Kosovo Precedent No Solution for Caucasus Region
May 18, 2006
by Zeyno Baran
From Ms Zeyno Baran.
Sir, The attempt by Thomas de Waal to twist the issue of Kosovo's independence into a solution for the "frozen conflicts" in Georgia's South Ossetian and Abkhaz regions is plain wrong ("The Kosovo talks are about much more than just Kosovo", May 10).
The theory that Kosovo can be used as a precedent for settling ethnic conflicts is a clever smoke-screen offered up to divide the west by Vladimir Putin, Russia's president. However, Mr Putin's diplomatic sleight of hand conveniently ignores the implications for Chechnya, the entire North Caucasus and even areas of western Europe, for which a Kosovo precedent could open a Pandora's box of legalised separatism. Most of the people living in Kosovo are victims of Serbian-sponsored ethnic cleansing, murder and aggression. Unlike in Kosovo, in Georgia's separatist regions there is a third direct player - Russia, which sponsored both their uprising and today's tense post-conflict status quo. In 1993 more than 300,000 Georgians were forced to flee and today, Abkhazia is ethnically cleansed. No surprise that Mr de Waal can find no one there who supports reintegration into Georgia.
In Kosovo, civil society is finally beginning to take root. A law enforcement and judicial system is functioning and internationally organised and recognised elections have been held. The situation in Georgia's breakaway regions could not be more different. South Ossetia today is a haven for international smugglers and lawlessness. Large-scale counterfeiting of US currency is rampant, and Georgian authorities recently confiscated a shipment of highly enriched uranium that had crossed the breakaway region. In Abkhazia, the few Georgians that have returned are denied the right to learn or speak their own language, human rights are non-existent, and the rest are prohibited from returning to their homes - facts Mr de Waal conveniently ignores when he speaks about the legitimacy of Abkhazia's "democratically elected" leadership.
While there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to settling complex issues surrounding ethnic conflicts, an international effort to reward ethnic cleansing with independence would cut against the very foundation of democratic norms and practices.
Kosovo has taught us that building peace is difficult work that must be supported by a wide array of stakeholders. The Georgian government is offering a way forward through a peace plan that has won endorsement from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, European Union and western governments. President Mikhail Saakashvili's plan offers financial and economic incentives, protection of language rights and cultural heritage, representation in the central government, and a substantial degree of autonomy for South Ossetia and Abkhazia; it deserves greater international engagement and support.
Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Eurasian Policy,
Washington, DC 20005, US
This letter to the editor appeared in the Financial Times on May 17, 2006.
Zeyno Baran is a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute.