Science During and After the Soviet Years

By Shelly Lesher, George Japaridze, and Revaz Shanidze

March 27, 2024

IMAGE: A memo noting the shutdown of the nuclear research reactor at the Andronikashvili Institute of Physics on December 29, 1987. (Photo: Dean Calma / IAEA)


Audio Story

Shelly Lesher continues her stay in Tbilisi, Georgia and speaks to two physicists, George Japaridze (Illia State University) and Revaz Shanidze (Tbilisi State University). They discuss what life as a physicist was like under Soviet rule and after Georgian independence. Along the way, we learn about scientists who protected nuclear material when security fled, why the Institute’s reactor was unique, and how to survive in post-Soviet times. This podcast episode is a collaboration between My Nuclear Life and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.



The transcript below may contain errors.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: First of all, what disappear was the security of the institute, of the reactor. So there was a police and police was absent. There was nobody for looking to the entrance to the reactor. So, how it was sold, the colleagues working in the institute became bodyguards of the institute [inaudible 00:00:25] and the reactor also, to save when it took a lot of time to convince government to then recreate this police, to send somebody to take responsibility because there was nobody thinking about everything.

SHELLY LESHER: Welcome to My Nuclear Life. I’m Shelly Lesher. Today we have a second episode on Georgian scientists in collaboration with the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. In the last episode, we heard from Sharona and Miriam. This episode we hear from two Georgian physicists. Giorgi Japaridz is a professor of physics at Ilia University in Tbilisi and was elected a member of the Georgian Academy of Sciences in 2013. He’s a theorist in condensed matter and worked at the Institute of Physics, which is where many of his stories take place.

Revaz Shanidze is a professor of physics at Tbilisi State University. He’s a high energy physicist who worked in Dubna during the Soviet times and at CERN after Georgia independence. Since then, he has been collaborating in many high energy projects, which span the globe. We’re going to start with why Giorgi doesn’t like administrative roles and then Revy picks up on the Soviet scientific roles. Did you purposely avoid administration?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: No, I’m better administrator. I don’t like to be… When administration is connected with science purely, still it’s possible, but when there are more obligations, and you have to deal with a big number of people, it’s not my line. For me, it’s very important to have a freedom not to communicate with a big number of people. So when you have a freedom to communicate with subgroup of people you like to communicate, you maybe have to do obligations, administrative, but you choose with whom you are in contact. But when your position obliges you to communicate with everybody who knocks on your door, for me, it’s impossible. So my system is not ready for this. So, I’m trying to avoid this, and that is a way of my attitude towards.

SHELLY LESHER: You mentioned freedom and that’s interesting. I wanted to pick up on that. What was the academic freedom like during the Soviet period when it comes to the science? Were you able to do any sort of science you wanted or was it a little bit more restrictive?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yeah, it’s a very good question because now it’s quite common to say that Soviet Union world, that was very, very bad. Of course, it was bad from the political sense of view. But from the point of view of science, it was not that bad because when I was very young, of course, we know that there is CERN and there is experiments, fundamental research there. And it was unacceptable for us, unaccessible, because it was very difficult to imagine that you are in CERN experiment. But experiments in Soviet Union, you were doing experiments and nobody was telling you what to do there, because I think they didn’t know what we are doing and they cannot advise us.

So, we are free in what we were doing, in local experiments, we are quite free. And we are drive by science because by our interests, what to do, and we even get commands that you have to do this, this, this. If you are getting commands, we are getting for our advisors, not from party members. So science was in this sense, my science, I’m thinking about particle physics. I don’t know what was in applied nuclear physics where they’re developing some nuclear devices, but in my science it was quite free. But even in Dubna, you feel the difference between the people who were working at CERN experiments, they consider themselves a level higher than we.

SHELLY LESHER: Oh, so even within the Georgian scientists or the Soviet Union?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: In Soviet Union, yes.

SHELLY LESHER: There was a hierarchy.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: I will tell you why. So in Dubna, there was a big computer, which is a mainframe computer at that time was console data corporation. United States produced computer CDC 6500 and all analysis was going on that computer, and we have to punch cards and this was blah, blah, blah. But at some period these Techtronics displays were available at Dubna, but they were occupied only by the people who were doing certain experiments and nobody was allowed to sit at these Techtronics workstations and do some work.

These people were coming and sitting, and poor others were punching cards and they were able to… And yes, Dubna has at that time two experiments at CERN or one big experiment. This was NA4, looking for the structure functions with the muon beam. And this very important physicist was there, Igor Savin, and he was working together with Carlo Rubbia, and Carlo Rubbia then became director of CERN, Nobel Prize winner, and they were doing experiment together. It was experiment NA4, and these people who were in NA4, they believe that they are more equal than other scientists in Dubna.

