George Hewitt (UK)
George Hewitt is the Professor of Caucasian languages at the School of Oriental and African Studies, a fellow of the British Academy and the Honorary Consul for Abkhazia to the UK. He is visiting Abkhazia for over 30 years and publishes regularly on the history, languages and politics of the Caucasus.
— As it can be seen from your writings you are skeptical about Georgia’s attempts to “reintegrate” Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia. What can you say about current activities of Georgia in this direction? And about the way it would be more proper for Georgia to act? Do you believe that Russia really does threaten Georgia’s independence and sovereignty?
— If Georgian politicians really believe the rhetoric of their statements on the ’occupied territories’, they are living in a fantasy world. If they don’t believe it, then they are engaging in utterly cynical attempts to deceive their Western supporters. Either way, they are doomed to fail, just as everything else they’ve attempted since 1989 with regard to either Abkhazia or S. Ossetia had led to failure. They are their own worst enemies, but they refuse to recognize this or any other aspect of reality on the ground. There is only one way to lead to the restoration of normal life in the region and that is to recognize their loss of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia and to get on with the business of building good-neighbourly ties — the same applies to Azerbaijan with reference to N-Karabagh. And as for “Russian threat” to Georgia’s independence and sovereignty — no, not in the way that Georgians claim and many believe. No doubt Moscow wants to preserve some influence in the region and to avoid having Georgia become a member of NATO, but would one have expected anything different from America, if the roles were reversed?
— How would you describe the current situation with Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia in general? Which ways may it develop further?
— The situation in the two republics is somewhat different. Abkhazia does not want to become a satellite of, or annexed by Russia, but is being given no chance to develop in the way it wants because of the West’s dogged support for Tbilisi. Abkhazia has the potential to be a successful state, its economy based on tourism. S. Ossetia is not so beneficially placed. Most people would suppose that union with N. Ossetia is the obvious solution, but it seems that such a solution is not necessarily the first choice of S. Ossetians themselves. Whether S. Ossetia can fully exist as an independent state with its land-locked situation, small population and relative lack of experience at self-government is a difficult question to answer.
— What can you say about the current situation in the Caucasus region at whole? Has it some specific features?
— The Caucasus is one of the most varied regions on earth in terms of linguistic and ethnic diversity. When one adds in religious differences, one might well conclude that the Caucasus does have its own specific features. When the USSR disintegrated, there was a hope that this heralded a ’new world order’, but ’order’ is not a word that easily comes to mind when talking about the post-Soviet Caucasus. The problems are legion and have not been helped (in the Northern Caucasus) by the Kremlin’s failed policies towards Chechenia, which have only served to provide a foothold to militant Islam, which has become such a danger in so many states around the world today. How one accommodates the aspirations of so many peoples is a question that probably requires the wisdom of Solomon to answer. Leaderships in the states concerned need to understand that dialogue at all levels should be encouraged and corruption at ALL levels in society rooted out. The native peoples of the Caucasus developed ways of living together (or at least as neighbours) over the centuries (millennia, even), and one can only hope that in the fast-changing conditions of the modern world, they will be given the chance to rediscover those ways, free from conflict and wars.
— What is your opinion about the changes taking place in the Black Sea region? What role may play the issue of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia?
— It’s not clear how what relevance South Ossetia has for developments in the Black Sea region, given its land-locked position. One looks forward to a time when the cooperation being developed between the various states which border the Black Sea will be offered to Abkhazia. As long as there are attempts by Georgia and Georgia’s supporters to isolate Abkhazia and to hinder shipping between Sukhum and Trebizond (Trabzon), there will be potential for misunderstanding and actual conflict. Russia has its Black Sea fleet, and NATO has vessels there too, and one recalls the days in the wake of the fighting in August 2008 when it briefly looked as though the Russian and US NATO vessels might find themselves in dangerous proximity. Just as a number of states (Abkhazia, Georgia, Armenia and Russia) would benefit from a full reopening of the rail-line through Abkhazia, so the Black Sea border-states will benefit from the relaxation of tension that would result from recognizing Abkhazian independence and the establishment of normal good-neighbourly relations between Abkhazia and Georgia. Recognition is inevitable, and so the sooner it comes, the better for all.
Interviewed by Marat Kunaev