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‘We are losing Abkhazians and Ossetians’

26.08.2020

 
Lado Bichashvili, Shida Kartli

After 12 years of the Russia-Georgia war, the ways of resolution of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict became deadlocked from where it is hard to find ways out. Humanrights.ge has interviewed Paata Zakareishvili, the former State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civic Equality about the progress and achievements we have and what remains as a challenge for peaceful settlement of Georgian-Ossetian conflict.

- Mr Zakareishvili, after 12 years of war, what achievements and progress we gained and what remains as a challenge for the settlement of Georgian-Ossetian relations?

- We have zero achievements in the Georgian-Ossetian relations, because all attention is shifted towards Russia and all remains now is the Russia-Georgia conflict; all the same,  unfortunately, neither Georgian society, nor Georgian government sees the Georgian-Ossetian conflict behind the Russia-Georgia conflict, by settlement of which we could eventually soften the Russia-Georgia conflict. Same refers to Abkhazia.  From the three conflicts i.e. Georgian-Ossetian, Georgian-Abkhazian and Russia-Georgia,  we actually recognize only the Russia-Georgia conflict and accordingly, if something can be regarded as an achievement, is that we made the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts disappear and retained only the Russia-Georgia conflict.

- What do we gain from the non-recognition of the Georgian-Ossetian and the Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts? 

- This is not simply the stubbornness of the Georgian government, rather the logic is as follows: if we distribute the attention among the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts, we would weaken it towards the Russia-Georgia conflict and possibly dissolve the later conflict into the formerly named conflicts, which I think is not right, because we must do everything not to lose the Russia-Georgia conflict.  Our international partners would not allow us to do this. The conflict in Ukraine has intensified the factor of Russia’s aggression. Unfortunately, our government believes that the dialogue is possible only with Russia because the dialogue with the Ossetian and Abkhazian parties has no sense.  I totally disagree with this position because the dialogue always makes sense, for Ossetians and Abkhazians have different interests than Russia, such as they strive towards Europe. This can be observed especially in case of the Abkhazian society rather than Ossetian one, but Ossetian society is more linked with the Georgian society.  Before the war of 2008 as well as after that, Ossetian society is more integrated with the Georgian society and has more interests towards Georgian state than Abkhazians.

For instance, the medical services are more used by Ossetians than Abkhazians. The incompetence of the Georgian government is evident as it sees the means of settlement of these conflicts only in Russia but Russia is not a party for the conflicts resolution. Beside Russia, we should talk to Ossetians and Abkhazians, but a fear on the part of the Georgian government hinders the communication, the fear is that not to allow Russia say these are Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts, of course, Russia is referring on this, there’s no doubt in that, but we should think about our state interests and not about what Russia would say. We are losing Abkhazians and Ossetians and not Abkhazians and Ossetians are losing Georgia.  If they have to choose whether staying with Georgia or with Russia, sadly and unfortunately, there is an explicit position in the Abkhazian and Ossetian societies to stay with Russia. The International Law is on our side, but how long we can count on that, especially on the background when the International Law is obviously violated, the UN positions do not work everywhere and always, and as time goes by our positions are weakening.  
  
- When you were in the Government, did you try to recognize Abkhazians and Ossetians as the parties to the conflict and what has changed by that?

- During my office, the positions began to change and this was until the time the Head of the Government was Bidzina Ivanishvili, further during the times of Garibashvili such positions were also voiced and implemented.  We have done many things in this direction, the most important and distinguished case was when we released all long-term prisoners from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali prisons who have been sentenced to more than 7 years in Sokhumi or Tskhinvali prisons and who were in prisons since the former government. This took a work of several months.

Moreover, we implemented a healthcare project, which is successful up to date and everyone even Abkhazians and Ossetians recognize this. Although former government started this project, it was determined in that time that receiving a Georgian citizenship was necessary in order the citizens left in the occupied territories could come and use the healthcare services. We skipped this reservation and allowed them to come with their IDs to the territory controlled by Georgia and receive medical treatment, and this factor has increased the instances of enrolling into the healthcare program. There were other small projects, but after Garibashvili's resignation and appointment of Kvirikashvili as a prime minister, economical issues came to the foreground in the action plan of the Government and the attention to the conflict resolution policy has weakened.  When I resigned from the office of a state minister and the coalition was dissolved, I was not alone in the government, it was a Republican Party, the Chairperson of which was the Speaker of the Parliament, the Republican Party had a faction in the Parliament, by this I mean I was not alone and head a chance to work in a team. After the dissolution of the coalition and after the 2016 Parliamentary Elections, only Georgian Dream remained in power, and they brought the narrative of the National Movement back saying that only Russia is our rival and therefore the relations with Abkhazian and Ossetian societies has no sense, and thus the direction was actually seized. Abkhazians and Ossetians, who were communicating with us at least via some form of communications, turned their back on us and started to talk with us through the Kremlin and now Kremlin is voicing the positions of Abkhazians and Ossetians. We haven’t won anything in arguments with Russia and we have lost many things in the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian relations. 

