In Memory of Alexander Rondeli
US Embassy Tbilisi, Georgia
Ambassador Norland and the entire staff of the American Embassy in Tbilisi join the friends and family of Alex Rondeli in mourning the loss of this distinguished scholar of international affairs. Generations of Georgian students, researchers and diplomats, as well as their counterparts in America and around the world, have benefited from his insights, wisdom and humor. Viziareb tkvens mtsukharebas.
Diana Janse (Former Ambassador at Embassy of Sweden in Georgia)
How sad indeed, he was absolutely great. A loss for Georgia.
Stephan De Spiegeleire
Programme Director, Defence Transformation, The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies
"I just found out that Alex Rondeli passed away today. Alex was the founding father of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. I had the great honor and pleasure to spend a few months working with Alex and his wonderful and talented team in Tbilisi at GFSIS in the early 'noughties'.
To me, Alex represented the Georgian democratic intelligentsia at its very best. A few generations of Georgian foreign and security specialists were trained by this wonderfully bright, wise, generous, warm-hearted, kind person with an almost super-Georgian/-human amount of decency, modesty and integrity. He was an independent (often (also self-)critical) voice in the Shevardnadze, Saakashvili AND post-Saakashvili periods who was always willing and able to share his views and sentiments about what was really going on in his proud country in his intoxicatingly deep and gravelly voice.
One of the great educational experiences in my life that I will never forget was a long discussion I had with him some afternoon at the old GFSIS office near the Philharmonic off Rustaveli. I asked him how his feelings about Russia had changed in his lifetime. The next hour and a half, I was just spell-bound by his own personal 'Russia' story - in his early youth, his education, the time he spent in Iran, and then of course during the years after Georgian independence. To me, it was also such a powerfully striking tale of how Russian elites have squandered the amazing (latent) soft power Russia has always wielded over members of the intelligentsia in its neighbors. I really wish I would have taped that conversation. He switched effortlessly between Russian and English and spoke with an amazing blend of broad erudition, deep knowledge about Russia and the world, human passion and sincerity - a mesmerizing blend that I have rarely encountered in my life and that probably made him one of the most universally loved and admired Georgians of his generation.
We of course all encounter people in our lives after whose image we want to mirror ourselves - as both professionals and as human beings. The GFSIS website today hosts a touching memorial to Alex' legacy. "It is a great loss for the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, civil society of Georgia, international community based in Georgia, many Georgians currently being abroad, Tbilisi State University as well as his family. We cannot say in words what he has done for young generation of professionals who were educated by him during decades of his pedagogical activity in different institutions. We think we lost him but we did not lose him as a model in our life." Alex would have felt uncomfortable with that praise. But I am convinced it actually sells him short, and that we also have to add to that list the countless peoples from outside of Georgia - in the US, in Europe, in Iran AND (I hope) in Russia - whose lives and professions he so profoundly touched. Thank you Alex. And rest in peace... "
Centre for European and North Atlantic Affairs's
We lost a great friend, an amazing personality and brilliant mind... he was a permanent source of inspiration, talks with him were always enriching and eye-opening.. I have learned to perceive Georgia through his eyes and will never forget that prism... besides his incredible knowledge and experience he was a charming person, a real gentleman, one of the last Grandseigneurs. Alexander, rest in peace.
Alex Rondeli was a great patriot and true friend. He put his country on the map, educated a generation. Rest in Peace.
Very sad news indeed. Alex Rondeli was a figure of great intelligence, dignity and charm and a mischievous wit
Very sad to hear that Alexander Rondeli passed away. Great loss for Georgia. Loved to listen to his stories.
Hugely sad. Alex Rondeli was one of the wisest and most interesting people I met anywhere.
RIP dear friend and great man Alex Rondeli. Very sad day for Georgia, the region and all those who have ever crossed your brilliant mind.
I've never met a freedom-loving, Atlanticist diplomat or political leader in Georgia who wasn't taught by Alex Rondeli. A good man. RIP.
Sad news.We say goodbye to a legend today. RIP to Dr. Alexander Rondeli, diplomat, teacher, friend & Director of GFSIS City of London, London, United Kingdom
Director and Senior associate, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment
Rumer, a former national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council, is a senior associate and the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program.
It was hard to meet Alex Rondeli and not become his friend. It was also hard to spend time with him and not learn from him. Scholar, teacher, diplomat, builder of institutions. Man of peace. Citizen. Georgian patriot. A big man with a big heart and big intellect from a small country. Professor Rondeli was all that and a lot more. He leaves a big legacy and a big void in the hearts of many. The dean of Georgian political scientists and scholars of international relations, Alex could explain his country, the Caucasus, and the entire post-Soviet world with a rare combination of passion and realism. He knew—and would say it freely—that the transition from the Soviet past would be measured in decades rather than years, that the obstacles would be many, and that progress would come from durable institutions rather than powerful personalities. He more than knew it—he acted on it. He founded GFSIS—the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. He worked hard to build independent scholarship and public policy analysis, to establish them as durable institutions in Georgian public life. It is his gift to his beloved Georgia. In an age when politics is often dominated by young men in a hurry, his vision, his wisdom and his sense of humor will be missed. Rest in peace, Alex.