SHELLY LESHER: So, they were more equal to the people in the West?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yeah, you know this more equal is, I’m joking, this is from Animal Farm of George Orwell. Some are more…

SHELLY LESHER: Sorry, I missed the reference.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Some are more equal than others.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: I know a situation in other institutes also at that time as well. And he was lucky or what I was, is the freedom is a very special thing. So we were lucky being good students, as I understand, to join good teams. What does it mean, a team? So essentially, you select a field which you were interested, and if you were enough lucky to reach this group. Then of course, your freedom was determined by level of the professor or head of the department, and it never touched you. So it was sheltered by the big boss.

Of course, if you were not so successful in your career or the beginning of career in this process, were not as, let us say, important or powerful in science to shelter their collaborators, quite often penetrate through and sometimes a new examples. It was not our case, but when the administration, “You should do this,” and in many cases, this was not a very luck experience because they start to do, but sometimes there were alone people who were not enough to do, and they were lost for…

They did not get the results. I was witness of this, not my personal way, but around our colleagues when they were taken in some community, given a chance maybe to do a good thing, but were not successful. And they were lost completely because they became treated as not successful people. But in my personal case, I mentioned [inaudible 00:07:31] Institute, this was very important. So you were working here in Georgia, but the key element was the Moscow institution, which you are connected.

SHELLY LESHER: I’m sorry, let me ask, how were you connected exactly?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: It’s a history. For instance, as I understand, me and Revaz belong to the different routes, how to reach Moscow.


GEORGE JAPARIDZE: The science was located in Moscow in Soviet Union. No doubt about this. One should not say maybe a few of the scientists is some small amount were somewhere in St. Petersburg or maybe larger than St. [inaudible 00:08:07]. Power, money were located at Moscow, and in Moscow there were… Dubna is also Moscow, and there were big bosses there having fights against each other or working together. For my personal story, this was a director of our institute under [inaudible 00:08:29], whose name is now this [inaudible 00:08:31] Institute of Physics was a nuclear reactor.

Everything that has been done was done by this person, who was very close to [inaudible 00:08:40], to Kapitza first of all, to Kapitza Institute. So he was person, his early years working from I think from 1940 or 1939, the whole 10 years in the Kapitza Institute in Moscow. So he was in a very good relations with people there, particularly with [inaudible 00:09:01], with Kapitza, and his boss. Then he was taken from there to Georgia in order to create the Institute of Physics here almost in the empty place. So therefore he came here, he started to create this institute of physics and took all these links which were mentioned.

And so when he was collecting young people somewhere from the university, he was sending them to the centrals to Moscow to be trained, to study some particular techniques and so on. So developing something here plus preparing people in Moscow, in [inaudible 00:09:43] for reactor, for instance in Kapitza Institute in low temperature and so on. I could say that the reserve will continue the similar school this was [inaudible 00:09:53] on his school and his traditions, he’ll tell about this, but all was coming. So how did I appear there is a [inaudible 00:10:01] that all my bosses were connected with this school.

So essentially the training was something, this is a rule when you do some good job and it’s a reasonable job, not excellent but reasonable. You in theoretical physics particular, you were sent to Moscow and you had to tell them results. If you say they were acceptable, they will not destroyed during the first five minutes of discussion. Usually it happened also. So it is already done. So the good case was that it is already done, the bad case that it’s wrong, but even if it is already done by somebody, it means that you are not so stupid. You’re doing something interesting, but it’s not so important because it is already two days ago done by somebody. But it was-

SHELLY LESHER: That sounds horrible, I just have to say. As a physicist, that sounds horrible. It doesn’t sound pleasant to be in that conversation.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: No, it’s very tough. It’s very tough of course. And it was a very tough experience to tell them, “And what have you done?” And we were very careful, for instance, this was a very big scientist essentially, when I experienced, no, there was a excellent physicist, Larkin was his name.


GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Larkin. So the situation was he was listening you during first three, five minutes to understand what you’re doing. That he was looking that he’s sleeping almost. And during this sleepy time, he was solving your problem, particularly in a half an hour he has a solution. Then he waking up and asking some question. If your answer and his answer coincide, this was a proof that you have done something. I am not joking, I’m not inventing everything.

This was really a way how it was. So you were passing quite a substantial access exams, but this was a guarantee. If they gave you, “Okay, fine,” and this was you can accept your paper to [inaudible 00:12:07] for good journal. Then you save here also your big boss or administration never touch you. So essentially you have a right to work. But if you not very much in this safe line, then of course somebody could interfere the order. It’s common, it’s normal.

SHELLY LESHER: And then you have to go back to the village?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Village [inaudible 00:12:31], you mean?

SHELLY LESHER: Yeah, if you don’t pass the test, do you leave physics?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: It’s right. Moscow was considered the center and all the other cities and we are considered villages. It’s true.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: This is a reason why there was finally such a big delay in development of science because science was not developing equally or more equally all over the country. It was centralized. And then when the Soviet Union disappeared and all these good guys disappear in Moscow, in three months-

REVAZ SHANIDZE: They disappear in Western.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Appear in the United States. Then the central disappear and the structure of science disappears.

