Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences,
Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences,
Deocupation and restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity, in the first place means full liberation and integration of our country. For the international society it means establishment of fundamental principles of international law and universal human values in the key countries of Caucasia. Abkhazia and Abkhazians have always been in close relations with Georgia and we are united by century-old common history. Russia has numerous times attempted to distort and change this history to fit it to its evil aims.
I think problem of Abkhazia is a deadlock problem. Every offer of Georgian government is either aimed on long-term perspectives or their efficiency towards the improvement of the existing situation is doubtful. In this situation, time factor works for Russia which tries to strengthen its position in Abkhazia in several directions. I think we should write as much as possible on this issue to constantly be in the regime of seeking problem solution and realize 1: Where we made mistakes in the past and not to do the same in future 2. Realistically assess existing situation and current relationships between Georgian-Abkhazian societies; besides assess how effective government’s policy can be in the issues of conflict resolution. 3. Determine most civil and effective ways of conflict solution. Let us start with the first one.
Some media outlets have been reporting on new initiative - idea to say sorry to Abkhazian society for the mistakes Georgians made. Particularly, Human Rights Center decided to start campaign entitled “Sorry Abkhazians!” I welcome this campaign. It is never too late to say you are sorry, particularly when the mistakes were really made and Abkhazian society had a moral right to expect threat from Georgians. Another important issue is that we can show Abkhazians and Ossetians that we really acknowledge our mistakes. Why shall we apologize? For everything that caused this deadlock and isolated these two people. Long historical analyse will bring us too far. That is why it is better to start with the nearest history.
National movement of 1990ies incited ethnical nationalism. Basically it was a street action where important decisions were often made by exalted masses of people and seeking ways of negotiations was interpreted as a betrayal of your homeland. It is logical that intelligencia stood aside since it was not used to street actions and had a status of “red” intelligencia granted by the radical opposition. Slogans to abolish autonomous regions of Abkhazia, Adjara and Ossetia were first heard at these protests. This certainly planted fear of rise of ethnical nationalism among minority groups. Thus, they confronted the idea of independence of Georgia for their own security. However, all this was underway by the support of central government. Likhni meeting of March 18th of 1989 was the continuation of these developments where the Soviet government received the address of Abkhazian people that Abkhazians are subject to oppression and saving Abkhazian ethnicity from assimilation is under the question. Alongside, the protests started in Georgia against this decision which resulted in the bloody suppression by the Soviet government on April 9th. Ultimately, all Georgian forces united to support idea of independence of Georgia. But, also after April 9th significant part of Georgian society started to believe that national minorities do not support independence of Georgia and they potentially represent “fifth colony.” Thus, they became objects of harsh criticism. Any opponent of independence of Georgia was declared to be an enemy and criminal. Some slogans announced at the meetings (Georgia for Georgians; Impudence of Guests Who Turned into Hosts in Our House; He Who Does not Want to be With us Can Leave) were sufficient grounds for minorities to believe that they were facing threat in independent Georgia. Ethnonationalism in Georgia was confronted by ethnonationalism from the side of national minorities. On the light of this situation, enemy image of Georgia had been formed in Abkhazia. The bloodsheds were result of all this.
During this period, ultranationalist Zviad Gamsakhurdia came in power. The stories about Abkhazians’ non-Georgian origin were inspired by him. Articles about uniqueness of Georgian nation incited shovinism. These kinds of tendencies were also observed among minorities.
The fact is that national movement at that time could not find common language with national minorities. They made the mainest and biggest mistake that in a state like Georgia where national minorities live next to Georgians it is necessary to have careful policy to avoide conflicts. (Separatism, iridentism and etc.) Extremist nationalism is always a serious threat both for majority as well as minority. We should always remember that it is not the ethnical nationalism that we need, but liberal-civic nationalism the main principle of which would be establishing Georgian state and uniting ethnical Georgians with national minorities. If this does not happen, sovereignty and integrity of Georgia will always be under threat.
It is not full list of mistakes but the amount volume of this work does not allow me to discuss everything in details. We should also note that Abkhaz people would have never dared so much without Russia’s support.
Today, the worst thing happened. Although it seems a paradox, Russia occupied Abkhazia, carried out ethnic cleansing there and declared the territory independent. Afterwards, Russia became the real governor in Abkhazia. After the August 2008 war Russia recognized independence of Abkhazia and so called South Ossetia but as it was expected, they were not prepared for similar decision because only five states recognized independence of those regions: Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Nauru, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Although there is much difference between the conflicts in Kosovo and Abkhazian, after gaining independence, Kosovo was recognized by 56 states worldwide. It is useless to think of annulment the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence not only during Medevedev’s or Putin’s governments but even afterwards. Like it happened in Kuril Islands, whose status was never reviewed. Russian experts claim Russian civic society will never forgive it.
Despite diverse opinions of experts and public figures, apparently, Tbilisi is not interested what the real situation is in Abkhazia. While, it is urgently important for the conflict resolution to know what people think there. If we really want to gain the territory back, we should think about it. The most effective instrument could be invitation of foreign sociologists and civic institutions. Georgian society must not be nihilist about the issue and we must not expect any geo-political changes in future because it can be dangerous for Georgia.
Today, Georgian people do not have opportunity to have direct dialogue with Abkhaz people and vice versa. For the last years, certain powers purposefully misled Georgian society and avoided all kind direct dialogue with the opposite party. The negotiation process was artificially hindered. They try to convince people that peaceful talks are in deadlock while they were not launched at all. We cannot neglect the role of Abkhaz people in the conflict resolution process and furthermore, Georgian society should not share this idea.