Thomas de Waal
Senior associate, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment.
De Waal is specializing primarily in the South Caucasus region comprising Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia and their breakaway territories as well as the wider Black Sea region.
Georgia of the 1990s was a much less diverse place than today, it had only a few fixtures and "must visits." One of them was the office of Alexander Rondeli. He was a diplomat, scholar and thinker. He was always generous in finding time for visiting journalists, some of them quite junior, and putting them right about Georgian history and contemporary politics, with insight, humor and good quotations. He was a kind of honorary host to Georgia in its darkest period, demonstrating its best side even as the country was in perpetual turbulence and crisis.
Alex eventually made his biggest commitment to his country by founding Georgia's first serious think-tank, GFSIS. He was a patriot in the best sense of the word, being on good terms with successive governments, but never afraid of criticizing them. He had friendly but critical words for both Eduard Shevardnadze, to whom he was a foreign policy adviser, and Mikheil Saakashvili.
Alex was also more than that. In post-Soviet Georgia, a poor, chaotic country he pulled off the feat of not complaining about his lot or competing with his peers. He was, in short, a gentleman. He also had a great sense of humor, delivering jokes in his incomparable deep gravelly voice that could have given him a career in the theater.
He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed.
George E. (Gerry) Hudson
Professor of Political Science, Emeritus
Lecturer, Department of Political Science and Faculty Associate, Mershon Center for International Security Studies
The Ohio State University
For Alex Rondeli: Remembrances
June 16, 2015
I met Alex Rondeli in May, 2009, at his office at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, having been introduced by his long-time friend, Professor Olga Medvedkov. I had read about Alex for a number of years, thanks mainly to the frequent citations to his views in The New York Times. I was already a fan, so it was a great pleasure to become acquainted. Over the next couple of weeks, he invited me to some lectures at GFSIS. We also attended a number of dinners together, where he held forth on his views of Georgia, Russia, and the U.S. As I was to discover, Alex loved his professional life, his administration of GFSIS, and his dinners out. I am happy to say that we became friends quickly.
When I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to teach at Tbilisi State University and conduct research in Georgia in 2010-11, I received strong support from Alex as part of my application documents. I received the grant and spent a wonderful 5 months in Tbilisi. At GFSIS, I attended many presentations, met Georgian diplomats and other former foreign policy officials, participated in two panels, and gave a talk. One basic thing became clear about Alex Rondeli: even though he may not agree with one’s point of view (and there were some cases where we did not agree), he was always interested in hearing and discussing other perspectives, even while he held some passionate opinions. I learned much from him about Georgian perspectives on foreign policy, especially relations with Russia. During those 5 months we had many occasions to socialize over long and wonderful meals. He took my wife and me out to dinner at a hilltop restaurant, accessible only by funicular. What joy he brought to his life! The last meal I had as a Fulbright Scholar was with him and friends on the eve of my departure. This generous man presented me with a painting of the cliffs by the Mtkvari River in Tbilisi. I shall always treasure it.
A final visit to Tbilisi with undergraduate students in the summer of 2012 showed Alex to be as open and generous as before, inviting the students to GFSIS for lectures and even meeting them at a restaurant on the night of their departure from Tbilisi. He spent most of the time that evening talking to students and listening to their views. He obviously enjoyed them. This was the last time I saw Alex and it showed him in yet another role: the teacher.
It is with great sadness that I write this note for an outstanding professional, teacher and bon vivant. I will miss him very much.
Prof. Karina Vamling
Professor of Caucasus Studies
Faculty of Culture and Society
Dr. Märta-Lisa Magnusson
Caucasus Studies: http://blogg.mah.se/caucasusstudies/
The saddening news have reached us that Prof. Alexander Rondeli has passed away. We would like to convey our condoleances to you, his close colleagues and co-workers, and to his friends and family.
We have lost a beacon for scholars on the Caucasus internationally, a highly esteemed colleague, and a dear friend of Caucasus Studies at Malmö University, Sweden.
Eulogy for Alex Rondeli
15 June, 2015
For twenty five years since Georgia became independent when people from North America, Western Europe, and around the world would visit Tbilisi, they would often be taken to see Alex Rondeli very early on in their visit. He was often the very first meeting, and no visit was complete without seeing him. I met him a few days after I arrived in Georgia in 1997. The reasons why seeing him was so important help explain why he was such a great man, and his death is such a great loss for the nation and for the many people around the world that care deeply about Georgia.
