If the West took the same rational approach to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts as it did to Kosovo, the Caucasus might escape more rounds of bloodshed and discover its potential.
By Maxim Gvindzhia (Deputy Foreign Minister of Abkhazia) in Sukhum
Many arguments can be drawn about whether the case of Kosovo's independence differs from that of Abkhazia, or of any of the other "de facto" countries existing today. Certainly, from our point of view, Kosovo is not Abkhazia in the sense that Abkhazia has developed its statehood over a long period of history.
There is another important point, too. Unlike the Kosovo Albanians, the Abkhaz have no other motherland than Abkhazia, the land where they have been the indigenous people for centuries.
But one factor that does unite the cases of Kosovo and Abkhazia is that both these two countries and conflicts are the outcomes of the collapse of the communist empire. And although we should not regret the breakdown of this totalitarian system, the consequences of that collapse are certainly a cause for sorrow.
The rise of newly independent nations has seen severe violations of human rights and of legal treaties, which, had they been observed, could have preserved the Caucasus and Balkans from the tragedies and scars they have experienced.
From Kosovo's experience, we can see that the international community came close to making an objective approach to conflicts that only can be solved by recognising de-facto states. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the international community decided to limit this approach to Kosovo alone. If the same decision were taken as regards Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the South Ossetiaans could have avoided this tragic summer that has cost more 2,000 civilians their lives.
The resemblance between Kosovo and South Ossetia is indeed marked; like Kosovo, in the Soviet era this was an autonomous region of Georgia. Abkhazia on the other hand was at one time a republic of the Soviet Union, before its incorporation into Georgia.
Although the west condemned the consequences of the communist totalitarian regimes, that same international community has continued to support Stalin's pet project, which was to create a so-called "united Georgia" with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as its provinces.
By recognising the territorial integrity of Georgia, the international community has prolonged the suffering of peoples who have fought for their independence from their former oppressors for decades and who were discriminated and in many cases the victims of ethnic cleansing.
When it accepted Georgia as a member, the United Nations neglected the appeals of Abkhazia, which repeatedly drew attention to the lack of legal grounds by which Abkhazia could be considered part of Georgia. Indeed, under Soviet Law, Abkhazia had the right of secession, which it had fully implemented before Georgia's own recognition.
Abkhazia warned the world about the rise of nationalism in Georgia and of the danger of keeping the people of Abkhazia within Georgia. Meanwhile, the government in Tbilisi, only two months after Georgia joined the United Nations, launched a full-scale war against Abkhazia.
Recent developments in South Ossetia and revelations of Georgia's plans to take Abkhazia by force before Georgia joined NATO clearly show the intention of Georgia's leaders to conquer Abkhazia and South Ossetia and annihilate their peoples.
Needless to say, when Georgian policy is so clearly aggressive, no room remains for possible talks about the reincorporation of Abkhazia into Georgia.
Here is one very significant resemblance to the Kosovo situation, for the West said clearly that Kosovo should be recognised once all other options to unite the Kosovars and Serbs had been exhausted. In case of Abkhazia those who support a rational approach the conflict resolution could use same argument.
Even if most Western supporters of the recognition of Kosovo may say they still support the territorial integrity of Georgia, what remedy to the conflict can they produce? Is it still the unrealistic idea of incorporating Abkhazia into Georgia? We know the Georgian army would show no mercy to a single Abkhaz citizen if they restored control over Abkhazia.
Here the policy of double standards is revealed as truly cynical, because it seems as if the supporters of the territorial integrity of Georgia are openly pushing Abkhazia under the machete of the Georgian army. In the space of only one decade Georgia launched no less than six aggressive assaults on its two "breakaway provinces" in 1991, 2004 and 2008 in South Ossetia and in 1992, 1998 and 2001 in Abkhazia.
What is the lesson of the most recent developments, and what tools can foster long-term stability in these vital energy corridors? For a start, we need more profound analysis of the roots of these conflicts as well as identification of past mistakes. We need to review the decision to recognise the territorial integrity of Georgia and accept it as false. In its place, we need to accept that modern Georgia never had a legal claim to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, even if a large number of Georgians settled in Abkhazia under Stalin.
There needs to be a clear understanding, especially in the European Union, that stability in Georgia will not be achieved with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as its parts.
As for the final remedy, it is clear now not only to the Abkhaz or South Ossetians who have repeatedly stated it, but to many rational thinkers, that there is no way Abkhazia or South Ossetia will ever be part of Georgia following the tragic events of summer 2008. A clear message needs to be sent to Georgia to start developing without a huge military burden and concentrate instead on internal social and economic problems.
When it lets go of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia will gain new friendly neighbours instead of constant enemies. The alternative is the Caucasus region remaining a constant matter of security concern, and never discovering its magnificent economic potential.
Maxim Gvindzhia is Deputy Foreign Minister of Abkhazia. Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online publication.
Source: Balkan Insight