Ossetian Abkhaz blues

Strictly speaking I should be working on my novel manuscript; those chaps from Sulakauri Publishing have been very patient with me and I keep avoiding sitting down and actually working on it at any length. And since I have the opportunity to do so now, I’ve decided to do something else. It’s funny how the mind works, ain’t it? 

Since there’s a big rally on Rustaveli today with a woman shouting angrily into a megaphone standing in front of banners with South Ossetia and Abkhazia highlighted, I’ve decided we’ll talk about Georgia’s politics today (although God knows what she’s yelling about, it could be “Chairs to mend!” for all I know). 

I had a good long chat with my mate Eduard (who is of Armenian extraction, but Georgian born and raised) about South Ossetia and Abkhazia the other day, and we came to some interesting conclusions. It’s a tricky business, and no mistake, but as it stands today both regions are historically part of Georgia, and so understandably the fact that they are unrecognised independent non-entities is a sore point for Georgian people. Eduard and I came to a decision: let them go. 

Now, this opinion has proved rather controversial amongst some (but not all) of my Georgian friends, but been rather more popular with foreigners I’ve spoken to. ‘Ah ha,’ thinks you, ‘taking the side of the foreigners now, are you? And we thought you were a patriot, you swine!’ Not a bit of it; as a lover of Georgia, its people, its culture and its history, I simply want what’s best for my country. 

You see, as things stand now, living conditions in both regions are getting close to appalling. Neither ‘republic’ is part of the Russian Federation as they had hoped to be when they seceded, and they have seemingly deteriorated into hotbeds for organised crime and corruption. 

It seems to me that Saakashvili attempting to reclaim those areas by force is a little like the British attacking Canada, or Australia, or India, yelling ‘Give it back you insolent bastards!’. Well, perhaps not quite, but a more realistic example would be if Wales or Scotland attempted to secede from the United Kingdom (which those tartan buggers look like they’re close to doing, the ungrateful blackguards). Without England, Wales and Scotland have no economy, no unified defence and virtually nothing to gain. And so it is in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (near enough, although we’re skipping over the details in fine style).

One of my main worries these days is relations with Russia, and how awful they clearly are. Letting go of both territories should (in theory, but I don’t trust those Muscovite villains) ease things up a bit, especially since this year Moscow made it abundantly clear they have no interest in thawing relations after they refused to return Georgia’s gesture of lifting visa restrictions. NATO offers no guarantees of security. Their fearful attitude of ‘Ah, well, you never know, maybe next year…’ only makes matters worse, increasing, rather than discouraging, frantic Georgian interest in their organisation and hence prompting more aggression from Moscow. It’s also slightly ironic that Georgia’s armed forces are better trained, better equipped and vastly more experienced than any troops Lativa, Estonia and Lithuania (all NATO members) can field. 

I remember when the war broke out in ’08, and America, Georgia’s greatest benefactor, ‘slammed’ the Russians, with Condoleeza Rice firmly stating, ‘We strongly condemn the actions of the Russian Federation’. Good show, Condoleeze, that’s sure to stop a few Russian tanks. I fancy if the Americans had suddenly deployed the 6th Fleet to the Black Sea, and unleashed the Marines, Army and an untold frenzy of airborne destruction, the Russians might have said ‘Oh, come on chaps, I was only joking, don’t ye know…’. But as it was, the White House looked rather pathetic after being Georgia’s greatest champion since the Rose Revolution and then dropping them like a shot and leaving it to the EU. 

Going back to NATO, I also believe if Russia suddenly felt an impulse to invade the Baltic States with a cry of ‘Tally-ho, lads!’ the last thing NATO would do is send troops in, even though the original idea was that if you attacked one NATO nation, you attacked the lot (experience shows that didn’t work, just look at the Falklands in ’82). There’d be more condemnations and stern addresses to the Press, but if you’re an Eastern European crawling from the wreckage of your home while the tanks roll by, friends and family wounded or dead, you might not take a lot of comfort from a Western politician sweating in Parliament as he stammers out a speech that he hopes will appease the panicking Lithuanian President and at the same time not anger the Russians. Come come now, I hear you say, surely that’s a bit dramatic, ain’t it? Well, not really; go and ask the refugees from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and let ’em tell you. 

So in that sense I don’t see the point in pursuing NATO membership, since it’s clearly become so stagnant and offers no true guarantee of security at all. I wonder if it was Saakashvili’s ploy all along to get NATO and then reaffirm his borders. Probably not, but you never know. 

