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The problem of occupied territories in the process of Georgia’s European integration

By Dmitry Mandjavidze
"Liberali" magazine, 18 December '12

The issue of occupied territories is important in the negotiation process for Georgia’s integration into the EU. Therefore, any step of Georgia in this direction might be fatal.

Each issue in this brief review is actually a separate topic. These issues should be the subject of constant attention of the Georgian public, as the fate of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian Russian-Georgian orientation determines to a large proportion the future of occupied, or rather taken away, at this point (or forever), territories of Abkhazia and Shida Kartli [South Ossetia].

As of today, most of the world does not recognize the independence of the territories, occupied by force from Russia and calls them occupied.

With its principled approach at the international arena, Georgia in the near future should be able to strengthen the status quo. The main duty of the state structures of Georgia today is to preserve this situation.

Accordingly, in the process of EU-Georgia integration talks the issue of the occupied territories is of considerable importance.

Until August 2008 the EU position, to be more precise the European Commission’s position, envisaged implementation of long-term, routine programs in respect to "conflict areas" . There was complete agreement in European Commission that guarantee of the implementation of these programs should be the format of the negotiations that was actually manipulated by Russia.

Moreover, due to the lack of its own resources, the Commission has elected as implementers UN programs (mainly in the direction of Abkhazia), the OSCE (mainly in the direction of Tskhinvali), and in addition - Western non-governmental organizations, which in promotion of their governments were funded by European Commission. Almost safe to say that after the change of power in Georgia, such an approach of the European Commission will again be relevant. Because after the change of power in Georgia, the European Commission, UN agencies and non-governmental partners, have got a new chance.

Until 2008, the demands of the Georgian side on the review of these programs, and attempts to moderation irritated the European Commission and the diplomatic representatives of Western Europe.

The position of the European Commission implicated a completely independent implementation of the program approved in the format of Georgia-EU cooperation, including, for example through the European Neighborhood Programme, where the Georgian side had to be content with the role of "recipient". These programs had a certain political price, but the extent of their direct impact on the conflict resolution process was questionable. The OSCE in Tskinvali followed this line as well, dozens of projects which had at best, indirect, or very limited effect on the actual course of the conflicts.

In this context, an individual example is the emergence of [Dmitri] Sanakoev (appointed Head of temporary administration of South Ossetia by president of Georgia) since 2006 .The representatives of Western European Union met this very promising initiative, which was a great support and a real chance for the Ossetian population of the Tskhinvali region with some disbelief. In fact, just from their side Sanakoev was completely marginalized in the context of settlement of the conflict process. The main motive was the fact that this new factor was threatening existing format of negotiations, which was already completely degenerated even by Western partners and a priori ruled out any progress. Meanwhile in Russia, which had been disturbed by the appearance of Sanakoev, the existence of an "ally" was a pleasant fact. Total rejection of Sanakoev actually “killed” in the root this initiative, which has great prospects.

Separate, and very interesting topic, is complete indifference of Georgian public to Sanakoev and his administration. Furthermore, some "expert" community quite successfully and consistently belittled this "project". By itself, such a reaction is part of a deeper and broader problem, and confirms the absence of the Georgian society’s position on the non-Georgian population in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.

Nor then, neither now it is possible to form public opinion, based on what principles, we would live together with Abkhazians and Ossetians in the future – autonomous republics, federal state.
Let’s go back to the European Union / European Commission. At this point, probably in no way should be revised the Law on Occupied Territories, and on this basis - the national strategy and plan of implementation. Not because this is a good strategy, or we need a more flexible policy towards Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, but because the change in the law should be preceded by the existence of a new plan of action, and an agreement on the principles on which it will operate with the support of our European or American Friends, UN, etc.

Obviously, the formation of such an approach in the new government is still a matter of time. Generally, the impression remains that the new government is trying to do today what previous government did not do yesterday. And if so, establishing public control over these processes should be a top priority.