SHELLY LESHER: Oh, because you were connected to Moscow and once Moscow’s gone, that structure’s gone because you weren’t in Moscow.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: For us it was a little bit different because I’m not a [inaudible 00:13:27], I’m working in experimental physics and we are working big collaborations. So our work was collaborative work and there was no one person to judge because it was data and you can say, “Yeah, it’s our data, this is what we get.” So it’s not in principle theoretical work and a little bit different.

SHELLY LESHER: Well, and you were connected more to other people, you had larger collaborations, you were connected more to CERN and to Germany.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: No, in the beginning we are not… In Soviet Union, I wasn’t connected.

SHELLY LESHER: Right, that’s right.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: In Soviet Union when I was connected with Dubna, we have experiment in [inaudible 00:14:01] was the big accelerator there, and we have collaboration from East European countries. We have many from Bulgaria, from Czechia, from Poland if I remember correctly. And all these guys were working in Dubna, because Dubna is international institute and most of them we are working in Dubna, but some of them we are working in Bulgaria or Czechia. And they were coming during the collaboration meetings and usually these meetings were in Dubna or in Moscow because we have also few Moscow institutes in our collaboration.

And I agree with Giorgi that my Russian colleagues also, we are considering that there is only one place to do science in Soviet Union. And this place was Moscow. And when I tried to organize the computing center here and to analyze the data, some of them were saying, “It’s no way. You cannot do this,” but we have done it. And some of my colleagues were coming from and they were astonished, “Oh wow, this is working.” But very interesting was nineties because nineties for us it was a good period. This was a terrible period for living, but very good period for science because if you have money to survive, then it was good.

Why? Because now with Soviet Union, this Iron Curtain disappeared and CERN was open and everything was open. And at that time CERN was developing this large Hadron Collider and they need big collaboration. We were looking for the partners and Russian scientists were very good really. And they’re operating accelerators, operating very good detectors. So people from CERN came to Soviet Union to Dubna, to [inaudible 00:15:38] and asking who was interested to join the collaboration. And in principle this was a good time because they were taking everybody. And this is how we got to this collaboration. I was involved in the CMS, CMS is compact neon spectrometer at one of the big experiments at LHC, Large Hadron Collider.

And it was in 1992, so it was terrible really, living here was terrible. But the CERN was open, and CERN was paying for us. It was not paying the trip to Geneva, but we are getting, at that time it was called CERN money and it was about 4,000 Swiss francs per month. And it was quite enough to have a ticket from Moscow to Geneva, that’s only place you can fly from Soviet Union at the time was Moscow because other airports were not international airports. And unfortunately we have to also choose very cheap accommodation. Its cheapest accommodation to bring some money home. But this money was quite enough and this was excellent time, let’s say.

SHELLY LESHER: And you were able to do cutting edge science that everyone in the world wanted to do and you were at the forefront of that.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yes, yes. This was an excellent time and we are working together with European colleagues, but then Russians were also quick to realize that these guys are working and let’s make umbrella. And in Dubna, they made the Russia Dubna member state collaboration for the CMS. And because of this collaboration, I went to Dubna a second time because they told us that it’s very difficult to work in [inaudible 00:17:08] and come to Dubna. At least we have electricity, we have computers, we can work.

SHELLY LESHER: Electricity is always good when you need to run things.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yes, because here electricity was a problem also. Then I have colleagues in Dubna, I have contact with my German colleagues. And from Dubna they invited me, and this is how I started my western trip, but this was the nineties. I considered that there was very dynamic period for science, for Soviet science because it was open. So we were becoming the part of international science and we got the freedom. And this was very important. We don’t have money because in principle at the time it was we don’t understand that to do this experiment, this is money, of course you have to buy.

And collaborations means you have to put also money in this. And at the beginning, not only me, there’s also scientists who were in the charge, they were thinking, “Oh, these westerns will give up money to do experiments.” But now I’m also in the Western project and project, which it’s the European project. We are doing neutrino physics and we are building detector in the Mediterranean Sea. And this is very expensive project, but we have to pay common fund there and common fund is calculated as authors per publication.

And we are paying for one person because we don’t have enough money to pay for others. And this first person is me. So in principal situation in Georgia in this sense is not that bad. If you are paid for experiments, you can work here because now you have excellent connectivity to the internet. But we have problem of, we have very few young students, very, very few. And brightest students after they have master degree or PhD. They want to go to the better places.

SHELLY LESHER: So Giorgi, I’d like to go back to you and I’d like to ask about the nuclear reactor. Why was it built? What was the purpose? Why would a nuclear reactor be built in Georgia?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Director of the institute whom I mentioned already, [inaudible 00:19:13], he was a famous experimentalist in low temperature physics. He himself introduced all directions of physics in Georgia. This was his task. He had contributed a lot in building of low temperature physics, not only in Georgia but also in the Harkov Institute of low temperature physics because he was particularly in charge of organization of institutes which were transferred from Germany to Soviet Union after the war.

Because there was a big, big system of Soviet scientists as an Americans as well, working in the East Germany territories and taking some equipment from there or technology or knowledge. And he was involved in this process. So he was involved in creation of high level European level scientific centers. And it seems to me that he was asked by local government to do this in Georgia. And I’m sure that it was the end of forties, so it was not a time when you asked about something from your government that you can say, “No, I’m occupied by something,” when he was a person who did this well.