Georgian party believes that if they recognize secessionist as regimes conflict parties, they will also recognize independence of Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia and sign agreement on non-use of force against them. Based on these reasons, Georgia leads negotiations with Russia because it broke out and escalated the conflict. I offer you to discuss the opposite hypothesis; although it is unreal, it can show alternative picture to us. Let us admit that tomorrow Russian president recognizes territorial integrity of Georgia. Logically, Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples will protest this decision and will rebel against their own ally. Abkhaz and Ossetian people act in accordance to the Russian instructions because it meets their national goals. So, why should not we negotiate with Abkhaz people directly?! Is it enough to gain Abkhazia and South Ossetia back if Russia annuls its statement about independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?! We must gain Abkhazian land back together with Abkhazian people. Today, they have this “formal” status with the support of Russia, which could guarantee their independence and equality with Georgia. Though their independence was declared only by five states. They perceive return of IDPs from Abkhazia as disaster for Abkhaz ethnicity.
More significant problem is that different approaches to the conflict solution not only restrict space for coordination, but several steps taken by the Georgian authority hinders sustainability of the process. The legal acts adopted by the government creates inconvenient environment or restricts work of NGOs on the conflict resolution. Information war against Georgian and Abkhaz peoples has been underway for many years already. The population receives extremely filtered information and mostly it is disinformation. On daily basis, the mass media releases endless lies to create enemy image of the opposite party and it seems endless. People, who do not have access to alternative source of information, unfortunately, believe this information. Only small group of people knows that most facts and events reported by TV-Companies are either completely fabricated or only small part of them is true. So called governmental TV-Channels promote dehumanization of the opposite party and polarization trends in already gapped societies. Media products, which are created by peacebuilding organizations, are not properly highlighted by media companies.
The IDP issue is moving on the back space on the background of those political games. I am seriously concerned about living conditions of internally displaced people from Abkhazia. I often read information about them in media: they receive meager social allowance from the state; they live in poor buildings; most of them are unemployed; most of them evaluate the action plan of the Ministry of Accommodation and Refugees as very awkward. They said the state cannot even hear their complaints and there are many arguments to assume that their integration into Georgian society is going on very slowly. The government plays Palestine model that is – if the government settles IDPs in normal houses and ensures their normal social conditions, they will never wish to return to Abkhazia. In accordance to Palestine model, those people should always live in poverty in order not to lose desire to return back and to attack Abkhazia in particular moment. In fact, Palestine has not resolved the conflict with Israel yet; unlike Germany, where Federal Republic of Germany decided to settle IDPs and unified.
What should be done for conflict resolution? First of all, we must launch dialogue with Abkhaz people. We should use all relevant instruments and policy to convince Abkhaz people that their fear is not grounded. In order not to neglect the role of Abkhaz people in this conflict, we should recognize Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia as conflict parties, that is directly connected with activation of civil society and NGO initiatives and to stop recrimination policy. Tagliavini Commission conclusion, which is considered by both parties as a proof of their innocence, also recommended us to recognize those regions as conflict parties; however, to my personal opinion, this document was politically correct conclusion. We must prevent all violent method of conflict resolution in future because it will farther increase gap between us and Abkhaz people. We must not allow Russia to provoke us again and involve us in brothers killing war with Abkhazia. Similar controversy must never occur again, because Russia supplied both conflict parties with armament to kill each other. We should not have illusion that international support and international stakeholders will resolve our problem. Moreover, their resources were also restricted by the local authority during the last conflict.
One of the advantages which Georgia has in gaining Abkhaz people back, is our pro-western policy. Abkhaz people are fully aware of negative impact of their relation with Russia and European integration is urgently important for them. Way to Europe via Russia is very narrow and controlled. So, Georgia can become a good locomotive for them and other north Caucasus republics to reach civilized world. But it needs reasonable strategy which Georgia does not have, unfortunately. This strategy must include cooperation with both senior political level and grass roots. This process is significantly hindered by our gloating speech with Abkhaz people, that was particularly demonstrated during President’s speech during opening ceremony of the renovated Anaklia several kilometers away from Abkhazian border.
Before 2008 we heard their statements that we should return to Abkhazia with meager casualty. 2008 war was good lesson for everybody to make relevant conclusions. However, the war initially breaks out in mind and then in conscious and finally in reality. Unfortunately, war between Georgian and Abkhaz peoples, which started years ago, still continues and it must end one day first of all in our conscious. The war is defeat.
Maybe, everybody acknowledges that both parties should compromise. Our maximum offer is: maximum autonomy which is known in the international law and politics. Besides that, the president should initiate joint free economic zone in Gali and Ochamchire, to create vice-president position with veto power and additional security guarantees. Abkhaz party does not accept this offer either and it is completely clear. They have already realized their years-long dream.
Today, the main challenge of the Georgian society to resolve the problem is to oppress the state to involve grass-root level in the implementation of foreign policy. If the foreign policy complies with the national interests, should not the latter meet the requirements of the population? Nowadays our national interests in this particular issue contradict the foreign policy. Abkhazian problem must not become challenge for the Russian-Georgian relations, whose authorities will rally their populations against each other with its rhetoric and propaganda.
The conflict, due to its complicated and complex character, cannot be resolved without active participation of all layers of the society. We need multi level diplomacy which will positively influence on the split societies in peacebuilding activities. In this case, we need content and readiness of the entire society to address to this problem because through multi-level diplomacy we cannot speak about failure of any layer because the general situation will not change then and the conflict will not be transformed on the level of separate civil groups.
On the background of current situation, the conflict is conserved/frozen. We have about 300 000 IDPs and refugees, underground peacebuilding movements and heavy criminal situation in Abkhazia. This situation is completely acceptable for Russia because they can fully control Abkhazia and influence inner and external policies of Georgia.
The article was initially published on http://socium.ge
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