Caucasus - Balkans ?

posted by Julia on 2008/09/11 10:23

[ Western Balkans and EU ]

Drawing parallels and simplification helps us to understand the world. However, it can also lead to misunderstandings when parallels are drawn between very distinct situations and issues. The Caucasus crisis has often been compared to the Balkans and to the Cyprus issue. I do not have any problems with comparisons as long as they are balanced and take into account the differences. A lot of recent press comments lacked this balance and were based on simplistic equations such as Russia+Serbia vs. Kosovo+US+EU and Russia+South Ossetia+Abkhazia vs. Georgia+US+EU. Those same analysts were asking: "How come Russia is first against independence in the Kosovo-case and then pro-independence?" - acknowledging thereby the limits of their own system of analysis.

As I am not an expert of the Caucasus, I do not want to dwell too long on this issue, but just to add a few elements to the discussion:

Let's start with the parallels between Balkans and Caucasus: Going back a few months in history is not enough to explain the current tensions - neither in the Caucasus nor in the Balkans. Another similarity is that the inhabitants of the Balkans and the Caucasus have been brain-washed with ethno-nationalist propaganda in the past 10-20 years, and that this propaganda now shows consequences. This ethno-nationalist propaganda ("the Abkaz fight the Georgians because the Abkaz are Muslims and the Georgians are Orthodox Christians"), which we find in the Caucasus and in the Balkans, has a certain explanatory value, but masks other aspects of the conflict which require a much deeper analysis than is usually provided in the news: social, economic (energy resources; link between instability and organised crime), geo-strategical (international pressures/alliances).

It is precisely this deeper analysis which shows the huge differences between the Caucasus and the Balkans. The Caucasus conflicts are partly the results of the "divide et impera" strategy of Stalinist Russia which gave autonomous status to South Ossetia and Abkhazia (both mostly living from agriculture) in order to weaken Georgia (thereby artificially separating North and South Ossetia). Although the Ossetians and Abkhaz were not numerically the most significant minorities in Georgia (compared with Armenians, Azeris, Russians), there is a history of violent clashes with the government in Tbilisi. The developments in ex-Yugoslavia took place in a very different geographical and political context, especially in the last years marked by the EU accession process. 


Further reading:

Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian, 4.9.2008

Michail Ryklin: Bessere Menschen, ZEIT 36, 28.8.2008 über den georgischen Nationalismus



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