Tag Archives: archil sikharulidze

I was surprised by zhuzes in Kazakhstan – scientist from Georgia

Archil Sikharulidze, Georgian scholar in political science has been invited by one of the universities from South Kazakhstan to lecture local students and conduct master-classes for academic staff. He shared his experience and thoughts about time spent in Kazakhstan with 365info.kz

Read more in Russian here.

No “Free Cheese” for Women

On March 23, Georgian MPs voted down the so-called Gender Quotas Bill. The bill obtained 66 votes from Georgian Dream while 14 representatives of the party voted against it. The initiative failed to gather the necessary 76 votes to pass the legislative threshold. MPs from the European Georgia and the Alliance of Patriots did not attend the voting. Two of the six United National Movement legislators (four were absent) voted in favor of the bill.

The bill is a new grand project decisively promoted by various well-respected Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), supposedly aimed at pushing Georgian society to more gender equality. There were probably no doubts that, backed by Georgia’s strategic partners, these CSOs would have persuaded the government to accept a gender quotation mechanism; but, contradictory to expectations, the bill did not gain the respective support. This failure raises some important questions about Georgian society and the non-governmental sector and the nature of their affairs.

The Gender Quota Bill

In June 2017, a group of 118 Tbilisi-based and regional CSOs, in collaboration with international women’s rights organizations, introduced a new bill – the Gender Quota Mechanism. According to the initiative, women are highly underrepresented in the country’s political life. The statement is based on the 2016 Global Gender Gap report from the World Economic Forum that ranks Georgia 114th out of 144 in terms of women’s participation in politics. The bill proposed to oblige political parties and self-governments to balance the number of their male and female representatives. In case of absence of gender parity, political parties would be denied registration for elections. If approved, it would have resulted in at least 38 female lawmakers in the next parliament and at least 75 (half of the legislative body) female lawmakers from 2024. In theory, the mechanism is perceived as a ‘temporary’ means to empower women’s participation in politics and an increase in their role in the decision-making process in general.

This legislative initiative was warmly received by senior lawmakers from three parliamentary parties of Georgia, including the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia, the European Georgia part and the United National Movement. Georgia’s Prime Minister, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, also supported it, arguing that it would promote gender equality and push forward the democratization process. Finally, it got a green light from the Ambassadorial Working Group, which unites the diplomatic corps accredited in Georgia.

Post-voting outcry

Arguably, it is the first case in the last decade when, despite strong support from senior officials and the country’s strategic partners, local CSOs failed to pass the project.

While the government immediately pointed out a lack of political consensus on the matter among its members and promised to continue pushing forward the bill, members of CSOs were highly frustrated and angered. As previously mentioned, there were no doubts that the bill would be accepted. They offer two main narratives for this fact.

The most popular is to argue the retrograde nature of Georgian society which does not move with the times or with the so-called “civilized world”. The second argument was voiced by prominent local women’s rights activist, Baia Pataraia. Pataraia argued that by taking down the initiative, parliament members once again proved that Georgian men are generally afraid to empower women because this can potentially break down the strict patriarchal order currently prevailing on the ground. “Men are not willing to engage with women in direct and fair competition due to fears to be simply outmaneuvered by female counterparts,” she says.

Yet there is a large group of people, including a significant number of women, who were skeptical about the bill from the get-go and thus, had no reaction at all. They argued that quotas will not lead to strengthening the role of women in the decision-making process but rather, once again, break the meritocracy principle. Women in Georgia need more space for self-development, education and career promotion rather than artificially allocated seats in the legislative body. Women should be more involved in the decision-making process based on their professionalism and education rather than gender.

What went wrong?

What is intriguing in this case is that there was no serious outcry on the issue from regular civilians; no harsh debates on social media or other platforms. Just quick and aggressive tweets from CSO representatives and their supporters; that’s all. Why?

Not ready, not interested

According to a poll conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in 2014, 64% of respondents argued that there was no gender equality in the country. Additionally, approximately 70% believed that the number of women MPs should be increased. But, it seems that readiness to involve women in the decision-making process does not mean, by default, readiness to delegate these powers for free, based only on gender belonging. The reason probably lies in the poor reality on the ground. There is a challenge with the so-called “merit-based system” in Georgia. The system which, in theory, should ensure that only those people occupy senior positions who are worthy (education, work experience) – the meritocracy principle. Undoubtedly, this practice is rarely applied on the ground. So far, we may argue that Georgian society, and its men, are simply not ready to replace male MPs/senior officials frequently appointed or elected for no reason at all, with women MPs/senior officials with only their gender behind them.

Contradictory to Pataraia’s position, we can argue that Georgian MPs are not afraid of women but rather of every single individual who may challenge their power and social status. Hence, local society and men are simply not interested in modifying the existing system to a more gender neutral one where gender parity is still based on nepotism, loyalty to the existing government and other questionable “merits”. But rather, there is interest in promoting meritocracy, creating a basis for a fair, competitive environment where both male and female individuals will be able to reflect their knowledge, skills and professionalism in general to be hired for real achievements and merits rather than belonging to particular families, groups, institutions or gender classes.

Discontent

Failure to push forward the Gender Quota Bill proves something that representatives of various groups are aware of but are not willing to recognize – there is a growing gap between the non-governmental sector and Georgian society. This gap appeared due to various processes, but one of the most important is the evolution of local NGOs from purely social movements (late 90s and the beginning of 2000s) to very active political actors nowadays. There is an increasing feeling that, like every political actor, local NGOs have their own social, economic and political agenda which is frequently not in harmony with the demands of the masses on the ground. Far worse, the more this sector is involved in the politics, the less credible it becomes for the Georgian electorate.

This discontent had led to a situation where society was not ready or interested in accepting the bill, but CSOs were still pushing for it due to strong external support. The ruling party got stuck between two lines of fire. On the one hand, Georgian Dream is definitely willing to please the CSOs and strategic partners to score more political points but, on the other hand, it realizes that voting for projects that are not well-received among its electorate may lead to dramatic consequences during the next elections. As a result, the bill failed to pass the parliamentary vote but the Chairmen, Irakli Kobakhidze, promised CSOs and Georgia’s strategic partners to continue working on it.