Getting back to my opinion on it all. Letting go of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is, I believe, the best thing to do to bring them back into the fold. Georgia itself is on the rise, things are improving all the time (and I think the place is already bloody fantastic, so snooks to you, England), what with more development now being done outside of the capital, like Parliament’s imminent relocation to Kutaisi. So, as Georgia progresses, South Ossetia and Abkhazia will only get worse, especially as their Russian support is decidedly intangible, manifesting only when it suits Moscow’s need to have a slap at Tbilisi. Eventually, the Abkhaz will wistfully recall their history, how things were perhaps better when they were part of greater Georgia, and the Ossetians will remember how David Soslani, husband to Queen Tamar and defeater of the Seljuks, was himself Ossetian.

If my theory is correct then I’m sure the Georgians will accept their neighbours again. It certainly won’t be anywhere as tense as things are, say, in Australia, where our convict cousins regard the aboriginal natives as a lumbering, thieving, stupid people. Like the Irish, I suppose, but without the gaiety. 

So there you have it. My opinion on the Georgian regional crisis. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, many already do; some advocating a sudden all-out assault on both regions (quite why they think this is a good idea, it didn’t work out so well last time) and others, for reasons unknown, pushing for a continuation of the awkward status quo. Others might agree with me. I might get the Nobel Peace Prize. And then it will be King David the Builder, Tamar the Great, George the Brilliant and…me. A man can dream. Well,  if anyone is reading this, feel free to comment and leave your opinion, too. 

About tcjogden69

Former soldier, current boxing trainer/student living in Tbilisi.
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6 Responses to Ossetian Abkhaz blues

  1. athena425 says:

    Georgia “letting go” of the breakaway regions in hopes of fostering improved relations with its northern neighbor strikes me as very unlikely. Normatively speaking, it would be great. But there is just too much pride that exists, and so long as the international community continues to not recognize these entities (however passive and unhelpful that may be in real terms), it still provides enough cache to paint the Russians in a negative light internationally and extend the status quo in this conflict. In the end, the Russians have all the cards; there really isn’t much Georgia can do. Ceding the two breakaway regions though seems an unlikely scenario however.

    Ps- I enjoy your blog. Especially the mini-autobiography you posted on how you came to live here in Georgia. Really enjoyed the story!

    William

    • tcjogden69 says:

      Thank’ee kindly William, and you may be exactly right, and I could be completely wrong. It is what it is. You certainly hit the nail on the head, there is far too much pride and history that goes back with both places, but what gives me hope is that in the past relations were far better and eventually people will start remembering. You never know. Anyway, it certainly is nice talking to other well-informed foreigners on here. I’m sick and tired of having brash Yankees saying ‘Whut? You live here? No foolin’? Ah cain’t believe thet!’ or top lofty Britons looking down their noses and saying ‘Ah…yes, well…what is it that you people here do recreationally?’ (that was last week. ‘You people’, I ask you). I hope you follow my blog, I’m glad you took the time to read my ramblings and I hope you’ll enjoy the lunacy yet to come.

  2. Richard says:

    I think you mostly hit the nail on the head with your analysis of these conflicts. However, you commit a number of factual errors, and miss the wider picture in a couple of places. I also take issue with some of your analysis of the prospects for Georgia and the breakaway republics in the the near to medium-term future. Below I have are some of my main areas of disagreement:

    1. While it is true that the South Ossetians want to join their ethnic kin in the Russian Federation, the Abkhazians have never wanted anything else than full independence.

    2. Both Abkhazians and South Ossetians would beg to differ with your claim that they are “historically part of Georgia”. The Abkhaz look back to the 7th century and the Abkhazian Kingdom for their claim to statehood, and the Ossetians consider themselves heirs to the Kingdom of Alania during the 8th and 9th centuries.

    3. Yes, it is true that Abkhazia and South Ossetia were part of the Georgian state in the Middle Ages, and that the husband of queen Tamar was of Ossetian extraction and that the Abkhazians played an important part the making of Georgian statehood during this time. However, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and in modern times the policies of the Soviet Union, as well as the awakening of nationalism among the peoples of the Caucasus has complicated the relationship between Georgians, Abkhazians and Ossetians further.

