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Olympics as a test for Georgian statehood

By Gela Vasadze
Georgia Online, 31 October '12

All of a sudden an issue of Sochi Olympics became actual in Georgia. Let’s go back to how it became actual. At a press conference, reporters asked the leader of the winning [Georgian Dream] coalition about the rumors that the president's uncle, Temur Alasania, was trying to convince the Russian leadership that [Bidzina] Ivanishvili was an American project, whose main goal was to disrupt Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Ivanishvili’s answer surprised many, he said that Georgia does not only welcome the holding of the Olympic Games in Sochi, but also will participate in it. After this statement a couple of candidates for the posts of ministers expressed solidarity, and among them are key in this regard ministers such as Alexi Petriashvili, Minister for European and NATO integration, and Paata Zakareishvili, Minister for Reintegration.

We can discuss later, why they are key figures. Now let's talk history. By itself, the Olympic Games were conceived by Pierre de Coubertin, as a demonstration of justice through competition between amateur athletes, regardless of nationality, race or ethnicity. Sports and politics was key component of Olympic movement from the very beginning.

Arguments that the sport should be out of politics came much later and mainly in order to justify immoral actions in the politics.

In the very first Olympic Game Finnish sportsmen refused to perform under the Russian tricolor, preferring performance without the flag, as the authorities of the Russian Empire forbade them to use their national flag. After that, there were many protests against the Nazis in Germany, racism in the U.S., the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Munich Olympics continued after the murder of Israeli athletes. However, the most resonant was the boycott of the Moscow Olympics.

In January 1980, the U.S. administration and its leader, President Jimmy Carter faced a difficult choice. All his achievements in the international arena had collapsed, most recently, an agreement was signed on the limitation of strategic weapons in Europe (SALT-2), the discharge process came to its peak, the Soviet-American relations went through a period of unprecedented warming.

And then the blow - the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan. It was election year, Carter almost had no choice and in January 4, 1980 the President confirmed the boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games from the United States.

Here is the most important question - why the president of the most powerful country in the world had no choice? In fact, it is simple - the participation of the United States in the Olympic Games in Moscow would practically mean ignorance, if not the support, of the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan. Even if Carter did not want to notice that, for the president it would be much more comfortable not see it and reach presidential elections with "outstanding" achievements in easing international tensions, but the public opinion of the United States would not allow him to do so.

Now let’s go back to our situation. Of course, Georgia differs from the United States of early 80's, because our situation is much worse. And here's the thing. Participation of the official delegation of Georgia at the Olympic Games in Sochi is nothing else as ignoring of occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. This essentially means de-facto recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state. I agree, it sounds very unpleasant, but, nevertheless, it's true, and I would hope that we are all well aware of it. But that's not all.

It was not mentioned by accident, that position of Bidzina Ivanishvili on Georgia's participation in the Olympic Games was supported by two key ministers. Minister for Reintegration, Paata Zakareishvili, must understand that after Georgia's participation in the Sochi Olympics there might be no one to reintegrate, and this issue can safely transfered to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Perhaps, a few hundred IDPs in Georgia still do not understand this, but they will.

Of course, I fully understand the importance of dialogue with Abkhazians and Ossetians, and understand that they are still ours, despite the fact that they are mostly citizens of the Russian Federation. But I'll never understand why participation in a sports event should come in conflict with interests of the hundreds of thousands of my compatriots.

Let’s move forward. How the minister, who is in charge of Georgia's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, will explain our partners in the European Union and NATO, the need of supporting the efforts of Georgia to de-occupy the region, if it agrees to participate in the Olympic Games held in the vicinity of the occupied region. Moreover, the region itself has been actively involved in the preparation process for these games, even though by just extraction of fossil materials for construction projects, still.

Perhaps the minister is not going to prove anything to anyone, but he has to announce it honestly and see the reaction of the society.

And finally, an equally important issue - the Caucasian policy of Georgia. We should not forget that in May 2011 the Georgian parliament adopted a declaration recognizing the genocide of the Circassian people. One may argue about the legality of the use of the term genocide, but, nevertheless, it is recorded in the act of the supreme legislative body of the country. Participation in the Sochi Olympics is nothing but ignorance of that fact, in this case ignorance of this document.

I will give reader a chance to imagine the reaction of the majority of the Circassians , because this, as the future of Georgia’s Caucasian policy is a subject of a separate, in-depth discussion. It has become fashionable to speak of the need to normalize relations with Russia, but at the same time we should not forget that Russia today is not only the Kremlin, and above all - our closest neighbors, who live in the North Caucasus, including Circassians.

Actually the issue of Sochi Olympics is a test for our statehood and for our democracy. I think it’s clear why it’s test for statehood, but I will explain why democracy. In my personal opinion, how the country will develop in future depends on how the society will manage to realize the specific risks associated with the possible participation of Georgia in the Sochi Olympics and on what will be the reaction of the authorities to this.

There is one option, however, when Georgia's participation in the Winter Olympics in 2014 would be not only desirable, but necessary. If by that time, there is agreement on the de-occupation and the Kremlin recognizes the historical responsibility for Circassian people, just as European powers did over their period of colonialism - in that case I will be happy to support our team at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. But do you believe in such scenario?

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