The Gender Quota Bill is an interesting initiative that may or may not lead to more gender equality. But its failure to pass parliamentary voting shows that regular citizens are more interested in establishing a fair, competitive environment in the country in general to ensure that individuals are hired based on their achievements and merits rather than their belonging to various groups, institutions and/or gender classes. Georgian society is ready to involve women in the decision-making process due to their professionalism, and not in connection with their gender. At the same time, there is a strong feeling among regular citizens that local CSOs have their own political, social and economic agenda that frequently does fails to match the demands existing on the ground. This leads to a growing discontent between Georgian society and CSOs; CSOs that, in theory, should represent Georgian society and its interests.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here.

Conflict Management in Georgia: Georgian vs. Russian Narratives

On August 13, 2017 a prominent Russian scientist on post-Soviet issues, Sergey Markedonov participated in a radio show, Geopolitical Cuisine, with Igor Shatrov aired by MediaMetrics Radio, dealing with the August 2008 War. During the broadcast both, Shatrov and Markedonov raised some very interesting and significant issues that were presented in scopes of Russian political agenda. We will try to balance the analysis and offer a Georgian narrative.

Three topics can be identified: a) a debate on the possible transformation of Georgia’s political system into a federal or confederal model; b) allegations of treaty violations; and c) assumptions of unchanged Georgian society and unanimity regarding the August 2008 War in general.

Federalism and Confederation

Since the beginning of the conflicts, Russian diplomats actively promoted an idea of ‘Georgian Federation’ or a possible confederation that could have included Georgia, Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia. This approach was especially prevalent in the late 90s and early 2000. Even nowadays, Russian experts and scholars argue that Tbilisi should have chosen these options to deal with separatism. during the radio broadcast, Igor Shatrov argued that Georgia was historically a multi-national union and its government should have reflected this background in the country’s political architecture. Additionally, some comparisons were made between Russia and Georgia.

While these arguments may look attractive they do not show the whole picture. The topic of possible formation of federal or confederal union has two challenges.

The first of these challenges are the associated, security issues. As prominent Georgian expert, Mamuka Areshidze argues, Georgia might think about the confederal model but it is crucial to ensure that respective regulations are set in place to avoid unrecognized regions getting away from the metropolis with international approval. Moreover, there is a strong belief among various local actors that Kremlin’s final aspiration is to dominate over Georgia as a whole rather than its secessionist regions. So far, the federal or confederal models can be used by Moscow to undermine their neighbor’s sovereignty and influence Tbilisi via a pro-Russian agenda in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali.

Secondly, Georgia was never a multi-national kingdom or state as, for example, Canada or even Russia itself was and still is. So far, a comparison between Russia’s federal political model and Tbilisi is probably a stretch. Undoubtedly, the state has a history of cohabitation of various ethnical groups. Even though Georgia is a home for approximately ten ethnic groups, they represent only 14% of the whole population. Moreover, while the case of Abkhazia is complicated and Mikhail Saakashvili, former president of Georgia (2004­–2013), even offered to recognize Abkhazian as a second state language, the situation in so called South Ossetia is another case. Ossetians that are residents of Tskhinvali region settled there only in XIX–XX centuries and they arguably never reflected a multi-national nature of Georgia. Lastly, the comparison between Moscow and Tbilisi is a nonsensical due simply to the historical background.

Treaty Violations

Representatives of Georgia’s separatist regions and the Kremlin frequently blame Tbilisi for attempts to undermine the so-called Sochi Agreement, a ceasefire agreement that marked the end of Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts. This document was signed in Sochi on June 24, 1992 between Georgia and Russia, the ceasefire with Abkhazia was marked on July 27, 1993.

And while this is factually accurate, we should bear in mind that political realities have changed and they must be reflected; the principle that Kremlin is promoting globally. For example, Vladimir Putin frequently argues that the current political order does not represent the redistribution of powers in global politics. Particularly, it is outdated due to the fact that America is still seen as an undisputed political force while the highly increasing role of such countries as Russian Federation, China, India and Brazil is simply overseen. Furthermore, Moscow has already re-negotiated more or less every significant document that was signed during Boris Yeltsin’s governance when the country was politically and economically non-competitive. The same story is applicable to Georgia. The Sochi Agreement was negotiated and signed when Tbilisi was unable not only to handle the separatist regions but even such simple and fundamental tasks such as budget management. However, since then, Tbilisi has made a giant step toward political, economic and social stability and prosperity. Hence, it is logical and is totally suitable to the framework offered by Moscow that Georgia was and is determined to re-settle some aspects of the agreement and balance it according to national interests.

All in all, Russian scholars and experts should decide whether their ‘reality-match’ approach to legal documents is universal, generalizable, or unique, meaning that it is only applicable to big countries, and small states must get used to doing what they can.

2008 August War

One more issue was raised during the broadcasting. Igor Shatrov argued that after the events of the 90s, the residents of the so-called South Ossetia thought that Georgia had changed as a result of democratic reforms. But, the August 2008 War led to a dramatic disillusionment when they realized that Georgian society remained the same.

This assumption is most likely inaccurate due to two facts: a) Georgian society tends to openly recognize its misdeeds; and b) the latest military confrontation was probably more avoidable than that of the 90s.

Of course, Georgia is far away from the Western style democracy but local society is slowly changing and clearly moving forward. As opposite to residents of the separatist regions Georgian society came to a state of condition in which it is capable of re-assessing political decisions and recognizing its share of blame in the conflicts. It has just realized that in order to clap you need two hands; a harsh reality that people in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali are unwilling to take into account.

Secondly, the August 2008 War was probably more predictable and avoidable than those of the 90s. It is rarely mentioned that after political unrests in November 2007 and a questionable outcome of early presidential elections of January 2008, Georgian opposition openly warned about possible military campaign that Saakashvili’s government could have conducted to consolidate political power and increase electoral support. The same statement was made by former ambassador of Georgia to Russian Federation, Erosi Kitsmarishvili. in his memoirs, he stated that Saakashvili had aspiration to solve the Abkhazian issue with a military blitzkrieg (something, that Saakashvili and members of his government called a complete lie). Unfortunately, Matthew Bryza, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, assured the George W. Bush administration that these allegations were unfounded. Consequently, the state’s strategic partners that were capable of restraining Saakashvili and making some serious preventive steps were surprised when military confrontation unfolded (it should be mentioned that some Georgian and Russian experts argue that Bush’s administration was aware of Saakashvili’s plans and even supported him). At this point, there was no unanimity between the government and Georgian society that, we may argue, was in place during 90s.

By and large, Russian experts and scholars frequently blame the West for not taking into account Russia’s national interests. They argue that both, US and EU, must realize that Kremlin has its own political agenda and that Vladimir Putin’s government will follow and protect it by all means. Unfortunately, the same people rarely apply the same standards to Georgia and its national interests. And as soon as this is done, Georgian and Russian officials will undoubtedly find a common ground for mutually beneficial political agreements.