And of course he has the opposition already here that it’s not necessary to have a nuclear reactor. Too complicated, too serious. Has no support also in Moscow. [inaudible 00:20:53] for instance, personally was against to have built something in Georgia, but then it works his ambitious. So this was a tool to become a big boss on a Soviet scale. So have a big institute, big number of collaborators, big abilities. So he was rather ambitious guy. The similar situation I should say was with [inaudible 00:21:17]. So there were two brothers. One was in Moscow, another came to Armenia and created… So situation, story similar. So these strong, talented guys are ordered to create something out of Moscow essentially and sent to.

SHELLY LESHER: That’s a little surprising to me because I thought Moscow had to approve whatever it was you wanted to do.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: After the second World War or during the second World War, Soviet Union decided to make national academies. So National Academy of Georgia was opened, National Academy of Armenian, I think. I don’t know it was simultaneously. But if you have academy, you have to have a group of institutes which is connected to academy and they try to develop science in these regions. And that’s how this started. I think they started to take this, as Giorgi said, the best science were in Moscow and they started to take scientists which-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Transfer knowledge from Moscow. This was politics of a government.

SHELLY LESHER: And so at the time, of course if you’re going to do the best science, then you have to have a nuclear program?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: They were selecting some very strong guys who were already there and asking. So you have to go back to your homeland or home country and try to create a good school. And it works out.


GEORGE JAPARIDZE: So what we have in Armenia, what we have in Georgia, maybe in all these republics is done in that way. Some relatively young, but already quiet experienced. They were around 40 at that time.

SHELLY LESHER: Thank you for calling that young. I appreciate it.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: That is not young boys completely, but an experienced person, a trustable person who at the same time understand and there is no space for them in Moscow. This was also, it was not necessarily with National Republics. The Siberian center of academia of science was an excellent example of this type of organization. When a part of science has been taken from Moscow to [inaudible 00:23:28], for instance, to [inaudible 00:23:31] and so on, there and everywhere there were built and created important research centers. So this was a story. Money was coming from Moscow.

Support was coming from Moscow. It was not local activity. This is important just to say because it was a source of some, not a competition, but dislike between the science which is financed by local academy and part of the academy science. Mostly it was a physics which was in main part supported and financed from Moscow. So these local academic institutions were not so rich. And there was a jealousy towards institute of physics and so on. But it was done specially after the war to distribute science over the country.

I think that this was not only just a goodwill, but also understanding that when the war started and when Germans reached Moscow, the government, it became clear that if they occupy Moscow, they occupy almost everything what is in this country because everything was there. And so after the war, and they understand that one has to distribute all over the country, and that was politics. And this institute and the nuclear reactor was created as part of this politics. But on the other side, what is a problem or it turns out to be a problem that first, as it was a part of politics, it was not completely and fully calculated and understood.

There were on the way some mistakes or not proper actions to do it properly. And on the other hand, then at some stage they became tired by these institutions, which were not very productive. And in seventies already this came to a decay. So that was clear that there was a support. And then when the crisis of Soviet science started, which is the sixties essentially, the seventies, from my point of view, real problems appear already much earlier than the nineties. Then when they observed these problems, they lost interest in support of provincial sciences. And then it gave us some decay here, which finally ends with this dissolution of some disappearance of some institutes.

SHELLY LESHER: So was the reactor always built as a research reactor?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Only, but it was unique. That was the key element. What was the main idea of… That’s what I wanted to tell you. He was expert in low temperature physics, so he managed, and it was extremely expensive story to have this channels, which were called by the first stage by the liquid nitrogen and then already by liquid helium. So they were producing a huge amount of helium, which was circulating inside the reactors part and putting samples already it will radiate at the temperature of fuel [inaudible 00:26:51].

SHELLY LESHER: So what’s the benefit of that?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Because it wasn’t necessary, they were checking semiconductor devices which have been used in the cosmic parts. So it was the conditions which are in the cosmos, in rockets, which were sold that this electronics would work, how to work under the radiation, which is present there and very low temperatures.

SHELLY LESHER: So that was already in the forties that he was doing that?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Beg your pardon?

SHELLY LESHER: Was that in the 1940s, as soon as the reactor-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: No, it’s not a forties, it’s the sixties.


REVAZ SHANIDZE: Our reactor, it’s-


REVAZ SHANIDZE: It’s a sixties.

SHELLY LESHER: Okay, the reactor was built in the sixties.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: The reactor was built in ’59. So all is sixties. It’s a time when the cosmos flights started, the military flights to cosmos started, and militaries were very much interested in safety of their electronics during the flight in space, how long it works, what doesn’t happen. So they were ready to pay for, so-called low temperature radiational physics, and this was the main aim of this institute, and it was what has been done there. There were irradiation in a very special conditions of very low temperature.

