I feel compelled to comment a bit on the situation happening between Georgia and Russia for a number of reasons. While living in (and kinda loving) Russia, I was lucky enough to be able to delve into Georgian culture a bit. Notably, this happened while I was in Sochi, famous for being the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics – and Chechnya’s next door neighbor. This is a view from the top of Mount Ahun, where the downhill events will be held in 2014. Georgia is the set of mountains off in the distance, a little to the right of the center of the picture. In unrelated news, here is a photo of Georgian snacks being sold at a Sochi market, which also specialized in overwhelming cuteness. I would have to say that Georgia is one of my favorite cultures, if that’s something one can judge…
Furthermore, I feel obligated to discuss the war for two academically charged reasons. I wrote my favorite research paper of all time (in Russian, to boot. Bitches.) on Russia’s role in the Kosovo conflict of the late 1990s (Balkan wars + Russia + Russian = splooge) and the importance of applying it to today’s politics. Additionally,I spent four months last fall chronicling acts of terrorism in the region for the CSIS Human Rights & Security Initiative, which recently completed a study proving that, well, shit was gonna go down in the Northern Caucasus sometime soon. (I think they should re-title the project “We Told You So…”, but I digress.)
Nonetheless, it has become clear in the last week that my experience with internships, khachapuri or bunnies can’t spare South Ossetia from feeling the hostility that has brewing in the Northern Caucasus for ages. And, although my take on the situation will follow, I wanted to draw attention to an article on the NYT Topics page that is covering the war, as I think it’s excellent. To try to make this whole thing a little more palatable (this whole region is confusing), I will attempt to break down my writing into the following segments: “Why the Fuck it’s Happening,” “What’s Wrong With this Picture?”, and “Why I Loathe the Russian Federation’s Crock that is their Foreign Policy.” Let’s get started! (Oh, one more thing. The translation for “south” is “yuzhnaya,” so bear with me if I mix & match lexicon. I first learned of the region/vocab in Russian, so it’s weird to switch back and forth..)
The War in South Ossetia: Why the Fuck It’s Happening
In order to understand the situation fully, we need to explore the history of the region prior to 1991, as the government of the Soviet Union had a lot to do with what’s going on today. The Soviet Union’s leadership directly influenced the later establishment of ethno-nationalist frameworks by both eliminating the population’s capacity to identify with cultural subgroups and by manipulating preexisting those groups’ characteristics to assist in unifying the state. For example, the Soviet leadership loved to boast of the rich, diverse cultures their republics contributed to the USSR’s overall reputation, but it simultaneously regarded its constituency as Soviet citizens, nothing more. That is, in the event a subgroup (e.g. the Chechens) were to dissent from the state, the Communist ideological response would argue that, if everyone in the Soviet Union is equally serving the state (and only the state), then no faction of the population can be deemed a legitimate subgroup, or a subgroup at all.
This is relevant to today’s conflict when considering the ethnological clusterfuck that came about in the former ussr at the fall of Communism. Once the regime ceased to exist, so did the population’s dominant identity. Thus, in an attempt to provide social order, the population of the former Soviet Union split up into literally hundreds of ethnic groups. (To be fair, these ethnicities existed prior to the Soviet era, so they weren’t entirely full of shit. But imagine having the opportunity to make that shit up? That would be fucking awesome! Think about it—we could all be of the Badassian ethnic group, right?)
The cohesion of the USSR allowed citizens, like in the EU today, to travel freely around the republics; this left many “ethnic” Russians in areas outside of the current Russian Federation after 1991. When everyone started to re-identify with their past ethnic legacies, the Russians in these areas (such as Abkhazia, Yuzhnaya Ossetiya, and Transdniestr) felt compelled to defend their history as well, which led to intensified Russo-nationalist movements in Georgia and, consequently, ethnic tensions in the areas. (Indigenous populations of the then-newly-founded republics also REALLY resented ethnic Russians because they were the demographic most closely associated with the horrors of the Soviet regime.) These tensions have come to represent the identity crisis the FSU (former soviet union) has been facing for the last fifteen years.
Specific to Georgia, the crisis they’re experiencing has to do with ethnic Russians living in Yuzhnaya Ossetia, which is not Russia, but has a population of people who want it to be Russia. Georgia is tired of taking Russia’s past and post-soviet bull and is super patriotic & West-friendly to spite the Kremlin, which is resentfully trying to take Yuzhnaya Ossetia back from Georgia. Both states claim ethno-nationalist connections to the region. Here is a wikipedia map of the area (seeing as Google Maps sucks right now):
However, despite the cultural ties any warring faction claims to have, in any of these territory / identity conflicts, the animosity at hand is deeply rooted in one thing—that’s right, MONEY! This will bring me to part two, but tomorrow. seeing as it’s taken me all day to write this first article, I think I’ll make it a three-part series. (Thursday’s will be awesome, as I will just bitch about Russia.)
Next up: What the fuck is wrong with this picture?