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Flourishing Georgia and the restoration of territorial integrity

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, July 14
Since Georgia regained its independence in the 90s of the last century the most crucial issue it has faced has been maintaining its territorial integrity. This issue has become even more acute since the Russian invasion of Georgia on 08/08/08. It is also an axiom that Georgia has to restore its territorial integrity by peaceful means.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit saw her finally use the term “Russian occupied territories of Georgia” and thus make this definition of them part of international discourse. Unfortunately however the term de-occupation has not been used as often as occupation. During Clinton's visit the issue raised many times by politicians, analysts and public figures was again highlighted – friendly Georgia should develop its economy, so that the country will flourish and Abkhazians, Ossetians and many others will voluntarily return to a rich and happy Georgia. This means Georgia has to compete with Russia economically, not militarily. It is questionable whether this will be much easier for Georgia to do, as Russia's economic advantage over Georgia is as strong as its military one, but at least there is some chance if Georgia continues its economic and political reforms.

Georgia has to make significant and realistic economic and political progress, not simulated progress. But will this be the guarantee of restoring territorial integrity? The occupied territories are obstacles to economic progress because they have created about half a million IDPs and funds need to be dedicated to providing services for them rather than stimulating growth. Furthermore, Russia has much greater ability to take care of the tens of thousands of people still living in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. According to estimates there are barely more than 50,000 people in the Tskhinvali region and a bit more than 150,000 in Abkhazia, and Moscow can offer them much better economic conditions provided it firstly destroys Georgia’s territorial integrity, secondly creates military bases on its territories and thirdly influences the development of different transportation projects in the South Caucasus by its presence there. These are Russia's targets in Georgia. If Georgia asks the people of the occupied territories to return for purely economic reasons, it will soon find that those reasons do not exist.

The concept of regaining the occupied territories via economic development is very controversial here in Georgia. Some analysts think that it is simply wrong and if serious political steps are not taken to restore territorial integrity within 5-10 years the country faces the threat of further disintegration. Nobody doubts that the country should try and revive its economy and the plan suggested by the Reintegration Ministry is also acceptable. Tbilisi should try and involve the people in the occupied territories in different projects. However the question is how this can be done when those areas are not under the Georgian Government's control. There is a general feeling that such moves would have been more reasonable, and perhaps much more successful, if they had been made before 08/08/08.

There are some who remember with nostalgia the period before Rose Revolution when people of different ethnicities in the Tskhinvali region interacted without fear, celebrating weddings, birthday parties, mixed marriages, funerals and other occasions together. This was a time when Georgian lorries loaded with Georgian goods passed through the Roki Tunnel and entered the Russian market there, when goods from Russia were brought to Ergneti market (in a village near Tskhinvali) and its pseudo-free economic zone, which if properly regulated and wisely organised could have become a genuine free economic zone. Buses from Tbilisi travelled through Tskhinvali on their way to the Racha region of Georgia and the lari circulated in Tskhinvali, being much more popular than the Russian rouble. Georgian mobile phone operators were active in those territories. The whole process of integration was taking place and the people who remember that, ask: what was wrong with leaving things to continue like that?