SHELLY LESHER: That’s just brilliant. Having the reactor built that way with the liquid helium and the liquid nitrogen

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: For that first time it was built in a standard way, but then they add some particular line for these experiments.

SHELLY LESHER: Yeah, I had never heard of that before.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: This was a unique-

SHELLY LESHER: Yes. That’s unique.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Material science research was one of the priorities and best [inaudible 00:28:26]-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: So essentially, since this was a unique institution, it was only possible to do here. The problem was it was not enough powerful to give her any amount of radiation essentially, which could be they were trying to increase the power of station and so on. But as a tool to check low temperature, material science, radiation, physics, it was an extraordinary special institution.

SHELLY LESHER: So did you ever work in the reactor?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: No, I never worked at reactor. I was working with accelerators and in principle we benefited from this Cold War. You know that?

SHELLY LESHER: Okay, so explain why you benefited.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Why? Because there was a big competition between Soviet Union and the United States and Midwest. And when they were building accelerator, for example, for some energy, the Soviet Union was trying to build better and bigger. And this competition was last accelerator for this competition is accelerated in [inaudible 00:29:27]. And after then, maybe I don’t know why, but it was not possible to catch the west because they built much better and stronger accelerators. But at some period, this competition was good for scientists because Soviet Union always tried to not to be behind the west because it was quite…

Why Georgia, this very small country has so many particle physicists and why we have the high energy physics institute. This is the same story as Giorgi told you. Because in principle, this particle physics also started in Institute of Physics because this was the first institute in Georgia. And as I know when this in cosmic grade new particles we had found and there was strong discoveries of new particles coming from cosmos. And Soviet Union also decided to have this type of research.

As I know, I read in some books that Soviet Union announced that it’ll give money for building this cosmic ray station to the group who will show that they can do it better than others. And this group was Georgian Group. Group in Physics Institute. This group was led by George [inaudible 00:30:32]. He invented a detector, which he got the lending prize for this. This was the highest prize in Soviet Union. This was electronic detector for finding tracks of particles which are coming this. In Russia, we called it steamer chamber. In English, I don’t know. But [inaudible 00:30:49] was really well-known scientists.

And we young students, we know that we have this guy who is George [inaudible 00:30:56] and Russians gave a lot of money to Georgians to build Physics Institute in principle, to build a cosmic ray station on the mountains of [inaudible 00:31:06]. It’s in [inaudible 00:31:08]. This was very good center by Turkish border. And they developed special magnet for this with very high field and it was very difficult to imagine this. This was a huge magnet to bring this magnet on the top of the mountain. And then [inaudible 00:31:26] started experiment there. And so Georgia was quite known for this. Unfortunately he died very early, but nineties was not very good for these guys at my own team because this has a lot of copper and some guys just-


REVAZ SHANIDZE: Good. Yeah, this copper was taken and of course this-

SHELLY LESHER: Well, and doesn’t the magnet need to be cooled?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: No, it was not superconducting magnet. So it was a very large magnet with a very large volume side to put the chambers [inaudible 00:31:54] was making.

SHELLY LESHER: And so was it copper coiled?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yes. And it was a copper coil.

SHELLY LESHER: And so people would come and steal the copper-

REVAZ SHANIDZE: And when Soviet Union, it was a terrible situation here and people were trying to find money somewhere.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: It was stolen.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yeah, it was stolen. And of course this center disappeared after that. I visited the center 10 years ago together with [inaudible 00:32:16]. And even building is destroyed. Unfortunately for [inaudible 00:32:22], they also have a cosmic center on Mount Aragats and this Mount Aragats center is still working.

SHELLY LESHER: Oh, so they still have their copper?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: I don’t know what they’re doing there, but I know that this Mount Aragats is still working, but our center disappeared.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: This is in line of our discussion about difference between Georgians and Armenians. They save much better.

SHELLY LESHER: They save everything.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Much better at least, than we.

SHELLY LESHER: So with the breakup of the Soviet Union, Georgia now suddenly becomes independent pretty much overnight. Did you see this coming as scientists and you’re more in tune with the world, right? Because you have this collaboration in, you see a little bit more than the normal person. Did you see this coming, or what was your feelings when this happens?

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yeah, it’s very difficult question.

SHELLY LESHER: Okay, we don’t have to go there. We can move on.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: We were not ready for this. Clearly me, I could say even more openly. I personally was following in detail what was going on in Moscow. So my sympathies or my expectations were, hope was that of course this Gorbechev politics will change the country and the Soviet Union remain a Soviet. I was not expecting dissolution of this personal enemy.

What I wanted to see is something which will be transferred the Soviet Union in a civilized western type country. It was my experience of my personal knowledge of real situation because I was not very much involved in local things. So I had no deep understanding of how the people can feel themselves and what they want to see. For me personally, I was absolutely not ready for dissolution of Soviet Union. Of course I was not unhappy or something like this, but I was not ready. It was something which happened like a snow.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: So you understand this, our stories are personal story. So maybe if you ask somebody-

SHELLY LESHER: No, absolutely, and that’s why I ask. We can absolutely cut the question out. It’s fine.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: No, no, no. It’s a very, very nice question and I agree with Giorgi. I never believe the Soviet Union was going to disappear. It was very, very difficult to believe that this huge country will at some moment disappear. But nevertheless, we always, I don’t know Giorgi maybe agree with me. We never considered ourselves as Soviets. We always considered ourselves as Georgians, and this was dilemma.

