Posted tagged ‘Ukraine’

Notes on South Ossetia

Agost 13, 2008


It has taken barely a couple of months to see Russia’s response to Western support for Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It is still too early, however, to assess what has actually happened in South Ossetia during these last days, who started what and who provoked whom: the showdown still belongs to high politics’ secretive sphere, that only (some) history books can reliably capture while it remains elusive to everyday journalistic mist. Waiting for the truth to slowly unravel, we can only reckon with what we know for sure:

• Georgia does not have a bigger moral claim on South Ossetia than Russia does. Let us remember that Georgia banned all regional political parties in South Ossetia in 1990 –a difficult time indeed, but also a decisive one for shaping new bonds-, what actually poisoned relations and eventually triggered war in the region as Soviet Union collapsed. True, the Russian Federation has been distributing passports throughout both Georgia’s breakaway regions in order to make up an excuse for defense: that is the infamous game we know assertive countries play. Knowing –as everybody else should- that support for Georgian rule is far from being majoritarian in South Ossetia, Russia ( it would be more appropriate to say ‘The Kremlin’ or ‘The hidden masters of the country’ ) strikes on Georgia and not on Estonia (a NATO member), where – by twisting history, as most often – it could more consistently claim that it has ‘Russian citizens’ to protect from ruthless western rule.

• We do not understand why Kosovo can become independent and South Ossetia cannot. Especially because their relative status inside the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia was very much equivalent: an autonomous region Kosovo (inside Serbia, but only from 1974 onwards) and an autonomous oblast South Ossetia (inside Georgia, from 1922). Those who hold different positions on each of them should explain whether they privilege consistence or rather geostrategic interests. Russia, by getting militarily involved -masterly and by ‘surprise’- and in its element when it comes to contradictory moral reasoning, aims also to stress the weaknesses of the West. Democratic on paper, but tremendously tentative and energy dependent. Paradoxically, it also shows Russia’s increasing, exacerbating isolation. As Europe enlarges by conviction and seduction, Russia must resort to military action, as it always has done in order to grow in size. Most probably the final showdown will take place in the battle for the Ukraine, whose outcome will be decisive for the future of Europe. Let us not forget, in addition, Russia’s massive problem in terms of population: it does not cease to shrink ( even though it has a net in-flow of migrants ) and it does not cease to head for Moscow, and therefore westwards. With an overall life expectancy for men barely over sixty (a lower figure than in empoverished Pakistan) the federation faces a pathological health problem. Furthermore, the  Muslim share of the population is clearly growing at a higher rate than the Christian one: a trend that does not seem to herald easy times for a tightening of centralist rule.

• Georgia’s claim on Abkhazia has, on the contrary, more solid grounds (at least on ethnical basis). After the war in the 90s, an estimated 100,000 ethnical Georgians fled the region, turning upside down its demographics (Abkhazians became again a majority after one century of being a minority). These refugees are still waiting to return home. It is also true that demographics had already been severely distorted during the first Soviet years: massive industrial immigration gave Georgians an unprecedented and dubious political supremacy in the region.

• It has become a universal habit to draw comparisons with Munich 1938 and Sudetenland any time there is an invasion or a perceived threat: a misleading common place that risks ending up wearing down true lessons from history. Especially because it has now become more than clear that Hitler was very much frustrated at Munich results (and at their actual masterminder, Hermann Goering ) since what he actually longed for was to unleash war already that very year. Therefore, Chamberlain should bear little blame: with or without appeasement, there would have been WWII.  Sudetenland was a region with an overwhelming majority of German speaking population that was being treated with little respect by the Czechoslovak government after WWI. The real historical failure of the Western powers was not to stop, together with preemptive action, the following invasion of the whole of Checoslovaquia.

We believe the best solution to all this turmoil would be that South Ossetia held an internationally recognized referendum that most surely would set the region under autonomous Russian rule. As far as Abkhazia is concerned, the issue of the Georgian refugees should be addressed before allowing any referendum whatsoever to go through. After that, NATO should speed up Georgia’s accession-within days-, with or without Abkhazia and/or South Ossetia inside Georgia. We are aware of Europe’s deep dependencies in terms of energy, but it is undeniable that a sovereign state has the right to join a military organization whose main goal is to ensure global peace by means of deterrence, at any moment and in any circumstance.