tabidze was among those who refused to do so and even counterattacked. Foreseeing the consequences of Tabidze's defiance, Pasternak, in a sincere private letter, urged his friend to disregard the attacks on formalism: "Rely only on yourself. Dig more deeply with your drill without fear or favor, but inside yourself, inside yourself. If you do not find the people, the earth and the heaven there, then give up your search, for then there is nowhere else to search."
On October 10, 1937, Tabidze was expelled from the Union of Georgian Writers and arrested the same day. He was charged for treason and tortured in prison, naming, with bitter humor, only the 18th-century Georgian poet Besiki as an accomplice in his anti-Soviet activities. Within two months he was executed, although no announcement of this was leaked. Tabidze’s disappearance was a shock: his lifelong friend and fellow symbolist poet Paolo Iashvili, having earlier been forced to denounce several of his associates as the enemies of the people, shot himself with a hunting gun in the building of the Writers’ Union.
Tabidze’s family and friends entertained hopes that Titsian was still alive. In 1940, Pasternak, whose grief at the destruction of his Georgian friends was something he carried throughout his life, helped Tabidze’s wife Nina draft a petition on Titsian’s behalf to Lavrenty Beria. It was not until the mid-1950s, after the death of Stalin, that the truth about the poet’s fate emerged.
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- Suny, Ronald Grigor (1994), The Making of the Georgian Nation: 2nd edition, p. 272. Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-20915-3
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- Barnes, Christopher J. (2004), Boris Pasternak: A Literary Biography, p. 147. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-52073-8.