So we agree that we are Georgians, but we physicists understand that there is also some positive things being in this large country. And if this large country will be reorganized, maybe this will be good. Also, we are scientists and we are trying to analyze things. And when this national movement starts, of course we can support by heart. They say, “Okay, Georgia is independent, is Georgia not bad?” But they were speaking, they were so populist and they have so silly ideas that it was very difficult to accept this.


SHELLY LESHER: Nationalists.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Is also unusual for us. For instance, in my feelings, my opinion was, and I do remember it quite perfectly following that, this stupid Yeltsin, he is pushing so much to come to power, he will destroy this country. This I understood, that Yeltsin, and this seems to be all right. Essentially the source of the solution was Yeltsin essentially. He wanted to be a head of Russia and they made the decisions.

But here, me and as I understand it is also [inaudible 00:36:17]. This first motion for independence was so much under the nationalistic feelings, which was for us, unusual, uncommon, not acceptable. So we were slightly careful [inaudible 00:36:32] from it. But then when finally it happened, and when I then started to think about this, of course I accept all, but I cannot say that at the first moment I was in favor of this. No, I was not ready and had no proper understanding of processes.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yeah. And listen, these nationalistic guys as populistic talks also, they were just not realistic. And of course Georgia contributed to the key of Soviet Union, but as Giorgi said, this Soviet Union indicated from the top.

SHELLY LESHER: From the top.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yeah, because you of course trying to, but it was… In strong country, it was not possible that this nationalist can bring down such a big country. But they put one brick from Soviet Union, but of course they did not destroy it. From our understanding, this was destroyed from the top. But now I think I would not like to go back because-



GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Simply we were not ready, that’s the case. We were occupied by something which was different. We were occupied by science, by collaboration, by colleagues. So look, there was two problems. First is that communism is bad or communist power is bad. And there was no doubt, everybody agree in Moscow and here. But whether it should be disappear and be dissolved is a different question. So then it transferred in the case that not communist, but Russians are bad.

This was a different for acceptance. It’s still a problem essentially in many countries, and we observe this. So then the nationalistic feelings or ideas overcome anti-communists feelings. So that was a complicated problem. So me personally, was more orientated on creation of society with less communistic power or some democratic country, but not thinking about segregation of this ethnic groups and so on. That was my opinion.

SHELLY LESHER: Well, thank you.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: It was wrong. As I understand, I have to admit that it was finally wrong. So in which sense, it seems it doesn’t work. So it is not based on the reality. So this nationalistic leaders, so this experienced politicians understood much better realities than we, but it was a mistake, but not a serious one.

SHELLY LESHER: So you mentioned a little bit about what happened to the magnet on the hill.


SHELLY LESHER: When everything crumbles, do you start worrying about what’s going to happen to all this equipment in the institute? As people start trying to figure out how they’re going to survive, and there’s this crumble of society. Do you worry about the reactor and the institute and all this valuable scientific equipment that you have and how to deal with it?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: With the reactor is typical, institute’s people. First of all, what disappear was the security of the institute, the reactor. So there was a police, and police was absent. There was nobody looking to the entrance to the reactor. So how it was sold, the colleagues working in the institute became bodyguards of the institute and the reactor also to save. And it took a lot of time to convince government to then recreate this police, to send somebody to take responsibility because there was nobody thinking about what they have.

SHELLY LESHER: So how long did it take for you to convince the government?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: No, there was no government essentially.

SHELLY LESHER: No, but how long did this-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: They were fighting with each other. They had no time to think about-

REVAZ SHANIDZE: It was a civil war in Georgia.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: It was a civil war here.

SHELLY LESHER: So how long did the scientists have to guard the reactor?


REVAZ SHANIDZE: Until [inaudible 00:40:20] was taken.


GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Around one year, essentially. So the situation was that they were getting a salary already as an addition for additional office from the institute because there was no… They became people who were sleeping there, essentially staying the whole day. So there was no work more, the reactors. They were shutting down, it was a building, but one has to be sure that nobody will come inside and will not do anything.

And so the civil war in Georgia essentially continued almost two years altogether. And before it end in somewhere in ’94, so look from ’92 to ’94. It was after three years of complete collapse. The only thing which was used, I do remember at my institute also the administration printed big signs of this radiation damage and put on all doors so that the people understood that there is radiation not to end.

SHELLY LESHER: Did the fighting come anywhere near the institute or the reactor?


SHELLY LESHER: Did the fighting for the… You said there was a civil war. Did the fighting or the-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: No, it was not fighting. Fighting is somewhere else.

