August 12, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Arkady Maler


Does the Western TV audience know much about Ossetians and Abkhazians?


When you write about a current war in which your country involved, any cool analysis, especially with a deal of self-criticism, may be perceived as cynical or even treacherous. In fact, however, the ability to overcome a subjective approach is a necessary precondition for a strong policy.

Soberly assessing the situation around South Ossetia, an analyst should admit that Georgia's assault on the breakaway province is not a fact in itself: it is a part of the same generally accepted anti-Russian strategy of the West, in which any minor country that is in odds with Russia can be instrumentalized. In these minor, particularly post-Soviet countries, and especially those of them that received not much from the once single "Soviet pie" in the process of its division, it is easy enough to identify and recruit Russophobic elements that desire to achieve assistance from the West for (re-)establishing relevant "justice" – though without due guarantees against possible implications. The case of Mikhail Saakashvili is an example of archetypical short-sightedness, when a "banana dictator" unleashes warfare with no guarantees of victory but only with a hope for support from the Big Democratic Brother, even if the latter does not take his militant gestures seriously.

It is obvious that Washington is ready to provide both material and moral support to Georgia Ц though in practice, the major efforts of the White House are focused not on economic but on information warfare, in which the collision in the Caucasus is used as a pretext for achieving a variety of strategic goals in other areas that not necessarily favor Tbilisi's interests. For instance, the ABM deployment in Poland does not bring any direct benefit to Tbilisi, though the convenient pretext for pressuring the Polish government on the issue was provided by the fresh-trained Georgian servicemen, thrown into the warfare. The mothers of these young guys could hardly imagine that their lives were going to be put under risk for the sake of a logistical deployment a thousand kilometers away, destined to deter not only the neighboring Russia but also the neighboring Iran -thus leaving the small economy alone among the field of hatred.

Ordinary Georgians will make their own lessons from the war conflict that brought, instead of expansion of the state, an expansion of uncertainty. However, certain lessons should be derived by Russians as well, with regard of the fact that this type of war is likely to be predominant for the current century. Regardless from what Mikhail Saakashvili could imagine in a feverish dream, a global war is not going to ensue from this conflict, and no country, including Ukraine, will even declare a general mobilization. Small wars will be waged by major nations with the hands of smaller peripheral regimes at the border of civilizations Ц Georgia being a most typical example.

This method of waging wars has emerged actually at the onset of the era of guaranteed mutual destruction. In the new century, this practice is continued, and we should expect new collisions of the same type in the most sensitive areas at the borders of civilizations across the globe Ц particularly, in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and the disputed territories in Central Asia.

For dealing with such problems, it makes more sense for a major country to possess a compact but highly efficient professional army than an amorphous collection of ill-trained draftees. What a major nation should be even better prepared for is information war or Ц frankly speaking Ц ideological warfare. Ideology is going to remain the decisive battlefield in all the potential local conflicts.



The Russian audience was shocked twice by the events of the second week of August Ц at first, with the assault of such that was not quite expected, despite the obvious tensions mounted in advance, and for the second time, when international media unleashed a concerted attack of Russia- bashing. The elder generation of the Russians had been explained at secondary school that the globe is divided into forces of good and forces of evil, and are still convinced today that both good and evil are self-evident, and the working people of other lands perceive them similarly. Russian youngsters, exposed to the moral relativism of mass culture, can discuss sins of Pushkin and strong sides of Adolph Hitler Ц but still, they also mostly share the assumption that the righteousness of their land and the meanness of its foes are self-evident for other societies.

Thus, Russians tend to overlook the fact that political naivety is typical for the Westerners as well, that most of the West's population had been systematically brought up in fear of the Soviet system, and that the posterity of this training continues to subconsciously influence even most refined intellectual minds as soon as they see a Russian war aircraft or Navy ship at work on the TV. In the United States, this bias is multiplied in the pro-Republican community with the belief that America, and none else, is the stronghold of true Christianity, and that Russian Orthodoxy is a kind of a dangerous sect, and thus, Russia is in fact an anti-Christian territory. In its turn, the pro-Democratic community shares a similarly strong belief that America is the stronghold of true democracy, while non-democratic countries, like Russia, China and other regimes that don't regard the Constitution as the highest ideological authority, should be either duly re-educated, or at least efficiently deterred. It is extremely difficult to re-assure these hundreds of millions of educated people, as well as to recognize that their inability to share our view is largely a result of decades of work of a generously financed, sophisticated and flexible ideological influence.



