“How quickly the South Ossetian War has become more about Russia and the United States, East and West, George Bush and Vladimir Putin, than about the poor South Ossetians caught in the middle.”
In a searing indictment of Georgia’s president Saakashvilli, Sean examines the roots of South Ossetian aversion to Georgian hegemony. Of course paradoxical Soviet attitudes to ethnic self-government played a part. On one hand they carved out administrative regions on the basis of titular ethnic nationality, on the other hand they did a slapdash and arbitrary job.
“When the Bolsheviks drew up its Republics, Autonomous Regions, and autonomous oblasts in 1936, the North Caucuses was an artificially crafted mosaic where political borders ran counter to (emergent) ethnic ones.”
The frozen conflict which Saaskashvilli has so ruthlessly defrosted has more recent origins. Sean quotes Human Rights Watch.
“Between 1989 and 1992, fighting flared in the South Ossetian A.O. and in Georgia between ethnic Ossetian paramilitary troops and Georgian Interior Ministry (MVD) units and paramilitaries. South Ossetia had demanded to secede, and Georgia cracked down on the renegade area by sending in troops. Approximately 100,000 ethnic Ossetians fled Georgia and South Ossetia, and another 23,000 Georgians headed in the other direction. One hundred villages were reportedly destroyed in South Ossetia.”
Or in synopsis,
“When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the South Ossetians became one of the many internal ‘Others’ for the Georgians to proclaim their new found nationalism [against]. That is, Great Georgian Nationalism was predicated on its vicious denial to the ‘Other’”.
Ethnic nationalist conflicts have characterised the post Cold War world and this is no different.
“However much people want to point to South Ossetia as a Russian proxy, they still have to somehow account for the fact that South Ossetians gleefully take those passports, use Russian currency, and are running not into Georgia but into Russia to escape the violence. I think we have to remember that however one wants to attribute blame for the conflict, there are some real reasons why the South Ossetians want to ditch Georgia altogether. Yet in all the reporting that has come out in the last few days, the South Ossentian voice as an agent of his or her own present and future has been more or less muted. In its place have stood a number of metonyms: Russia, Putin, Georgia, rebels, proxies, oil pipelines, NATO, the United States.”
Sean turns to Human Rights Watch again in order to highlight the misery which has been suffered in the crucible of this conflict – South Ossetia itself.
“from 8 August to the afternoon of 10 August, the Russian Federal Migration Service recorded 24,032 people crossing the border to Russia. Given that the population of South Ossetia is a mere 70,000, that is quite a large percentage of the population.”
“Human Rights Watch visited a camp for the displaced in the village of Alagir and interviewed more than a dozen individuals, including those from Tskhinvali and neighboring villages. Those from the city reported spending more than three days in the basements of their houses, unable to come out because of the incessant shelling. Two individuals from Tskhinvali – a mother and her pregnant daughter – said their apartment building was severely damaged by shells and they only dared to come out of the basement on the fourth day, early in the morning of August 10, when Russian troops took full control of the city and started transporting local residents to a safe zone. They said the convoy consisted of six buses (about 27 people each), escorted by the military to the safety zone.”
“Residents of Satskhenet village told Human Rights Watch that after the village came under heavy artillery fire on the night of August 7, all women, children and elderly (more than 100 people) started fleeing their homes; most of them spent the next two days hiding in the woods and then trying to make their way toward the Russian border. They were assisted by the Russian military in the village of Ger and transported to North Ossetia.”
“Eduard Kokoity told Interfax that up to 1,400 killed by Georgian troops. The Independent quoted Ludmila Ostayeva, 50, a resident of Tskinvali who fled to the Russian border, “I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars. It’s impossible to count them now. There is hardly a single building left undamaged.”
Yet Saaskashvilli can present a with a straight face a piece in the Wall Street Journal presenting Georgia as an innocent victim of untrammelled Russian aggression.
““This war is not of Georgia’s making, nor is it Georgia’s choice….. [rather it is about] the future of freedom in Europe.”
Such hyperbole is now being echoed in American statements.
“’Russia has invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century,’ Bush said. Cheney declared that Russia’s actions ‘must not go unanswered.’ Presidential Candidates McCain and Obama, always ready to look Presidential, also weighed in. McCain called for NATO intervention and reminded Russia that to be part of the civilized world means to respect its values. Obama condemned Russia’s military push saying that “There is no possible justification for these attacks.”
Sean brings us back to the most pertinent question.
“And what about the people caught in the middle? South Ossetians are finally beginning to bury their dead.”