Tag Archives: independence

‘Georgia for Georgians’ Returns to Tbilisi

This week I was strolling around Hero Square between meetings and saw some fresh graffiti in one of the stairwells adjacent to the zoo.

In English it was scrawled: “Georgia for Georgians.” The whole descent on the stairwell was decorated with swastikas, SS symbols and other phrases like “Fuck Niggers” and “We’ll rise again.”


These Nazi and openly racist statements are likely more shocking to most Western readers, especially Americans, who have a long and painful history with the N-word.

I, however, was struck most by “Georgia for Georgians.” It’s hard to find any European city these days without a bit of neo-Nazi vandalism. Those swastikas and racial slurs could have just as easily been found in Paris or Vienna as Tbilisi.

But, “Georgia for Georgians” has a more specific, dark history in this country. It was one of the loudest cries of Georgia’s chaotic rebirth as an independent post-Soviet state. That slogan and the policy implications behind them played a major role in the young country’s descent into civil war, poverty and anarchy throughout the 90’s. In fact, those words are so iconic that they have their own Wikipedia page.


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Organ trafficking in Kosovo: who were the good guys again?

Seven people, including at least one senior government official, were charged Monday Nov. 15, with running an illegal organ trafficking network in Kosovo, European Union officials said.

According to the indictment, the traffickers lured people from slums in Istanbul, Moscow, Moldova and Kazakhstan with promises of up to $20,000 for their organs. Law enforcement officials say many never received a cent. The operations were performed at a private clinic in a run-down neighborhood on the outskirts of Pristina, the Kosovar capital.

While the ring was first discovered two years ago, the global scale of the network and its victims is only now becoming clear.

This article took me back to memory lane, thinking of analyzing the accusations, recriminations and consequences of a war that most people know little about.

At about this time three years ago I was at Hertzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia beginning research into the issue of Kosovo independence, and how that conflict and the debate over Kosovo’s status had become a turning point in the NATO-Russian relationship.

The disagreement between NATO and Russia in 1999 over whether or not to intervene in the Kosovo War led to disturbing close calls where British soldiers were ordered to attack and “destroy” a Russian force that had taken over an airfield, and held serious ramifications for the relationship, leading up to the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008. Continue reading

Abkhaz optimistic about Russian presence


Sukhumi, Abkhazia's capital, has remained a vibrant resort town full of Russian tourists, despite the unrecognized country's isolation.

Sukhumi, Abkhazia's capital, has remained a vibrant resort town full of Russian tourists, despite the unrecognized country's isolation.

When I went to Abkhazia, although I was primarily chasing a story for the Times about the Russian military presence, what I really wanted to do was just talk to some Abkhaz people and see what they think about their current situation.

The issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has been primarily viewed from the perspectives of Washington and Moscow, and has largely been framed — particularly in the last year — as a conflict between Georgia and Russia. This is intentional on the Georgian side. 

Georgian Minister for Reintegration (of the break-away republics) Temuri Yakobashvili, who I quote in the article, was very forthcoming about Georgia’s strategy. If Abkhazia and South Ossetia were merely provinces attempting to secede, then it was primarily up to the Georgian government to talk it out with both sides. But if Georgia was fighting a conflict against an external enemy that was now occupying its territory, then Georgia can bring in international help to its side.

But there is a huge disconnect between the way the conflict is viewed inside and outside Abkhazia. In Abkhazia, most people hold the point of view that they fought a war for independence in 1992-1993, and won. Indeed, they were able to push out the Georgian army and have had control over their little republic for 16 years. However, because government was not recognized by any other state they were officially sanctioned and cut off from the world during that time.


A goat wanders through an abandoned house in Agubedia.

A goat wanders through an abandoned house in Agubedia.


Georgia offered several development packages over the years, but all potential agreements included Abkhazia’s eventual return to Georgian rule, which they refused.

Last year, after Russia and Georgia’s brief war following an attempt by Georgia to retake South Ossetia by force, Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and drew worldwide international criticism. Russia then began pumping money and troops into both provinces, lining the their borders with military installations, and handing out money to government for rebuilding and development projects.


A Russian military outpost near Gali.

A Russian military outpost near Gali.


And so, what interested me most was simply what that Abkhaz thought. Are we independent? Or have we traded Georgian domination for Russian domination? Most seemed genuinely hopeful. Their current president was elected although Russia gave clear backing to his opponent in the previous elections, and the finance minister declares adamantly that on budget decisions the buck stops at his desk.

More than anything else, Abkhazia needed change. For 16 years they had been isolated with a destroyed infrastructure and no industry left standing. They were unable to trade with other nations or import reconstruction materials. Their successful war for independence from Georgia had been their greatest triumph and their greatest burden.

After 16 years, they seemed to care little who was recognizing their government and trading with them. This meant progress. And in a sense — because the Abkhaz memory goes back only to the years of isolation, the war before that, and the Soviet Union before that — this was just going back to the way things were, which in their minds was very positive.

Time will tell with Abkhazia. Many already said to me that they view themselves as becoming essentially a “Russian Puerto Rico,” we’ll so how that works out for them.

This is my story that ran on Monday in the Times.


TBILISI, Georgia – Despite signs that Russia plans to economically and militarily dominate Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia, Abkhaz officials are hopeful Russian assistance will bring much-needed development.

In August, Russia fought a brief war with Georgia for control of Abkhazia and another seceding province, South Ossetia. Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations three weeks later.

Georgia claims that its territories are now occupied by Russian troops and pro-Russian puppet governments. Temuri Yakobashvili, minister for reintegration and chief negotiator on the conflicts, says Russia seeks nothing more than territory.

“Let’s be honest. Russia has no interest in developing Abkhazia. Russia never had any interest in developing the occupied territories,” he said.

Since August, a flurry of treaties pledging humanitarian and military assistance have been signed between the Russian and Abkhaz governments, including an agreement signed in March that would allow Russia to maintain a force of 3,800 soldiers in Abkhazia for the next 49 years.

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Putin accuses Georgia of crimes against its own people

Russian Prime Minister just said on Russia Today television that Georgia’s bombardments of South Ossetia are crimes against its own people and said “it’s hard to see how South Ossetia could stay a part of Georgia” after the conflict settles out.

Granted, so far Georgia’s actions in South Ossetia haven’t been any more brutal than those of Russia in Chechnya. But it does show that Russia has upped the stakes in the conflict, essentially stating that when the fighting settles South Ossetia will either be independent or a part of Russia.