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.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Indoctrination Temptation

Tibor R. Machan

For forty some years I have been a teacher in a field rife with controversy, namely, philosophy. My specialty, political philosophy, is notorious for constant disagreements. What is justice? What are rights? What is more important, equality or liberty or order or peace, etc.? Since the ancient Greeks and before, these issues have been debated and no consensus has ever been reached. Maybe just one thing is at least widely agreed to. That is that discussions of these ideas, provided they are civil and intelligent, is very important.

Educators who take up these questions as part of their scholarship face certain challenges. One of which is to remain reasonably fair-minded when they face their students even if they are committed to certain views as against all the others. It is one thing to conclude that certain views or positions are sound, superior to others, and another to turn one’s classroom into a platform for these views. The idea of a liberal education isn’t that some expert will stand up and lay down the final word on a topic which he or she will then impart authoritatively to a captive audience in the class room. Education is more about helping or enabling, intelligently and with sufficient knowledge, one’s students to come to conclusions they themselves find reasonable, sensible, true. This, roughly, is what has come to be called the Socratic method, although there is plenty of debate about whether Socrates practiced it faithfully. (A very good book dealing with that issue is Emily Wilson, The Death of Socrates, Harvard University Press, 2007.)

But some teachers simply find it too tempting to resist become indoctrinators. This is especially so because in some many forums outside the classroom they are called upon to advocate, to promote, to defend or argue for the positions they find most convincing. And in certain disciplines, such as political philosophy, economy or theory, they are not only convinced that they have the right answer--even if that's some form of skepticism--but of the urgency to spread these ideas, to convince people of them. If you believe that some law is just or some public policy advances a basic human value, you are likely to want to share this in the hopes that the ideas will in time, sooner than later, come to influence the world. But this is a belief that competes with the commitment to refuse to use the classroom as a place where one is going to try to influence students to follow one’s way.

I am very familiar with this challenge because I do have strong political convictions and often take the podium outside school to defend them, to argue for them. And I write many essays, articles, books and so forth hoping to show readers that these ideas are worth their allegiance.

But I keep reminding myself every day that that is not why I became and was hired to be a teacher. I am not a mouthpiece for even the truest of ideas in my classrooms. Of course, now and then a student will ask about my position on some topic we are covering and I will say, “OK, this is an editorial comment, and here is where I stand. But that isn’t what we are here to study, what I happen to believe.” If my students get interested in my views, they need to find them mostly outside the classroom.

Sadly not everyone shares this commitment who takes up an academic teaching career. I recall many years ago a discussion I had with a colleague who defended his use of his classroom is a platform from which to advocate his views. He said that failing to deliver the truth to one’s students gives the impression that there is no truth and that they are free to choose when, in fact, society forces them to believe one or another thing that is wrong. And this is an attractive position. One who holds it comes off as a savior.

But is one hired to be a savior--indoctrinator--or a teacher? Are one’s students served better by being instructed to accept certain beliefs or by being urged to take up a search for the best beliefs, the trust ones?

I have always thought the latter is the better idea. But just so you know, not all of us holding teaching jobs at colleges and universities share it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

NATO, Georgia and Russia

Tibor R. Machan

Thomas Friedman of The New York Times writes that he is against expanding NATO. While he condemns the Russian government for its muscle flexing vis-à-vis the Republic of Georgia, he considers Georgia’s desire to join NATO unwise. As he recounts his and some of his allies reasoning at the time when the USSR collapsed, “It seemed to us that since we had finally brought down Soviet communism and seen the birth of democracy in Russia the most important thing to do was to help Russian democracy take root and integrate Russia into Europe. Wasn’t that why we fought the cold war — to give young Russians the same chance at freedom and integration with the West as young Czechs, Georgians and Poles? Wasn’t consolidating a democratic Russia more important than bringing the Czech Navy into NATO?”

No doubt, the desire expressed by Mr. Friedman, the famous author of The World is Flat, a very reasonable defense of globalization, is understandable and were it not for Russia’s bad history and habit of expansionism, reasonable. But, alas, as with so many millions of people across the globe, the governmental habit keeps reasserting itself and with Russia this habit includes bullying its neighbors.

Having been in Georgia twice over the last two years and having lived under the Soviet regime in Hungary in the early and mid-fifties, I was interested in Friedman’s column about Russia v. Georgia today. I, too, believe, as Friedman does, that it would be valuable to tame Russia and that perhaps expanding NATO is an obstacle toward that end.

I do not believe, however, that Friedman gives sufficient weight to how justly frightened most people near the Russians are of the Russian government and many Russians people. I believe it’s too optimistic to expect Russia to change its proclivity of wanting to be in charge of its neighbors, especially as regards their international alliances. The Russian habit of expansion via conquest and intimidation has not abated, I am afraid.

