NINO KAKHISHVILI, Netgazeti
After the resolution of the Karabakh conflict by Azerbaijan, the Georgian society has expressed a feeling, especially in social networks, that a war could be a possible resolution of territorial conflicts. Despite the fact that the political elite of Georgia talks about resolving the territorial integrity in a uniquely peaceful way, we tried to find out what visions the political parties have and what conflict resolution strategies they offer to the voters for the 2024 parliamentary elections.
Speaking about the issue of resolving conflicts and restoring territorial integrity, according to the explanation of the "Lelo" party, despite the fact that, as of today, Georgia exists in an environment containing continuous occupation by Russia and external threats to its territorial integrity and sovereignty, there is no alternative to peaceful coexistence with the Abkhazian and Ossetian population; and that it is necessary to understand the past in relationship with them and start the process of reconciliation.
As for the political priorities of the party, unlike other parties, "Lelo" presents them thematically.
Lana Galdava, the parliamentary secretary of the "Lelo for Georgia" party, has spoken about these priorities with Netgazeti.
"This is the refinement of the state strategy for the restoration of territorial integrity, reaching a broad political consensus on it and ensuring the inheritance of the state policy; maintaining a policy of non-recognition by the democratic world; establishment of rational state approaches in society and overcoming stereotypes, without which future reconciliation will be impossible; To create a better alternative for education, employment and success for the people living in the occupied regions than what the occupier Russia offers. Among them, increasing their access to opportunities arising as a result of association with the European Union and visa liberalization; To create as many formats of thematic dialogue with Abkhazians and Ossetians as possible without affecting the "Geneva format".
Furthermore, as Galdava says, it is important to strengthen the population living along the occupation lines, which means not only taking care of them from the security point of view, but also in terms of educational, health, social and agricultural direction, etc., to provide the firm and continuous state support and care; To encourage trade and business relations of citizens living beyond the occupation lines.
"The renewal of large-scale international projects related to the port of Anaklia and the city of Anaklia is worth mentioning separately, which is the most important platform for making a breakthrough in Georgian-Abkhazian relations. Abkhazians and Ossetians should be given the opportunity to participate in all major infrastructure projects. It is paramount to take such steps that cannot be prevented by the occupier and which will be a clear demonstration of the unwavering state policy of unification. Such a step is the state care for the second state language of Georgia - Abkhazian. For example, central government bodies will be tasked with distributing important official documentation and information in the Abkhazian language. To facilitate the translation of literary works into the Abkhazian language".
Also, the representative of the party considers the strengthening of the non-recognition policy in the international arena and the restoration of trust between the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian communities to be of the utmost significance.
As Lana Galdava says, "Lelo" will create such status-neutral formats of Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian direct dialogue, which will provide needs-oriented conversation on culture, education, ecology and health issues;
In addition, according to her, among the priorities of the party is the creation of various communication channels, in order to provide objective information about Georgia and to neutralize Russian propaganda; the communication channels that together with Abkhazia and so called South Ossetia, will cover the North Caucasus and perhaps the entire post-Soviet Russian-speaking area.
"Taking into consideration that they work in special conditions, teachers and medical staff of Gali and Akhalgori districts will be assigned a higher salary, compared to their colleagues working in the rest of Georgia. The ethnic Georgian population of Gali and Akhalgori, as well as other groups living in the occupied territories, will benefit from free medical services; Also, care for the second state language - Abkhazian will be reinforced. For security purposes, a video surveillance system will be installed along the occupation lines", - explains the representative of the "Lelo" party.
European Georgia party
The "European Georgia" party claims that, first of all, the party does not see the occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region as ethnic conflicts.
"Georgia's task is to change the status quo, which Russia started concreting 30 years ago and according to which the occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali is the result of ethnic conflicts. Recognizing Russian aggression in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region as ethnic conflicts was Russia's strategic task in order to play the role of a mediator during active hostilities and manage it in such a way as to accelerate military success. And after the active phase, it officially received a peaceful status and with this status continued to shake and destabilize the Georgian sovereignty", party chairman Giga Bokeria told Netgazeti.
However, according to his own statement, this does not mean that someone denies the conflict between different communities on the ground or downplays its importance, but, according to Bokeria, focusing on the intra-ethnic conflict is the same as if someone were to talk today, apart from Russian propaganda, that the problems in Ukraine are due to the incompatibility between the ethnically Russian or Russian-speaking population and the rest of the citizens.
