Abkhazia Reconsidered

The Black Sea, from Gagra town.

Neal Ascherson (of whom I’m unexplainably always somewhat wary) has a thoughtful — and thought provoking for those of us trapped in the US rah-rah news bubble — essay on Abkhazia in the London Review of Books. In the capitol of what the we reflexively (even on the left) call a “Georgian breakaway region” during the August Russian–Georgian War, Ascherson makes a case from a subtly Abkhaz perspective. This is something we are not allowed to see often, and while both sides nationalist propaganda should be named and shamed, the description this article gives of Abkhaz and Georgia as trapped in a great powers game and at the sharp edge of national mythology, rings very true.

The fangs of this trap are Georgia’s claims to ‘sovereign territorial integrity’, the flat refusal to accept the loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia which is so eagerly endorsed by European governments and by the United States. But after the disaster of last August (the latest of at least three Georgian efforts to reassert this ‘integrity’ by armed force), three things should have become obvious. The first is that ‘reunification’ cannot possibly succeed in mere military terms. The second is that such attempts achieve precisely what they are supposed to prevent: they actually reduce the independence of Georgia, by increasing Russia’s capacity to threaten and blackmail the Georgian government. The third is that by encouraging Georgia to stick to impossible frontier claims, the West – America, above all – is ensuring that Georgia will remain its helpless client, unable to defuse its own confrontation with Russia and thus ever more reliant on American military, economic and diplomatic patronage.

Plus, we get an example of the word “farouche” used in a sentence. The cats in my backyard are farouche. Wild, a little fierce, a little skittish, a bit ignorant (or even dense), very unpolished, but with an undeniable charm. Especially Steve.

Neal Ascherson: A Chance to Join the World. LRB, 4 December 2008

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