The article/blog was initially published by RIAC. It is available here.

The Kvirikashvili Initiative & Georgia’s Overblown Sense of Political Self-Importance

On March 9, Georgia’s PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili called on the Russian Federation to initiate constructive dialogue. Moreover, he expressed readiness to start direct talks with representatives of the separatist regions of Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia. This initiative was a response of the local government to an incident involving Georgian citizen and former military staff member Archil Tatunashvili, who was arrested on February 22 by so-called South Ossetian KGB agents and transferred to Tskhinvali. He later died in the city hospital in dubious circumstances, supposedly “from a heart attack.”

Kvirikashvili’s statement had a double-effect. On the one hand, some praised it as a politically balanced and well-thought out decision while others, including the country’s leading oppositional forces, considered the call a total capitulation to the separatist forces and the Kremlin. Some even argued that the government is pursuing more of a retreat-approach than a cooperation-policy. Finally, there were allegations that direct talks with the separatist regions may lead to their international recognition and legitimization.

It is doubtless complicated to foresee the implications of the initiative in general, but the critical reactions from various actors once more prove that some members of local political, civil society and academic elites are unaware of the situation on the ground in terms of the Georgian-Russian confrontation. The critiques seem to be more political-ideological than a result of serious political analysis.

The Georgian-Russian Confrontation

First, we need to bear in mind that there is no Georgian-Russian confrontation. Mikhail Saakashvili’s grand goal was to involve the West in these inter-state relations, it being a significant political, economic and military power, in order to counter Moscow. He managed to do so and it is no secret that the so-called August 2008 War was and is still considered by Georgia’s strategic allies and the Kremlin as a confrontation between the West and the Russian Federation. Nowadays, Georgian-Russian relations are no longer considered only in the scopes of West-Russia affairs; but issues dealing with separatist regions and the unilateral recognition of statehoods of Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia still fall under the West-Russia confrontation paradigm. This paradigm restrains Georgia as a political player, and its capabilities are miserable; pressed from all sides by actors whose ambitions and interests go far beyond Georgian-Ossetian, Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-Russian confrontation issues.

As yet, it is pretty questionable as to whether we can demand from Kvirikashvili’s government a “proper” reaction to the significant misdeeds done by representatives of the separatist regions and/or Moscow; questionable because Georgian officials are put simply, strangled on the ground to such extent they can be considered more as observers than members of a fully-recognized political actor. We can argue that the negative assessment of the initiative from the main local political opposition forces is merely a PR campaign, but what seems most disturbing is the inadequate reaction from civil society and academic staff members, who called for the taking of “respective measures;” this being more a reflection of lack of awareness and, of course, a perfect example of an overblown sense of political self-importance.

Modern Georgia does not possess the respective political, economic or military mechanisms to influence either the West nor the East (Russian Federation) or even the separatist regions. Generally, the game is on totally another level and the only thing that local government can do is to try and keep the existing status-quo.

The West-East Confrontation

Political processes that are in place in the separatist regions of Georgia and Ukraine (including military confrontation in the Eastern part) are crucial for the West, especially for the American establishment. This importance is due to the effect they have on the existing global political order; the fate of the international system depends on the outcomes of these processes.

It is no secret that the global world order established after the Cold War by the West is under serious assault. The Russian Federation, China, India, Brazil are countries already making significant steps to put forward their own national interests that erode the post-Cold War system and threaten its integrity and stability; furthermore, the states are working hard to finally balance America’s political, economic and military power on an international level. Russia’s unilateral recognition of Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia as independent states, as well as the annexation of Crimea, are important parts of this erosion process. Moscow is trying to break crucial laws of the system established by the West and prove that it can unilaterally decide and handle global political tasks itself. In Georgia’s case, these topics deal with such fundamental principles as sovereignty and territorial integrity.

One of the main pillars of the post-Cold War global order is reflected in the undisputed nature of member states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. An exception can be made if there is a consolidated decision inside a society supported by international law and with approval from the West. The Kremlin broke this sacred formula and without “approval,” crafted two new “sovereign” subjects of the international system. For the US and its allies, this is very dangerous precedent that may firmly lead to the rise of a new wave of separatism in general. But, most significant, this is an open appraisal against the system and the rules set by the West, and if Russia succeeds, the global world order’s stability and integrity will be broken and will start to unravel. Ultimately, the West will lose its privileged position and US its status of the world’s “sheriff.” The American political establishment is aware of the apocalyptic picture and will do its best to avoid this undesirable scenario.

Hence, Kvirikashvili’s initiate to start direct talks with the separatist regions of Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia will definitely not lead to recognition of the unrecognized regimes by the West and international society as a whole. This is simply impossible because the issue is not about Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity anymore; it is already about the stability of the system. And Georgia’s strategic partners will not provide us with respective triggers to make decisions that may somehow initiate dramatic developments. The West will not recognize either Abkhazia, or the so-called South Ossetia while the processes on the ground are kept out of the scopes of international law; something that will never be good for the Kremlin. At present, it matters not whether the Georgian government will have a direct or indirect dialogue with Sukhumi and/or Tskhinvali. This is another example of an overblown sense of political self-importance.

The Kvirikashvili Initiative

Basing on the judgements given above, it is questionable whether we can accuse Giorgi Kvirikashvili of treason and/or concessions. We may argue that the Georgian government is using all accessible means to handle the conflict. Moreover, it once more proclaimed readiness for open dialogue and, according to the same Western standards, showed political maturity. Kvirikashvili has opted for a pragmatic and balanced policy based on careful analysis of the power balance on the ground. By making a reserved statement, despite the painful incident with Archil Tatunashili’s death, Georgia gained the so-called ‘moral superiority’ over governments of the separatist regions and Moscow, too. Tbilisi proved that it is still the only constructive political actor in the conflict.

With regards to statements made by the United National Movement and Movement for Liberty, we should keep in mind that these oppositional parties are built around the Russian narrative. Radical opposition to Moscow is the only thing that makes them different from other pro-Western groups. Thus, they cannot go beyond this ideological platform, beyond the “Russian framework”.

