Thursday, October 30, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Could the Georgian Diaspora Become a Bridge between Moscow and Tbilisi?

Paul Goble

New York, October 30 – The one million ethnic Georgians now living and working in Russia must organize themselves to defend their own interests as a community, to press for change in their own homeland lest it lose even more territories, and to serve as a bridge between Moscow and Tbilisi, which at present do not have diplomatic relations.
In an appeal to that community posted online this week, Vladimir Khomeriki, the president of the Unity of the Russian and Georgian Peoples, did not minimize either the dangers facing his community or his homeland or the difficulties that community faces in organizing itself to play that role (
Indeed, so dire are both situations in Khomeriki’s view and so many difficulties would lie for anyone to do what he suggests that his words sound more like a cri de coeur than a genuine call to action, but because they provide insights into several broader Georgian problems, they merit close attention by all those concerned about the region.
According to Khomeriki, Georgia now faces “political collapse and the complete loss of economic independence, freedom and statehood.” Indeed, he says, Georgia is “one of the first states on the post-Soviet space which has begun to destroy itself,” taking actions that represent a form of “self-destruction.”
While earlier Georgian presidents were responsible for many problems, he continues, current President Mikhail Saakashvili by unleashing “a fratricidal war” has not only cost Georgia “lands that had been Georgian from time immemorial” but has undermined its economy, its freedom and its relations with its neighbors including Russia.
“Blindly and traitorously serving the interests of the United States,” Khomeriki continues, Saakashvili “did not consider the national and practical interests of Georgia and its peoples.” Indeed, one could say that he “’forgot’” that he is president of Georgia and not the governor of the [American] state of Georgia.”
All this has generated concern among ethnic Georgians living and working in the Russian Federation, a group that could help in “the restoration of Georgia and the lobbying of its interests in Russia.” But instead of reaching out to them, he has taken steps both directly and indirectly that put them at greater risk.
On the one hand, he seized and then sold the Georgian cultural center in Moscow’s Arbat district. And on the other, his actions in South Ossetia have enflamed Russian opinion against Georgians and thus put at risk the one million ethnic Georgians who live among them and the two billion dollars that these Georgians have been sending home each year.
While Russia’s Georgians are naturally concerned about their future, they are “most of all” worried about “the catastrophic situation of Georgia, the poverty and misfortunes of [their] relatives and compatriots in [their] ethnic motherland” and the all too real possibility that Saakashvili’s policies will lead to a further disintegration of Georgia itself
In this situation, the Georgian diaspora in Russia has “the potential” to play a role but so far it has done “practically nothing.” Unfortunately, Khomeriki says, many Georgians in Russia have no interest in doing more than supporting cultural projects and are unwilling to engage in politics, in some cases because of fears for the lives and well-being of their relatives at home.
“The chief misfortune of the Georgian diaspora in Russia,” he suggests, “is that it is not a fully-formed nation and thus is not able unlike the Jews, the Armenians and Azerbaijanis to work together in a cooperative way and both and support the interests of the diaspora and their own nation.”
Moreover, Khomeriki says, with Georgians in Russia and at home, there is “an insufficient assessment of reality, an eternal search for someone to blame, an expectation that someone will appear will solve everything for us, and a short memory” concerning what Russia has done for Georgia.
Saakashvili, according to the diaspora leader, has created a situation in which fear, an exaggerated patriotism, have combined with “zombification,” “the loss of the instinct for self-preservation,” and even “a mass psychosis” to create a real threat to “the degeneration of the proud and unique Georgian nation.”
Georgia has already crossed “the Rubicon” and consequently it is time to demand that Saakashvili not only explain himself and apologize for what he has done but “go into retirement in order to give the Georgian people the opportunity to stabilize the situation, stop the processes of the further disintegration of Georgia, and choose” someone who can correct his mistakes.
In addition, Khomeriki says, the Georgian diaspora must unite into a Committee of National Salvation in order to push for economic assistance to Georgians at home, seek to restore democratic freedoms in Georgia, and promote “good-neighborly relations” between Georgia and the Russian Federation.
Specifically, he argues, the diaspora must work to lay the foundations for “relations of trust and a negotiation process [between Georgia and] Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Russia,” promote economic and political ties between Tbilisi and Moscow, and work to ensure that Georgians will continue to be able to work in Russia.
On the one hand, Khomeriki’s views are sufficiently close to those of Moscow that many will dismiss this as only another attempt by the Russian government to blacken the reputation of Saakashvili. But on the other, the appearance of Khomeriki’s declaration could mean that some in Moscow hope to use the diaspora as a backchannel for talks with Tbilisi in the near future.

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