Often the people taking these internationals to see him were his former students. In the very dark period when Tbilisi State University was disassembled and sold by its leadership to ambitious parents, Rondeli built and protected a small but beautiful island of real education amid the sloth and corruption. He would oversee admissions and held high expectations of work and participation. His students are a list of the most able and insightful leaders in Georgia. After he had his first heart attack, I remember sitting with a group of influential internationals and one of them said that him getting good medical care was more important for Georgia than all of the work we were doing combined. We all agreed that he is the most important educational figure in Georgia in the last century. Although his former students love him and are as a group one of the main conduits through which the world knows Georgia, his work in education is not the reason we were always taken to see him.
He was an expert on Iran and spoke fluent Farsi although few people knew of this expertise or talked to him about it. It gave him a unique view. While so many people tended to see Georgia as a football kicked between Russia and the West (whatever that is), his view was different. Understanding Iran, Georgia's giant ancient neighbor that was neither the West nor Russia, he could clearly see Georgia as a small, delicate independent nation and state that should look carefully around its neighborhood, asses its interests and act accordingly. He personified the famous quote by the American intellectual Adlai Stevenson, "Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." So many of the loudest patriots are the ones that can least understand or imagine Georgia's independence. Very early on, he recognized it, understood it, and dedicated his life to protecting it. But that is not why we were taken to see him.
He didn't care about money. So often in in Georgia there are discussions of intelligencia and it is usually said with contempt. And there are certainly many people who through connections and not much else benefited from the Soviet system and don't understand change or independence and fear both. But at the same time there is also a group of older Georgians, some times academics, intellectuals, or civil servants that for whatever reason, simply don't care about money or the things it can buy. They don't hate it, it comes and goes in their lives as it does in all of our lives. They just don't care. They are interested in other things and spend their time on those other things. This attitude of theirs has allowed them to do so much and to see so clearly. In a society with a deep preoccupation with corruption and the easy win, they can stand aside from that and live a real life as Alex did. But that is not why we were taken to see him.
He was well informed and was not afraid to criticize those in positions of power and wouldn't look over his shoulder when doing it. But his interest in the day to day politics of Georgia and the world was in how it influenced the future. He understood history well and that gave him a longer view. He looked at Georgia's future in decades and centuries not in electoral cycles. He had concerns but didn't panic because he looked at now as the beginning not the end. Maybe that came from spending so much time with young people, certainly it was a habit his students tended to take from him. But that is not why we were taken to see him.
It didn't matter who he was meeting from around the world, he would listen to their ideas, honestly answer their questions, crack jokes, toss around opinions, and imagine the future. He met everybody as an equal no matter their age, sex, status, or origin. For first time visitors especially, when we came to Georgia, knowing almost nothing, these first few meetings were important. We'd meet some people who would try to impress us, or who would lie to us, who would want things from us that we couldn't give, people who would spit venom at their enemies or perceived enemies, people who clearly didn't understand were we were coming from, all sorts of different people. Many of those meetings, particularly with politicians, would signal to us that this was a complex place full of bitterness and aggression, with more focus on animosity than solutions, that it was a very different from where we were from.
But when we would meet Alex and talk about Georgia and its place in the world, we would listen to and engage with a man so kind, so warm, so insightful, so honest. His love for Georgia and his simple certainty that Georgia was a great nation moving towards having a strong state and a place in the world that was peaceful, prosperous, and stable would stay with us. He felt like one of us, so open and clear. We trusted him and understood his vision. No matter what we talked about, when we walked away from talking to him, we didn't feel like an outsider or a visitor, we didn't feel like an object of hospitality. We felt like an equal partner in a grand project, part of a group in love with Georgia and trying to help it in any way we could. He was the one to truly connect us, to bind us tighter than any other could, an ambassador in the truest sense. And that is why we were always taken to see him. And are so so sad we can never see him again.
Dr. Fiona Hill
Senior Fellow and Director, Center on the United States and Europe
The Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20036
Dear Colleagues and Friends of Alex:
I was deeply saddened to learn that Alex had died in Tbilisi on Friday. Alex was a great man, a wonderful human being, and an intellectual mentor for so many students and scholars. This is such a loss to all of us who knew him, but especially to you who worked with him every day. His passing leaves a hole that cannot be filled. You and all his family and friends are in my thoughts and prayers. Please pass on my deepest sympathy to his beloved daughter. In sorrow,
Japan Tobacco International
I have just learned of the passing of Dr. Alexander Rondeli.
Alex was a good friend and mentor for me when I served as the first U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Georgia, 1992-95. As a new Ambassador in a new country, I needed to learn and absorb a huge amount of information and impressions. Alex was knowledgeable and inspirational and helped me, and Washington, enormously in understanding the international, political, economic and social environment in Georgia.