Georgia’s political, economic and military powers are miserable. Nowadays, Tbilisi lacks the mechanisms to influence processes in the conflicting regions at all. Moreover, the zone of Georgian-Russian confrontation is, in practice, a field of West vs Russia rivalry where the fate of the existing political order is being handled. So far, Georgia is more an observer than an actual political power. The only thing that local government should do is to cooperate with strategic partners, remind them about its national interests and hope for a better future; and, of course, to try to maintain the status-quo on the ground. The Kvirikashvili initiative perfectly reflects these realities and is an attempt to use all accessible means to bring stability and peace to civilians.

The article was originally published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here.

TSU 100 Years: Pride & Dissatisfaction

On February 8 Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (abbr. TSU or Tbilisi State University) marked its 100th anniversary under the patronage of UNESCO. The National Bank of Georgia even issued a collector coin in denomination of 5 GEL to mark the event. Georgia’s highest officials as well as prominent local and foreign figures praised Tbilisi State University for its history and contribution. On the other hand, some of the university’s current students and alumnus criticized the anniversary ceremony as a huge waste of money for an institution facing serious challenges. The negative backlash was so strong, especially in social media, that some representatives of TSU’s academic staff expressed their disappointment and confusion.

And while we should definitely celebrate the 100-year achievement, the criticism is not entirely baseless.

The Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, the first-ever national university in the Caucasus, was established on February 8, 1918. The university’s founding fathers were prominent Georgian scientists who had the aspiration to found a European-type higher school in Georgia, based on Georgian educational traditions. The Council of Professors appointed Petre Melikishvili, a Georgian chemist, as the first rector. Tbilisi State University has changed its official name two times: Comrade Stalin Tbilisi State University (from June 9, 1938 to June 7, 1989) and Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (from June 7, 1989 to present). Currently, TSU is the leading research university in the Caucasus.

Times Higher Education data shows that TSU is the only Georgian university to have been included in the TOP 1000 best universities in the world. In 2017 it was ranked as >800, in 2018 – 1001+. TSU’s full data is following (from 100): teaching score – 16.2%, research – 8.7%, citations – 2.7, industry income – 32.3, international outlook – 40.9.

According to QS World University Rankings, no Georgian university has ever been included in the TOP 959.

The beginning of the twentieth century was full of turbulent political events and it was an outstanding achievement for any country to be able to establish a university. So far, it has been a pleasure for Georgia to host the oldest academic/research institution in the Caucasian region. At the same time, it is important to ensure that not only history makes it special but also a strong academic profile and the capability to move the country’s science forward. And here is the main reason for the abovementioned backlash.

Let’s outline at least a few critical flaws of Tbilisi State University that are causing sincere confusion, anger and aggression from its current students and alumnus.

There is no doubt that Tbilisi State University is a leading institution in the Caucasus. Furthermore, it is the most respected and recognized research university abroad in the region. It attracts Georgia’s brightest minds and hosts plenty of foreign researchers working on various topics. All in all, graduating from TSU is a great honor for the representatives of each generation in the country. But, paradoxically, these facts are not reflected in its mostly low, according to statistics, academic profile. There are all necessary variables in place to make the university internationally competitive, but somehow it fails to do so. The question is raised as to why? We may openly argue that there are well-known internal systemic gaps that, unfortunately, some of TSU’s current students and graduates think are not respectively challenged by the university’s administration and academic staff for objective and, frequently, subjective/mercantile reasons.

Finances

TSU might be the best example of a research university without actual research. When we speak about “research” we mean coming in accordance with existing international standards. These standards have evolved over the years and currently, inevitably, demand respective financial resources to be allocated. Simply, you cannot conduct high-level academic projects if you do not have money to pay staff and undertake at least a minimum amount of so-called field works. But Tbilisi State University is out of money. It is a paradox that the leading research institution in the Caucasus does not have even scientific grant schemes to finance research projects. It is totally dependent on external support from, for example, the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation, SOROS Foundation Georgia, various embassies and other agencies. At present, we have a research university without the ability (or, maybe the willingness) to accumulate internal financial resources to support its postgraduate students (especially, PhD) and, thus, execute the institution’s highest goal – promoting science in the country. A research university without finances does not exist as well as, generally, science. As a result, students applying to Tbilisi State University hoping to become scientist-researchers are often disappointed.

Negligence

Students coming to TSU will be surprised not only to find that the university is actually out of money but also by existing attitudes among administration members and academic staff. These attitudes can be clearly defined as negligence. It is no secret that representatives of the university have serious issues with motivation to support and guide students. And this feeling only grows over years. By the end of studies, the only thing a TSU student is sure of is that neither the university nor his/her lecturers care about future perspectives of their alumnus. There is serious lack of understanding among them, especially academic staff, that students represent, first of all, the institution itself. We may argue that this is the reason behind the financial negligence, too. Tbilisi State University is trying hard to avoid investing in its own students and graduates. Probably, that is why TSU’s prominent alumnus were so angered by the fact that the university administration decided to pay more than 60,000 GEL to the Public Broadcaster for advertisement rather than finance student-oriented activities, especially in research areas.

Academic Staff

Probably the most sensitive and painful issue is related to TSU’s academic staff. In theory, these people should lecture and guide students, but in fact we often see the opposite. There is no sense among TSU’s students that their lecturers really care. Moreover, once you face the challenge of writing a Master’s paper, you realize that there is pretty low motivation among academic staff members to supervise and guide you. This is even more evident if you apply for a PhD program. Once you are enrolled, you might find that your supervisor is often keep exceedingly busy by activities that have nothing to do with university or science at all. The lion’s share of TSU’s academic staff members are also active members or even founders of other research institutions, NGOs and movements. Working at TSU is not a full-time job for them but rather a source of secured minimum financial income and high social status.

All in all, it is a significant achievement to have a century-old university that is highly praised by the international academic society. But TSU in practice does not satisfy the international standards to be a globally competitive research institution. Moreover, it does not generally provide its own students and graduates with respective financial and academic support. These challenges must be faced and dealt with to ensure that history is not the only thing that we can be proud of with regards to Tbilisi State University.

The article was initially published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here.

Empathy Lessons: Why Donald Trump’s Presidency is Good for U.S.-Russia Relations

Trump’s presidency might teach Americans a good lesson: They will understand what Russia felt during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency in the 1990s. Trump for the U.S. is an American version of Yeltsin, who put Washington in an awkward position before the world.

Russia’s interference in the 2016 American elections “will have consequences” and Washington will undertake new measures “in response to Russian cyberattacks,” said The White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders during the Feb. 20 press briefing. U.S. President Donald Trump “has been tougher on Russia” than his predecessor Barack Obama, she added. Her statement came after Special Council Robert Mueller accused 13 Russians of meddling in the U.S. presidential elections within the U.S. Justice Department’s ongoing Russia probe.