SHELLY LESHER: It wasn’t fighting. It was just a political fight-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: It was a war, [inaudible 00:41:48]. There’s nothing. But there were a lot of small groups of some gangsters or robbers and so on.

SHELLY LESHER: I’m sorry, I don’t know much about Georgian history.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: So no, the question, the fight was somewhere in the west Georgia or far from here, partly was in the city, but the society was destroyed. So you could imagine that small boys from some nearest village could organize and come inside to steal something, nothing else. One of the incomes for population was that they were collecting the metals and taking them to some centers where they were weighted and they were paid for these metals.

With the case of reactor, why it was taken and sold and so on, was following because there was no support from the state to save this building, this safety of this installation. And then when the administration of the institute became tired from this fight with this government, it was ’95, so four years later. So when they only convinced them to take this [inaudible 00:43:03] of existing nuclear material.



GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Fuel to take out, because it-

SHELLY LESHER: Did the Georgians take it out themselves or did you have contacts that would come in and help you take it out?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: No, it was sold to Uzbekistan via Moscow.

SHELLY LESHER: Okay. So Moscow came and-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Okay, it was a tricky case. The Moscow had to take it.

SHELLY LESHER: Oh, because it was their reactor?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Yeah, it’s their reactor. Following agreements, they had to take all what had to be done. But there was bad political relations, they do not want you to do this. They ask a big money for this. And this was a question.

SHELLY LESHER: Oh wait, they wanted you to pay them to remove it?


SHELLY LESHER: But it’s there’s.


REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yesterday there was talk about this.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: No, there is a one special political issue. Please have into mind that this [inaudible 00:44:04] knows the part of Georgia, which is still under the Russian occupation. The train line is passing through [inaudible 00:44:14] and it is closed. Up to today, it is closed, it doesn’t work. What they asking opens this line, so let us recognize the occupation of [inaudible 00:44:25], open the train line.

We’ll come and take, but without this, we will not come because another train line was coming through Azerbaijan. It’s also for… So there was a big amount of politics, so on. Finally, they sold all, they managed to find a similar reactor in Uzbekistan who needed this through, and they took it from airplane, these people from Uzbekistan. So it’s a sad story.

SHELLY LESHER: Do you have anything you’d like people to know that we haven’t discussed yet?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: We have a hope that still sciences remain here in Georgia. Nothing else. Hope is present. How to do this, we don’t know. We think a lot. We discuss a lot. We do not have a clear solution. We have a main problem. It says that it’s very difficult to communicate with government. It’s very difficult to find the people in government who can understand you. My opinion is that they have an orthogonal brain. So they think in different way. We think in different way. And it was all the time.

So it’s not exclusion, but in a good times, this what the guys who we call big bosses were good translators of language from our language to government language. So there were guys to whom the leaders were listening and trying to understand. What is now a problem in Georgia, fortunately, the deficit of this type of people who have a chance to convince government in solutions, which are maybe even not clear for government, that it has to be done. But they do not trust everybody. Therefore, they don’t give any solution for science.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: There is also, my understanding generation problem, because scientists are still in Georgia, most of scientists are-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Experienced, old.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Old guys. And now in government, they are mostly young people and they don’t have so respect to science. In Soviet Union times, this government, they have some respect to science.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Educate [inaudible 00:46:46]-

REVAZ SHANIDZE: And these, they don’t have any respect to scientists and what we cannot do. In principle, the health of Americans was very important during these strong periods because many people disappeared. They find other jobs. As I say, some found jobs in the West, but some also were getting these grants from Soros Foundation. And Soros Foundation played in principle, very important role.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: They played a very good role for very bad years, from ’95 or ’96 to ’99, 2000, Soros foundation was supporting financially people here.

SHELLY LESHER: What is the Soros Foundation? I don’t know.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Soros has a foundation.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: George Soros, who is he?

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: He’s the main enemy of [inaudible 00:47:31].

REVAZ SHANIDZE: George Soros, he’s from Hungary. He’s a billionaire from United States who made his fortune, as we know-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Here the next door is his office.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: His office. And he has idea of open society, that society should be open. And when Soviet Union started to-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Westernization of Soviet Union.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Westernization of Soviet Union and to open society, and he made foundations in these republics. And this was called George Soros Open Society Foundation. And they paid a lot of money to scientists, to NGOs, to these things. And George Soros is still, everybody knows in Georgia, who is George Soros.

SHELLY LESHER: Well, now I do too.


GEORGE JAPARIDZE: It’s good that you don’t know.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yeah, you don’t need to know.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Don’t need it.

SHELLY LESHER: Well, but I think it’s important to understand.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yes. George Soros at some period, he was paying money for the ideas. And many people said, “Oh, he wants to steal our ideas and he’s buying our good things.” And there’s a lot of opinions about him, good and bad.