I will miss Alex very much. I hope my colleagues at JTI (Japan Tobacco International) in Tbilisi will continue to enjoy their close relationship with GFSIS.
Please express my deepest condolences to his family and friends, and to the citizens of Georgia who benefited from his wisdom.
Political Development Consultant at Self-employed and works for National Political Correspondent at The New York Observer
Very sad to hear of the passing of Alex Rondeli. He was an excellent scholar and good friend. He will be missed.
Dr. Dieter Boden, Ambassador (ret.)
former Special Representative of the UN SG in Georgia
former Head of the OSCE Mission in Georgia
Having known Alexi for almost 20 years I was in consternation to learn about his sudden death. We worked together on various occasions and I always appreciated his unique analytical skills, his ability to be up to the situation, his erudition. But what impressed me most of all was his personal aura of integrity and impartiality that gave an extraordinary weight to his judgment.
His death is a loss for his country and for all those who love Georgia.
Please accept my deep-felt condolences.
Turkish Policy Quarterly.
Kakha Gogolashvili. GFSIS. Senior Fellow, Director of EU Studies at the GFSIS.
In memory of Alexander Rondeli
When people like Alexander Rondeli leave the world, it becomes empty for an instant. Sights are directed towards him, but he is nowhere. This is the moment of truth, when one feels the emptiness of the world, where there is neither place for joy nor for the pain. Soon everything returns to its place, the world, which is greater than any of us, reshapes, fills in the gap and continues its existence. We accept and accommodate to this, but we all see that the world is not the same, but is different. It is not better or worse, it is just not the same world, where Alexander Rondeli was occupying such a special place, filling it with his cheerful face, lofty thoughts and with his painful affection towards the beloved homeland.
His attitude towards others has never been based on their national, ethnic or social origin, neither on their wealth or education, family ties or ideological preferences, but on the personal qualities. Because of this, he was true Georgian;
He never pretended to be a philosopher, rarely talked about the meaning of the existence and the eternity, never pried and mentioned the God openly, but conducted his life, thoughts, actions and discourse in a pleasant to the Creator way;
He was far from thinking about the material wealth. Because of this he was wealthy;
He was never seeking to deserve a favor from others. Because of this so many sympathized and adored him;
He was free from the vainglory. Has always tried to belittle himself. Because of this he was sublime and respected;
Alexander Rondeli never tried to be perceptible, that’s why he has never stayed unnoticed;
He was never infringing the freedom of others, but never tolerating unresponsiveness and indifference towards the motherland or the mankind. That’s why he was always pardoned for his straightforwardness;
„Do not be sad because the other do not know you but grieve because of your imperfection”. He achieved his perfection by choosing straight ways and went to the eternity without turning off from his road. The light has left behind him. In the light let him to dwell.
Very sad to hear that Alexander Rondeli passed away. Great loss for Georgia. Loved to listen to his stories.
Alexander Rondeli passed away. He was one of the sweetest men I have ever known.
Resident Country Director
International Republican Institute
But, anyone who knew Alex knows that the number 73 was very misleading. He had the knowledge of someone much older. And the spirit of someone much younger. Alex Rondeli was an international relations scholar and founder/president of the Georgian think tank Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS).
IRI began its partnership with GFSIS in the autumn of 2010 to carry out the “Political Party Academy”. The Academy was a yearlong, intensive program that drew participants from a broad spectrum of parties to study policy issues and solutions in-depth. During the four years we worked with GFSIS we received praise from parties and funder alike. Participants were given the rare opportunity to work in concert with other parties in the non-confrontational environment of the Academy, and Alex was always an integral part of making sure that happened. It doesn’t take someone with a deep knowledge of Georgian politics to understand how difficult this really is. Due to funding cuts we could no longer finance the Academy. However, ironically on the same day Alex passed GFSIS was awarded funding by NED to continue the program. Bittersweet day.
When the news spread of Alex’s passing it was amazing to me the number of people he influenced. Politicians, government officials (past and present), diplomats (Georgian and internationals), journalists, and civil society reps and all those young and old alike. I was reminded by a former British diplomat of a something that Alex said when explaining Russia – Georgia relations. "The Russians love Georgian food, culture, and drink. But Georgia is not a restaurant". The diplomat went on to say he used that quote whenever delegations would visit from London. One Tweet I saw that was extremely fitting was by Daniel Hamilton said “I've never met a freedom-loving, Atlanticist diplomat or political leader in Georgia who wasn't taught by Alex Rondeli. A good man. RIP.”
People like Alex don’t come around every day and those of us who had the chance to know him realize that the most. Bye Alex and thank you for all you have done for Georgia. You will be greatly missed.
Ms. Helena Bedwell
Paradise Lost http://souciant.com/2015/06/paradise-lost/
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.
Watch video interview: https://youtu.be/CVznu0U6zO8