South Ossetia and Abkhazia Recognized

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As we all well know, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev did the deed and recognized the independence South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  A chorus of condemnation, disappointment, and warning immediately followed.

US Secretary Rice: “I want to be very clear, since the United States is a permanent member of the [UN] Security Council, this simply will be dead on arrival.”

US President Bush: “This decision is inconsistent with numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions that Russia has voted for in the past, and is also inconsistent with the French-brokered six-point ceasefire agreement which President Medvedev signed. Russia’s action only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations.”

German PM Angela Merkel: “This contradicts the basic principles of territorial integrity and is therefore absolutely unacceptable.”

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili: “This is a test for the entire world and a test for our collective solidarity . . . Today the fate of Europe and the free world is unfortunately being played out in my small country.”

British Foreign Minister David Miliband: “Russia must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis. There can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law.”

It’s open season on Russia as verbal pellets rain on Medvedev’s head.  Dima’s response?  Bring it on baby.
“Nothing frightens us,” he said in an interview on Russian television. “Including the prospect of a cold war, but we do not want this, and in this situation all depends on the position of our partners”.

Dima talked tough.  He held his ground.  He threw the ball back in the West’s court and said, “Do something about it.”  Nothing is going to sway him.   Not a slipping stock market, not investment flight, not a tarnished international image.

But talking tough was only part of the game.  Medvedev seemed to be everywhere today in a press junket blitz.  An interview with BBC, an editorial in the Financial Times,  a talk with Al-Jazeera, with CNN, Russia Today, and France’s TFI Television. I’m wondering if he’ll make it on Oprah or the View. “Hey world! Meet Dimitry Anatolevich Medvedev the President of Russia!  Here’s a memo for you.  We’re going to do what we want and you can’t do a damn thing about it.” Funny, no one seems to be calling him a “liberal” now.

The crux of Medvedev’s response focuses on quite predictable points: Russia’s duty to protect its citizens, saving Ossetian victims, Western hypocrisy and their flippant disregard for Russia, and, of course, the K-word: Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo.  Russians said Kosovo was a precedent and everyone dismissed it.  Well, here’s what Dima says now:

Ignoring Russia’s warnings, western countries rushed to recognise Kosovo’s illegal declaration of independence from Serbia. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.

Now others are asking: Is Abkhazia and Ossetia like Kosovo or not? Well, there is no doubt in my mind that the situations will be compared, laws will be examined, victims will be counted, treaties, resolutions, and agreements will be consulted.  All the diplomats and politicians will posture in the front of the cameras, using all the predictable code words and phrases.  The bones of the dead will be exhumed to construct just the right historical parallel.  A pillory of pundits, editorials, and “experts” will swoon at questions that make them and their views relevant.  Ah, international crisis, it’s just so good for business.

But there is something missing in all of this.  There is a silence or should we call it a deafness pervading all the chatter and pontificating.  Do you hear it?  Can you feel its vibrations amid the declarations and denials of recognition?

What is this sound?  It’s the voice of the Abkhaz and Ossetian.

Well, I sure as hell can’t hear it.  It seems that amid the geopolitical spit swapping and tit for tat maneuvers, few have bothered to ask the lowly Abkhaz and Ossetian how they feel about being catapulted into the club of nations.  Most articles detail the reactions from the the US, Europe, Georgia and Russia.

Sure, sure the Abkhaz and Ossetians don’t have official recognition by laws they didn’t write or politicans they didn’t elect, but still there must be something said for the act of creation that “recognition” brings.  After all, three weeks ago Abkhazia and South Ossetia only mattered to those who gave a rat’s ass.  Now all eyes are transfixed.  They’re suddenly that little corner of the real life Risk board where, in the words of Mikheil Saakashvili in FT, Moscow is unfolding a plan “prepared over years” to “rebuild its empire, seize greater control of Europe’s energy supplies and punish those who believed democracy could flourish on its borders. Europe has reason to worry.”  Little South Ossetia and Abkhazia are the pen from which Russia “redraw[ing] the map of Europe.”  Who knew that the utterance of “recognition” could spark such discursive fury.

Saakashvili’s editorial is interesting on another level.  It is a veritable denial of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s  actual existence.  His words are an act of discursive erasure.  This is already clear in his statement “This war was never about South Ossetia or Georgia.”  He goes farther than this.  “Over the past five years [Russia] cynically laid the groundwork for this pretense,” he writes, “by illegally distributing passports in South Ossetia and Ab­khazia, “manufacturing” Russian citizens to protect” [Emphasis mine].  The Ossetians are essential phantasmagorias concocted in some Moscow OVIR office.

Real people? Nah . . . unless . . . Unless they are positioned as perpetrators.  But even here, the Ossetians silence in favor of the Russians.  Saak writes,

Since Russia’s invasion, its forces have been “cleansing” Georgian villages in both regions – including outside the conflict zone – using arson, rape and execution. Human rights groups have documented these actions.

But Mikheil, it was the Ossetian militias extracting some revenge that did these acts.  Why deny them the little agency anyone is willing to afford them?

It is only through the agency of violence, retribution, and revenge that the Ossetian is now able to speak. Even from the Russian side the Ossetians are relegated to a passive position of “victims.” The Ossetian as the figure of the perpetrator or victim is his only existence.  The Abkhaz too only speak the language of perpetrator.  Saakashvili tells us,

Moscow also counts on historical amnesia. It hopes the west will forget ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia drove out more than three-quarters of the local population – ethnic Georgians, Greeks, Jews and others – leaving the minority Abkhaz in control. Russia also wants us to forget that South Ossetia was run not by its residents (almost half were Georgian before this month’s ethnic cleansing) but by Russian officials. When the war started, South Ossetia’s de facto prime minister, defence minister and security minister were ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.

This paragraph is quite revealing.  The Abkhaz exist only as ethnic cleansers and the Ossetians, well they don’t even govern themselves.  Their cause is merely a plot by “ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.”

Surely the Ossetian and Abkhaz reaction amounts to something?  After all, they are fighting and dying, right?

As much as Saakashvili and others try to argue that Russia has “manufactured” the Ossetians or that this crisis is all part of Russia’s larger designs, someone must account for the fact that the Ossetians and Abkhazians are celebrating. Sure the laws, politicos, nations, and others needed for “legitimate” independence are silent, but there is something to be said the act of creation recognition brings.