Monday 11 August 2008
The black-and-white reading of the horrific violence in South Ossetia overlooks the role of the ‘war on terror’ in destabilising the region.
It is remarkable how quickly other people’s bloody tragedies can be transformed into simple morality tales by Western observers sitting in cushioned, air-conditioned offices.
Almost as soon as the terrible violence broke out in Georgia and South Ossetia, voices in the West were insisting that this was a straightforward tale of a plucky independent republic (Georgia) standing up to a ‘bully wreaking havoc’ (Russia). Georgia is presented as bravely defending its democratic writ by wishing to hold on to South Ossetia, while Russia is accused of ‘dismembering’ a nation state by supporting the South Ossetians’ separatist sensibilities (1). There have been demands for the Western powers, in particular America, to defend Georgia – a rare representative of ‘freedom and civilisation’ in the East (2) – and to chastise the Russians. One commentator says Russia should be ‘denied the prestige that comes with membership of the G8’ (3).
The problem with this fairytale script that is being cut-and-pasted on to the horrendous massacres of people in South Ossetia and Georgia is that it is almost entirely wrong. Georgia is no free-spirited, democratic republic, but an increasingly authoritarian regime that bans overly critical media outlets and criminalises opposition parties (4). Russia is acting not from an imperialist, expansionist standpoint but out of desperation, behaving recklessly because it feels its sovereign authority challenged by numerous ex-Soviet republics.