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Georgia Moves To Alienate South Ossetia, Abkhazia Further

Life in the "Tskhinvali region"
The working group on territorial integrity and local self-government, one of nine created within the framework of the 70-member commission set up to draft amendments to the Georgian Constitution, proposed on July 22 dropping from the reworked constitution the designation "South Ossetia" in favor of "Tskhinvali region," Caucasus Press reported.

That region will have unspecified "special status" with "an unspecified degree of autonomy," according to working group chairman Kakhi Kurashvili. Abkhazia and Adjara will be designated autonomous republics within Georgia with the right to adopt their own constitutions -- a right that South Ossetia apparently will not share. In all, Georgia will comprise 13 territorial units.

The working group's proposal is comparable with the decision taken in November 1990, in violation of a pre-election pledge by then-Georgian parliament chairman Zviad Gamsakhurdia to abolish South Ossetia's status as an autonomous oblast within Georgia. It was that reversal by Gamsakhurdia that triggered fighting between informal Ossetian and Georgian militias in early 1991 that culminated in Tbilisi's ultimate loss of control over South Ossetia in 1992.

The successive peace proposals for Abkhazia and/or South Ossetia unveiled by President Mikheil Saakashvili in September 2004, January 2005, and July 2005, and by then-Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli in October 2005, all offered only "broad autonomy" to the two breakaway republics, and for that reason were immediately and unconditionally rejected. Russia formally recognized both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states in August 2008; the only other country to follow suit was Nicaragua.

The very term "autonomy" in the post-Soviet context is anathema because Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics and Autonomous Oblasts within the framework of the USSR did not in practice have any leeway in taking even the most minor decisions. It was this perceived inequality that gave rise to the mass anti-Georgian protests in Abkhazia in the spring of 1978, and to the demand in February 1988 by the oblast soviet of the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast for the region's transfer from Azerbaijani jurisdiction to the Armenian SSR.

In his July 23 address to the Georgian parliament, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called on lawmakers "to keep the doors open to the Abkhaz and South Ossetians, so that they know they have other options besides the status quo," however difficult such overtures might be. He further urged parliamentarians to build "a peaceful and prosperous Georgia that has the prospect of restoring your territorial integrity by showing those in Abkhazia and South Ossetia a Georgia where they can be free and their communities can flourish; where they can enjoy autonomy within a federal system of government, where life can be so much better for them than it is now."

Commenting on that exhortation the following day, Georgian Minister for Reintegration Issues Temur Yakobashvili told journalists that any decision on a federal structure should be delayed until after the "de-occupation" of Georgian territory, meaning the withdrawal from Abkhazia and South Ossetia of the Russian troops currently stationed there and the two republics' re-subordination to the central Georgian government.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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