The difficulties of the Statehood Building Process in Georgia Faced with the Interregional Conflicts
(La paix s’échappe en Abkhazie La difficile construction de l’Etat géorgien devant la montée des conflits interrégionaux)
05 / 1998
Today the Caucasus is the most dangerous and violent conflict area in Europe, having more seats of armed conflicts than even the Balkans. Turkey and Iran historically had and still have strong interests in Transcaucasus.
Georgia constitutes a distinct region with an ethnically very mixed population and the direct involvement of the major power - Russia.
Russian military penetration into the Caucasus started early in the 18 century and is still very strong in this region.
After the collapse of the former USSR Georgia became involved in a number of internal wars and military conflicts. The most crucial became the secessionist wars with separatists from Samachablo (South Ossetia autonomous Republic of Georgia)and Abkhazia (another autonomous republic). These and other military events (like fighting against President Gamsakhurdia)caused the following:
- More then 200000 refugees, a great part of which considers that military way is an only way that can restore fairness and create appropriate conditions for their return home;
- A number of people in Georgia are in contact with above-mentioned refugees and share their views;
- A number of service members took part in military activities during the wars and psychologically are inclined to solve problems with weapons.
Historically Abkhazia was part of Georgia. From 1931 it was called autonomous Republic of Abkhazia. Abkhazians constituted only 17% of the population of their autonomous Republic. In 1989 Abkhazians renewed a campaign, begun in the 1970s, for secession of their autonomous Republic from Georgia, which was strongly opposed by Georgians.
After Georgia’s military defeat in Abkhazia the conflict entered a phase of a difficult and painful search for the ways of peace. The recent developments in and around Abkhazia show Georgia that, as in war, there is a price to pay for peace. However, what that cost would be for Georgia is still unclear. The peace currently established in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict appears to be very fragile, and is still shadowed by the past war. The direct contacts in recent times, including the landmark Shevardnadze-Ardzinba meeting August 14, 1997 in Tbilisi, bred some naive assumptions that the ice was broken in the conflict settlement. The parties formally demonstrate adherence to the peace process and political resolution of the conflict, but stick to positions incompatible with each other. The negotiation sessions in Moscow, Geneva, Sukhumi and Tbilisi have not decided the main divisive issue-the political status of Abkhazia, and whether Georgia will be an integrated state. Actually, Tbilisi negotiates with Abkhaz and other players the territorial integrity of the country. The negotiability of this issue is the subject of discussion. On the other hand, the Abkhaz from their point of view negotiate the future of the Abkhaz ethnicity. Regardless of who proposes what, the lack of minimal political will and reciprocal confidence building measures, as well as the low degree of obligation delays the solution. In three years of peace talks neither Georgia and Abkhaz parties, nor mediators have come out with fresh ideas able to break the deadlock at the talks. Each party mistrusts the long-term intentions of the other. This makes it extremely difficult to agree on institutional arrangements. Georgia would readily agree with an Abkhaz offer that preserved the integrity of the state, but the separatists are only offering a loose "union state" that is not even a confederation. The model of state building offered by the Abkhaz is still unknown elsewhere in the world, experts say. For example, even in case of agreement with Georgia, Abkhazia intends to stay within the Russian ruble zone. The Prime Minister of Abkhazia, Sergei Bagapsh, has recently reaffirmed this attitude. Tbilisi calls this an attempt to pave the way for full Abkhaz secession, which can be recognized abroad. It wants a more traditional federal arrangement under which it says Abkhazia would get broad autonomy. On the other hand, the Georgian Constitution still does not spell out the country’s territorial arrangement, linking it with full restoration of territorial integrity. It is obvious that the willingness of Tbilisi to transform Georgia into a federated state is rather a forced step. The Georgian government still has not elaborated any model on the state’s territorial arrangement, confirming that the goal to create a federation is irreversible. The situation surrounding the presence of Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone is becoming almost ridiculous. Both Tbilisi and Sukhumi are trying to keep the peacekeepers as long as possible. The Abkhaz want that because Russian troops shield the separatists’ regime. Though formally agitating to have the peacekeepers withdrawn, Tbilisi actually tries to keep them in Abkhazia as it fears the resumption of hostilities and another defeat, because it still lacks enough military potential. Very recently, Sukhumi declared that all resources for fruitful negotiations with Tbilisi have been exhausted. Seemingly, the ground for such a statement was the idea of the "Bosnian Model". Shevardnadze said that such kinds of statements might lead to war. The threat of war is not new in Tbilisi’s political game with Abkhazia. Another matter is that threat is not baked by either military or economic methods. If it taken into account the current psychological condition of Georgian society, suffering from all imaginable shortages plus a sense of suppressed national dignity, one can easily realize that the airing of such militant slogans by Tbilisi officials costs nothing. The mood of the Georgian establishment is still heavily dampened by the syndrome of all-absorbing fear of even limited armed conflict, and possible defeat, actually reigns in Tbilisi’s attitude. Besides, Georgia has long become the hostage to the will of the increasing number of players involved in the settlement of the conflict.
Should Georgia keep itself as an integrated state, or not? This question is quite frequently asked. The situation making possible the cultivating of these questions has been created first due to the absence of common interests on the part of the central power and regional elite, and common citizens. The contradiction in interests, regardless of whether they are natural or created artificially, destroys the common spiritual space of the country, thereby boosting disintegration. Rapid loosening of the common national ideology which could have emerged as a driving force towards the unity of the state, its territory, and the nation resulted in the sharpening of interregional and interethnic contradictions. Abkhazia is the best, but not the sole example of that.
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