"When we talk about war and military aggression, the main subject is the one whose war machine carried out the aggression, the one who controlled the military operations against Georgia, the one who decided the fate of the war with the regular army, the one who planned and carried out the one-year bloody campaign in Abkhazia and committed the genocide against Georgians. Largely due to the international situation, it was impossible for us to change the status quo established 30 years ago, but today, after the ongoing full-scale aggression in Ukraine, international opinion has turned in the right direction, Western societies have begun to adequately assess Russia's revisionist, aggressive policy, its role and its crimes.”
"European Georgia", as Bokeria states, considers this shift as a window of opportunity to restore the historical truth and assess Russia's role in the Abkhazian conflict, which will remove the basis of the "ethnic conflict" version and make it clear to both the Georgian and the international community that it was a full-scale war between Russia and Georgia, where Russia committed crimes against humanity and organized a deliberate, planned genocide of the Georgian people in order to achieve its own geopolitical goals and to make the western integration and complete sovereignty of Georgia impossible.
Here, Bokeria also talks about the "European Georgia" campaign called "There was Abkhazia before Bucha".
"During our campaign, we repeatedly demonstrated that the declared task of Russia and its surrogate structures in the war in Abkhazia was the destruction of ethnic Georgians. Very soon, we will take our exposition, where the role of Russia appears in a completely new and terrifying form, to the capitals of the West, and we assume that we will be able to start a discussion on this issue in the Western legislative institutions, even though we represent the opposition. The campaign has been started for a year and many international commentators and journalists who are interested in the topic of Georgia support the campaign. However, naturally, in order to achieve the final goal - to classify the "ethnic conflicts" as a Russian-Georgian war, to hold Russia accountable, to classify the crimes committed against Georgians as genocide, and to punish Russia, it is necessary to change the Ivanishvili -Putinist regime and bring a political force with this vision to power.”
As for the question about the "growth of revanchist sentiments" in Georgian society in the new geopolitical situation, Bokeria sees a negative connotation in the question.
"The desire to restore territorial integrity, the return of displaced persons expelled as a result of genocide and ethnic cleansing to their homes and the restoration of their rights is not "revanchism" in a negative sense, but a completely legitimate task for the Georgian society and the state. The fact that the geopolitical situation can increase the possibilities of this should only be evaluated positively.”
However, he believes that after the failure of Russian imperialism in Ukraine, these challenges will not be automatically resolved in Georgia.
"Even after the defeat in Ukraine, it is possible that Russia will keep its military forces in the occupied regions. In addition, the political and military infrastructure and nomenclature created by Russia on the ground and the mood of the people living there will create natural resistance to the restoration of territorial integrity".
According to Bokeria, the chances of peaceful restoration of territorial integrity for Georgia will increase only if Georgia leads this process from the position of economic, political and military strength, and in order for the country to achieve this, it is necessary to strengthen the country from an economic and military point of view and to secure solid international support.
International support, as Bokeria says, primarily means joining NATO and/or a close military alliance with the United States. Also, active diplomatic work in Georgia's neighborhood, including Turkey, and in the Western world, and presenting this conflict in a legitimate and accurate light.
"In any scenario, the final and irreversible transformation of Georgia into a Western liberal democracy shall be the most important, where every citizen or group of citizens, regardless of ethnic origin, is guaranteed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is an equal co-owner of our country, and where, in addition to defense, security and of foreign spheres, radical decentralization will be implemented and a clear model of regional self-governments will be established", says Bokeria.
"United National Movement”
Speaking to Netgazeti about "conflict resolution", the "United National Movement" party also excludes the existence of Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts and states that Georgia has no internal conflicts.
"This is a wrong term, a Russian narrative. Georgia has only one conflict and that is the conflict with the Russian Federation. There are no internal conflicts in Georgia. Georgia has nothing to divide either with Abkhazians or Ossetians. We have never had a problem with them. Our territories are occupied by the Russian Federation and Georgia is in a state of conflict and war with the Russian Federation. The people who live there were also included in the occupation of more than 20% of the territories. This is a very principled difference from the narrative of the Russian Dream", says Dimitri Shashkin, the party's strategic communications secretary.
As for the strategy of the United National Movement, as Shashkin explains, it is based on peace and the fact that:
"Very soon, the Russian Federation will collapse, it will have no more opportunity to continue the occupation of Georgia. It will be defeated in the war with Ukraine, and in the meantime, with peace, through negotiations, after it leaves these regions and has neither the resources nor the desire to continue the occupation, because it will be busy with internal problems, we will peacefully find a common language with Abkhazians and Ossetians".
However, until then, as the party believes, Georgia should strengthen the state, the economy and restore the state institutions that were destroyed during the rule of "Georgian Dream".
