"Georgia must rebuild its ties to Russia"


Interview with Lasha Shavdia, Anti-war Movement Georgia

Q: Did Georgia's president Saakashvili emerge from his war of last summer weakened or strengthened?

Definitely weakened. It is a tragic mistake to believe that the territorial integrity of our country can be resorted by military means, a mistake to be paid for by the Georgian people. The defeat was predictable. Russia had repeatedly declared that it will rush to the defense of South Ossetia - different to 1990.

Q: Many signs indicate that a majority wants to follow their president into NATO.

This is not true. In early 2008 a referendum was held where supposedly 79% voted for the accession to NATO. But these are no real figures, especially after the war. The war demonstrated that the assumption, that NATO could secure the territorial integrity of Georgia, is wrong. On the contrary, NATO means more conflicts and less stability.

Q: You refer to the territorial integrity but would you accept the autonomy which South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Adjaria enjoyed in the period of the Soviet Union?

Stalin is being blamed form all sides to have established the autonomies. But the statute did not originate from the USSR, it is older. It was indeed chartered in the Soviet Union but it only displayed actual power relations. After the decay of the Tsarist empire South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Adjara became de facto independent, similar to the recent past. They have been integrated into Georgia with their autonomy rights right from the start.

Only its socialist character of Georgia made that possible. Today many people do not want to hear that but those three peoples were well off in the Soviet Union. This historic record cannot be erased although all three sides try to do so, namely the leaderships of Georgia, South Ossetia and Russia.

Q: Why then the USSR did not merge South and North Ossetia?

First of all for economic reasons because they are separated by the peaks of the Caucasus. South Ossetia used to be mainly connected with Georgia and also in the future another economic integration will not be possible.

Q: Again, what do you think of the restoration of the autonomy?

The South Ossetians themselves refuse the autonomy offered by the government. We insist on the restoration of the territorial integrity of Georgia and do not support the disintegration. But with a government in Tblisi which wants to join NATO at any cost, this is not possible. We support South Ossetia and Abkhazia inasfar as they struggle against the accession into NATO. We are for the unity of Georgia in friendship with Russia.

Q: Why the South Ossetians refused the offer?

Because Tbilisi is following NATO and Washington which is being refused by both Ossetians and Abkhazians. And one should not underestimate the enormous Russian influence.

The situation could be compared with the one in Transnistria. There they go for a confederative solution by the mediation of Moscow. Although the Moldavian government does ogle with NATO, it was keen not to completely alienate Russia.

Q: Are you ready to sit on one table with South Ossetians and Abkhazians?

Certainly, we commonly fight against NATO and the war waged by the pro-American forces. We are the ones in the Georgian society with whom the South Ossetians and Abkhazians should seek good relations with.

Q: What are the chances of the anti-NATO forces in Georgia?

The propaganda apparatus set in motion by NATO is very powerful. There is for example not a single TV channel which counters this line. Nevertheless the popular sentiments changed after the war. Many understood that the rapprochement with NATO does not serve the interests of the people and that friendly relations with Russia are indispensible. Furthermore we need to be part of the Russian economic area in order to revive our economy. Maybe the relationship of forces between those two lines is 50:50.

If you take for example a look at our neighbor Armenia our geostrategic situation is, however, different. There all are pro-Russian regardless whether they are right or left wing. This flows from history and the difficult relations to Turkey which continue up to now.

Q: Are you able to co-operate with the official opposition to Saakashvili?

It is a right wing opposition fully aligned with him in the war and equally pro-Western and pro-NATO.

Q: Are you allowed to freely express your positions?

Public protest against NATO today is impossible in Georgia. I myself was detained and tortured in the aftermath of the war. The Communist Party is declared a terrorist group and any opposition against the war is labeled destructive force. A kind of Georgian Patriot Act has been enacted, which de facto bans us.

Q: What you think about Chechnya?

The Chechen tragedy was induced by Yeltsin. He set up a regime which followed the interest of the capitalist oligarchy and led a wrong policy with regard to the nationalities. He betrayed the Russian people and steamrolled the Chechens with tanks. Putin just treads in his footsteps.

We are opposed to the disintegration of the Russian Federation but this aim must be reached by different methods. If Moscow does not change his policy it will create new problems in the Caucasus as we face them too.

Wilhelm Langthaler