The west's moral failure over Georgia, by Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity
The free nations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are threatened by western complicity in our isolation and intimidation by Georgia
One year ago, Georgia's leaders ordered a military attack on unarmed civilians in South Ossetia. By any common understanding this action was a war crime and the ensuing conflict led to recognised independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, of which we are the elected leaders.
From the moment of the Georgian attack there has been a vast moral abdication in the west, among politicians, intellectuals and media – a failure to honestly confront what Georgia did. This moral failure has profound consequences for us and it is preventing western leadership from dealing realistically with the new boundaries of nationhood here.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are free and independent countries, goals sought by our people for centuries. We will never again be a part of Georgia. Over the past two decades, we have worked hard to prepare for our place in the community of nations; by promoting development of a civil society, by encouraging a free press and by holding contested elections in which our citizens chose their leaders. The same cannot be said of Georgia, whose last two leaders have come to power through revolution.
We want to raise our children without worrying every day about a reckless leader with a US arsenal at his disposal. Yet instead of demanding truth and accountability about atrocities committed by Georgia's US-trained and equipped military last August, the west is rearming our neighbour and committing billions of dollars in aid to the same rash leadership.
After independent observers, journalists and human rights groups began confirming the Georgian actions, some US and western leaders – against all reason and justice – said that it was no longer important who started the August war. Military aggression against civilians is never unimportant.
In the long run Abkhazians and South Ossetians will achieve our goals of political freedom and economic opportunity which are universal to people all over the world. But in the near term our progress is thwarted by western acquiescence in Georgia's policy of isolation and intimidation toward us.
US leaders say that unquestioning military and financial support for Georgia is the surest path to freedom and democracy in the region. But even the US has acknowledged President Mikheil Saakashvili's failure to uphold his democratic credentials, including the silencing of critics in the media and the crushing of political dissent.
In fact, the west is defending the borders of the Soviet Republic of Georgia, not historic Georgia, and embracing an ugly strain of Georgian nationalism and territorialism. It was Joseph Stalin who forced South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Georgia in 1931 under the Soviet Union, against the wishes of our people.
We believe our young democracies have great potential for bringing about peace, stability, freedom and democracy in the region. Yet the west has declined even to learn about our nation-building efforts. Our citizens, including students and desperately sick children, have been denied visas to the US and Germany, among other countries. Last year the US state department, under pressure from Georgia, refused to meet six human rights activists from South Ossetia visiting Washington. Why are they so afraid to listen?
Part of this resistance comes from a group of leaders in the west so steeped in a cold war mentality that they can only view our countries as pawns in an endless geopolitical struggle between Russia and the US and Europe. That leaves our republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in the unfortunate position described in an African proverb: when the elephants dance, the grass gets trampled.
We have no intention of accepting that fate. We will continue to insist that the world address the truth and accept its consequences.
The truth is that on 7 August 2008 an irrational Georgian leader used US military support to launch a brutal attack on South Ossetia, hours after publicly assuring Ossetian civilians that he had ordered a ceasefire. The truth is that Grad rockets and cluster bombs killed women, children and the elderly in the middle of the night, and only Russian intervention prevented an even greater atrocity.
Georgia does not need more weapons; it needs more tolerance and political freedom. If the Obama administration genuinely wanted to promote peace, stability and democratic values in our region, it would insist that Georgia sign a pact of non-aggression against our countries.
The language of US leaders says peace, but their actions communicate otherwise. In his visit to Tbilisi last month, US vice-president Joseph Biden made the following comment: "It's a sad certainty but it is true," he said. "there is no military option to reintegration [of Abkhazia and South Ossetia]."
Why would it be "sad" that Georgia should not use its military to attack our people?
In the end, we would ask the following: are Georgian freedoms more important than Abkhazian or South Ossetian freedoms? Is a Georgian child worth more than a South Ossetian or Abkhazian child?
We in Abkhazia and South Ossetia urge Georgia and its western supporters to join us in building a future based on shared values and a desire for peace.
Come to Sukhum and Tskhinval and see for yourself. Talk to those seeking to rebuild our war-damaged villages, meet the students who have been denied visas to attend peace camp in Germany, visit the entrepreneurs trying to grab a piece of the global market in spite of the Georgian blockade. We welcome your scrutiny and advice. We are not afraid of the truth.