The belief of the overwhelming majority of the American TV audience that on August 8, it was Russia who attacked Georgia, is based on three simple assumptions: a) Russia is larger, b) Georgia has once separated from this large Russia, c) today, Russia is also stronger than its neighbors in economic terms. In case you are a priori convinced that a certain Ivanov is a hooligan and a potential robber, and that he has got into a fight with a certain Petrov in Petrov's flat, Ц what conclusion are you about to make?

Later, you are told, that in addition to Ivanov and Petrov, there is a smaller Sidorov that for some reason, once locked himself in one of Petrov's rooms and doubts his rights of this room's ownership. But you don't know anything about this Sidorov, as he is one of many small inhabitants of the strange distant condominium of the Caucasus described by your schoolteacher more from a viewpoint of physical geography. With the Russian Ivanov, things are clearer: this guy is somehow able to manage this highland along with vast valleys from both sides, in the expanse from Finland in China, along with resources of this huge space, and this alone suggests that you should avoid meeting this guy in a dark evening. With the Georgian Petrov, things are not so clear but the very name, Georgia, sounds pretty familiar: he even seems to be your neighbor.

Russians believe that West Europeans are generally better educated, particularly in Russian geography, history and culture than Americans. This is another illusion. In summer 1993, I visited a festivity of folklore dance in a provincial French town. The announced Russian folk team appeared to be a Gerogian band that danced lezginka. It appeared impossible to explain to local Frenchmen that this militant dance has nothing in common with Russian culture. In a lot of Western movies, the Ukrainian folk dance, gopak, is presented as Russian.

In 1995 in Memphis, Tennessee, I was awakened by an American friend who told be that an hour ago, somebody tried to assassinate Russian President Shevardnadze. From my explanations, my friend eventually made out that Russia and Georgia are not the same country; that Russians are rather blond and Georgians are rather dark-haired, and that Ц for him it was also a revelation Ц that Joseph Stalin was an ethnic Georgian.



The above examples make clear how distant a Westerner is from today's events in the Caucasus. Even after he is explained by the TV or anybody that Georgia is somewhat separate from Russia, he will still assume that Russia is to blame for bloodshed. For him, Russia is always wrong. This sounds terrible, but do you remember the last case when we believed that in a certain situation, America was right?

It is even hard for us to imagine that generally, in some misunderstanding with a smaller nation, America can't be right even in some particular aspect, and tat we would like to get into details of all the aspects for a more precise judgment. In a similar way, we should not be surprised at all that the evil of a massacre, committed by the Georgian army, is believed to be a sophisticated Russian crackdown on the very city where Russian peacekeepers were headquartered. The fact that all the sides used Soviet weapons adds to the confusion of interpretation.

Therefore, if we want to be understood, we have to patiently explain to Westerners what has happened. The assumption that Russia does not needs to present accounts of its behavior, as, generally, that Russia does not owe anything to anybody, is a good phrase Ц but saying it, we don't solve the problem but ignore it. Meanwhile, the main battlefield of modern war is not a piece of land but human conscience. Thus, in case you fail to explain that you are right, you are a loser.

The argument that we have got involved in a war in order to protect our national interests is not convincing at all, even in case the conflict takes place at our borders. In the particular case of Georgia and South Ossetia, this interpretation would only substantiate the view that by non-recognition of Georgia's integrity, we use a "double standard" for the sake of our particular interest. Thus, before expressing our sympathy towards South Ossetia and Abkhazia, we have to remind how and why these territories had broken away, and when and under which circumstance they declared their right for their territories.

The propagandist machine of the United States has many times succeeded Ц much better than in this case, as well as in the case of Iraq Ц to substantiate the necessity of intervention in a territory much more distant from its land than Georgia is from Russia. This explanation was based on the definition of a mission that America has to carry out across the globe. That is why millions of people believed that America is right even when it behaves obviously in a more than doubtful way. The major argument was the mission, be it religious or legal.

