- Abkhazia by John Colarusso
- The Stalin-Beria Terror in Abkhazia, 1936-1953, by Stephen D. Shenfield
- The International Legal Status of the Republic of Abkhazia In the Light of International Law, by Viacheslav Chirikba
- Why Can Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili Not Emulate Willi Brandt? by Liz Fuller
- Commentary on the Resolution of the European Parliament for Georgia, 17 November 2011
- Kosovo or Abkhazia: Contrasts and Comparisons
- International law and the Russian “occupation” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, by Richard Berge
- 'Absence of Will': A commentary, prepared by Metin Sönmez
- Documents from the KGB archive in Sukhum. Abkhazia in the Stalin years, by Rachel Clogg
- On the 20th anniversary of the start of Georgia’s war against Abkhazia, by Stanislav Lakoba
- Military Aspects of the War. The Battle for Gagra (The Turning-point), by Dodge Billingsley
- Alleged human rights violations during the conflict in Abkhazia | Amnesty International, 1993
- A reply to Paul Henze’s views on Georgia, by George Hewitt - February 1993
- Ossetia-Georgia-Russia-U.S.A. Towards a Second Cold War?, by Noam Chomsky
- Thinking the Unthinkable: What if Georgia and the West Were to Recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia? by Paul Goble
- A Chance to Join the World, by Neal Ascherson
- Hitler calls on Georgians to win back Abkhazia
- Opinion: Hottentot morality - Uri Avnery
- Abkhazia: A Broken Paradise, by Georgi Derluguian
- Baron Pyotr Karlovich Uslar: Inventor of the First Abkhaz Alphabet, by Stephen D. Shenfield
- Lesson to the West: Abkhazian independence is a fact, by Inal Khashig
- Abkhazia, from conflict to statehood, by George Hewitt
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|A reply to Paul Henze’s views on Georgia, by George Hewitt (February 1993)|
|Articles - Analysis|
|Thursday, 22 January 2009 19:58|
by B.G. Hewitt (February 1993)
Scholars locate the start of Modern Georgian literature in the writings of Sulkhan Saba Orbeliani (1658-1725), whose most famous work is perhaps his çigni sibrjne-sicruisa c’igni sibrjne-sicruisa ‘The Book of Wisdom and the Lie’. This is usually referred to in an abbreviated form as Saba’s sibrjne sicruisa, which, now without a hyphen, means ‘The Wisdom of the Lie’. As one who has closely studied the Georgian language and Georgian culture since 1975, I regrettably have to suggest that this would be a convenient slogan to characterise the Republic of Georgia in the late Soviet and post-communist eras. Lies are, of course, usually revealed sooner or later, and I hope to play a part in ensuring that in the present instance it is sooner. But until they are revealed, it may seem to the perpetrator that there is indeed a wisdom in spreading them, and, tragically for at least two of Georgia’s ethnic minorities (Ossetians and Abkhazians), failure to recognise the essentially mendacious nature of current Georgian propaganda has already led into grave error many, though not all, who for whatever reason (unprofessional journalistic enquiry, furtherance of political cronyism, participation in either over-hasty fact-finding missions or even poorly prepared conflict-resolution endeavours) choose to offer the world their supposedly considered but basically superficial opinions on the present state of this country, even though in the main they have made no attempt to learn the Georgian language, which is an absolutely essential pre-requisite for anyone who wishes at least to try to understand what it is to be a Georgian. This gathering has already been addressed by former CIA-employee Paul Henze on the theme of Conflict in the Caucasus. Henze also took part in the London-based International Alert’s mission to Georgia last November; their report was published in January. I have to say that, if both these presentations (taken together) reflect the quality of information that finds its way to the CIA in the form of briefing-documents, then it is little wonder that the world today is in such a dreadful mess! In what follows I wish to re-address some particularities of the Abkhazian problem and also to touch upon the question of the Caucasus in general.
