Choice for Georgia: Georgian Chauvinism or Abkhazia?
Ucha Nanuashvili, Initiator of “Sorry” Campaign
Executive Director of the Human Rights Center
“Sorry” Campaign was launched in March of 2007. It is not easy to apologize as well as to accept an apology.
The aim of the Sorry Campaign is to change the dynamics and direction of the relationships that have been established between Georgians and Abkhazians during recent years. The “Sorry” Campaign is not in any way connected with politics; it is a movement against war, as we consider that there is no alternative to peaceful dialogue and mutual settlement of the conflict.
The Campaign envisages the reestablishment of confidence between Georgian and Abkhazian people and to break through the informational vacuum. We want to encourage people to think about the horrors of war and the mistakes we have made.
When you toss a pebble in the water, the circles are produced; we hope that the Sorry Campaign will serve as a pebble in solving the problem.
These words launch the website of the “Sorry” Campaign www.apsni.org. Much was written and said on this topic particularly in internet and public discussions because leading media sources (among them so-called independent ones) systematically blocked information about this campaign. Not only the Campaign but even discussion of this idea had opponents. And yet, why do we apologize to Abkhaz people? I want to clarify this issue more in order to make everybody think about those mistakes that led us to the current conditions. We have not realized our mistakes yet and still continue living in the world of myths. Georgian people live with Georgian myths and Abkhazian people with Abkhaz myths.
Dialogue Which Does not Exist
Today, Georgian society lacks the opportunity to speak with Abkhaz people directly and vice versa.
For many years certain authorities have been leading Georgian society in the wrong way and they have constantly sought and continue to seek the avoidance of direct and open dialogues between the sides of the conflict. Consequently negotiations are being artificially hindered in the process. Shevardnadze was implementing similar politics during many years; after the Rose Revolution, particularly after 2005 – Saakashvili started it. Almost all leading political and public forces simplified this idea in Georgia.
Unfortunately, politicians do their job poorly or do not do at all. Extremely complicated situation is result of their poor work; the society sacrifices its life to these mistakes. It is natural to ask: Why should our people become victim of dirty games of our politicians?
Georgian and Abkhaz peoples need only peace and dialogue. Why cannot those powers realize it who dares to represent the will of the people? Everybody admits it superficially but what is happening in reality?
Whose orders do politicians obey?
Politicians are obliged to obey the orders of the people and do their utmost to offer the people the way which will lead everybody out of this deadlock and transfer Georgian-Abkhazian relationship into a new phase. Unfortunately, most part of politicians does not express public interest; though they have appropriated the right to speak in the name of people. As a rule, public opinion is neglected. Nobody has asked people whether they wanted to start war in Abkhazia 17 years ago. Those formations, which initially raided Samegrelo and then Abkhazia, were called Georgian armed formations and acted in the name of Georgian state. Number of incidents was provoked in the name of Georgian state.
Informational vacuum and media in escalation of the conflict
Today, we Georgian and Abkhaz peoples know much more about foreign countries, than about each other. Information war has been going against Georgian and Abkhaz peoples for many years already. Population receives extremely filtered information and in most cases it is disinformation. Every day, mass media releases false information and they create image of enemy of the opposite side. It continues endlessly.
People, who cannot get alternative information, unfortunately believe the disinformation. Only few people know that most of the released TV-items are either staged or only part of it is true. It will be nice if people will think seriously before they believe the information about conflict zone. We could check only small part of the information and it was enough to get convinced that the government successfully breeds false public opinion, manipulates with the information, and does not avoid fabrication of the facts and spreading of disinformation. All abovementioned activities impact escalation of the conflict. So-called journalists actively participate in this process who, because of their poor professionalism, spread impartial information and sometimes purposefully falsify the reality and feed people with disinformation as it is ordered by the government.
Today Georgian-Abkhazian politics relies on inter-accusations. Our government applies to this method mostly before the elections. Let us recall inspiration of Khurcha incident during parliamentary elections in 2008. It must be noted that the government of Georgia does not have copyright on this incident. In February of 2008, government of Armenia used the same method to cover the falsification of elections – intensive fight started in the districts bordering with Karabakh.
