Georgian daily reports on govt blueprint for N Caucasus relations

The following is the text of Eka Basilais’s report in private high circulation daily Georgian newspaper Rezonansi on 28 June headlined "Georgia’s ‘North Caucasus blueprint is ready and awaiting parliamentary approval":

"This blueprint is a treaty whereby we are telling the North Caucasians that we want to be friends with them. This is a statement of our goodwill and it will be very good if they adopt it. As far as I know, some of them have strongly welcomed this," Gia Nodia, political analyst and professor at Ilia University [Tbilisi] who was involved in preparing the blueprint as an expert, stated. He said that the blueprint itself does not change anything but it is a statement. What matters now is the specific steps that we take because having a blueprint does not necessarily imply doing anything.

"A common accusation levelled at Georgia has been that the attempts to engage the North Caucasians did not serve any political goals and only aimed to anger the Kremlin. To some extent, they prepared the blueprint in order to dispel this view," Nodia explained. Caucasus expert Mamuka Areshidze says that there are some 20 Chechen and Ingush students studying in Georgia today and the adoption of this blueprint will not change much in this regard.

The blueprint cannot promote large-scale relations because this would require the political leadership’s goodwill on both sides, which is impossible as far as the North Caucasus political elite is concerned.

"On the one hand, this blueprint will render relations with Russia tenser, while, on the other hand, no one will let us engage in any activities in the North Caucasus. This document is more a declaration for action rather than action [in itself]," Areshidze said.

According to him, it looks like the state blueprint was only created for a few dozen North Caucasians who were able to engage in relations with Georgia without this document too.

"All this looks more like something opportunistic than a plan for serious action," Areshidze noted. Gia Nodia confirmed that Georgia has been implementing a policy for relations with the North Caucasians since 2008 and some serious steps have been taken in the education field. Students mostly from Chechnya, but also from Dagestan, North Ossetia, and Karachay-Cherkessia, are studying at Ilia University today. There are some 20-25 postgraduate students who receive funding from the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science. Scholars are coming too. Several conferences have also been held at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University.

Nodia believes that a desire to endorse a positive attitude among the North Caucasians is one of the reasons why the Georgian Government started thinking in this direction in the first place.

Gia Nodia: "We know that the general attitude towards Georgia in the North Caucasus was very negative in the past, and this became particularly apparent during the [ 1992-1993] war in Abkhazia. Part of the North Caucasians still believes that solidarity with the Abkhazians is more important than good relations with Georgia. However, as far as I know from my meetings with many authoritative North Caucasians, some of these people view this step by Georgia positively.

"The recognition of the Cherkessian genocide by the Georgian Parliament triggered a certain tension in their relations with the Abkhazians. The Abkhazians are saying that we adopted this document and are also doing other things with the sole purpose of causing a rift between them and the Cherkessians. However, the fact is that many Cherkessian leaders, including Ibragim Yaganov, who fought in Abkhazia and whom the Abkhazians declared a hero, have now grown critical of the Abkhazians’ pro-Russian stance and have adopted a pro-Georgian attitude.

"Our main goal is to change the public attitude. I hope that nothing will happen but if another conflict situation arises, we must try to ensure that large numbers of North Caucasians do not side with Russia again ."

It is noteworthy that the state blueprint for relations with the North Caucasus mainly lists the areas in which Georgia is planning to engage them, including education, cultural relations, science, sport, and so on.

Nodia noted that the adoption of the blueprint does not guarantee that there will be a consistent long-term policy, although it is a statement of such intent nevertheless.

"We already have relations and the blueprint will not change anything by itself. The blueprint is a statement and it means that the policy has become more transparent and thoughtful. What matters now is the specific steps that we take. It is possible to have a blueprint without actually doing anything," Nodia said. He noted that some people may think that the blueprint will anger Russia and they could ask whether or not it was worth this, but the blueprint by itself is unlikely to trigger a blunt reaction from Russia.

"We have been doing the things that are mentioned in the blueprint anyway. We are simply giving this the shape of a blueprint now. However, if Russia decides to pick a fight, it will always find a pretext for doing so. Also, the people who believe that this document was created with the sole purpose of angering Russia will not change their mind anyway," Nodia said.

According to Mamuka Areshidze, there is nothing wrong with the creation of the blueprint itself as it provides a good foundation for cooperation. However , since Russian-Georgian relations are extremely complicated today, the Kremlin is suspicious about any blueprint of this type and gives corresponding orders to the leaders of the North Caucasus republics. For this reason, while this policy will have a certain positive effect on the people who live there, the region’s governments will not respond with any active measures. It is therefore hard to say how effective this document will be.

"In any case, regardless of whether or not the recognition of the Cherkessian genocide and the talk about the deepening of relations was aimed to anger the Russians, the galvanization of the North Caucasians is obvious and relations between the peoples are growing deeper whether the North Caucasian governments want it or not. There are Chechen and Ingush students studying in Tbilisi today. However, this blueprint will not promote large-scale relations because this would require the political leadership’s goodwill on both sides, which is impossible.

"Georgia needs to have some kind of an approach towards the North Caucasians and this type of a blueprint should have been written earlier. However, in order to be able to implement it, Georgia needs a government that would have a different type of relations with Russia. I am talking about creating a format for negotiations. It is difficult to do this now. Political tension between us and Russia is so strong that it will be very difficult to implement this blueprint on a wide scale," Areshidze noted.

Gia Nodia responded by saying: "Our policy targets individuals, not administrative entities. It is true that their leaders often criticize our policy because they are obliged to speak that way. However, it is possible that they were also pleased with this in the depth of their hearts".

Source: Rezonansi, Tbilisi, in Georgian 28 Jun 12 pp 1, 4

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