“It’s very clear that Russia meddled in the election.  It’s also very clear that it didn’t have an impact on the election.  And it’s also very clear that the Trump campaign didn’t collude with the Russians in any way for this process to take place,” highlighted Sanders.

Indeed, unlike Obama, Trump conducted a tougher policy toward Russia despite his intentions to normalize the relations with Moscow. Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladinmir Putin succeeded in establishing personal chemistry during the G20 summit last summer, but it didn’t help.

“He [Trump] helped push through $700 billion to rebuild our military <…> He has helped export energy to Eastern Europe <…> He has put and upheld sanctions that the Obama administration put in place. He has upheld those. He has closed three diplomatic properties that were Russia’s, here in the United States. He has taken a number of actions against Russia and put pressure on them,” said Sanders.

Ironically, Russia’s political elites were happy with Trump’s victory at the presidential race, because they believed that the billionaire would be more pragmatic with Russia that his counterpart from the Democratic party, Hillary Clinton. Trump repeatedly called for a dialogue with the Kremlin and expressed a lot of kudos to President Putin during the presidential campaign and after it, when he moved to the White House.

No wonder, his victory was met with a big surprise and indignation by the American establishment. Trump is still facing the accusations of colluding with the Kremlin, with both democrats and republicans pointing fingers at Russian hackers, who are to be blame for having hacked the Democratic National Committee’s servers.

Although the question of the “hidden Russian hand” is far from being resolved, the fact that Trump, a non-systemic politician, won presidency may teach Americans a very important lesson.

Trump’s America vs. Yeltsin’s Russia

In 2003 well-known American diplomat Strobe Talbott, a former deputy State Secretary (1994-2001), released a book titled The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy. In this work, he remembers the times of the warm relations between former U.S. President and his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin. However, he pays little attention to the Russian perception of the Clinton-Yeltsin friendship.

While American political establishment saw Yeltsin and his team as a positive force, which tried to build democracy in Russia, the Russian political elites and electorate were skeptical about him. They keep viewing him as a failure and don’t approve his pro-Western reforms. 56 percent of Russians believe that the Yeltsin era brought to Russia more problems, but in December 2000, 75 percent of respondents negatively assessed his presidency, according to a 2016 Levada center poll. Only 11 percent of Russians welcome the 1990s liberal reforms in Russia, with 58 percent denouncing them.

Today journalists also write about the Putin-Trump friendship, and the rankings of the American president are also low in the U.S. As a result of the first year of his tenure, his popularity is decreasing, according to recent polls. He has the lowest approval rankings in the U.S. modern history: Two-thirds of Americans believe that Trump’s presidency significantly divided the country, according to AP’s polls. He is supported by 35-37% of the U.S. population, according to the Gallup and CNN researches.

The similarities between the Trump era and the Yeltsin era go far beyond this. More broadly, today the positions of Moscow and Washington are changed: Previously, Russian political elites talked a lot about the U.S. interference in Russia’s domestic affairs, today the American establishment is obsessively concerned with the Kremlin’s alleged meddling in the U.S. internal politics. In this situation, one should take into account several factors.

First, every country tries to influence the politics in other states, which are under the realm of its national interest. In this regard, neither Russia nor America can be the exception. Take the 1823 Monroe Doctrine: The U.S. announced both Americas as the continents under its influence. Washington referred to this document to justify its interference in the domestic affairs of those Latin American countries, which conducted unfriendly policy toward the U.S. It was a matter of defending U.S. national interests. And it is normal for Washington’s current policy.

Second, the alleged attempts of the Russian hackers to get into the American servers are not new: there are suspicions that American and Chinese IT specialists also do the hacking.  Even if Russians indeed hacked the U.S. electoral system, this interference could hardly have any impact on the results of the elections.

And this factor does matter, because the key difference between Yeltsin’s Russia and Trump’s America is clear: The Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. internal politics is not yet proven, while Washington’s interference in Russia’s 1996 presidential election is a matter of fact.

After the failure to implement effective economic reforms and the military defeat in the first Chechen war, Yeltsin approval rankings plummeted below 10% in February 1995. He was about to fail the presidential elections, while the communists were taking the lead: their party won 22 percent of votes as a result of the Dec. 17 parliamentary election in 1995, with the Yeltsin-led party having garnered no more than 10 percent. Thanks to Russian business and American spin-doctors, Yeltsin won the presidency for the second time, as Times wrote.

Bitter pill

Yeltsin’s presidency was not easy for Russia. Everybody ridiculed the country at that time. Today everyone mocks the United States because of Trump: his presidency is a big embarrassment for America. And this feeling is aggravated, because Moscow laughs at Washington and its ongoing Russia probe. The fact that Moscow overtly expressed its pleasure over Trump’s election fuels the anger within the American establishment, which develops fertile soil for new McCarthyism or another Witch Hunt: The American political elites are feeling their vulnerability and the lack of confidence [in the 1950s the U.S. went through the era of spying mania, with communists or those who allegedly had links with them having been prosecuted — Rethinking Russia].

Yet even though Trump is a nightmare for a liberal America, his presidency could be a bitter, yet healing pill, that allows Washington to put itself in Russia’s shoes in order to understand it and the origins of anti-Americanism in the country. Who knows, but in the long-term this will be good for U.S.-Russia relations. It remains to be seen.

The article was initially published by analytical outlet ReThinkingRussia. It is available here.

The Georgian KIS Policy: Quick, Simple & Cheap!

Archil Sikharulidze & Teona Mamukishvili

The Georgian political establishment has already summarized 2017 and given promises to further develop democratic practices on the ground, ensuring economic and social security, equality and, of course, equity. And while members of the Georgian Dream are mainly satisfied with the decision-making, there is an issue that is causing significant alarm. Particularly, there are fears that the ruling party is repeating the mistakes of its predecessor, the United National Movement, by following an old and time-tested policy to solve complex tasks that can be reflected by an abbreviature – KIS. What is more astonishing is that some members of Georgian civil society directly or indirectly play a significant role in this process by pushing the government to pursue the above mentioned policy.

What is KIS policy?

The abbreviature KIS comes from the software developing sphere and means, “Keep it Simple.” The idea behind it is that any complicated programming code should be written in an elegant yet clear way to facilitate other software developers in better understanding the code, the reason it is written in the given manner and, generally the whole program. By doing so, we significantly shorten the time period of further development and integration. And while this general line is applicable to any decision-making process, in Georgian political culture, it overwhelmingly means a scheme containing three policy-making statements: quick, simple and cheap.