We received confrontation which resulted into the violation of the rights of peaceful population. Enemy image is getting stronger and ordinary criminal facts in conflict zone are qualified like incidents committed by “Abkhaz criminals”, “Abkhaz armed formations”, “Ossetian separatists,” etc. We know the facts when for false statements made in front of TV-cameras respondents were paid. Video-recordings made in Tsalenjikha and Zugdidi districts are declared to be recorded in Gali district.
We hope soon people will be suspicious about the facts and evaluations we have heard recently. We should respect and be more attentive to each other. Georgian and Abkhaz peoples living in the conflict zone have right on development and peaceful life. Does anybody remember these people? Do we remember tens thousands people who live in this atmosphere every day?
Who are Abkhaz people for Georgian people?
It is curious how sensitive is Georgian society about Abkhaz nation and how they respect them? Are we sincere in our statement – we want to live together with Abkhaz people when we cannot understand each other at all. If Abkhaz people are guests for us who “live on our holly land and should be grateful to us because they are alive and breath fresh air”, and translation of the Bible in Abkhaz language is unacceptable for many people and if we think that Abkhaz people are Georgians in fact and Abkhaz nation does not exist at all. Maybe we should find out who burnt state archive and scientific-research institute in Sokhumi during the war. Let us confess what we have done to save Abkhaz language and culture. How much lari we have spent on it? What have we done to resolve the conflict? What does it mean that 2007 budget of the Ministry of Defense of Georgia was 1, 494 billion GEL while the budget of the administration of the State Minister for Conflict Regulation was only 610 000 GEL (approximately similar figures were in the following years)? What do we do to make Abkhazia Abkhazian and to develop their language?
In the constitution Abkhaz language is state language in Abkhazia. However, how many books were published in Abkhaz language for the last 18 years in Tbilisi? Maybe we also benefit into the rusification of Abkhazia?
Why do Abkhaz people tend to Russia?
We will not go far in this discussion because it is still clear for readers how Soviet Union and later Russian Federation worked to escalate conflicts. Eventually, our society will learn how it works today and who supports Russia to take advantage of these conflicts on local level.
Role of Soviet KGB has not been evaluated in this process and in national movement yet as well as in armed coupin 1991-1992. Why did the leaders, who supported the dialogue and problem resolution, die in obscure situations? Why did those powers develop who complicate already tense situation? There are many unanswered questions. Latest history has not been evaluated at all. Working on lustration law was suspiciously blocked and it was not accidental at all.
Maybe it is time for us to think why Abkhaz people are ready to urge Russia for help – the Russia which has fought with them in the 19th century severely and evicted most part of them and completely destroyed another part. Today, nobody speaks about the genocide of Abkhaz people by Russia in the 19th century. Why? Today, when we speak about repatriation of the deported Turkish-Meskhs, we do not remember about Abkhaz Muhajirs? If the society and the government states that Abkhazia is part of Georgia, why do not we act successively?
Return of Abkhaz Muhajirs and Georgian IDPs in Abkhazia
Georgian and Abkhaz peoples had collaborated for many centuries. Today, we do not give alternative way to Abkhaz people except Russia. Descendants of Muhajirs still live as refugees. Does anybody in Georgian society, Georgian politicians, remember those people? Which political or public group remembers them? I do not say anything about governmental officials or state agencies. Does the government want to learn about the problems of Muhajirs and start speaking about their repatriation? Who is ready for that? Are we ready for the return of Georgian IDPs? Do we really need it, or it is also component of political games and PR campaign which is promoted only when somebody needs it? Late in 1990s many residents of Gali district returned back to Abkhazia. This wave was so huge that the government of Georgia was really scared of it because it was losing tools to manage this problem and blocked the process again. Maybe we still need to have IDPs because it is easy to gain their votes by promises before elections. Does anybody remember to apologize to IDPs because the government failed to protect them? Just the opposite, the government have been degrading tens thousands of people for many years. When will Georgian state apologize to Abkhaz people and Georgian IDPs?
Working on the return of Georgian IDPs and Abkhaz Muhajirs shall start simultaneously. Percentage of Abkhaz people shall increase. IDPs shall return. Otherwise, Abkhazia will never look towards Europe. It is reality of the 21st century.