This, I believe, explains why so many of those surrounding nations look at something like NATO for protection. Are the Russians justified in regarding this a threat? Not if they think about history. But perhaps that is just the problem, they do not.
The pacifist impulse is not a strong one within the current Russian leadership which is mostly made up of but barely reformed ex-Soviets. Unless Russian leaders become less bent on physically ruling the region and firmly, credibly commit to co-existence with their vulnerable neighbors, the NATO option simply cannot be discounted. Some kind of security measure will have to be available to these countries and arguably any will irk the Russians. And Mr. Friedman, who is an educated individual concerning geo-political matters, ought to know this and provide his commentary on the recent Russian v. Georgian conflict in that light. In short, what advice does he have for leaders of countries like the Republic of Georgia given the evident aggressiveness of Russia? As it is, his exhortations in support of less concern with Russia’s tendency to bully a country its neighbors sound more like wishful thinking than sound advice.

It isn’t that Russia cannot change--the Russian people are not all adherents to the previous policy of expansionism and even those who have been can rethink matters. Many, for example, want to trade with the rest of the world rather than pick fights. But unlike after World War II, when much of the aggressive leadership of the Third Reich had been incapacitated, after the fall of the Soviet Union the people who were loyal to some more or less virulent version of Stalinism remained free to influence Russia’s domestic and foreign affairs and are still vying for power. These people continue to hope to recover the sort of political and military prominence in the region that the Soviets believe was their historic birthright.

So it is going to be necessary, at least for a while, to not only be reasonable with the Russians but also back up reasonableness with sufficient muscle. Whether NATO is the answer or something else, I am not sure. All I am sure about is that the leadership of the Republic of Georgia has good reason to want to gain protection against Russia’s current government.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Domestic & Foreign Wisdom

Tibor R. Machan

Tod Gitlin chimes in brilliantly on foreign policy for the United States of American when he writes that “For the most part, when the United States has set out, on its own and absent direct provocation, to overthrow a government, and to think that, having installed a new one, it could tinker with the effects and bring about a happy outcome, disaster has been the result. To be sure, the frequently cited counterexamples of Grenada and Panama may, to varying degrees, be conceded. But, again, unilateral American intervention has done considerably more harm than good over the past decades. It is worth revisiting this sorry lineage for a moment not because it tells the whole story of American foreign policy—it does not—but because it underscores some of the profound risks of reckless intervention.” (Todd Gitlin, “On Liberalism and Force,” World Affairs [Summer, 2008], p. 43)

Julian Gough, in turn, supplies the wisdom concerning domestic policies for a free society when he writes: “Capitalism is seen as arrogant, but that is merely the rage of Caliban* on seeing his reflection. The extraordinary thing about capitalism is its humility and refusal to judge. It will give us what we want; it will not force on us what it thinks we need. Often we are disgusted by what we discover that we want--but that reflects on us, not on the servant who brings us our fetish gear and saturated fats. It would bring us organic turnips just as happily. If we cease to desire a product, the product changes or ceases to exist. There is nothing more powerless than a corporation.” (Julian Gough, quoted in THE WEEK, 12 July 2008, p. 10.)

Detractors, such as Noami Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Metropolitan Books, 2007), argues precisely the opposite, blaming virtually all maladies in the world on free market capitalism and its champions (such as, and especially, the later Milton Friedman). Who comes out more credible in this dispute is not my task here to establish. Jonathan Chait, in The New Republic (July 30, 2008) has accomplished figuring that out brilliantly already, showing that Klein fabricated much of her evidence and besmirched the Chicago Boys utterly unfairly, relying on reams of prevarications.

My focus here is the fact that a debate such as this one can actually still be held in the better sectors of the American media. Both World Affairs and The New Republic are competent, well edited publications, with superb writers and editorial policies that bend over backwards not to violate journalistic ethics. And that, I believe, is something to rejoice about.

In the United States of America and in Great Britain there is civilized debate and disputation on vital issues of the day, the month, the year and the decade are widely circulated, with the contributors largely restrained and polite without being at all dull. This form of exploration of important human topics began back in ancient Greece and was carried on in Rome, more or less consistently, although often surrounded by overt violence and intimidation. And, of course, in many parts around the globe today discussions of such vital topics has a hard time being carried out in a civil tongue--the threat of bayonets and bombs is altogether real, should someone in the minority annoy an opponent too severely.

However, the influence of modern classical liberal ideas, especially as regards public affairs, has been to at least compartmentalize the conflicts so that where ideas are discussed, weapons are barred. The progress this exhibits must not be over nor underestimated. A few steps forward can easily be obliterated by a few backwards.

Although some genuine jewels of ideas can thus surface and have a chance of influencing public policy, there is never any guaranteed that the good one’s will triumph. But when a few precious morsels such as the two I quoted above do get some run for their money, I believe we should all cheer and make the most of it. As that saying I have quoted before put it: Notice the good and praise it! It will encourage some more good, I am willing to bet.