History: we are told that the collapse of communism has granted a freedom to peoples to repossess their history and that each ethnic group has its own version of its origin which may conflict with its neighbour’s/neighbours’ version(s). In certain cases, of course, all this means is that Soviet lies are being replaced by lies that bolster local nationalisms. Outsiders are also advised to read local history, literature & ethnography both to deepen their own understanding and to encourage the Caucasians to trust them. Henze would indeed be well advised to follow his own advice, for in the IA report on Georgia he and his colleagues patronisingly dismiss the discipline of history with the words: ‘We are inclined to believe [why? — BGH] that both sides have been exaggerating and distorting obscure...historical evidence...Ancient history has little bearing on the problem of easing the current fighting...’ (p.4). Without going into the details, about which I have written at length elsewhere, let me quote from the Pax Christi pamphlet Minorities in the Republic of Georgia: ‘Lies [please note this word! — BGH] about the origins of the Abkhazians circulated that said that they were a medieval intrusion on Georgian land from north Caucasian mountainous clans’ (p.14). These lies did not just circulate, they were deliberately fabricated by one P’avle Ingoroq’va during the bleak 1940s as a possible pseudo-scholarly ‘justification’ for the expected expulsion of the Abkhazians from Abkhazia. They were vigorously argued against at the time and into the 1950s, as a result of which Ingoroq’va was never granted academician status after the deaths of Stalin and Beria. Then in the days of perestrojka a number of ‘scholars’ in Tbilisi quickly jumped onto the growing bandwagon of nationalism and began to prostitute their disciplines of history and linguistics by resurrecting Ingoroq’va’s fabrications, arguing either (like Ingoroq’va) that the Abkhazians were relative newcomers to Abkhazia (e.g. the Svan linguist A. Oniani) or that ancestors of the present-day Kartvelians (Georgians, Mingrelians, Laz, Svans) had always shared Abkhazia with the Abkhazians (e.g. Mariam Lortkipanidze) — Honorary Member of the American Academy, Prof. Tamaz Gamq’relidze, even contributed a shoddy, lamely argued philological article to the debate in 1991 — [N.B. only after the Russian expulsion of most of the North West Caucasian Abkhazians, Circassians and Ubykhs to Ottoman lands in 1864 do non-Abkhazians appear in any numbers in Abkhazia — BGH]. And so I wish to ask: ‘When a strong neighbour that coverts your territory deliberately falsifies your history in order to buttress his claim to your land, are you not entitled forcefully to defend your sacred history?’ Of course you are so entitled, and what is more you have the right to expect that foreign observers will pay your arguments due respect rather than airily dismiss them after the manner of the IA report. But, in a sense, there is here a more important consideration: more than once Henze describes certain unwholesome aspects in some of the post-Soviet societies as a sort of natural outcome of the collapse of 70 years of Soviet rule. I would suggest that it is too facile by far to make the excuse for the inexcusable that we simply have no reason to expect anything better. Scholars and writers belong to the class of ‘intelligentsia’. Does the civilised world not have the right to expect that such intellectuals in ANY society should be able to distinguish between good and evil? Into which of these categories does the deliberate falsification of your own or your neighbour’s history belong? If you consciously set out not only to falsify history but seek, by publishing your fabrications, to rouse your less educated fellow-citizens to the ethnic hatred of smaller races in your immediate vicinity, what judgment by outside observers do you deserve? — condemnation or the Henze-response that it doesn’t count because we could really expect nothing more civilised from you anyway, given your Soviet circumstances? I trust the answer is self-evident. The saddest thing about the present wretchedness of Georgia is that all of its troubles could so easily have been avoided. It was solely for the personal benefit of leaders like Zviad Gamsakhurdia that the nationalist card was played as of 1987-88, and once out of his bottle this malign genie has still not been forced back into it. Most frightening of all is the fact that hardly anyone has even made an attempt to re-stop the bottle...