How Many Abkhazian Words Do We Know?
Does anybody remember in Tbilisi who are Abkhaz people and how many people know at least one Abkhaz word. Word “Hatamzaait” (Sorry) is the only Abkhazian word that is familiar to many Georgian people. Do we really need to settle our relationships with Abkhazia? Do we see our fault in what happened? Or only separatists and Russian occupants are guilty in everything? It is clear who is Russia and what it wants. Do we wonder about real interests of Abkhaz people, do we wonder what they think about? What are they worried about? Maybe they are right in something; it will be nice if we judge the situation from the side of Abkhaz people.
But no! Similar policy leads to a huge farce, which is called Russian scenario, and it is deadlock. Every authority of Georgia participated in the implementation of this farce reasonably or unreasonably. This policy has been working in our country for a long time against Georgian and Abkhaz peoples. It works by main characters, visible or invisible heroes. Who stood and who stands behind those people in fact? Which institution supported them? Most part of them feels comfortable and does not worry about their deeds.
September 27 – Day of Defeat of Sokhumi for Georgian People and Day of Liberation of Sokhumi for Abkhaz People
Do we ask mothers if they still want to send their sons to the war where brothers kill each other? The war, which will never have winner side, and everybody will be defeated in it. The war will be final collapse of Abkhaz people and final failure of Georgian state. Do we know that 5 % of Abkhaz people were killed in the war of 1992-1993? And if it happens again, the winner will be third party who will arrive and settle on the ruins of houses of Abkhaz and Georgian peoples. Many Abkhaz families lost at least one member in the war and you will see their photos in every family in Abkhazia. Who are those people for Georgia? For Georgians? Are they enemies? Both sides have their own heroes and enemies. What should most Georgians do in the place of Abkhaz people if armed gangs broke into their families? Should not they have taken weapon? Let us be sincere and understand each other. September 27 is the day of liberation of Sokhumi for Abkhaz people and for Georgians it is day when we lost Sokhumi. Children of both sides grow up with this mentality. Our wounds are still open and uncured. It is question do we really need to understand Abkhaz people? Shall we ever celebrate this day together?
War propaganda has occupied national TV-channels for last few years; they call for the war. Thousands of GEL is spent on propagandist video-rolls. “Hello, Abkhazia” without Abkhazians – “patriot” singers rush to be the first in empty Sokhumi (of course without President’s statement a song cannot be a song). 50 000 GEL was spent on low quality militarist hysteria on Psou River. We remember fascist propaganda on TV-Company “SakarTVelo”, which was funded by the Ministry of Defense – in summer of 2008 TV-programs were full of quotations from Hitler’s statements. ("It must be thoroughly understood that the lost land will never be won back by solemn appeals to the God, nor by hopes in any League of Nations, but only by the force of arms." Adolf Hitler, 1932) and it was funded from the taxes we paid to the budget.
Everybody knows what we have gained from this militarist policy and I will not go further. Unfortunately, we do not want to learn lessons on our past mistakes. We still go into the same water. The government continues old policy. Most part of the population has similar feeling. They want the same but under different leader and political team.
Who Wants War?
Those call for the war who does not know what the war is and cannot say whom we have to fight against and why. Why should we believe and follow the provocations of other power which supplied both Georgian and Abkhazian peoples with weapon in the past too and encouraged us to kill each other. They still supply us with weapon today. They have gained billions of dollars by weapon trafficking and neither Russian nor Georgian governmental officials cannot help this temptation.
We got used to false information reported on TV about each other; we have got used to live in constant tension, fear and terror. We have got used to terrorist acts and staged performances in conflict zone. We have got used to the situation of neither war nor peace.
What Does It Mean “We Will Gain Abkhazia Back?” Shall We Gain Territory or People Back?
And what does the well-known slogan –“We will gain Abkhazia back” mean? Shall we gain Abkhazian land or Abkhaz people and relationship with them back? Is it worth to return to the land of blood and death? What does Georgian society need - Revenge or normal coexistence with Abkhaz people?
