Saturday, August 23, 2008

Georgia versus Russia: A Georgian Voice

By Gia Jandieri*

Unfortunately the Republic of Georgia has become a sticking point again. In 1989 the murder of 21 peaceful protesters in the streets of Tbilisi played a serious role for a political collapse of the Soviet Union. That time the Soviet government was weakened and restricted by the international press. After some resistance it surrendered and declined its positions so far that in two years it collapsed. Then everybody was so happy with the event that no one mentioned Russia’s new efforts to rebuild the empire--Russia successfully and brutally implemented progressive conflicts in the Caucasus and Moldova and increased aggression towards of all ex-Soviet countries.

I personally participated in the movement for independence of Georgia (joined it at the late stage in 1980s) and clearly remember the little attention by the West to disastrous events unfolding in Georgia at that time. The deal was that the Soviets and their western counterparts admitted Baltic republics and the whole Eastern Europe to leave the Soviet bloc but the destiny of other republics of SU was to stay under the influence or even as a part of the empire.

We Georgians made a huge effort to convince everybody that this deal was not right and fair. I must admit that most of the other nations in the Soviet Union bloc then were less interested in independence than were the Georgians but received it as granted by Russia. Georgia made a great job to prove it deserved freedom. This fact was unsettling and uncomfortable for many Russians. The nations aspiring to and demanding freedom from the Soviet Union were understood by many Russians as enemies of the Russian people. To punish these nations Russian KGB and military forces organized several provocations and masterminded the conflicts, as well as directed them. Conflicts in Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were very good examples of the new ways Russia was using so as to pursue its interests. They openly supported the separatist movements in the regions, equipped and trained them enough to resist Georgia for a while and finally used Russian military forces for implementing "peacekeeping".

There is no doubt that Georgian authorities made many mistakes back then and we, [the] population of Georgia, suffered from these mistakes ourselves in a drastic way. Unfortunately our mistakes and very strong propaganda from the Russian authorities made us hardly trustworthy in the eyes of Abkhaz and Ossetians. Later in time these frozen conflicts in Georgia were certainly not in line of free market reforms Georgia was implementing. Georgia is open to anybody to come and live and work without restrictions and the freedoms of any person, with any ethnic origin or nationality, is equally protected as that of ethnically Georgians.

The core of the problem regrettably lay not only in the propaganda and skillful provocation activities of Russia, and not in the past mistakes of Georgian side, but it was in the passive role of the West itself:

- who ignored all clear signals of revival of the Russian authoritarianism and tyranny. I personally attended several meetings where Russian liberals (libertarians) were trying to warn everybody about the increasing powers of the Russian authorities and a[bout the] new threat developing as a consequence. Unfortunately nobody took this into account seriously except Georgians.
- who was ready to doze in the smell of oil and gas;
- who tried to close eyes on hundreds of provocations, shootings, bombings of Georgian territory, economic blockade, cutting of energy supply and many more aggressive actions from the side of Russian authorities.
- who ignored the fact that it was Georgian nation demanding NATO membership not its government and this was due to feeling very unsafe and vulnerable.

NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008 requested from Georgians to resolve these frozen conflicts and in exchange promised open doors for it to join the alliance. Regrettably this was understood by Russian authorities in the opposite way--blow up conflicts or Georgia will join the NATO they decided. The competition was open and as a consequence we now face a much bigger problem.

Some defend Ossetians and Abkhazians in their separatist movement. I am sure Russians can easily bribe them with their oil money as they used to for them to forget about Beslan where they killed 300 children at school or in Chechnia, where they killed tens of thousands of children deliberately targeting schools and kindergartens. Irony is that Russians will come (they are already there--all the authorities of the region before the war were KGB people) and end up totally with their imagined paradise.

Abkhaz can forget about us and the centuries we lived together without violence and in friendship (before Russia) if they wish to, but their problem of self-identification will remain. Unfortunately in the hands of Russians they have almost lost their traditions and culture, speaking mostly in Russian and educated in Russian. This "paradise" can be extended by implementing a political system of apartheid; without this Abkhaz, who remain in minority even after ethnic cleansing of Georgians, will not be able to control the situation. They of course don't consider allowing Georgians to return and participate in referendums and elections, but the reality is that, with refugees back or not, they know they would lose all referendums and elections to separate from Georgia. So what they have been doing instead? Selling houses of Georgian refugees to Russians is one of the solutions.

The sad thing is that South Ossetians and Abkkhaz are very mistaken if they think that Russia cares about them; what it care about is to have Georgia and effectively the whole Caucasus under their control; they care about Caspian oil and gas and how to control its flow to Europe. Who cares about people and innocent children? Definitely Russia isn’t bothered about individuals--Death solves all problems--no man, no problem.

The same way we tell Ossetians and Abkhaz, we can tell the world--don't believe in Russian propaganda, they will not be satisfied with just Georgia, they will go much further. This is the time--we will either stop them now or never!

And lastly--we are not trying to disturb the world as some regrettably see Georgian actions but we are trying to survive the catastrophe and warn others about it too. To think that Georgians need any conflict with Russia is simply madness.
*Tibor Machan has asked Gia Jandieri, a free market economist, the vice-president of a think-tank New Economic School in Tbilisi, Georgia, for this exclusive report, to be published where his columns appear.

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