Religion: Georgia is well known as one of the first states officially to have adopted the christian faith (4th century). Its citizens are now free to re-embrace their faith, if they so desire. What they are not free to do is seek to win the sympathy of the (essentially christian) West by aiming to tar all of their opponents with the tag of islam in a cynical attempt to play on the fears that are especially strong in America of islamic fundamentalism. Even Henze and his IA colleagues could see that islam is of no relevance to the present conflict with Abkhazia, and yet since 1989 Georgian politicians and intellectuals have used the charge of adherence to islam as part of their verbal armoury against the Abkhazians. One notorious example was in the summer of 1989 when on the evening news-programme moambe ‘Reporter’ one of the commentators on international affairs tried to link all cases of unrest in Abkhazia since 1950 with developments in Iran! The Ossetes (particularly those of South Ossetia) are just as much christian as the Georgians, and yet the then Soviet Ambassador to Holland, Aleksandre Chik’vaidze, said on Dutch TV in 1991 that the Ossetes were an islamic, Turkic-speaking people [their language is, in fact, related to Persian]. If that was not a deliberate lie, what was it? Chik’vaidze is currently the Foreign Minister of Georgia...
Culture: Georgians are perceived as an extraordinarily hospitable people (as indeed they are). But in this they simply share with fellow indigenes of the Caucasus just one aspect of Caucasian culture — if foreigners associate this habit only with the Georgians, that is because foreigners have not until quite recently been free to meet and socialise with other Caucasians, a fact which is all too easily overlooked. Georgians capitalise quite outrageously on this and in lauding their own generous nature ask in feigned amazement who can have stoked the fires of ethnic hatred on their soil. They wish to suggest the answer ‘the Centre in Moscow and those conservatives and extremists who would re-establish its control’. But we need not look so far for a more relevant answer: let us take as an example the Georgian newspaper Young Communist (29th July 1989). This is what the writer Revaz Mishveladze writes: ‘Georgia stands on the brink of a real catastrophe — of extirpation. What devil ruled our minds, when we yielded up our land, gained inch by inch over the centuries, defended and soaked with our blood, to every homeless beggar that has come down from the fringes of the Caucasus, to tribes that have neither history nor culture... We must make every effort to raise the percentage of Kartvelians in the population of Georgia (currently 61%) to 95%. The remaining 5% must consist of only those who know Georgian, who have a proper respect for Georgia, who have been brought up under the influence of the Georgian national phenomenon [stress added — BHG]. We must persuade other nationalities, who are multiplying suspiciously in the land of David the Builder, that ideal conditions for the development of their personalities are to be found only in their homelands. Apart from a peaceful announcement to that effect, it is possible to bring the law to bear upon those guests who eventually prove obdurate and slow to leave. The law will state clearly that land will be taken at once from those who have illegally possessed it, that any buildings erected there will be demolished without compensation... A few days ago a delegation from Georgia (which included the 1st Secretary of the Qvareli Raikom) spent 8 hours in nervous conversation with the leaders of Daghestan, trying to reach agreement on the return to their fatherland of part of the Lezgians [actually Avars — BGH]. Finally, after reminding them of their patriotic duty, of the possibility of actual danger, we succeeded in partially accomplishing our mission.’ Mishveladze is a writer and professor at Tbilisi University. If I had been a non-Kartvelian resident of Georgia, I would not have been too confident about my future there, reading this in 1989, and this is only one of numerous examples that could be cited from the Georgian media since the late 1980s. This disgraceful piece reveals all too clearly the prevailing attitude to the non-Kartvelian minorities, who according to the 1989 census make up no less than 30% of Georgia’s population, and it provides us with our third lie, namely that the minorities need have no cause for alarm in an independent Georgia. I would suggest to Henze that precisely here is the reason why ‘Georgia became independent with secessionist movements already asserting themselves’ and that to look for external encouragement of events in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is merely to give comfort to the Kartvelians in their attempt to absolve themselves from any responsibility for local reactions to their racist attitudes.
Political Tendencies: It is part of Georgian propaganda to blacken the name of the Abkhazian political leadership with the calculated slur that they are all a pack of ex-communists who behave like Bolsheviks are want to preserve Bolshevik structures in Abkhazia (see, for example, this very charge made by Minister K’avsadze’s assistant Ramaz K’limiashvili on the BBC World Service programme ‘The World Today’ on 28 August 1992). Even if the target-audience for these ridiculous charges has no knowledge of the actual identity and politics of the Abkhazian leaders, does this slander not sound odd coming from a regime headed by not just any old Bolshevik but one who actually led the Georgian Communist Party from 1972 to 1985? What excellent democratic credentials!