Unfortunately, the war in august of 2008 in Tskhinvali was not the war between political elites only. Most part of society and politicians supported it. Nobody supported anti-war statements even in civil society. It is pity that in July of 2008 that big part of Georgian NGOs avoided signing the anti-war statement.
And it is time to ask once more: What do we want in Abkhazia – war or peace? If we need war it is clear who we will be after the war. And if we need peace, we should think about each other and about future.
“There is no other way towards peace. The peace is the way itself.”
Is not it better to really apologize and forgive past mistakes and sins to each other? Is not it better to be more concerned about each other’s pains, to understand each other and say once and for ever that we, Georgians will never allow war with Abkhaz people. Besides that, we, IDPs from Abkhazia will say that we will never ask our government to use military force to send us back home in Abkhazia; we will say that we have made mistake when we could not prevent the war years ago and could not protect Georgian and Abkhaz peoples.
We know what defeat and betrayal means and if we want good for Abkhaz people we should never wish them to be defeated. We, Georgian and Abkhaz peoples will definitely win and victory of only one side shall not be the defeat of another.
Why is it so difficult to bring these two peoples close to each other and to find common interests? Is it really so difficult to find common language? How have we lived together for so many centuries? Some people cannot see it and do not want to admit centuries-long coexistence.
War in Georgian Mentality
War initially starts in mind and mentality and then it starts in reality. The war launched between us years ago still continues. The war shall finish some day and it first of all shall end in our mind. The war is already defeat.
Very often the most complicated problem can be resolved by the easiest method – through realizing smallest truth. A person shall always get what s/he has done before; aggression breeds aggression, hatred breeds aggression, violence breeds violence. How much negative information, impulse and ideas were spread about Abkhazia and Abkhaz people recently? And vice versa… this negative feeling is mounting and impacts our daily relationship. If you send positive message, you will receive the same one back. We will gain love instead our love. Instead aggression and hatred we will receive the same. It is truth taught by the Bible and our society cannot understand it. Do we really want to change this dynamic? Do we want to send positive messages to Abkhaz people?
We see the straw in the eyes of others and we do not see the beam in ours.
In the appeal of “Sorry” Campaign we suggested people to pray for each other. Many people laughed at it. Love and praying can change much and it is not dream that Georgian and Abkhaz peoples can respect each other. It is the only way to escape this situation because we all want it; however, because of pride and chauvinism in ourselves we do not want to notice it.
How Georgian society and entire Georgian state will manage to decline Georgian chauvinism, making our history more beautiful and confess our own mistakes - the future of our society and state depends on it.
Of course, Abkhaz people shall answer many questions too. Neither Moscow, nor Brussels, nor Washington can settle the problems that are within competence of only two nations. Do we need it? How long shall we continue like that? We, Georgians, shall either decline our chauvinism or part with Abkhazia forever. Euphoria of recognizing the independence will fade away soon and we shall return back to reality. Huge Russian military machine works against Abkhaz people first of all. In ten years it will become more vivid. However, people in Abkhazia think that their number first threat is Saakashvili’s government and Russia does not have alternative now.
Georgian society shall do its best to promote the development of Abkhazian language and turn it into state language in Abkhazia. As soon as Abkhazia is Abkhazian, it will be free from Russia.
Georgian-Abkhazian Vision Does not Exist
It is fact, that there are not unsettled conflicts and there are always ways out of the complicated situation and alternative. The question is how well does Georgian society realize it? Do we see it as a long-way perspective and pragmatically? Today, our society relies on emotions and cannot see the way to resolve the conflict peacefully. The society does not have clear understanding of war reasons and results; they see everything through narrow and unilateral position and cannot confess its mistakes and problems. Today, people are looking for the answers except in themselves. We see guilty in everybody but not in ourselves: government blames Russia and opposition, opposition blames the government, people blame everybody: Russia, USA, Europe, Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples.
First of all, the problem is in us. Of course others also helped us in it and very strongly; however, initially we are the problem. We do not call proper name to the problem. It is time to call Georgian chauvinism its name - Georgian chauvinism.
It is fact, that large-scaled conception has not been created for many years where opinions of various lawyers of the society can be expressed. It is difficult for us to realize our tribute to the conflict and war. And we are ready to blame others. During recent years, only aggression, violence, war propaganda, attempt of threat and degrade was sent to Abkhaz people - and we receive the same.