To understand what these statements are about, we should analyze them based on two unfortunate cases that happened in Tbilisi this past year. Particularly, on September 25, a 3-year-old child fell from the second floor of the 206th kindergarten of Zemo Ponichala and on December 1 two 16-year-old boys died in a school scuffle.

Quick

The first policy-making statement is probably the most common in Georgia: things must be done quickly (especially when it comes to cases that undermine the prestige of the ruling political elite), deal with pretty sensitive issues, or/and enthrall the eye of the mainstream media. This is also where representatives of civil society play a significant role. Local civil society has a tendency to overreact and by doing so (and continuing to hype various topics), they often push political elites to make decisions as fast as possible. The main narrative behind the decision-making process in such cases is not to solve the issue in general but rather to calm and stabilize the situation.

Notably, in the above two cases, the Georgian government decided to, in the case of the kindergarten incident, punish the director, caregivers and, finally, to increase security measures by putting the children behind bars. The same punishment scenario took place in the school and, according to tradition, security forces such as resource officers and patrol police were mobilized to tighten control in public schools.

Quick decisions are not bad when they are followed by in-depth analysis and strategic planning. In the Georgian case, quick decision-making is not immediately or even in the near future accompanied by any such action.

Simple

Quick decisions that aim to stabilize a situation are usually simple decisions. Simplicity is frequently a positive happening, but not in those cases needing us to deal with complex issues and challenges.

It is no secret that local kindergartens are not capable of satisfying the existing demand for child spaces. Moreover, there are serious doubts being raised as to the professionalism and skills of the caregivers, and to the quality of services given. This state institution is also experiencing a shortage of pedagogues who are able to ensure the physical safety of the children in their care. Taking into account international standards, according to which caregivers do not belong to “security services” and are devoted to promoting the healthy development of children, it is questionable how simply putting a young generation of Georgians behind security bars can deal with the source of the problem rather than its logical consequence.

The same analysis is applicable to the school incident. Georgian schools do not lack “security” institutions; they lack “healthy,” safe environments and inter-personal communication focused on multidimensional (staff, children, families, community, policy) responsibilities to promote the raising of socially responsible youths. This can be achieved only by involving supportive professionals: social workers, specialist pedagogues, psychologists and other related professionals.

The fact that the Georgian government by default considers using security services as a main tool for handling these issues raises questions as to whether it realizes the necessity of raising a new generation of educated citizens devoted to democratic principles.

Cheap

The third important statement, of course, deals with finances. It is not only fast to put bars, take punitive measures, and send police officers to schools, but also simple and comparatively pretty cheap. Representatives of the Georgian political establishment might assume that there are not enough financial resources in the country to hire and prepare high-level professionals to eradicate the issues in the Georgian education system. So far, it has been more logical to use the existing resources (the same resource officers and police) or/and cheap techniques (bars) to contain these problems. Such argumentation is not only wrong but also financially unprofitable. A well-managed infusion of money will undoubtedly lead to the development of strong, effective and efficient institutions that, in turn, will create the respective basis for improved financial and social prosperity.

By and large, the Georgian government should abandon the time-tested KIS policy when dealing with complex tasks. The formula “quick-simple-cheap” is not applicable in such cases. Instead, representatives of the local political elite should pursue a logical long-term policy oriented on eradication of the source of the problems rather than containment. We need a policy-making approach that is based on comprehensive strategic planning with an infusion of the respective financial resources.

The original article was published by GeorgiaToday. It is available here.

The Best of 2017!

Year of 2017 has come to its logical conlusion. Below there is a list of the most important and popular articles that have been published. Please have a look and we are looking for reasonable and well arguemented feedbacks/comments:

The Georgian crusade against Kiev: Can Saakashvili bring together the Ukrainian opposition into a new Maidan? (ReThinkingRussia), December 23:

…if he is removed from the political rivalry, this will mark the end of the Georgian political influence on the Ukrainian policymaking…Yes, Saakashvili contributed a lot to the post-Soviet space, but many stakeholders are tired with him and want his show to come to an end…

The Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts are not just about Russia (OC-Media), December 11:

…Russia is a political, economic, and military guarantor of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence and statehood. But these Georgian lands are not ‘without a people’. There are also a variety of other ethnic groups living in the disputed regions, and their…

Rustavi 2 Case: “Georgian Dream’s” Sword of Damocles (RIAC), November 23:

…Рустави 2 – это один из сильнейших и влиятельных частных телеканалов страны. На протяжении двух десятков лет он влиял на политические события. Именно благодаря этому каналу революционное…

Russian Public Diplomacy in Georgia: Tendencies, Challenges and Perspectives (RIAC), November 23:

…на фоне отсутствия дипломатических отношений российская сторона активно продвигает идею публичной дипломатии. За годы работы сформировались разные научные, экспертные и молодёжные платформы сотрудничества…

Mission is Incomplete: Georgia in the Middle-East (RIAC), November 3:

…представители подрастающего политического и академического классов всё больше и больше задаются вопросом о надобности нахождения Грузинского контингента на Ближнем Востоке, если…

Georgia’s Culture of “Breakthrough” Celebrations (GeorgiaToday), October 20:

Georgia has a long history of “breakthrough” celebrations following various political decisions announced by the government as a great victory. Lately, to the dissatisfaction of local society, it has become politically motivated exaggeration and/or an attempt to overshadow the incapability or…

The King is Law: Georgia’s Never Ending “Perestroika” (GeorgiaToday), September 11:

…the current government’s constitutional reform is highly criticized by various actors for being a unilateral decision not backed by society and lacking a common agreement among political actors. Some say it may even trigger the worsening of domestic processes, though, generally, this is a false statement. In fact, the reform is a continuation of Georgia’s never ending “perestroika” and will not significantly change the environment…

Out with the Russian framework: The Untold Story of the Georgian March (GeorgiaToday), August 31:

…Georgia’s political and other elites must stop using the ‘Russian framework’ to turn a blind eye to the challenges that such marches raise; they should work hard to start open debates to show their readiness for dialogue and awareness of the existing political, social and economic challenges…

The problem with Georgia’s political brand (NewEasternEurope), July 25:

…this event, just like the 2008 August War, the recent clashes during an anti-homophobia rally and various other events, reflects the existence of two parallel Georgias: Georgia as a political brand, created by the former president Mikhail Saakashvili, and Georgia as a political actor of international relations which has to maneuver in the global and regional political environment…

Islam in Georgia: Policy and Integration (Caucasian House), 2016-2017:

…the present research aims at examining issues related to the integration of Muslim communities, raising awareness of the wider public on these issues, and developing recommendations for respective stakeholders…

Russian-Georgian Diplomatic Relations – To Be Or Not To Be? (OC-Media), March 6:

…restoration of Russian-Georgian diplomatic relations is not a grand question of ‘to be or not to be’ as it is represented by some, including in the Georgian media. It is an issue of necessity; whether Georgia needs it at all? From a practical point of view: barely is the answer….