War: I shall limit myself to one further lie, namely the reasons for the present war in Abkhazia. At the time it was Shevardnadze’s defence that he had to free his kidnapped ministers K’avsadze and Gventsadze. These ministers, however, wherever they were being kept (if indeed they were kidnapped at all — see the Pax Christi report, page 33, for doubts over Gventsadze), were taken NOT by Abkhazians but by the Georgians’ fellow-Kartvelian Mingrelians. Subsequently Shevardnadze preferred to lay his stress elsewhere, arguing that troops had to go to Abkhazia to defend the railway-link with Russia. It is true that trains were frequent targets for robbery BUT NOT BY ABKHAZIANS; RAIL-TRAFFIC WAS INTERFERED WITH AGAIN BY MINGRELIANS IN MINGRELIA. The true reason for the troops going in was to try to prevent the Abkhazians succeeding in loosening Tbilisi’s control over their territory, as Minister of Defence K’it’ovani freely acknowledged some days after the invasion. It is also false to depict the Abkhazians as rebels and separatists — they took up arms, as anyone would, only when attacked and did not initiate the fighting. Their 1925 constitution, re-instated on 23 July 1992, implied the existence of a confederal relation with Georgia, and talks on the nature of this confederation were taking place at the time of the invasion — an interview given to Georgian television by Abkhazian delegate Zurab Achba on 13 August was never shewn, and the troops went in on 14 August! The text of a draft-treaty for confederation was prepared by the Abkhazian T. Shamba and published in the paper Abxazija at the end of June 1992. The IA mission to Georgia never mentioned the existence of this document or even the Abkhazian proposal for confederal status with Georgia and proceeded dishonestly to advocate a federation as their own part-solution to the problem, stating that it was the Georgian side which had expressed approval of this idea — sending in troops to prevent the very thing that IA claims you support is an odd way indeed to proceed! Secretary General of the Unrepresented Peoples and Nations Organisation in The Hague, Dr. Michael van Walt van Praag, who himself led a mission to Abkhazia in November and, in contrast to the Henze team, produced an excellent report (well-researched, knowledgeable, informative and unprejudiced), is himself an international lawyer. It is his opinion, expressed in conversation to me, that the Abkhazian draft-treaty is well-framed and fully deserves to be taken as the basis of serious negotiation. We see, then, that the Abkhazian academic leadership is not exactly the bunch of incompetents implied by Henze. However, their attempt to achieve their goals peacefully and by constitutional means has won them no credit — in response to my query about the British Government’s attitude to the status of the Abkhazian 1925 constitution Douglas Hogg replied by letter that HMG has no views on the manoeuvrings of the early Bolsheviks! And so if you seek to play by the only book available to you, the book itself is ripped up in your face as a worthless product of Bolshevik rather than Western capitalist writing! Whereas if you send in your troops after the manner of Shevardnadze on 14 August, no-one even bothers to raise a squeak of protest...
Academics: Henze clearly does not think much about academics involving themselves in politics, even though in London (26 Jan) he stated that under the Soviet system it was the best minds that went into academia! I find the assumption that only those who have experience of political power should be trusted with exercising it unreservedly unacceptable. And in the specific case of states emerging from Soviet communism whither does it lead? It leads directly to the conclusion that the only ‘worthy’ political leaders are former communist apparachiks (who, as admitted by Henze, are also possessed of less capable minds), a quite staggering view for a presumably healthy anti-communist American to espouse! Henze’s antagonism towards academics in politics (though note that in IA’s report on Chechnia he is by no means so hostile to the views of Chechen academics) is partly explained by his belief that the academic leaders of Abkhazia have given no thought to the economics of the region. This belief, however, is totally erroneous and merely betrays Henze’s ignorance of developments in Abkhazia over recent years, where there has been a keen awareness of the importance of building the region’s economy; to this end contacts with businessmen in Turkey, usually of Abkhazian descent, have been carefully cultivated, as I have personally witnessed, since it became possible to pursue such aims during the Gorbachev period. Henze’s opinion, on the other hand, comfortably allows him to advocate ever more assistance for the present leader in Tbilisi. This I find a most dangerous stance to adopt, and as it is the one that seems to attract the unthinking acquiescence of Western politicians in general, it must be strenuously refuted.