SHELLY LESHER: Well, distrust.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yes, distrust.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: He’s a Western spy.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yes, that he’s a western spy. At some moment he decided to, he closed, of course, his foundation in Russia after it’s clear that Russia is not any more interested in. He closed in foundation in many, many countries. But in Georgia, we still have the Soros Foundation.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: [inaudible 00:49:01] about here-

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Next door. But from the next year, it’ll be also closed.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Yeah. I had no idea.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Because yes, George Soros is not anymore will pay for foundation. Foundation will stay, but they have to find their own sources of financing. But last year they were giving money to the NGOs, which we are working on open society, on Westernization, democracy. And they are not giving any more money to science.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: At this period when it was tough period for scientists, this money, it was not a $500 per the whole maybe. It was not a big money, but for people at that time, it was to maintain and survive. 500 per year, not for months.

SHELLY LESHER: Oh, per year.


SHELLY LESHER: But it’s better than nothing.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yes, it’s much better than nothing.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: But it was enough for [inaudible 00:49:51] one year.


GEORGE JAPARIDZE: It was very cheap at the time, everything. So when I first came from Switzerland, from small conference where I got the money. I have a $200 in my pocket and I told my wife, “Okay, we are safe for one year. I have $200.”

SHELLY LESHER: Oh wow. In the nineties?


REVAZ SHANIDZE: As I say, CERN money was also, it was possible to leave one year if you were spending one month.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: So it was $500 was the money for one year, it was a calculate for…

REVAZ SHANIDZE: I remember it was, for example, to rent an apartment with one room. It was 10 or $20 in this range.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: Yeah, it was a different scale because then it was absolutely transition time was… Can I tell you one story before we finish?

SHELLY LESHER: Yes, of course. I’d love it.

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: To understand the way, how the life was organized here. There was a president of Soviet Academy of Science, [inaudible 00:50:51] was his name. Was [inaudible 00:50:54] Radiation, you know of this famous experiment. And I read his diary, it was published. And he was very accurately putting in this diary, everyday meetings.

It’s a very interesting day. It is somewhere fifth or 6th of January, 1952. There are only a few words. So I had visited Stalin. So Stalin ordered him to meet, point. We discuss science, point. Ministers and people around him as telling that scientists in academy are not doing anything, point. It was rather difficult to convince him that it is not so, point. But he managed to convince him.

REVAZ SHANIDZE: Yeah, because many people are doing, when scientists are sitting and writing for-

GEORGE JAPARIDZE: So somebody is coming to government and saying that they have nothing, they’re not doing anything.

SHELLY LESHER: Thank you for listening, and thank you to the Stanley Center and the Georgian scientists. Please listen to the previous episode for more stories. Visit our website, for links mentioned in our episode, our email address, and information on how to access bonus material. Until next time, I’m Shelly Lesher and this has been My Nuclear Life.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Stanley Center for Peace and Security or any other agency, institution, or partner.



Shelly Lesher
Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse (UWL)

Shelly Lesher is a Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse (UWL) where she teaches undergraduate physics and conducts nuclear research. The My Nuclear Life podcast is based on a class she taught at UWL about how physics impacts society, and society impacts physics. A version of this class was also taught as a seminar at Yale University.

George Japaridze
Academician-Secretary of the Mathematics and Physics Department, Georgian National Academy of Science

In 1975, George Japaridze graduated from the Faculty of Physics of the Tbilisi State University. Since 1975, his scientific career is connected with the Institute of Physics of the Georgian Academy of Science, where he worked his way from a PhD student to the chairman of the Science Council of the Institute. In 1978, he defended his candidate’s thesis on the topic: “Magnetic properties of one-dimensional fermionic systems. Exactly solvable models”, and in 1998 – a doctoral dissertation on the topic: “Unusual models of low-dimensional magnetism and superconductivity”. In years 1991-2015, he has been intensively collaborating with colleagues from the Institutes of Theoretical Physics of the Universities of Cologne, Fribourg (Switzerland) and Gothenburg and from the Institute of Correlated Electrons and Magnetism of the University of Augsburg and spent considerable time in European research centers. In 2001 G. Japaridze was elected as a corresponding member and in 2013 as a full member of the Georgian National Academy of Science. Since 2019, he has been the Academician-Secretary of the Mathematics and Physics Department of the Academy.

Revaz Shanidze
Associate Professor, Tbilisi State University (TSU)

Revaz Shanidze is an associate professor at the Tbilisi State University (TSU) and a member of the University Academic Council. He is a leading researcher in the High Energy Physics Institute of TSU and head of the local groups in the international KM3NeT and MPD collaborations. He is a head of research and technical programs of Kutaisi International University. He graduated from the Physics Faculty of Tbilisi State University in 1979 and completed his PhD thesis in 1990 and habilitation in 2006.


Currently, he is leading TSU groups in the international KM3NeT collaboration (a project of neutrino physics and astrophysics in the Mediterranean Sea) and MPD experiment at the NICA collider of JINR.

Revaz Shanidze’s working experience includes JINR, Russia, where he was a senior researcher in 1994-1996; CERN (1994-1997) and DESY (Zeuthen, 1996-1999), where he was an invited researcher. In 2000-2012, Revaz Shanidze was working in the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (Erlangen, Germany) and in 2012-2014 in DESY-Zeuthen (Germany).

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