I wrote this article for the blog of my friend Giorgi Tskhadaia, Op-ed columnist at Liberali, Georgia’s foremost liberal newspaper. The article basically deals with ways to solve the separatist conflicts in Georgia through a negotiated compromise. The article was not meant as a comprehensive academic paper, but more as an outline of a few possible ways forward when it comes to conflict resolution:
On Conflict Resolution and Compromise (Richard Berge © 2011)
During the last two decades of the conflicts between Georgia and its two breakaway republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a few facts have become increasingly clear. Firstly, attempts by the sides to internationalize the conflicts by drawing in outside powers like Russia, the United States and more recently the EU have failed to contribute significantly to conflict resolution. Secondly, attempts to use force to resolve the conflicts have also backfired, and only resulted in making the conflicts more bitter and intractable. Further, the policy of Georgia and the West of isolating Abkhazia and South Ossetia has only driven them further into Russia’s embrace, and the reestablishment of Georgian sovereignty over the two republics looks increasingly impossible. The current status of the “frozen conflicts” remains detrimental to the economic, political and humanitarian situation in the region, and the time is overripe for the sides directly involved to come to the table and work out a negotiated solution to the conflicts based on mutual respect and the common good.
Such a negotiated solution can only be really workable in the form of compromise, where all sides gain some, but also have to make major concession to the other side. For example, a compromise can be agreed on whereby Georgia recognizes the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while predominantly Georgian populated districts of both statelets remain under Georgian control, and a gradual return of Georgian refugees takes places under neutral, international supervision. For example, the Upper Kodori Gorge and Gali district of Abkhazia would remain with Georgia, as would the Akhalgori district of South Ossetia. Important infrastructure like the Inguri Hydroelectric Station, situated across the boundary between Abkhazia and Georgia, will also in its entirety pass to Georgia.
The Georgian refugees returning to the rest of Abkhazia and South Ossetia must refrain from raising any demands for regional autonomy or direction from Tbilisi, and in return the Abkhazian government must guarantee the security and safety of all returnees, including their right to life, dignity, property, linguistic and cultural expression. The returnees should also be given full democratic rights equal with all other citizens of independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and towards this goal the citizenship law of Abkhazia should be amended, including the abolishment of the article of the law restricting the right to dual citizenship. In addition, a truth and reconciliation commission should be set up, which aim should not be to prosecute war criminals or ascertain blame for the conflicts, but contribute to acknowledgement of human suffering and loss on all sides.
Unfortunately, negotiated solutions such as the one described above, have so far found few supporters. The political atmosphere in both Georgia and the breakaway republics almost exclusively promotes an “all or nothing” approach to conflict resolution, and there is a general lack of public support, and political will among key politicians, to make the sacrifices necessary for any kind of compromise. There is also the question of how the respective international partners and allies of the parties involved will react to their clients’ moving forward with such a deal. Some critics would argue that Russia and the Western allies between them exert too much influence over the de jure and de facto governments in the region for such a compromise to ever become a reality.
On the other hand, the fact remains that in the South Caucasus, the “puppets” often play the “puppeteers” just as much as the reverse, and that local elites and political forces on the ground in reality have a lot of space for maneuver. Both the Abkhazians and South Ossetians have shown themselves in recent times to be able to act against the will of Moscow, and US and European plans for Georgia have likewise often been frustrated and ignored by Tbilisi. Still, the hope remains that all sides involved will eventually see the benefit of such compromises, and that a political course correction will take place that leaves the road open to real conflict resolution.