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Starry-eyed Zakareishvili by Inal Khashig

Ekho Kavkaza -- Having “had my ear trodden on by an elephant” at birth, ever since childhood I have regarded any musician capable of playing the simplest melody almost as a magician. I recall how I was entranced by one of my classmates who from the very first grade came to school carrying a violin case. No one had ever heard him play, although we tried to talk him into it, but the magic that emanated from his instrument was so strong  that we nicknamed our comrade, who was serious and focused beyond his years, “Maestro.”

Then one fine day, towards the end of third grade, our teacher announced that the highlight of our festive matinee concert would be a performance by our revered maestro. Our jubilation knew no bounds.

After interminable numbers that seemed pointless, our young musician finally appeared on stage to shrieks of rapture. We held our breath. First Maestro found the right place for the violin against his skinny neck, which seemed to take forever.  Then he spent a long time tuning the instrument. Then just as the bow was about to soar through the air, the mother of the young genius appeared on the stage and all our hopes were instantly dashed. “The boy has had an attack of nerves,” she explained, “and he can’t calm down.”  At that moment I lost all interest in the violin.

It is of course a long time since I was a boy and it’s no longer so easy to make that sort of impression on me. All the same, that incident came to my mind a few days ago when the news agencies reported that Georgia had shelved the question of opening rail transit traffic across the territory of Abkhazia.

“The question was dropped almost immediately after the Abkhaz failed to show any interest in it,” the Novosti-Gruzia news agency quoted State Minister for Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili as saying. That same Zakareishvili had previously declared solemnly that “the Georgian authorities are ready to restore rail communication with Russia within the framework of the ‘strategy to bring Abkhazia out of isolation’ and to depoliticize the issue to the maximum degree possible.”  For over a month he kept promoting his idea at every opportunity, but nothing concrete ever came of it. No one sent an official proposal to Sukhum to “examine,” or “discuss,” or “exchange views” [about it].  And how were the Abkhaz authorities supposed to react when they didn’t have a document from Tbilisi on letterhead notepaper with an official seal?

All the more so since apart from Zakareishvili, with all due respect to him, not a single representative of Georgian Dream has said a word about this “project of the century,” while Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili gave the impression that this magnificent idea was nothing to do with him. And President Aleksandr Ankvab, who has gone through “fire, water and copper pipes” in politics, is not going to make a fuss (especially when Georgian-Abkhaz relations are involved) when there is even the slightest doubt about the legitimacy of the object of discussion. So this guy who is likeable in all respects and who has not yet got used to being a government minister comes out with this scandalous proposal on his own initiative. “My dear man! First get your breath back and learn how a government official ought to behave and then we can talk.”

I am sure the “dear man” has realized, or is colleagues have made it clear to him, that he went too far with the “project of the century.” The Georgian-Abkhaz conflict is such a delicate issue for both Sukhum and Tbilisi that a frontal assault can only result in damage. It is one thing to stick the unpopular Dato Akhalaya in jail and – to please the crowd – harass Saakashvili with his ceremonial powers. It is something else entirely to change the Georgian-Abkhaz status quo that has held for years without any guarantees of success. Depoliticizing the “railway question” as Zakareishvili promised in the heat of the moment is impossible, if for no other reason than the unsolved problem of border and customs control. Even if agreement were reached on introducing a Caucasus “Schengen Area,” someone from the Abkhaz side would have to sign that document. And it would be practically recognition of Abkhazia’s vaunted statehood. What this amounts to is that there is no way to get around the politics, and implementing this project will bring Georgian Dream nothing but problems. Absolutely nothing. It looks as though Zakareishvili and Ivanishvili have realized this. After all, it’s one thing to show off  by carrying a violin in its case and something else entirely to play it.

This article was published by Ekho Kavkaza and is translated from Russian.

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