- You mentioned that where Abkhazian and Ossetian societies have a choice to be within Georgia or Russia, they would choose Russia, what is the reason for that?

- Year of 2008.

- 12 years have passed since the war, is not this time enough to show that we don’t have militaristic policy and military motives anymore?

- 12 years is not enough, because the national movement under the leadership of Zviad Gamsakhurdia made the first failure and implemented the wrong policy, when he won elections in the fall 1992 and in December of the same year he abolished the South Ossetian Autonomous Region.  From that point everything started, that was followed by a war and tension. Gamsakhurdia was blamed in all of this, fairly or unfairly.  After that, Ossetians trusted the Georgian people again, they turned to us and started reconstruction of the relations, the IDPs returned back to all villages, except Tskhinvali town, though we were free to travel to and from Tskhinvali. Much more people returned to Tskhinvali region in the years from 1993 to 2008. OSCE was in there, was helping the population, everyone forgot about the conflict. On May 20, 1992, a horrible tragedy happened on Dzari road; it is evident that the Georgian armed forces killed the Ossetian women and children there, but the Ossetians forgot even that as the matters went so good, but the 2008 showed that Georgians had not changed and Gamsakhurdia had no part in it. And you say 12 years… they had forgiven us even sooner, but now 12 years is not enough as they see that Georgia does not change and two mistakes are not mistakes anymore. Why did I mention Dzari tragedy? Before the war of 2008, nobody was mentioning it and Dzari tragedy is the gravest day for the Ossetians and since the 2008 war, they mark it every year on May 20 as the biggest tragedy. From this, it is evident how much the war has changed the situation and how they lost the trust in the Georgians, because they had to war with the Georgians twice. You mentioned that there are two positions, one is to join Russia and this position has more weight by the way, and the other is to be independent, the supporters of which are fewer and fewer everyday because they do not see the independence. However, there is a feeling among the older generation, that it’s still better to live with Georgians, but Georgians are not doing anything, we talk only about negative issues and do not talk about positive ones: About projects, building a united state, federative arrangement of the country, the function of the South Ossetia for the rest of Georgia. Nobody discuss these issues in the Georgian society. You and me are discussing now these issues, but such discussions are not on TV, publicly in front of people. Ossetians see it and say that the Georgian society doesn’t care about them and about the situation in South Ossetia. Ossetians do not like their future in the context of the North Caucasus, where there is an Islamic environment and other challenges. North Ossetia has its own problems with Ingushetia and so on. That’s why it is not an ideal situation in the North Caucasus and on that background Georgia doesn’t give them perspectives in order to see themselves with Georgians within Georgia. To be honest, Ossetians would more appreciate the steps by Georgians, rather than Abkhazians would. When August 8 comes, we only speak about who started the war and we don’t care about the pain of the Ossetian society and we speak only about our pain, which is a half pain and a half story. When we speak about our tragedies in Tbilisi and Gori, the same way they speak about their tragedies in Tskhinvali. Why are not we speaking about the Ossetian tragedies, there’s plenty of information published in internet, there are many verbal stories on what harm the Georgians did to them. We do tell what harm they did to us and we should tell about their stories as well, if we are a State, if we want to be united, we are talking about this, otherwise they don’t want to unite with us. They were also committing atrocities, one death from both sides is a big tragedy for me. Both sides have the same pain, but we have different policies. We want to reconcile with them and they don’t want to reconcile with us.  That’s why we need to use more energy to turn them towards us. I have to say one rough example, if a person runs in front of you, you have to run a bit faster if you want to catch him up, and we should use more energy, to catch Ossetians and Abkhazians up and explain that we have already changed.

12 years we spent discussing who started the war, which is absolute nonsense, because it doesn’t matter who started the war, no responsibility rests upon the one who started the war. Ossetians are astonished, they know very well who started the war and when the war started, they know very well from where the grenades were fired at Tskhinvali. So let us try to have a dialogue with these people, for we cannot just play fool with Brussels, Washington and Vienna, this will give us nothing. Our task is to get more resolutions and support from Europe, which is good, but it will be no good if we do not get at least one resolution with Ossetians.  

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