In Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Security is More Important that Independence

Interview with Paata ZAKAREISHVILI
Director of the Institute for nationalism and conflicts studies

 These state entities have not been recognized by the international community; just by several countries, including such a powerful and influential asRussia, member of the UN Security Council. Certainly, it is a very serious, but not decisive factor.



– It is already 20 years that Abkhazia and South Ossetia have already declared their independence from the rest of Georgia. How successful are these entities in self-governance?

– They can become states only when and only after they are accepted in international organizations, first of all the UN, which is the only international structure that is just dealing with recognition of independent states and accepts them. After that other international organization, but somewhat regional, as OSCE, EU, CIS can continue this process. The territorial entity that is recognized by the UN, becomes a state, as far as ‘state’ gets legitimacy depending on just the external recognition.

It can be compared with the wedding ritual in traditional communities, which existed for recognition of the pair as a family by the society. After that the liaison between a man and a woman became official, legitimate, and the whole society recognized the pair as a family. The same thing is with states: unless you are not recognized, you are illegal. No matter how good the relations between a man and women were, without marriage such relations were considered illegal, and children were spurious.  So something similar can be seen in the world community: first you should be recognized.

These state entities have not been recognized by the international community; just by several countries, including such a powerful and influential asRussia, member of the UN Security Council. Certainly, it is a very serious, but not decisive factor. For example, theNorthern Cyprus.Turkeyis quite influential state, and its role has been growing in the recent time in the context of the West-East dialog.Turkeyrecognized the independence of theNorthern Cyprus, so what? Nothing happened. To the contrary, today the relations between the Cyprus Republic and Northern Cyprus are developing so dynamically, thatTurkeyeven does not rule out the possibility of re-visioning the that recognition in case if the Turk-Cypriotes and Greek-Cypriotes find a common language.

– What do you think about the quality of the internal government system in Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

– certainly, these state entities face their own challenges they are trying the tackle. The recent events, when the Governor of the Krasnodar Kray become a special representative of the Russian President for Abkhazia, and the leader of the North Ossetia – for the South Ossetia, have questioned the extent of consideration of these entities as independent by Russia. IfRussiahas already got “ambassadors” there, what does the status of a special representative mean? As it turns out, the “ambassadors” are appointed just formally, meanwhile it is the regional leader who will be responsible for dealing with Abkhazians and Ossetians. In fact, this is a continuation of the internal regional policy ofRussia, but now related to Abkhazia andSouth Ossetia.Georgiashould like it, because it meansRussiadoes not treat these countries seriously.Russiadoes not see any perspectives for their recognition by the world community. If you have a big spoon, and you are trying to eat soup from a small plate, it will not work, so you will have to find a smaller spoon. Recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and opening embassies there,Russiahas suddenly understood that it is difficult to master these countries with a too big “spoon”. Something smaller is needed. AndRussiahas found a convenient tool, through which it would be easier to deal with Abkhazia andSouth Ossetia.

I cannot speak for Abkhazians and Ossetians, but I would be offended by the change ofRussia’s attitude. It turns out,Russiahas started conducting much more trivial relations with the countries, which the sameRussiarecognized with such a hullabaloo.

According to this decision,Russiawants to tie up Abkhazia andSouth Ossetiawith its own regions and have relations on the level of Sukhumi-Krasnodar and Tskhinvali-Vladikavkaz, rather than on the Sukhumi-Moscow and Tskhinvali-Moscow level. So the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, recognized byRussia, is now reduced by the sameRussia.

– Is it possible to build federative relations between Georgia and Abkhazia in the future?

– Federative relations suppose some treaty between the center and the region, division of authorities between them. It is, certainly, a good option, but it is necessary to build an honest federation, not like the one, existing in Adjara now, when even the issue of a construction of a mosque is solved inTbilisi, not inBatumi.

I think the German model of federal relations might be a good option for Abkhazians andSouth Ossetians, but today it is too early to speak about it. Maybe ten years after, when some reconciliation starts and the level of trust that was before 2003 would be restored. So some ten years after, starting from that kind of level, it would be possible to speak about closer institutional relations. Such a proposal should not come just fromGeorgia, it may be reciprocal. The fact that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are even ready to be with the Krasnodar Kray andNorth Ossetia, is the evidence of the following reality: independence is not so important for them. Security is much more important, and I keep saying this to the Georgian society and Georgian authorities. Their independence is a declaration, pose. Their interest is security. We should not rattle the sabre and develop muscles. The risk of resumption of hostilities should be reduced to none.

We have made a lot of stupid things…  It is impossible to constantly increase the tension, keep the escalation of the conflict on some high level. Instead of putting out the fire, we kept it burning… It is necessary to reinstate the trust, and only then start to speak about further steps. If today an Abkhazian and South Ossetian are dreaming about the Russian passport, and not getting it, they feel hurt, does it mean that an “alien’s” passport is acceptable for them? So why the Georgian passport cannot be that “alien’s” passport?

It is necessary to always prove to these people thatGeorgiais better thanRussia. Putin’s comeback is good forGeorgia, if we use this factor correctly. It means thatRussiawill not change, it will become a democratic state not earlier than the coming 10 years, at least. But it is  we who must become a democratic state in that time! Heaven forbidRussiareaches democracy earlier than us. Abkhazians and Ossetians should have a choice between suchGeorgiaand suchRussia. Today they have a choice between the authoritarianRussiaand vaudeville-authoritarian regime inGeorgia. The regime inGeorgiaacts against its own citizens, unable to defend the country from the external threat. So in this case they are choosing the strong authoritarianism.

We should create conditions, where they have a choice: authoritarianism or democracy. Then we will see how the things will go. We have no other choice. As for independence… Everybody see that evenRussiatries not to let Abkhazia andSouth Ossetianever get a real independence. These are excellent signals, sent to us, Georgians, first of all. But we have no time to understand these signals; Georgian authorities do not care aboutGeorgia, they think about themselves. Now their self-interest is to keep power, so they do not care about anything else at all.

Maybe they would give up Abkhazia and South Ossetia in exchange for the guarantees of their own security and own power, if not with pleasure, but with satisfaction, anyway. And they do it. It is for the second that that President Saakashvili has made an annual report in the parliament, not mentioning Abkhazia and South Ossetia at all, as if they do not exist. Saakashvili does not want to speak about his failed and outdated projects. Instead of weakening the enemy image by Russia, while working with Abkhazians and Ossetians, he only makes this image even stronger. Not working and not communicating with Abkhazians and Ossetians, we are just strengthening the enemy image by Russia, which actually exists anyway.

Interview by Irakli Chikhladze


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