Regardless of what one thinks about Shevardnadze personally, one man does not a nation make. In his book The Future Belongs to Freedom Shevardnadze talks much about the ‘new thinking’. I wish to argue that it is high time for some ‘new thinking’ on the problems attending the states emerging from the communist block. Indeed, had some ‘new thinking’ and vision been applied in time, many of the problems that were early pointed out by regional specialists and that have led during the past few years to death and misery for thousands in Europe’s back-yard might have been avoided, whereas it was only at the end of January 1993 that the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, made a speech about how advantageous it would be for the world-community to take preventative action in potential trouble-spots rather than wait for hostilities actually to break out! What a pity the Germans applied no ‘new thinking’ to the likely consequences of their precipitate recognition of Croatia at the end of 1991; what a pity Hurd could come up with no ‘new thinking’ when, immediately after the return to Georgia of Shevardnadze, the UK recognised the country, established diplomatic relations and urged the rest of Europe to do likewise, and this despite the fact that the ruling State Council had come to power in a bloody coup and wholly lacked legitimacy! What a signal must this incredible decision have sent to potential military adventurers around the world? As Pax Christi put it: ‘Thus the arrival of Shevardnadze gave the government the international recognition that had been denied to the democratically elected government of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a remarkable fact considering article 17/1 of the CSCE Final Document on the Human Dimension, that strongly condemns all infringements on the outcome of free and democratic elections’ (p.18). Not that I am trying to defend Gamsakhurdia, who was basically little more than a demagogue with no idea how to run a country, instigating in the process the bloody war in South Ossetia, but if incompetence were justification for the launching of coups, how many Western European leaders would sleep easily in their beds at night?
At IA’s London meeting in January Henze and his colleague, Enders Wimbush, advocated that the West should help to strengthen Shevardnadze’s regime, advancing the specific opinion that to help train the Georgian army would lead to the speedy solution of the country’s internal ethnic disputes, forgetting in the process that it was this regime which actually began the killings in Abkhazia. Well, there are solutions and there are final solutions... All this rather sounds to me like a good example of the ‘old thinking’ — look at the map, decide that you don’t want instability in some region, select a local ‘good guy’, support him in every way (including arming him to the teeth), and then... and then... After the repressions, after the killings, sit back and wring your hands in despair as the region descends into anarchy. Remember Samosa, remember the Shah, remember Saddam Hussein... Are the Abkhazians destined to play the role of Iraq’s Kurds? Are the South Ossetians to play the role of Iraq’s Marsh Arabs? What of Georgia’s 400,000 Armenians? What of Georgia’s 300,000 Azerbaydzhanis? Is the post-Soviet New World Order to see more of the Old World chaos? — more, simply because there are more minorities to suffer at the hands of more local oppressors who feel they have the right to act as they wish simply because they have been awarded their own nation-state?