A separate question is Geneva process. Previous government used to put a lot of emphases on it. Apparently, the new government regards Geneva talks as even bigger priority and declares that this format "should definitely be kept," "this is the only possibility of contact with Russia," etc. However, one should realize that the so-called Geneva process was created only to document the situation that existed in August 8, 2008, no more, no less. Geneva format, in principle, has reached its goal and has formed a purely technical mechanism in the situation. Also, be aware that the Geneva process in weaker and limited forms repeated scheme of the formats, which Georgian government did not like and struggled with such ferocity in previous years. It is a format of the so called “JCC” (Joint Control Commissions) in the direction of Tskhinvali and the coordination council in the direction of Abkhazia. Also the European Union Monitoring Mission in fact repeated the main objectives of these formats, and started the "incident prevention", but in a much more severe conditions for the Georgians, when we lost Liakhvi and Kodori gorge.

These details must be known to the general public. The first 5-6 rounds of the Geneva process were important. However, after that, I apologize for the jargon, it went "rolling down" and, apparently, it was nice for all the involved parties. In such a reality, the Geneva format does not have the future development, at least for us. Therefore, apart from the possibility of physical contact with Russia, in Geneva, in principle, there is nothing to do. Geneva format is a collection of fragments of formats of Coordinating Board and «JCC» which has no resource for development.

In the same context, a very important issue is the issue of external influences. Of course, we must be realistic and recognize that we have a limited ability to make independent decisions. So we all need to know, not only in the narrow governmental sector, what Western friends tell us. Where are the red lines on their part, the conditions which is full of care, including in the context of Euro-Atlantic integration.
For example, why in this case it is impossible to use the model of the Democratic Republic of Germany for the integration with NATO and the European Union, the membership of the Federal Republic of Germany into NATO preceded territorial and ethnic-political reintegration of the country. Why not discuss this possibility for us? Why can not we put aside the issue of Abkhazia and Shida Kartli, the non-recognition and confirmation of the occupation, to a greater or lesser extent, is formed as a staunch postulate? It should also be remembered that from the Russian side, we will always and everywhere have disturbance and such lock should not affect our Euro-Atlantic integration.

Besides, we should not exclude disappointments of Georgian public at some stage. Such a development would be more dangerous than the recognition of Abkhazia by half of the world. And also we need to have detailed information about activity of current and future representatives of Georgian side, so that in a democratic and permanent change of government to the next election, we are not faced with such an act, which cannot be fixed.

In the end, probably it is in our common interest to agree, which means of public control over the processes of political negotiation should be applied. In principle, the need to delegate actions of representative and executive branches, formed as a result of a democratic election should not be in doubt. In fact, it would be funny to freely elect a representative government, fully support its programs, and then monitor its moves. However, in our case, where our choice at the most was due to a dominant desire for change, the relentless monitoring of these processes by the active part of the public, non-governmental sector, and especially the media is necessary for the following reasons:

1. For the government, which was elected by the majority, which at some point needs no direct appeal to the "people", "executives" become braver, and could do things that would be impossible to turn back.

2. It is worth special attention, that close contact with the public should be in the interests of "political animals" themselves, because it gives them more space for maneuvers. Public statements, leaking or "accidentally" obtained information are invented for exactly these purposes. Of course, this happened in previous years, but was used as an instrument of secondary importance, because of the complete centralization of decision making.

Perhaps, it's time when openness, or so-called transparency, in relation to the public reached its critical point. The critical point, we believe is the line, which is followed by a break of confidentiality of politician’s action, which can be even more dangerous than a lack of transparency.

Is it difficult to implement such a policy? Of course, it's hard. In particular, in the direction of external relations. That is why the democratic choice requires the work of professional staff, and not of the "party staff."

And anyway, probably, it's time to learn that before we give anything to anyone, open, yield, we should know who will give, yield or open for us.

Also be aware that due to the occupied territories we should not have any expectations of instant results, and in the decision-making process, in principle, our community is in no rush.

After all, we have a small, but still enough time and it would be good if the crucial decisions taken in relation to the EU and the occupied territories, will not be built according to the "schedule" of domestic politics.

About the Author: Dmitry Manjavidze works in joint peacekeeping mission of the UN and African Union in Darfur. In previous years, he worked in the missions of the OSCE in Tajikistan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, and in the missions of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees in Central Asia. At various times, he worked at the Tbilisi State University, the Georgian Foreign Ministry and the Office of the State Minister for Reintegration.

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