What Made Saakashvili a War Criminal

Leaders are not born war criminals. They are made criminals by the society which brings them to power. A history of rise of Adolph Hitler may be an example. I believe that all post soviet Georgian presidents may be qualified as war criminals. Mr. Saakashvili is just the last case.

After Mr. Saakashvili has launched a bloody and failed blitzkrieg against South Ossetia he got a reputation of a crazy. I personally would not qualify Saakashvili as a client for a lunatic asylum. As a human being he is a regular guy and a good family man. Perhaps he is skilled enough to be a president of say a corporation. But as a president of a troubled state of Georgia, a nation in search of identity he was ill equipped. No doubts — Mr. Saakashvili is a gifted populist and a capable crowd pleaser. He also showed himself as a ruthless and twisty politician with no principles attached. These great qualities in combination with his lust for power and some managerial talents made Mr. Saakashvili democratically elected. So, in 2004, at the age of 37 he became the president of Georgia, the youngest one in Europe. Georgian society got the president it deserved.

It’s important to understand that Mr. Saakashvili is motivated by an strong ambition – to place himself in history as the founding father of a new Georgia. The key to ambition was to reassert federal control of rebellious regions of Ajaria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That was his major presidential election campaign message. Mr. Saakashvili skillfully harnessed popular discontent with a failure of his predecessors to bring back these stray regions into a fold of mother Georgia.

Ajaria region was his first real trial for a new president, and Saakashvili was clearly emboldened by the ease with which he regained control over it. Mr. Abashidze, a semi feudal master of Ajaria, facing military confrontation blinked first and escaped. Ajaria was an easy case – it was about control of money, resources and personal power. It was a dispute between leaders. That makes it very different in case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the main issue is ethnicity. These areas had a long history of bloody conflicts with Georgia over independence. Let me remind you that in August 1992 Georgian president Mr. Shevardnadze sent troops to gain control over Abkhazia. Bloody war followed and in September 1993 , a year after it all started, Georgian army was badly bitten and deserted Abkhazia. Shevardnadze narrowly escaped capture and the Russian navy evacuated him from Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia.

By standards of today Mr. Shevardnadze qualifies for a war criminal. His war against Abkhazia resulted in over 16 000 people perished and some 250,000 people forced into exile. Then — under Shevardnadze presidency ethnic violence flared up in South Ossetia too but was eventually quelled by government forces. At the cost of several hundred casualties and 100,000 refugees. In comparison – an attack launched by Mr. Saakashvili against South Ossetia left behind just 2000 dead. No wonder that today a retired Mr. Shevardnadze is in solidarity with Saakashvili.

But I would not really blame former president Shevardnadze. He was a life long Communist party boss, a Member of the Politburo of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. His mentality was basically totalitarian — a mentality of Stalin ethnic cleansings. When, say, Crimean Tatars or Chechens were deported to the steppes of Kazakhstan or Siberia. Use of iron fist against dissidents and rebels was a norm Soviet time.

As different from Mr. Shevardnadze, Mr. Saakashvili was a product of American educational system. He received a law degree from Columbia in 1994 and a Doctorate of Juridical Science from the law school at George Washington University the following year. Ironically, he also received a diploma from the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. Later, in early 1995 he worked in the New York based law firm.

But back in Georgia Saakashvili turned into a hawk, a true disciple of Mr. Shevardnadze. Driven by oversized ambitions he gladly assumed a role of a hard core Georgian nationalist. To win at election he employed a popular slogan of restoring territorial integrity of Georgia — cost what it may.

Harsh reality is that most Georgians want these rebellious regions to be re-taken by force. It's important to understand that mini wars initiated by Mr. Shevarnadze made a quarter of a million of Georgians refugees forced to desert conflict areas. Population of Georgia is about 5 million people and these refugees seeking return and revenge is a powerful force. No Georgian politician can ignore this very active segment of electorate.

Popular view in Georgia was that Ajaria was just the "first step" in true revival of the nation by regaining control of the rebellious regions or, as Georgian military used to say, "a restoration of constitutional order".

So far I am not aware of any regret or apology from the Georgian side — public or official — for many hundreds of Ossetians killed during Georgian army blitzkrieg of this August. The only regret is about loosing this mini war. All blames are on Russia.

I am sure that eventually the Georgian society will wake up from wishful dreams of Big Georgia within the borders of the Georgian Soviet Socialist republic. By using force, by spilling blood Georgia made it impossible for break away republics — now independent states — to be a part of Georgia. This divorce case is now a final one.

Mr. Saakashvili is a war criminal indeed. But I would also charge Georgian society – they made Saakashvili their president and gave him a black check to solve a problem of peace time by war means. Waking up to reality will be hard for Georgia. But I believe in a final wisdom of this ancient nation. As it happened with Germans after World War Two.

[Source: By Vsevolod Marinov, The Voice of Russia, Moscow, 16Sep08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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