What did Eduard Shevardnadze know?
Konstantin Ukhov. Exclusively to Vestnik Kavkaza.
The former president of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, died on July 7th. He was 86. His diplomatic career started with Perestroika in the USSR. When Shevardnadze was Foreign Minister of the USSR, the Cold War ended, relations between Moscow and Washington normalized, the Kremlin agreed on uniting the Germanies, the Warsaw Pact Organization collapsed. In March 1992 Shevardnadze returned to Georgia and headed the State Council, which was founded after the dismissal of President Gamsakhurdia; and later he was elected president. The last three years of Shevardnadze’s presidency were very difficult for him and his country.
Vestnik Kavkaza publishes a series of articles on the outstanding politician.
After the meeting in Vladikavkaz in August 1996, the heads of Georgia and South Ossetia, Shevardnadze and Chibirov, met twice – in November 1997 in the South Ossetian settlement of Dzhava and in June 1998 in Borjomi. At one of meetings, according to stories of eyewitnesses, Shevardnadze told Chibirov: "Ludwig, take your time! Yours won't forgive you this haste." It was a question only about peacekeeping initiatives in the region, instead of about the return of South Ossetia to the structure of Georgia – to solve the problem was not in the power of these people even if they wanted it very much.
Shevardnadze understood that such conflicts cannot be solved quickly. One should move to ones goal calmly without running to extremes. Georgians returned to the Galsky District of Abkhazia under Shevardnadze’s governance. And the August disaster of 2008 would have been impossible during his presidency. Shevardnadze is criticized for radicalism on the Abkhazian issue, but in 1997 the head of Abkhazia, Vladislam Ardzinba, arrived in Tbilisi to talk. This couldn’t even be imagined after Saakashvili came to office.
A significant condition for a settlement of an inter-ethnic conflict is respect toward the opposite side and consideration of ethnic peculiarities. The second president of Georgia knew representatives of the ethnic groups which lived in his country well, but he knew his compatriots even better. He knew Georgian history and literature deeply. The histories of the Caucasian nations are mingled, and when you study the Georgian past, you learn about other nations – Ossetians, Abkhazians, Lezgins, Azerbaijanis. When Shevardnadze returned to an independent Georgia, representatives of other nationalities stopped leaving Georgia.
Even though some forces in Georgia still praise the importance of presidents Gamsakhurdia and Saakashvili, they had no such experience of heading the republic as Shevardnadze had. He had been heading Soviet Georgia for 13 years, 8 years – the independent country, 5 years – the Foreign Ministry of the USSR. Nobody has had such credentials in Georgia. Shevardnadze understood that the Caucasus should be a territory of peace without separatism.
The period of his presidency in Georgia maximally improved the inter-ethnic climate and encouraged the settlement of conflicts in the Caucasus. We shouldn’t forget that the position of the then-authorities of Russia influenced the internal Caucasian processes so much.
The divide-and-rule policy which was implemented not only in the South Caucasus, but also in the Russian North Caucasus, was a mistake for the multinational region. The position destroyed the basic principles of the stability system which had been developed in Russia over 200 years. Dividing the Caucasus, according to the ethnic principle, led to infinite territorial conflicts. Divide-and-rule politicians are not interested in the peaceful development of the region. Their goal is wars and destabilization. Once Shevardnadze told Russian journalists about a session in the Kremlin conducted by Yeltsin, a person who didn’t know and didn’t understand the Caucasus: “After the Georgian-Abkhaz war the port of Poti was captured by supporters of Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Food products came to Georgia from the port of Poti. I addressed President Yeltsin. Do you know what he told me? “Let Gamsakhurdia head Western Georgia, and you will be the president of Eastern Georgia.” The talk took place at a meeting of the heads of Russia and the three South Caucasus states. Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev reacted to the words emotionally: “Today you suggest dividing Georgia and tomorrow – Azerbaijan? No way!”
The Caucasus probably has no piece of land that has belonged to only one nation during its history. Every meter can be called a historic motherland of several nations. Mono-ethnic Armenia is an exception in the Caucasus, and it is the result of expelling other nationalities from its territory. But the successful spiritual and socio-economic development of a nation which has bad relations with its neighbors is impossible. Violation of the territorial integrity principle in the Caucasus leads to big problems. Progress in the Caucasus is possible under certain conditions: territorial integrity, friendly and equal relations between nations, and their cooperation. Eduard Shevardnadze was one of few Caucasus politicians who understood this very well.