And here we come to the basic problem: the nation-state. From the former USSR 15 new states have emerged to represent more than 130 separate peoples. Is this a recipe for peace and harmony, or might not the process of decolonisation have some way yet to go? My own recommendation for ‘new thinking’ would take a somewhat different course from Henze’s answer to his own (Lenin-type) question What is to be done? While one may never achieve one’s goal, I feel that this is no excuse for not at least seeking to attain the ideal. Of course we must search for solutions to conflicts rather than just mitigation, and solutions must be predicated upon a full understanding of the aspirations of all parties to a dispute. I fear that Henze’s statement: ‘Active external intervention...can be undertaken only with the consent and some degree of support of the powers that exercise sovereignty...’ may be little more than code for the starker: ‘Don’t even attempt to do more than satisfy the demands of those who control local power-centres’. To consider the Caucasus only in terms of the needs of the Georgians (Kartvelians), Armenians, Azerbaydzhanis and Russians (or their current individual rulers, as is sadly all too often the case) will lead to further tragedies in the area; there will assuredly be no stability. The Abkhazians, as we have seen, have proposed re-establishing the confederative relations they had with Georgia throughout the 1920s; at the same time a number of the North Caucasian peoples (including the Abkhazians) came together in 1989 to create an Assembly of North Caucasian Peoples, which was transformed in November 1991 into the Confederation of which Henze speaks. If IA could conclude that the Abkhazians’ idea of a (con)federal association might be a possible way out of Georgia’s problems, should not those in the West who might be in a position to influence events in the Caucasus not only start to think about the advantages of (con)federations in the region but actually start to promote them? Henze, as might have been anticipated, is rather negative about the North Caucasian Confederation: ‘The situation in the North Caucasus has been additionally exacerbated by the existence of a Confederation of North Caucasian Peoples (not states)... By sending volunteers to Abkhazia to fight, the Confederation greatly complicated its situation.’ The sending of volunteers to fight was a direct consequence of the fact that this Assembly/Confederation was created primarily to defend the Abkhazians against the threat of attack from chauvinist Georgia, a state of affairs about which Henze seems completely ignorant. Henze also evidently approves of Chechen leaders trying ‘to extricate Chechnia from involvement in Abkhazia and work out a rapprochement with Georgia’, though I remain to be convinced that this is a correct appraisal of what Chechen leaders are actually doing. What is abundantly clear is that Henze thinks the 97,000 Abkhazians should be left to fend for themselves against 4 million Kartvelians — not a pleasant thought when one recalls the threat made in September 1992 by the then-Georgian commander in Abkhazia, Gia Q’arq’arashvili, to sacrifice 100,000 Georgian lives to ensure that the 97,000 Abkhazians were wiped out to leave them without descendants! This threat was delivered in front of cameras and is now available in the West. Henze condemns Russian policies of ‘divide & rule’ in the Caucasus; he seems not to realise that the raison d’être of the Confederation (in which Turkic peoples like the Balkars were never involved) is precisely to ensure that North Caucasians guarantee their future survival by remaining united against imperial threats from BOTH Russia AND Georgia. Henze’s not entirely wholesome view of the Confederation is evident elsewhere; in the Introduction to IA’s report on Chechnia he writes: ‘[Dudaev’s] neglect of attention to urgent economic priorities while continuing to support military intervention in Abkhazia and, in supporting the North Caucasian Confederation, to encourage subversion against the other governments of the region, puts him on a collision course with internal opposition groups or external elements or both’ (p.vi). I find offensive the suggestion that somehow the Confederation is striving by subversive means to achieve what I regard as the entirely progressive aim of uniting the various North Caucasian Peoples. It is a movement, led (unfortunately for one of Henze’s persuasion) by another academic, the Kabardian Prof. Yuri Shanibov of Nalchik University, that aspires to bring people together at a time when it is splits between neighbours that are scarring the map of Eastern Europe. Simply because this organisation does not want to see a continuation of the present patchwork of North Caucasian republics run by the communist old guard, especially by the reactionaries Kokov in Kabardia and Galazov in North Ossetia, it does not follow that this must be a subversive grouping; indeed, Shanibov declared quite openly in the autumn of 1992 at a large meeting in Nalchik that it was the desire of the Confederation to achieve full independence for the North Caucasus but that only constitutional means were to be employed.
Now that the former Soviet republics have been internationally recognised as nation-states with their borders, however unacceptable to this or that minority, fixed, any suggestion that Westerners involve themselves in trying to bring about a re-organisation of these nation-states into (con)federations will no doubt be met with the charge: ‘Don’t interfere in our internal affairs!’ But if the international community truly has the interests of all its members at heart, I maintain that there is a duty to intervene, certainly on NGOs and possibly even on governments themselves. This need not, and indeed could not, take the form of simple heavy-handed instructions to local heads of state to satisfy without question the demands of all relevant minorities. It will require patience and much discussion with all parties to disputes, especially with those being called upon to make sacrifices, so that they will eventually come to see the advantages of taking decisions that will permit everyone who presently lives in the relevant region to live peacefully with his neighbour. No solution of any sort at all will derive from ignoring the rights of one side and naively suggesting that every step be taken to satisfy the request of the regional majority for financial and military assistance — quite the reverse; if need be, pressure must be put on unbending local majorities by actually denying them such aid.
With its intricate mix of peoples, languages and cultures the Caucasus is a perfect example of the inappropriateness of the nation-state with its artificial and immutable frontiers. We need from all those of goodwill in the West a ‘hands-on’ policy and quickly. Can we not at least try to persuade all in the area to think of the region as a whole rather in terms of this or that bit of territory? If this could be done, the ethno-territorial rights to Nagorno-Karabagh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Prigorodnyj Region of North Ossetia, which is the focus of conflict between the the North Ossetians and the Ingush, would lessen and hopefully disappear, as the region were carefully developed for the advantage of all. By what exact mechanisms all this could be done, I am not in a position to say, as I am not an international lawyer — ‘Clearly not!’ you may be thinking — but (con)federations seem to me to offer the best opportunity, at least for starters. Bring and keep on bringing representatives of all parties to the West, talk to them, give them ideas, shew them how different forms of association work here, help them to develop civil (and peaceful) societies, do not be afraid of discussing new forms of government. If we are really grateful that the Cold War and super-power rivalry are behind us, do we not owe it to the former Soviet peoples to make the attempt? It will not be easy, and it will probably not be cheap, but to fall back as an excuse for doing nothing, so favoured by those of a rightist tendency, on the rhetorical question: ‘What interests do we have in the region?’ is a disgrace, insofar as it presupposes that we should act only when this leads to some financial profit to ourselves. I prefer to go back over 2,000 years to the Roman poet Terence, who wrote: Homo sum, et nihil humanum a me alienum puto ‘I am a human being, and I judge nothing human to be foreign to me’. It is ultimately not in anyone’s interests to sit back and allow people just to go on killing one another.
It is equally unacceptable ingenuously to believe that parties involved in armed conflict necessarily both want that fighting to stop. Fact-finders must truly find their facts, and, where necessary, pressure must be applied. I personally tried in 1989 to encourage men of vision and sense in Georgia to stand up and speak out against the wild cries of the nationalists, who then held centre-stage. No-one responded to the call, and I became the immediate object of obloquy from the entire Georgian media. We are gathered here in Tbilisi’s twin-town of Atlanta. I ask well disposed citizens to start the process I am advocating of talking openly and frankly to Kartvelian visitors to this city. Make yourselves aware of the issues and don’t be put off discussing them because of fears of the likely reaction — lives are being needlessly lost because too many in the West remain silent, as, I regret to say, most Georgian specialists have refused to speak out about events in that country over the last 4-5 years. I urge NGOs and governments also to take up the challenge at once.
Georgia, the Georgians and other Kartvelians will all have a crucial role to play in whatever the future holds for the Caucasus, but no-one should be allowed to build their international bona fides on lies or pampered into expecting a divine right to hegemony by being allowed to get away unchallenged when lauding (in the manner of Mishveladze above) some notional ‘Georgian national phenomenon’ — haven’t we had enough of ‘national phenomena’ this century?!
If we are not prepared to stand up for what is right and just, then let us say now and without prevarication: ‘Do not be a minority without a state of your own; do not seek to behave with dignity in the face of abuse and threats from your state-owning neighbours; do not put your trust in the justice of your case hoping that the Western powers will take an interest in, and support, your moderate requests; do none of this, just yield all your rights to your state-owning neighbour, for the West has never heard of you, does not want to hear of you, and is not going to lift one little finger to help you ensure your physical survival — it is too busy contemplating its profit & loss ratio!’ Is this really the message we wish to send out from this Consultation?!