May 26th is Georgia's Independence Day celebration but it does not commemorate the event you might think, i.e. the country's liberation from the Soviet Union in 1991 (April 9th was the date of that). Instead it celebrates the country's first liberation from Russia in 1918 that materialized as a result of the Russian Civil War. It was short-lived as the Red Army marched on Tbilisi in February of 1921. The U.S.S.R is no more. The Cold War is a thing of the past. Super. Someone might want to inform the Kremlin.
Politically, I know not my ass from a hole in the ground. That being said it is not easy, by just about anyone's measure, to paint Russia's actions in the South Ossetia War in a positive light. There are those that believe that Georgia's President, Mikheil Saakashvili, precipitated the outbreak of hostilities by firing the first shots but a closer inspection of the record might lead one to conclude that his hand was forced for a number of reasons. I am not going to go into details but anyone interested in the conflict, its implications, and possible consequences should check out “A Little War That Shook The World” by Ronald D. Asmus.
Here is what I believe. Georgia wants to 'go west', which essentially means becoming part of the European Union and NATO. Russia wants NATO expansion to its borders as much as I want a tattoo of 50 Cent on my ass. Russia's response to Saakashvili's desire to 'go west' is something along the lines of 'go f*** yourself furiously'.
So now Georgia has lost any and all influence in areas that were previously populated by proportionately large numbers of ethnic Georgians (they have been removed or 'cleansed' from the region). Its aspirations for NATO membership have been damaged considerably and the government lives under the constant knowledge that they are at the mercy of the Russian government. The West (i.e. the USA and EU) have, much to my disappointment, never fully held Russia accountable for its disproportionate response during the conflict and its blatant disregard for international law. Why? Folks are too afraid of another Cold War, a fact the Kremlin was and still is aware of (Ummmmm....appeasement?). If there ever was a country worth defending I have to believe Georgia is it.
So this was the backdrop to this year's Independence Day celebration. As I stood there listening to Saakashvili's impassioned if not altogether defiant speech and later watched as soldiers and military vehicles streamed down Tbilisi's Rustaveli Avenue I could not help getting a little caught up in the moment. For better or for worse it was clearly Saakashvili's way of saying 'Stick this in your ass!' to Georgia's unruly neighbor to the north. He would be criticized for the speech and the flagrant display of military might (saber rattling anyone?) but as much as I tried I could not help empathizing with him in particular and Georgia in general. Something about rooting for the underdog is just too damn captivating. Nobody likes a bully unless, of course, you are a bully.
|Naughty. That's not very diplomatic. Must have thought I was Russian.