"When the United National Movement returns to power, we will have a lot of work to do, and this process will not be easy. When Russia is present in your country, you are a Russian province, and they are trying to make you a Russian province, it will never be useful for the return of Abkhazia and Ossetia. The territorial integrity of Georgia will be restored after the country restores its institutions and economy and regains the strength it had before 2012, the "Georgian Dream" will be removed and Russia will be defeated by Ukraine and will no longer have the resources and desire to occupy others territories.”
Unlike the parties listed above, the ruling party "Georgian Dream" openly talks about "conflicts" and the two main directions of Georgia's peace policy - the de-occupation of the country and the reconciliation of societies separated by conflict.
At the same time, "Georgian Dream" identifies the democratic development, stability and economic prosperity of Georgia, as well as creation of a state of European model, as one of the keys to conflict resolution.
The unresolved conflict and the current situation do not serve the interests of either Georgian, or Abkhazian, or Ossetian communities. That’s why it is necessary that the peace process acquires more dynamics. The primary interest of the Government of Georgia is peace and stability in the country and the region, which should not be identified as an attempt to stabilize the current situation.
The conflict resolution is the very precondition for sustainable peace and stability. Therefore, the policy of the Government of Georgia is aimed at taking more dynamic and effective actions, reconciliation and confidence-building, improvement of the situation of the conflict-affected communities, transformation of the current situation and, consequently, creation of a firm basis for a peaceful and full-scale resolution of the conflict,”-reads the vision of the Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civic Equality.
Former Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia's party "For Georgia" also spoke to Netgazeti about necessity of resolving conflicts "only by peaceful means".
"When we talk about restoring the territorial integrity of Georgia, it is necessary to understand three fundamental issues: First, the process must be peaceful; We cannot allow the future generations to repeat the mistakes of the past, we cannot respond to the ethnic cleansing of the 90s with the same approach in the 21st century", party representative Ketevan Bakaradze told Netgazeti.
The second issue that the party considers important is the opening of the window of opportunity, which means that Russia should no longer be the main obstacle;
The third factor is the involvement of a reliable mediator, the western partners of Georgia, which, in turn, provides for the safe return of IDPs and the implementation of further democratic, social and economic transitions.
"This, of course, does not mean that until Russia leaves the region, we will not do anything, nor that with the departure of the occupier, we will automatically forget the past and the old relations between the peoples will be restored. Reconciliation is a long and painful process, in which the involved parties, starting from the ordinary citizen and ending with the political leadership, bear the greatest responsibility, and we must start preparing for this process already".
As Bakaradze explains, the systemic, so-called functionalist approach is the only way to effectively plan a multi-level process - it is European integration at the international level while at the local level "the creation of opportunities for all citizens of Georgia should be translated into reintegration practices".
"This approach should be the main operational goal in which the people living in the occupied territory will have their place. We should understand that Abkhazians and Ossetians no longer have confidence in their puppet regimes (especially Abkhazians). They already realize that Russia is not a friend. Today, these two ethnic groups are actually facing an existential threat, both in terms of demographics and loss of identity. From the Russian side, the process of their assimilation has begun. This is already a tangible fact. Today, Abkhazians speak their native language less and less. In the general educational spaces (with the exception of the elementary classes of a few Abkhazian schools), in the higher educational institutions, the educational process is carried out in Russian, as well as the proceedings in all agencies. The key to saving the identity of the Abkhazian and Ossetian ethnic groups is in our hands, and our task is to make them understand that it is in Georgia that they have all the opportunities and conditions in order to develop, preserve their identity and participate in the construction of a common, dignified state".
At the same time, the "For Georgia" party declares that today, instead of actively working in this direction, instead of cooperating with strategic partners in Europe and the USA on the issue of conflict settlement, the Georgian government is taking completely opposite steps.
"The policy made by the ruling team means returning Georgia to Russia's orbit with limited sovereignty and without restoration of territorial integrity. Time will not work in our favor. We must start creating a mechanism for broad public involvement in the reconciliation process today. There is no precedent in the world where only politicians managed to successfully complete peace building, be they religious leaders or representatives of professional circles, everyone should participate in finding common ground with Abkhazians and Ossetians. Instead of talking about each other, talking with each other should be the main principle.”
The publication was prepared within the scope of the project - "Promoting the dialogue between Tbilisi,
Sukhumi and Tskhinvali about the restoration of trust and the reassessment of the past in the Georgian society",
which is implemented by the Human Rights Center with the support of IFA (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen)
Funding program zivik of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The views expressed in the publication may not necessarily represent the views of the donor.