Monday, September 1, 2008

A Dignified Protest



Today, Tbilisi ground to a halt as ordinary Georgians were given an opportunity to express their dismay at Russia's neo-imperial activities in their country. And I must say it was a dignified, and quite impressive performance, with young and old, of all ethnic groups, lining the roads in Tbilisi, Georgian flags in hand, marching and chanting in their millions, and fulfilling their civic duty by expressing loyalty to their endangered state. It was, quite clearly, an unforced, sincere outpouring of public emotion by people who are seeing their state torn to shreds as we speak.

For all its faults in relation to its foreign and security policies, one thing must be made clear: in stark contrast to Azerbaijan, Georgia had made considerable progress in recent years, both in terms of democracy and in terms of its treatment of minorities. While problems do remain, the Saakashvili government has made an honest effort at promoting a civic, inclusive form of nationalism, in preparation of the hoped-for reunification of the country. There is certainly reason to believe the Georgian government's accusations that Russia was prodding Abkhazia, and especially South Ossetia, to obstruct its wide-ranging offers of autonomy to both regions. The idea that Russia was ever a peace-keeper in the Caucasus is one that would make any unbiased observer laugh - over 15 years, it did everything in its power to obfuscate and obstruct. By skilfully playing into and amplifying the fears of both Ossetians and Abkhazians through semi-criminal local regimes, it basically eliminated any chances of these two entities ever reuniting with Georgia proper.

Similarly, Russian claims of 'Genocide' have the smell (stench?) of old-style KGB propaganda all over them. While firing on Tskhinvali with Katyushas was certainly unacceptable on Georgia's part, Russia's claims of 2,000 deaths and tens of thousands of refugees (all within the spate of 12 hours) were suspiciously over-the-top from the start. The crude, 24/7 attempt by Russia's media to create the impression of a major humanitarian catastrophe even managed to fool a few western commentators. Not surprisingly, however, once Russia's mission was accomplished, the same people who had reduced Grozny to pulp several times over without shedding so much as a tear quietly decreased the death count to a still elevated, but hardly genocidal 133. These hysterical claims of ethnic cleansing were all the more unbelievable because Georgia's policies of recent years have clearly been aimed at including both Ossetians and Abkhazians in the fabric of the Georgian state - tens of thousands of Ossetians live in Georgia proper up to this day, and remain largely undisturbed. Wouldn't Georgia have ethnically cleansed those Ossetians under its control before attempting a blitz-genocide in South Ossetia?

2 comments:

R said...

Actually Georgia's recent treatment of its Armenians has not been very sensitive. And while there may be many Ossetians living and working in Georgia there are at least 1 million Georgians living and working in Russia.

Kevork said...

True, R. But the treatment of the Armenians has improved in recent years. And I did stress that problems remain.