This is a special edition of this column.
Here are two things you ought to know about the conflict flaring up between Russia and Georgia:
First of all, Russia does not want NATO on her doorstep, and Georgia was getting ready to join NATO. Second of all, Georgia does not want to deal with the conflict that inevitably arises when certain parties, such as the South Ossetians, decide to break away.
I can understand where both sides are coming from. As much as I deplore Russia’s meddling in its neighbours’ affairs, I have to say that said meddling makes sense to the Kremlin. And as much as deplore Saakashvili’s government (have we already forgotten Georgia’s political crises?), I have to say that I understand not wanting to deal with the inevitable lawlessness that rebel regions such as South Ossetia create within and around themselves.
What horrifies is me is not just the violence, as if it isn’t bad enough, but the fact that being ethnically Russian and Ukrainian, I grew knowing that the Georgians are our friends. I grew up in a household in love with Georgian culture. To my Russian mother, Georgia was “the most beautiful place in the world,” and she wasn’t alone in this by far.
The people baying for blood on both sides, have they honestly forgotten our common ties? If the forgetting is this easy, perhaps we really ought to be worried about the future of Russia and Ukraine. The unthinkable is already happening before us, and history has entered a gloomy and bewildering chapter. This is the sort of thing that happens when empires fail; it’s bloody and vile. It reeks of gunpowder and rot and the dried-up glue that used to hold together our old, red memorial wreaths.
Now, for all the understandable grief surrounding the loss of life, I have found something to be bitterly amused about:
It’s hilarious how quickly some start shouting that “hey those are Russian citizens we are fighting for!!!” Yes, that is factually true, many South Ossetians do have Russian passports now, and Moscow has to take responsibility for these people whether it wants to or not.
But isn’t it funny how the people of that region, normally viewed as “black-assed thugs,” have suddenly become our brothers and sisters, our secret lovers and best friends?
Obviously this isn’t the philosophy of all Russian people, I am pointing this out because those I have seen beating their chests about how Moscow is being “overtaken” by “darkies” are the same people beating their chests over the fate of South Ossetians.
The absurdities of nationalism know no bounds.
The joy with which such people greet pictures of dead Georgians is diabolical. Their desire to see Russian soldiers fall due to some misguided notions regarding “glory” is equally diabolical. They do not value Georgian lives, but neither do they value the lives of their own troops or the lives of South Ossetians they are supposed to care about.
The loudest of the loud among us do not have sons serving in the Russian army, or so I have noticed.
This isn’t to say that I am a fan of Georgia’s President Saakashvili, however. I think it’s laughable that some writers are busy painting a picture of the genteel Saakashvili and uniformly bloodthirsty, fanged Russians. Have we learned nothing from Georgia’s squashed opposition? Do we really think that Saakashvili has the best interests of his people in mind? Or the best interests of the South Ossetians who are, predictably, almost invisible in this conflict?
Political elites benefit from grand-standing, regular people just lose their limbs in the process.
The West is no better in this regard. We have shouted all we could about Kosovo, OMIGOD Kosovo! The BBC quickly points out lawlessness in South Ossetia, but it takes years for anyone to mention lawlessness in aforementioned Kosovo. This is because it was easy to get involved in the Balkans, and not so easy to do the same in this part of the world.
Ultimately, the nations who have encouraged Georgia to join NATO will wash their hands of this conflict. When it comes to what matters more, Tbilisi or Moscow, Moscow will win out. It’s expedient to kick smaller nations to the curb in favour of the big guys, and I say this as someone who has a hell of a lot in common with the Russian Federation and its interests.
Who knows? Perhaps this entire conflict will serve to benefit Russian-American relations. On Air Force One, high above the toils of ordinary life and death, people who will benefit from this disaster can toast each other while the dead are being buried.
It’s not fair. It’s politics. And the only thing left for those not directly involved may be simply to turn away. As one of my Russian friends put it: “I don’t give a s—. It’s summer. Beautiful women in light dresses and sandals are about. I am young enough to pay attention to beautiful women, and old enough to not be interested in f—– up political games.”
My gentle readers might think it downright evil to turn away as people are dying. But if there’s anything that the Russians have learned long ago, is that our opinions, particularly ones that involve the tiniest bit of logic or, egads, even mercy – rarely matter.
As for me, I was looking forward to doing my job, as in, writing about the Olympics. As usual, the notion of the world coming together must take a backseat to violence.