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Brosse Street Journal » Features:

Challenges and Aspirations of Sopho Shevardnadze

By Nino Shonia
Brosse Street Journal
Wednesday, September 14 2005
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MOSCOW -- There have been difficulties - some opportunities gained, some lost -- even for Sopho Shevardnadze, who many people believe has a life full of "everything" simply because she is a grandchild of Eduard Shevardnadze, the former president of the Republic of Georgia.

"Quite the contrary. If I come up against some obstacles in life, it will be because of my name," she says. "There were situations in my life when all doors were open, but it isn’t the same now. I was taken for this job not because I am a Shevardnadze."

The REN-TV producer of the "Nedelia" program, Evgeni Bolomutenko, said that even in Moscow almost no one knows that the grandchild of Eduard Shevardnadze will be one of the faces of the new channel Russia Today. "She doesn’t give any interviews to anyone," said Bolomutenko. "But you can try."

Sopho Shevardnadze agreed to meet at the REN-TV offices. Russians may find it strange why and how a girl with the surname Shevardnadze will work in Russian TV, but for Sophie it seems much easier than working in Georgian TV for the Imedi channel. She said she adored working with the journalists of the Sunday night news program "Droeba" on Imedi, but it was hard for her to make reports in the Georgian language.

She hadn’t lived in Georgia since the age of 10. First she moved to France and then to the United States, where she graduated with a cinema degree from Boston University and studied in the master’s program in TV-journalism at New York University.

She worked as a producer at ABC-TV in America before returning to Georgia and going to work in for Imedi, which she describes as a warm and vivid place.

"I never met so well-disposed and witty persons as Droeba’s journalists are," she says. "They always extended a helping hand to me, especially the program producer Rusiko Tskhomelidze, from whom I always sought advise on language problems. We are friends now."

" It’s unfortunate that you can’t see her first and last reports, to see the difference between them," says Tskhomelidze. "Because of her long absence from Georgia, her native language was not so perfect to make TV reports. Besides, she was learning documentary filming in America, which is quite different from TV: different terms, different style, different lengths. So she needed to work very hard. She was hired for the job just because of her education, and she was not given any privileges because she was a Shevardnadze. Her reports were edited properly if it was necessary."

Tskhomelidze said Sopho had enormous desire to improve her skills and never took offense. Tskhomelidze emphasizes Sopho’s ability to communicate. "There was no person in the world that would be difficult for Sopho to reach," explains the producer. "She never argued and to every request she gave the same answer: ’Okay. Just give me some time.’ Even today, when she doesn’t work at Imedi, if we want to connect to someone important, we remember Sopho, for whom some things are more possible than for us. She is very purposeful and I think she would be successful anyway, even not being a Shevardnadze…but maybe on different terms."

Now the 26-year-old Shevardnadze, who moved to Moscow in January, is one of 14 journalists who will create the image for a new English-language Russian TV channel in English. The channel is scheduled to go on the air in October, and will be available in Georgia only to those who have satellites.

There is much discussion in TV circles about financing and expectations of credibility for the new channel Russia Today, but she believes that even with financing from the Kremlin, the channel can build its credibility by widely covering every interesting event in the world.

So how does she define the changes in her life? Her answer is that nothing is easy and she isn’t afraid of difficulties. She says she came to Moscow to build her "part of the world" even though not everyone in her family approves.

"My family was against it," she says with a trace of obstinacy. "I was told that if I go to Moscow, remember, you can’t relay on our countenance and forget the money assistances from us. I put enormous energy and emotion into all this… I know people would not believe it, but I really had financial problems here and after three or four months I felt regret, that maybe it would have been better not to come to Moscow.

"But my intuition suggested to me that it’s a city where I have to live."

She had set a concrete goal to return to cinema work, and started at MosFilmStudio as a production assistant. Then her friend, Russian Vogue Magazine photographer Lena Uliancova, told her that a new TV channel was looking for English language journalists. She sent them a resume and after an interview with station executives, she was hired.

Sophie has no idea how her family members will react to the changes in her life, but she says she can count on her grandfather. "He never interferes in my private life," she says. "I always had freedom from him. And what is more important for me, he always believes in my choices. He always thought that I was clever enough to make decisions independently. I always met resistance from women in my family, but my grandpa was at my side."

Sophie’s grandfather’s attitude towards the independence of his grandchildren is quite clear. "I never limited the zone of activities for my grandchildren," Eduard Shevardnadze said. "They are choosing their way always independently, and if they became successful depends only on themselves and their ability, persistence and efficiency.

"Most of all, I don’t want my grandchildren to be denied any benefits because of my name. They have to count only on themselves, on their education. Of course there exists patronage today as in any other time, but I am against it, because people moving ahead by patronage never succeed seriously, especially in art."

It is obvious the former president likes to talk about Sophie. "She has no dependence on her grandfather, father or mother," explains Shevardnadze with smile, "Yes, she attends to her parents because she loves them, and I hope she doesn’t hate her grandfather (he is still smiling), but she has her way and I understand this very well, because I was like her. She is clever, she grasps everything quickly…these qualities are not rare today, but when we talk about my Sophie, I can’t resist not saying this."

He was reassured by a phone call from his friend, well-known Georgian filmmaker Otar Ioseliani, who was the subject of one of Sophie’s reports for Imedi. "What a clever grandchild you have," Ioseliani told Shevardnadze over the phone from France.

"Besides, I simply believe in her," says Shevardnadze. "Our conversations by phone are very short: ’How are your businesses going, babu? (grandpa in Georgian)?’ She says to me: ’I will never let you down, babu!’ and I know that she is very motivated and a perfectionist."

So has Georgia lost her for good? With a scarcely perceptible smile, Sophie craftily answers the awkward question:
"I am Georgian and I never wanted to be another nationality, but I like life in Russia. Maybe I miss some parts of Tbilisi, and I miss my friends, but after New York it is hard to live anywhere, even in Paris. 

To do different things every single day is really possible only in New York. But in Moscow the ability to spread your wings are the same, with the difference that if I feel nostalgia for my country, Moscow can fill it. If I go and hear "Chunga-Changa," a song from my childhood, nothing in New York could replace it."

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