In order to prove that Russia is right in this or another case where its intervention is inevitable and essential, it has to present a universal project of its own. This does not mean an analogue of Communism of the times when Moscow was perceived by both sympathizers and haters not only as the capital of the Soviet state but also as the stronghold of a new world order. A mission does not necessarily suggest a blueprint of a world order supposed to spark revolutions and annihilate all beliefs that don't fit into "the only truly scientific" approach of Marxism. Still, a mission necessarily requires a design of ideocracy, a new project addressed to the mankind. Otherwise, any attempt of Russia to protect another people, even if it is facing extermination, will be interpreted as a mere defensive affair with mundane egoistic purposes.

It is hardly possible to produce an ideological concept from a particular local military collision. However, this collision may serve as a fair pretext for developing a thorough universal argumentation of foreign policy priorities, related to principles and not to facts of current political conjuncture, such as protection of borders and even resistance to the planned NATO expansion. Geopolitical arguments, generally, are much less efficient than ideas, as they are addressed to minds of officials and not to the souls of people.



In the particular Georgian-Ossetian conflict, it is much easier to prove that Russia is right than in a lot of other occasions. Russia is right in accordance with conventional European values. However, in order to reach the minds of Western millions with this truth, we have to patiently explain to Westerners what is Georgia, as well as the "higher mathematics" of the historical background of the peoples of Caucasus, their linguistic, cultural and religious peculiarities, and particularly, the way this region was divided into Soviet and autonomous republics back in 1920s, and the way this area transformed in early 1990s. These details, well known to a narrow circle of Western specialists, are not raised in the coverage of today's situation in Western media, and not only due to geopolitical bias.

In case we are speaking about a small nation that does not want to reside in the Georgian "flat", we have to tell people how this "flat" emerged and developed, and why three governments of Georgia failed to convince Abkhazians and South Ossetians that they should regard themselves as a part of the Georgian nation; we have to remind about the division of the two Ossetias and its historical background. In case the Ossetian factor, as well as the history of the 1992 wars in the area, is not properly raised in the media space, we can never be able to explain what on earth the Russian peacekeepers are doing there, and why they have proven more efficient than similar international missions in comparable areas of local conflicts.

The practical proposals are: first of all, to broadly explain the very phenomenon of South Ossetia, as well as Abkhazia, and the circumstances that had driven these peoples into permanent confrontation with Tbilisi. Secondly, the Presidents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have to be as recognizable in international media as Dmitry Medvedev and Mikhail Saakashvili. The figures of Eduard Kokoity and Sergey Bagapsh deserve to be placed in the center of coverage of media than Moscow experts and Georgian officials.

Thirdly, it is necessary to clearly identify this war as the war for liberation from the occupying power of the incumbent Georgian regime that has not proposed the breakaway autonomies any other options but a crackdown by force. It should be made absolutely clear that Georgia, after the "revolution of roses", has been behaving in the classical tradition of "banana dictators" of Central America. It should be emphasized that Saakashvili, more than any other "banana dictator", is irresponsibly and irrationally convinced of his exceptional role of the crucial ally of the West in the Caucasus, and is not just able but is moreover, committed to drag major Western countries into the problems he had failed to solve; that his regime is not attractive for other peoples not only due to features of his personality but due to the character of economic and social policy pursued in his country by his Soros-trained ministers.

It should be explained much more clearly that the will of South Ossetians to adopt Russian citizenship was more provoked by the particular Georgian regime than encouraged by Russia. It should be made similarly clear that the Russian military mission corresponds with its legal duties of peacekeeping, and that after the massacre, this peacekeeping mission is completed with a humanitarian mission that Russia started to implement before other sides proposed their assistance. It should be explained why South Ossetians trust Russia more than any other country, and why their attitude to Western assistance is now more negative than before. And, finally, that the will of these peoples to join with Russia is a result of not one but many horrible lessons of history, and that the simple will of a small people to continue existing is associated with reliance upon Russia for a whole variety of historical, political, cultural, humanitarian and personal grounds.

In fact, we have to refresh the background of the history of the failed state of Georgia in our own memories, and concentrate both on the reasons of today's situation, and the values Ц above understandable interests Ц that urge us to protect this and other peoples of the Caucasus and create the possibility for doing this most efficiently, regarding the potential we possess today, and the ensuing fact Ц mentioned by President Dmitry Medvedev Ц that we not just border with the Caucasus, not just need peace in this area for our needs, but are also responsible for this region. Responsibility is more than considerations, calculations and judgments: it is an element of a national mission.

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