Scapegoating Russia (Russia Direct), February 22:

…the West needs to criticize Russia to find explanations for its geopolitical recession and woes. At the same time, this tactic is quite safe, at least because the West’s strategic partners won’t be disappointed, with little or no threat posed to their own national interests…

Archil Sikharulidze

Co-founder of the Center for Systemic Political Research (CSPR)

Editor of Georgian Journal of Systemic Politics (GJSP)

The Georgian crusade against Kiev: Can Saakashvili bring together the Ukrainian opposition into a new Maidan?*

The campaign of Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia (two consecutive terms from January 2004 to November 2013) and the ex-governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region (2015-2016), against Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko reached its apex and now it is close to the end.

On Dec. 17, Saakashvili’s supporters made an attempt to seize the building of the October palace in Kiev: the campaigners broke the entrance doors, got through the National Guard into the building, but the police stopped them with fire-extinguishers. As a result of the failed seizure more than 30 police officers and protesters got injured. The Ukrainian authorities imposed criminal charges against those who tried to seize the palace, while Saakashvili described this incident as the orchestrated provocation.

The relations between Saakashvili and the Ukrainian president sharply declined in July 2017, when he was forcefully resigned from the position of the governor of the Odessa region. On Sept. 10, the former Georgian president illegally crossed the borders of Ukraine through Poland to bring together the Ukrainian opposition against President Petro Poroshenko. This is how the Georgian-Ukrainian saga has been developing. After Saakashvili’s direct calls for overthrowing the current regime in Ukraine, the Ukrainian authorities have no choice, but keep him at bay from the domestic policymaking.

Amidst this background increasing number of experts are concerned with the repetition of the events of 2014 — a new revolution or the Saakashvili-initiated Maidan. However, many forget about the fact that numerous foreign politicians, including the Georgian ones, have been involved into Ukraine’s internal policymaking for years.

The Georgian trace in Kiev: A new old story

The very fact that Saakashvili has been participating in the Ukrainian political life since 2003 (and he makes no bones about it) is remarkable in its nature. It was the time when Georgian professional revolutionaries from the organization “Kmara” (in Georgian it means enough) trained their Ukrainian counterparts from the group “It is Time!” how to conduct protests and oust undesirable governments.

“Kmara” was very active during the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, which toppled the government of President Eduard Shevarnadze. After these events a new government under Saakashvili actively supported political changes in Kiev both on grassroots and governmental levels.

It is not secret that the representatives of the organization “It is Time” used the same methods, which they learned from their Georgian colleagues. Moreover, Saakashvili personally knew ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who got power as a result of the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, and was an ardent supporter of the latter’s government.

One could also remember the scandal between Tbilisi and Kiev in 2010, when almost 2,000 people were sent to monitor the presidential election in Ukraine as unofficial observers. Yet Ukraine’s central electoral commission denied them in registration: Viktor Yunukovich’s Party of Regions accused then-Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko of using the Georgian observers to destabilize the situation in Ukraine. At the same time, the Georgian opposition accused Saakashvili’s government of attempting to interfere in the election of the friendly country, which could result in the crisis in the Georgian-Ukrainian relations.

The second wave of the Georgian interference in the domestic affairs of Ukraine started in 2014, with the Euromaidan movement: in the beginning of the protests the Saakashvili coalition, which lost both the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012-2013, was actively engaged in the internal policy of Ukraine. The former Georgian president regularly took the floor before the protesters, with his calls for overthrowing the Yanukovich regime.

After the Euromaidan protests, his colleagues were appointed to the key positions in the post-revolutionary government of Ukraine. Saakashvili himself was promoted to the position of the governor of the Odessa region. But he failed to implement his reforms and apply the Georgian experience in Ukraine, because he could not come up with a compromise with the Ukrainian government.

Because Georgia required the extradition of Saakashvili, a political refugee, who faced criminal charges in his home country, the diplomatic ties between Tbilisi and Kiev were in decline.

Moreover, the deterioration in the Georgian-Ukrainian relations could be also explained with Kiev’s rhetoric:  Ukrainian politicians accused the Georgian Dream, a new ruling party, and its leader Bidzina Ivanishvili of having close ties with Kremlin.

Will Saakashvili bring together the opposition for a new Maidan?

Despite Saakashvili’s perseverance, he and his supporters are hardly likely to orchestrate a new revolution.  There is no reason to expect another Maidan so far.

First, the revolutionary potential of the Ukrainian society is exhausted. One should remember that between the first revolution in 2004 and the second one in 2014 there were 10 peaceful years. So, the Ukrainians had enough time to weigh up all the pros and cons of the Orange revolution and prepare to a new one in 2014, which took place after ex-President Yanukovich didn’t sign the Association Agreement with the EU. Today the Ukrainian population is still recovering from the 2014 events and not ready to take to streets again. Moreover, the society cannot fight on two fronts — with its own authorities, on the one hand, and with Donbas, on the other hand. Now the Ukrainians are interested in maintaining the country’s territorial integrity, which could be easily undermined by another upheaval.

Second, the political diversity in Ukraine could prevent a new revolution: Today people interpret the domestic political events and the reasons of the revolutionary movement in different ways. Today there is no unifying idea, which could bring people together. During the Euromaidan people were inspired by the idea of the common European path, today there is no such trend. The rhetoric of Saakashvili, who seeks to organize another coup d’état, is too radical for most Ukrainians, who are fed up with these calls for overthrowing Ukraine’s current government. After all, any upheaval goes beyond the well-established democratic frames and might be met with criticism in the West.

The fight with corruption could not be an option as well: this campaign can’t bring people together and reinvigorate the revolutionary movement. Thus, Saakashvili’s unilateral attempts, supported by Yulia Timoshenko, produce the impression that we are witnessing nothing but another political rivalry within the country.