    The Abkhaz and Ossetians, for their part, still remember the efforts of the Georgian Mensheviks to violently crush their national aspirations during the brief period of Georgian independence from 1918-1921, the Stalin-era, when Abkhazia was forcibly (re)incorporated into Georgia and a number of anti-Abkhazian measures were carried out by the Soviet regime, and lastly the upsurge in Georgian nationalism and intolerance towards minorities during the reign of Zviad Gamsakhudia in the early 1991s which contributed to the wars in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia during this time.

    Even without factoring in more recent events taking place under Mikhail Saakashvili, most notably the 2008 August war, the negative legacy of these historical events are not so easily erased…

    4. I think you also underestimate the extent to which Russia is willing to prop up the breakaway republics economically and diplomatically, and how much Russia has invested in them geopolitically and in terms of its own international and domestic prestige to just let them go. Russia is not likely to drop the breakaways like a hot potato unless it receives major political and geopolitical concessions from the West and Georgia, which is very unlikely at this stage.

    5. You have to remember that national identity and national feeling plays a large part in Caucasian society, perhaps more than anything else, and for this reason the Abkhazians and South Ossetians are unlikely to let themselves be “bribed” by Georgian economic progress. It is also quite doubtful whether the initiatives of the Georgian government are actually capable of sustaining the stable, long term economic growth and increase in living standards that would underline such a strategy.

    6. I am not sure if I agree with your characterisation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “hotbeds of organised crime” and other derogatory statements you make about them. I suggest you go there for a visit and talk to actual Abkhazians or South Ossetians who can tell you about their daily lives and relate their side of the story. Even though South Ossetia might not be accessible at the present moment, Abkhazia is, and it would be fully legal for you to travel there according to Georgian law provided you observe a few preconditions. As a budding student of international politics, I think this might enhance your perspective a little.

    • tcjogden69 says:

      Indeed, though I distinctly remember typing ‘we’re skipping over the details here in fine style’. I also remember writing to you about an hour ago stating this isn’t meant to be a die-hard academic essay factor. Otherwise I wouldn’t put in references to Megan Fox, Joe Calzaghe or my cloud base. But on the whole very interesting observations here, Richard. You’re very obvious an academic sort of chap, so kudos to you for that. I can’t claim to be any kind of expert on Abkhazia or South Ossetia; seeing as your Masters dissertation is focused around the place no doubt you’ll know more than I do. Perhaps when described Abkhazia and Georgia I should have said ‘historically associated’. Semantics. But I would say it’s impossible to predict how things will be eventually resolved, one way or another. I’m sure the Abkhazians rued the loss of their limited autonomy that they’d enjoyed in the Soviet Union, and I think Georgia would be very unwise to try and reassert any claim, however tenuous, on either territory in the near future. It certainly didn’t work out so well in 2008. As for my own opinion, I’d argue it’s formed by a rather different perspective than yours; your academic level of study is centered around the place, while I’ve formulated my way of thinking around having Abkhaz refugees as friends, and others who fought against them in the ’90s and again in ’08. At the end of it all, your bias will be for your Abkhaz sympathies, and mine for Georgia, if only because it’s I where I live. The possibility of another war isn’t something I’d relish for my family and friends’ sake; Hell, as far as I’m concerned Abkhazia can lay claim to the whole damned Black Sea for all I care. The main thrust of my argument in that post, having just re-read the thing, is yet another criticism of American foreign policy here in Georgia (I take it you’re a countryman of mine). Do you live in Georgia? A girlfriend, perhaps?

  3. Richard says:

    Thank you for the a nice reply!

    I don’t see myself as particularly pro-Abkhaz (I don’t have any personal connection to the place unlike you have to Georgia) but I do like to challenge what I view as skewed or distorted perceptions about Abkhazia commonly encountered in the West and in Georgia.

    As you have no doubt seen from my resume, I have been around the bloc a bit over the last decade, having lived, studied and worked in Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and more recently; Armenia.

    It was the encounter with Georgian food and drink, introduced to me by a very good Georgian friend during my studies in Moscow which first got me interested in the Caucasus.

    I arrived in Georgia first time in 2004, and have visited on average once or twice almost every year since, including living and studying or working there for shorter periods of time. I also speak Georgian to a limited degree. Although I do not currently live in Georgia (and don’t plan to go back to live there for a variety of reasons), I still visit from time to time, and since you are a long term local resident, maybe we could meet up some time?

    Cheers,
    Richard

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