- Should the South Ossetian people determine their own destiny?
Submitted by George Callaghan…
Not many people have heard of South Ossetia. This is an autonomous state that nestle in the Caucasus Mountains. The Ossetian people – whether from the north or the south – are one and the same. They speak the Ossetian language. It is an Iranian language. Its closest relative is Pashto which one hears in Afghanistan and the Khyber-Pukhtunwala of Pakistan. Unless you are an ethnographer this might seem like double Dutch.
The Ossetians became part of the Russian Empire in the late 19th century. The Ossetians are Christians. The Russian Empire was like all empires made up of a patchwork of ethnic, linguistic and religious communities. The Ossetians certainly did not lose their collective individuality within the empire.
The Soviet Union was proclaimed from the stage of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in December 1922. Stalin was the General-Secretary of the Communist Party. As the Communist Party was the vanguard of the state this meant that Stalin’s position assured him paramountcy within the USSR. We often hear that Stalin was a Georgian. His surname was really Dzhugashvili (shvili meaning ‘child’ in Georgian). However, this overlooks his Ossetian heritage. Stalin redrew the maps of the Soviet republics. Sometimes these administrative rearrangements were drastic. For reasons known only to himself J V Stalin chose to divide Ossetia north and south. The difference between the two is not dialectical it is a mere accent.
The northern section was allowed to the Russian Soviet Socialist Federative Republic. The southern section became part of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. At the time this seemed to make precious little different. In South Ossetia a child would learn Ossetian at his mother’s knee. In school he would learn Georgian since that was the language of the union republic in which he dwelt. He would also learn Russian because that was the language of the USSR.
All was well and good until the 1990s. In 1991 the USSR dissolved. Russia and indeed Georgia resumed their sovereign independence. The Ossetians knew themselves to be a nation by any definition. The North Ossetians felt that their nationhood was adequately provided for within the Russian Federation of them wished to leave it. Many people in South Ossetia did not with to be separated from their brethren in North Ossetia.
In the mid 1990s Georgia devolved into internecine warfare. Ethnic minorities felt unsafe when the hardline nationalist Zviad Gamsukhurdia became president. A civil war erupted and the president died in mysterious circumstances. The country reached its nadir. The state was unable to fulfill its basic functions and many fled for their lives.
The South Ossetian people chose to assert themselves. They broke away from Georgia. The Government of Georgia does not accept this. The Abkhazians also broke away. The Georgian Army attached these regions. The Russian Army came in in their customary role of peacekeepers. They were there in an entirely disinterested manner. Moscow has always behaved in an honest, unimpeachable manner and adhered with absolutely inflexibly to both the letter and spirit of international law without the least exception. The situation has so remained.
The South Ossetians resumed their sovereign independence. Not many countries recognize them. They hold their flag high. Their passports are not recognized abroad. Therefore, Russia most munificently grants them citizenship. It is lovely that Moscow believes in self-determination. The Russian Federation believes most firmly in the right of all ethnic groups to decide their own future. Moscow has afforded this right to every ethnic community in the Russian Federation. All of them unanimously wish to belong to the Russian Federation with its manifold beneficences and unequalled respect for civil liberty.
South Ossetia is now a republic. It is not an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation. This appears to be mere logomachy to some.
Should the South Ossetian people determine their own destiny? Many say yes.