Finally, the possibility of a new revolution is very dim, because the Ukrainian government learned how to deal with emerging protests, became more sustainable and has a sort of immunity against a new upheaval. And the experience of the Euromaidan is helpful in this regard. Poroshenko takes into account the experience of his predecessor and is reforming the country’s law enforcement forces to be able to withstand any social unrest in future.

Foreign factors

Foreign factors are also not in favor of the Saakashvili-led Maidan in Ukraine. Yes, the former Georgian president enjoys the support of some representatives from the Western countries, for example, in the U.S.  Yet today he does get a free ride from his Western patrons. Yes, he could get some financial support and guarantees to launch the political activity in Ukraine, but it is the West that determines the limits of the allowable, and Saakashvili should know this.

That’s why his opportunities today are very limited.  Both Ukraine and the West are fed up with the perennial instability and internal conflicts.  All this means that the Saakashvili-led revolution is hardly likely to take place. The question of his political activity will be resolved depending on the level of his radicalism.

Yet if he is removed from the political rivalry, this will mark the end of the Georgian political influence on the Ukrainian policymaking. It will also raise the question about the future of the Georgian troops in eastern Ukraine, which are loyal to the ideals of the Saakashvili government.

Yes, Saakashvili contributed a lot to the post-Soviet space, but many stakeholders are tired with him and want his show to come to an end.

 

*In the Russian version, the author used the term “Mikhomaidan” which consists of two words — the first name of former Georgian President “Mikheil” and “Maidan”. This neologism means the capability of Saakashvili to organize a new revolution in Ukraine. The Russian headlines reads: “The Georgian crusade against Kiev: Is “Mikhomaidan” possible?

The original article was published by an international analytical center ReThinkingRussia. It is available here.

The Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts are not just about Russia

For the majority of Georgians, the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are only about Russia. The only way out of this stalemate is to start paying attention to the Abkhazian and South Ossetian experience.

On 27 September, Tbilisi and Sokhumi marked the 24th anniversary of an event with two contradictory interpretations. Tbilisi marked the anniversary of the ‘fall of Sokhumi’ and the end of the war in Abkhazia, while Sokhumi celebrated the anniversary of the ‘liberation of Sukhum’ and its independence from Georgia.

For years, both sides of the conflict have demonstrated entirely different perceptions of the dramatic events of early 1990s. And even though on an official level, Georgia has always pointed to Russia’s role in the conflict, there has been a consensus in Georgian society that the reasons behind the bloody confrontation lay in the miscalculations of both Georgians and Abkhazians, radicalism, and an unwillingness to find common ground.

Over the last decade we have witnessed a nationwide shift away from this narrative, to instead stress the role of Russia in the conflict. Increasing numbers of Georgia’s civil society, political elites, and media have began presenting the Georgian–Abkhazian and Georgian–South Ossetian conflicts as political tools created by Moscow. A new concept of ‘Georgian lands without a people’ has gained prominence, according to which the disputed territories are waiting for their real owners to return. In this fantasy, it’s only the Russian Federation preventing the dream from coming true for more than 230,000 internally displaced persons in the country.

Russia’s ‘hidden hand’

Over the past few years, it has become a widespread trend in Georgia to openly analyse the Georgian–Abkhazian and Georgian–South Ossetian conflicts mainly through the prism of Georgian–Russian relations, completely forgetting the importance of inter-ethnic relations.

This shift started around the mid-2000s during former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s rule. The government attempted to distance itself from Moscow and to integrate the country into Western institutions. Georgia’s drive to join NATO especially put Tbilisi and the Kremlin on a road to a direct political, economic, and military confrontation.

Significant internal pressure in combination with external challenges radicalised local political elites at the time. This process was accelerated by the increasing role of Russia’s ‘hidden hand’ in Georgia’s domestic political affairs. Russia was frequently used as a scapegoat. The legacy of this tendency is still alive today, continuing to affect the perception of the conflicts.

Mutual misunderstandings and serious historical grievances as triggering factors for armed conflict were placed on the fringes of the public discourse, while Moscow’s intervention has come to the debate’s forefront. Downplaying the importance of inter-ethnic relations has resulted in the assumption that these are Georgian lands without a people, which are occupied by the Kremlin. According to this thinking, the removal of Russia from the geopolitical chessboard will by default lead to conflict’s resolution.

The concept echoes a phrase associated with the early Zionist movement — ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ — calling for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In both cases, in Palestine and in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the lands have never been uninhabited. Just as an Arab population has lived in Palestine for over 1,000 years, in Abkhazia and South Ossetia there are non-Russian populations whose interests should also be taken into account.

A reality check

Georgian political elites are so obsessed with Russia and its ‘phantom menace’ that they forget or are turning a blind eye to many important aspects of the Georgian–Abkhazian and Georgian–South Ossetian confrontations.

Probably the most prominent manifestation is the radical Georgian nationalism that flourished at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. The first president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his followers were calling to ‘expel’ from the country various ethnic groups that have been considered as ‘unnecessary elements’.

At the time, there was already serious dissatisfaction among ethnic Abkhaz and Ossetians with their status and rights in as part of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. In Georgian archives, one can find open letters to the central committee of the Soviet Union from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali, calling for their autonomy, the population’s safety, ethnic minority rights, and their cultural identity all to be protected.

The same archival materials prove that there were instances of Georgian oppression of Abkhaz people during the Stalin–Beria period. Even though we may argue that the crimes took place under Soviet dictatorship, the majority of Abkhaz possess a strong historical memory and point out that both Stalin and Lavrenti Beria (the head of the Soviet secret police) were ethnic Georgians.

This history, together with other factors — such as Russian interests in the region — triggered conflicts that affected people on both sides. The Abkhazians and South Ossetians who fought against Georgian ‘aggressors’ haven’t suddenly disappeared amidst the Georgian–Russian confrontation. They live in the disputed regions and we may easily assume that these people have different stories to tell than the Georgian leadership.

Russia is a political, economic, and military guarantor of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence and statehood. But these Georgian lands are not ‘without a people’. There are also a variety of other ethnic groups living in the disputed regions, and their ancestors and relatives took part in the ‘freedom fight’ against Tbilisi.

With or without the Kremlin, these people may have ideas about their future which differs from the Georgian one. These are informed by their history, and have not been artificially constructed by Moscow.

Going forward, it would be more rational for Georgia to rethink its mainstream narratives and pay attention to the complexity of the Georgian–Abkhazian and Georgian–South Ossetian conflicts. We need a narrative that goes beyond the Georgia–Russia framework.

The original version was published by OC-Media. It is available here.