Many people inquired us cynically – what did you gain from apologizing Abkhaz people? Nothing! They laughed at you and expressed aggression like Georgian people did.
The aim of the Sorry Campaign was not appeal to Abkhaz people to do the same. It was initiated for Georgian people in order to compel them to confess our mistakes and learn on these mistakes; we wanted to say that we have more responsibility for what is happening in our country. And it makes no sense whether somebody will apologize in reply now or ever. It is individual act – the point is that we have done our duty and will not keep those words in our heart and can be free from the burden resulted from the war.
Second opinion, which was often expressed, is that “those, who has not participated in the war, apologize. Maybe it is true. We want to underscore that during the war we did our best to prevent boys to go to the war in Abkhazia and change their mind on their way to the airport. We spent several days in detention setting for that and for our resistance to political events of the 1990s. And unfortunately, even then we were in minority.
Two years ago, sorry was tabooed. Speaking about this topic was neither popular nor safe. The campaign succeeded because many people speak about it now. And everybody thinks about it. In fact, it was provocation in positive. This provocation did its job. Sorry exposed many things; it showed whether Georgian society really has peaceful attitude towards Abkhaz people and how big is military spirit in the country; how far are the government and society from the peace.
Radical steps are always painful for the society. Often we can be declared traitors but the society gets chance of reconciliation through these sincere, open and peaceful initiatives. Everybody looks back into the past; even those who resisted Sorry Campaign and even its idea. Sorry is not a panacea. It was message to Abkhaz people to remind that there is different Georgia too. There are other people in this country who want different Georgia- with different goals and mentality.
Today, everybody speaks about conflict resolution but unfortunately, people have forgotten simple reality – nothing can be done without love and forgiveness. Today, none of those who opposed this idea can say any arguments against the campaign. They have just shortcomings and pride because they think they have nothing to apologize to anybody. They think apologizing is weakness and cowardness. Useless debates are still organized and they argue who was first settler in Abkhazia – Georgian or Abkhaz person; how they dared it, etc. but nobody can say why it all happened.
Recently they say that it was only Russian-Georgian war but if Russia is not tomorrow, shall we be able to coexist together with Abkhaz people? Maybe we are really guilty in something. How true is our history, theories of historian Marika Lortkipanidze and other scientists about settlement of Abkhaz people in the 16th century and whether “real Abkhaz people” are Georgians and Apsua are different nation who have done so much wrong. Let us say that all this is true, what then? Shall we resettle Abkhaz people back to north Caucasus? Our society is so keen on this idea that they cannot adequately realize everything and have proper reaction. Our people were told various stories; 90 % of them were made to elect president and the same number of people elected the second one and then the third. And afterwards we always say that we had made mistakes in electing the previous president. The point is that it is very well governed from outside - either by visible or invisible powers and absolute majority cannot understand it. And every president promises us to reintegrate Georgia. However, everybody has similar goals and policy in regard with Abkhazia. All three presidents of Georgia so far have conducted similar policy. They forgot and neglected Abkhaz people during their governance. And this policy still continues.
During the campaign we have received many calls, threats and dirty slander. Nobody inquired why we launched this campaign. Several people called us traitors and spies. Others blamed we were governed by a political party; others, for example, president Saakashvili in his statement in November of 2007 stated: "why should we apologize to them? Shall we apologize to them because they cut our heads off and evicted us from there? Shall we apologize because they destroyed Georgian churches; for our children who got frozen on the mountainous pass and thrown out from the plane? Shall we still apologize for that? Who are those people and which international organization funded them to write such nonsense?”
Most part of Georgian media still blocks not only the campaign but the word “Sorry”. Only several small-edition newspapers, radio and online sources spread information about it. The government and most part of the opposition use this word as an insulting one. One thing is clear- the campaign made Georgian society naked with its negative and positive sides; beyond their ostentatious democracy and tolerance chauvinism is very strong in our society.
What Is The Philosophy Beyond “Sorry” Campaign?
