At the end of a day of touring villages in my home country of Georgia, I switched the TV set on and looked for a channel with international news. There was a talk about the war in Georgia where an expert was asked by a journalist whether it was Georgia’s fault to have started the war.
I could not listen to it. After all my experiences of the day even the question seemed so irrelevant. Is it so simple to say who is wrong? Is it so simple to blame one side for countless atrocities, robbery, humiliation, rape and killing?
I sat in front of the switched-off TV screen and wept in powerlessness and helplessness. How is it our fault? What has been the fault of all the people who lost their loved ones in the war from either side? I think I can come up with answer to what has been Georgia’s fault. In fact I can think of more than one fault.
–It is Georgia’s “fault” that we live in the region where we live. The country of Georgia is located at the crossroads of civilization. In the course of history the country has been invaded by many foreign forces. Larger nations and empires were very keen to control this country due to its geo-political location. Russia was among those nations that easily realized the country’s strategic potential.
After 75 years of the Soviet regime in 1991 Georgia became an independent nation again. Obviously Moscow could not easily accept Georgia’s withdrawal from its sphere of influence. Instead of starting new relations with Georgia the Russian politicians decided to punish Georgia for its independence. In those days they did not want to get directly involved in confrontation with Georgia so they decided to stir up the ethno-political enclaves of Georgia to question its integrity.
The geo-political significance of Georgia has recently been strengthened by the pipeline that was constructed to provide Caspian Sea oil to the Western nations. This is the only pipeline in the region that has not been controlled by Russia, which has been using its huge energy resources to exercise its political influence on Europe and the rest of the world. The Russians obviously do not like having their monopoly on energy challenged.
–It is Georgia’s “fault” that we are traditionally Christian-Orthodox country. Since Peter the Great religion has always been used as a state ideology. There has always been full harmony between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church.
All Russian and Soviet leaders have masterfully used the church to propagate their political views and aspirations. Those church leaders and clergy who criticized the church for its subservient attitude towards the state were either martyred or severely persecuted. The state has never failed to silence the church in critical times and deprive it of its prophetic responsibility.
During late-Soviet and post-Soviet times the Georgian Orthodox Church became heavily influenced by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian influence was expressed in cementing ultra-conservative positions in the church.
The Russian Orthodox Church, very much like the Russian authorities, does not want to see the Georgian Orthodox Church leaving its sphere of influence.
This is our fault: we are bearers of the traditionally Orthodox faith, which Russians want to keep controlling.
–It is Georgia’s “fault” that we love freedom. It has been assumed that Georgia is culturally and linguistically close to Russian culture. Sometimes people in the West cannot tell the country of Georgia from the state of Georgia in the U.S.A. even after 17 years of independence.
Georgia has been determined to build a democracy. It is determined to become an integral part of the fellowship of all nations. This is why Georgia is keen to build relations with the European Union, the United States, the eastern world and with all nations.
Georgia never wanted to be enemies with Russia. A man would be foolish to seek animosity with his strongest neighbor. Georgia is about the same size as Scotland (perhaps a little bit smaller) with a population of 4.5 million compared to Russia’s 145 million. Russia is geographically 281 times bigger than Georgia. Yet Russians feel threatened by their tiny neighbor, which is determined to maintain freedom and build democracy at any cost.
This is our fault: we love our freedom and want to talk with others on an equal footing.
–It is Georgia’s “fault” that it wants to be a modern nation. Georgia is determined to become a modern nation where human rights will be respected and liberal democratic values affirmed. This aspiration, from a Russian perspective, is considered to be infectious and therefore dangerous.
Both Georgia and Ukraine have been keen to become members of NATO. Around 70 percent of Georgians supported Georgia’s membership of NATO in the referendum in January 2008. For both countries this is a matter of survival. Had these countries been accepted into membership of NATO in May 2008 the Russians would not have dared to renew the war in Georgia.
This is our fault: we would like to build a modern state. But this makes some of our neighbors extremely unhappy.
As I was leaving the village of Ptsa yesterday, some village men realized that we had not come with evil intentions. They walked out from their hiding places, gathering around the village spring. I could not pass them without stopping and chatting. I jumped out of my car and walked over to them. They all seemed to be frightened and disheartened.
“Is there hope for us, Father?” one of the middle aged men asked me.
“I hope there is some hope,” I answered reluctantly.
I do believe that there is hope for us in this country. We as Georgians and as Ossetians have made lots of mistakes during the conflicts in Ossetia and Abkhazia. The fact that we were provoked to behave the way we all did does not justify any atrocities committed by all sides.
As long as we are alive there remains hope. The painful experiences we have been through have taught us a lot of lessons if we are ready to learn them.
I always find comfort in the words of Bishop George Bell inscribed on the floor of one of the chapels in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford: “No nation, no individual is guiltless. Without repentance there is no regeneration.”
In the darkest days of the war in Georgia we realized that there is a need for regeneration of our world, where everybody will be included rather than excluded. All measures have to be taken so that Russians also feel included in the fellowship of nations, and are not excluded as a dissident member of the family. But before this happens the Russians should realize that they cannot enjoy their impunity any longer.
Malkhaz Songulashvili is presiding bishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia. This article is adapted from a longer message circulated to friends and supporters Aug. 25.
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