Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ex-Republics regress towards failed states

The Reuters story "Moldovan separatists break off talks over Georgia" doesn't surprise me. Having driven the separatist thorn deeper into Georgia's side, Moscow has sent a message to the rest of its former republics.

What's frustrating for me is the way people equivocate between Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia and the Georgia of the Rose Revolution. All separatists were not created equal, nor all countries with separatist enclaves. I've been to Transdniester, and it is the most corrupt "country" of the 50+ I've travelled in the last four years. It combines smuggling and gangsterism with Soviet nostalgia. When I exited Moldova into Romania, the Moldovan border guards were professional and honest. Yet they will never be part of an EU country so long they can't get a grip on their eastern border. It suits Moscow perfectly fine if the ex-republics remain plagued by unresolved conflicts.

Although I never entered South Ossetia while I was in Georgia, I find it entirely plausible that it's a hornet's nest of crime and smuggling with thugs as its nominal leaders. However sympathetic one might be inclined to be to the Ossetians in theory, from my experience of Georgians and Russians or Russian allies like Transdniester, I find it preposterous to suggest that the 20 000 ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia would have their human rights better protected by Putin or Putin supporters than the 50 000 ethnic Ossetians would have their human rights protected by Saakashvili. The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton signed McCain's letter nominating the young Georgian President for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

This is not to say that the Georgians struck me as southern Finns. I didn't see the mentality one finds in a western democracy at every turn. But what I did see were developing cultural norms that are the critical enablers of progress towards that goal, and in light of that I believe due allowance should be made for any exaggerating that may have occured in the communications of the Georgian government this past week. Are the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians sympathetic to small ethnic groups? Of course they are. But they know what the real deal is here, and accordingly don't project onto the South Ossetians some sort of liberal self-determination thesis that does not square with the facts on the ground. Anyone who is familiar with what happens in wars would not be the least bit surprised if the Ossetians are getting their vengeance while I write on the Georgians in South Ossetia who are no longer protected by the Georgian government.

Whatever the faults of the Georgians, Moscow is running an extremely sophisticated propaganda operation with respect to colouring how the world sees them, and suggesting people try to look through that is not to say that they are somehow angels next to Russian demons. It's rather to say that there is no real substitute to actually going to the region and drawing one's own conclusions.

NATO and the EU do not invite just any tinpot dictatorship or banana republic to join their club. On the contrary, they have standards. What the White House proposed in Bucharest was extending a "map" towards membership to Georgia. This "map" largely coincides with political and economic progress, but a great many people seem to think that the fact the derailer of this process is a foil to the USA is all the reason they need to cheer the result.

The colour revolutions stumbled this week on the rocks Moscow threw in front of them and I find it a very regrettable development in the human journey towards prosperity and freedom of expression.

See this New York Times link for some excellent backgrounders.

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