Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Three cheers for brave Georgia !

Almost exactly thirteen years after Croatia, with its ‘Operation Storm’, successfully liberated itself from Serbian imperialist occupation, Georgia has attempted an ‘Operation Storm’ of its own. Yet while Croatia was fortunate enough to be faced by a relatively weak oppressor, little Georgia must face the might of the world’s territorially largest country, and one of the world’s most powerful military machines. Although I have recently written here that military means are not a feasible way of reversing the Russian Anschluss with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and though I fear Tbilisi has been provoked into behaving rashly and entering a battle it cannot win, yet my solidarity is entirely with Georgia, her government and her people as they fight for their freedom.

When Georgia won its independence from the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, it paid the heavy price of territorial dismemberment, as Russia punished Georgia by assisting Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists to break away from Tbilisi’s control. It is, of course, legitimate to ask what the noble principle of ‘national self-determination’ means for the compound land of Georgia, with its (now severed) autonomous entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and what sort of national rights the latter should enjoy. But certain things should be spelled out. Firstly, until they were ethnically cleansed in the early 1990s, there were two and a half times as many ethnic Georgians as ethnic Abkhaz living in Abkhazia, and their right to self-determination is certainly not being respected. Secondly, there are approximately five times as many ethnic Ossetians living in North Ossetia in the Russian Federation as there are in Georgia’s South Ossetia, but North Ossetia’s independence is certainly not on offer from Moscow. Thirdly, freedom for the Caucasian nations requires the end of Russian colonial domination of the region, something that can only be set back by the Russian crushing of Georgia. And fourthly, if Russia is allowed to annex de facto what are effectively its irredentas – in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – it will be encouraged to annex other irredentas: in Moldova’s Transnistria; Ukraine’s Sevastopol; northern Kazakhstan; and so on.

South Ossetia is, unlike the former ‘Republic of Serb Krajina’ in Croatia, a legitimate entity representing a genuine national minority, with a right to enjoy very extensive autonomy – which Tbilisi has offered it. But with an ethnic Ossetian population at the start of the 1990s of only about 65,000 and a total population of about 100,000, South Ossetia is more on the scale of a town or enclave than of a nation: its resident population is approximately one thirtieth the size of Kosova’s; smaller than the Muslim Bosniak population of Serbia’s Sanjak region or the Albanian population of Macedonia (neither of whose right to secede, incidentally, I would recognise); smaller than any European nation other than the mini-states of Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino. The ‘independence’ of this tiny region means, effectively, its annexation by Russia – which is, in effect, a process that is underway, and which the desperate Georgian offensive is attempting to halt. I have already explained at length why South Ossetia is in no way equivalent to Kosova, either in terms of its constitutional or legal status, or in terms of its actual credentials as a ‘nation’. ‘Self-determination’ does not mean the right of a former colonial power – in this case Russia – to annex enclaves in its former colonies.

This is not a case of Moscow supporting the right of national majorities to secede – the Abkhaz have no majority, not even a plurality, in Abkhazia. Nor is it a case of Moscow supporting the right of autonomous entities of the former Soviet Union to secede – Moscow has extended the same support to the separatists of Transnistria, which enjoyed no autonomous status in the USSR, while denying the right to secede of the Chechen Republic. This is simply a case of naked Russian imperialist expansionism. It is Georgia which is fighting to establish its independence, and Georgia which deserves our support. Georgia is a staunch ally of the West; the third largest contributor of troops to the allied coalition in Iraq. A Russian defeat of Georgia would be a tremendous setback for the West’s credibility and moral standing; it would increase Russian control of our energy supplies and encourage further Russian acts of aggression in the former Soviet Union.

We cannot afford to back down before this act of Russian imperialist aggression. We should defend Georgia with all the means at our disposal. We should send troops to bolster her. We should threaten Russia with sanctions. Heroic Georgia is fighting our fight; she is defending the freedom and security of democratic Europe.

Saturday, 9 August 2008 - Posted by | Abkhazia, Caucasus, Croatia, Former Soviet Union, Georgia, Kosovo, Russia, Serbia, South Ossetia, Transnistria

6 Comments

  1. […] Marko Hoare has a very good piece on some of the internals. […]

    Pingback by Random Nuclear Strikes » Busy | Sunday, 10 August 2008

  2. […] by cabalamat on 2008-Aug-10 Marko Hoare points out that South Ossetia, with its small population, isn’t comparable to Kosovo: South Ossetia is, unlike the former ‘Republic of Serb Krajina’ in Croatia, a legitimate entity […]

    Pingback by The West should support Georgia « Amused Cynicism | Sunday, 10 August 2008

  3. […] Perry de Haviland has an excellent post reflecting this mood and picking up the thoughts of Marko Hoare; This is not a case of Moscow supporting the right of national majorities to secede – the Abkhaz […]

    Pingback by Georgia on my mind « Curly’s Corner Shop, the blog! | Monday, 11 August 2008

  4. […] Perry de Haviland has an excellent post reflecting this mood and picking up the thoughts of Marko Hoare; This is not a case of Moscow supporting the right of national majorities to secede – the Abkhaz […]

    Pingback by Curly’s Corner Shop | Monday, 11 August 2008

  5. […] side, but in a nuanced way (via Freeborn John): I am wary of articulating the sort of strong solidarity with Georgia that Marko Attila Hoare has put forward, because Saakashvili’s government is not […]

    Pingback by South Ossetia roundup #4 « Amused Cynicism | Tuesday, 12 August 2008

  6. […] political blogs try to take sides, Greater Surbiton’s suggestion is “We cannot afford to back down before this act of Russian imperialist aggression. We […]

    Pingback by Roundup Georgia. « ModernityBlog | Friday, 15 August 2008


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: