De Vaal examines the baleful effect Saakashvili’s military adventurism has had on communities straddling the border between South Ossetia and Georgia proper. He concludes that in order to stabilise arrangements in these areas Georgia will have to tone down assertions of sovereignty, instead concentrating on the rights of its people, in order to facilitate the opening of contested borders and return of displaced peoples.
There is pathos in de Vaal’s tales of divided but intertwined communities. In 1991, during the first attempt to coerce South Ossetia into a separate Georgia and reverse the autonomy it enjoyed as part of the Soviet Union, Georgian villagers from Meghvriskhevi stopped militias from looting the adjacent Ossetian village, Grom. This year Grom’s residents repaid the favour and residents returning after the Russians and Ossetians had retreated to their pre war positions, found their property untouched.
“The tragedy of South Ossetia is of a war that local people, mixed together by trade and intermarriage, did not want. The conflict tore up those relationships, with atrocities on both sides.”
Now, on either side of the border, troops are digging in, fortifying a frontier that had previously permitted a high degree of permeability. A situation which de Vaal believes must be addressed politically from the Georgian perspective.
“A harder option is to concentrate on the rights of people, not territories and to begin to open up the Abkhaz and Ossetian borders from the Georgian side…… In other words, renouncing some claims of sovereignty, so that ordinary people can go home.”
Whilst there is little to indicate that Saaskashvili’s government is prepared to soften its stance, there are signs that it might soon be held to account for its role in fomenting war (a role which it has not yet accepted it played). Two senior government diplomats have resigned in order to criticise Saaskashvili for planning the war and choosing to ignore mediation attempts. De Vaal detects that more and more government supporters are ‘jumping ship’.
He quotes former Georgian ambassador to Moscow, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, “if the Georgian people want the right to tell the Abkhaz and Ossetians they should be living in a common home with us, we need to be able to tell them we judged the people who were responsible for all this."
It is a process which, if consolidated, would not only benefit Georgia and its people, but those of the entire region and indeed Europe as a whole.