After physical violence and war end conflicts still continue in the hearts of people. Hatred and anger control human lives for a long time. These emotions paralyze people and make them hostages of hatred. When a person is occupied with anger and hatred, s/he cannot clearly evaluate situation and look forward in future. “Sorry” Campaign might be the first step to break negative circle. It creates awarenes which promotes establishment of inter-respect of the peoples. The Campaign aims to prevent emotions and hatred to govern people. It is the way to look forwards, leave everything evil in the past and think of the future. It is not accusation to any of the parties of the conflict. It is first step to make people accept and forgive each other. Exposing human sides of the opposite side can make people overcome obstacles.
There is no future without forgiveness. The Campaign learns lessons our past mistakes. It is assuming of our responsibilities in the conflict. It was the conflict where both nations lost much. Having realized it people might come together. This step is always taken by one side and it will definitely have a follow-up; it shall become kind of catalyst for social changes. Sorry – this is the way towards each other’s hearts.
Breaking the Chain of Hatred
What have we gained and what do we plan?
Many people asked us – you have launched ‘Sorry” campaign for more than 2 years and what is the result of it? The situation is more complicated. It is clear that similar campaign can have output only in 5, 10 and 20 years. The point is to stop negative attitude what exists now between two nations. The point is to break the chain of hatred between the two nations. Negative attitudes shall eventually turn into positive one.
We try to persuade people around us that Abkhaz and Georgian peoples shall respect each other. The campaign is funded from only personal donations because there is nobody to fund it. Several donor organization and embassies were interested in funding this idea but as soon as they learned government’s position, they refused to fund the campaign.
The society shall do what leading politicians failed to do. Common sense shall appear among society and we should realize that everybody can do something and we focus on the responsibility of each person, on public responsibility. Finally, this campaign has not said anything new. Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ came and showed us that future will not exist without regretting, confession. The god is ready to show an example of love and generosity and the god has allowed all this tragedy happen because of our sins and mistakes in order to make us think of our behavior – how correct we are when we think that we have not sinned, when we think that only the other is guilty and we do not confess anything.
Let us see everything in another way. Emotions fade away; pain also fades away and life continues. Despite our wishes neither Abkhaz nor Georgians will ever go elsewhere. We have to live here. Earlier or later we will have to value our past and write true history. We will have to put Georgian and Abkhaz myths aside.
We will leave the deadlock where we have been stuck for a long time. We will respect Abkhaz people properly and will take advantage of Samegrelo region and its residents in this dialogue.
Simultaneously, we should collect and check information about war victims. They shall receive compensations. Those people, who are guilty in military and war crimes, shall be punished in accordance to the law on both sides. Impunity shall not reign in the region in future.
Trust shall be built between the two nations. They shall have daily relationship. We should create common field – informational, economical and other. We cannot resolve political issues but we can do something to end this abnormal relationship. Our opinion is clear in this issue. These relations shall rely on the truth, sincerity, love, forgiveness and those characters which were valued during many centuries in the Caucasus. It shall be done by people. It will be time when we have government who will agree even on political issues. The only guarantee for the safety of Abkhaz people can be EU. Neither official Moscow nor official Tbilisi will do anything positive in this direction; just the opposite!
Who is fighting for it today in fact? Very few people do. Politicians, militants, media, civil society, church, international organizations do not have real plan for the conflict resolution. Do we use all our resources to stop military actions, militarization and war propaganda? Or just the opposite, like in August of 2008 we all keep in silence and wait for the statement of the commander-in-chief to free Tskhinvali region from criminals? We all keep silence – politicians and others. And when we could not hear similar statement, we started to criticize the government – “if we were there, we could have won.” Have we thought a little, what do we encourage by keeping silence?
Silence or Peace?
We value peace and we chose only the peace. War, appeal for the war, war propaganda, rattle of weapon and military rhetoric are unacceptable for us because war can seem fair and generous only superficially even if it is dedicated to restore territorial integrity recognized by the UN.
Georgian and Abkhazian people demand only peace and open dialogue between the sides.
Georgian and Abkhaz people have nowhere to go. Our children will continue living here after hundred years and they will maintain their language, culture, dignity and history.
Our peoples have a future and let’s not destroy it!