Friday, November 9, 2012

The railway to Abkhazia

09.11.2012. New Georgian state minister for reintegration Paata Zakareishvili announced intention of the authorities of the country to start a dialogue about the restoration of the railway through Abkhazia. Zakareishvili also proposed to recognize passports of citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia valid in Georgia. All of this demonstrates the strategy of the new Georgian government, which is very clear: they recognize Abkhazia not as a country, but as a reality. In this sense, the strategy is revolutionary.

"We need to promote the restoration of traffic through Abkhazia, both railways and roads. And we must avoid political hidden motives and consider the issue solely in economic way", Zakareishvili said. The new minister seems to take up the matter thoroughly, and without much regard for the critics.

Zakareishvili cannot be accused of incompetence, and Georgian society during the past few years has started to understand the nuances of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict much better. And Zakareishvili's opponents rightly formulate the main complaints against him, from the point of view of Georgian interests. In their view, the transfer of political issues into the economic plane will give positive results, most important of which is more dynamic economic growth in Abkhazia. However, this won't help to achieve Georgia's most important goal - to reintegrate Abkhazia into Georgia. And this is true.

However, Zakareishvili seems to intend to reformat the very essence of "Georgian interest" in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. And he is also right. You can eternally wait for favorable geopolitical conditions in order to make Abkhazia fall into Georgian arms like a ripe apple. But the moment does not come, and therefore more profitable option is to some extent recognize that the Abkhaz state is a persistent phenomenon with which they can somehow interact.

Most likely, the restoration of the traffic - this is rather declarative step, on the one hand demonstrating the "thaw" in the region, on the other - a real Georgia's commitment to a peaceful settlement of the conflict. In economic terms, this road is also important for Armenia and Georgia, but it's not worth to exaggerate the geopolitical significance of a single-track road, passing through the resort region.

Now Zakareishvili is also trying to find geopolitics in this project, probably in order to "sweeten the pill" for the opponents. "The development of transport communications will contribute to the economic development of Abkhazia. As soon as the economic circumstances in Abkhazia improve, the flow of returning refugees increases. The more economic projects with Georgia's participation are being carried out in Abkhazia, the greater is the chance to resolve the conflict", the minister stated. This is not true. Despite the fact that the road starts operating, and the people start travelling, the solution of the conflict cannot be found in the way Georgia expects.

In Abkhazia, there are hardly enough people willing to support the idea of ​​restoring the railway. We can recall that in 1992 "the railway guards" became the formal reason for entering Georgian troops into the country and the war. But there is another, more optimistic view on the project. "Georgia is starting to use real political and economic tools, not the ideology. Restoration of transit is a good for Abkhazia. But this way is necessary not just for us. There will be developed a mechanism of transit, and sometime later there will be opened road communication. Georgia may play a game called "territorial integrity" for at least five or ten years. In practice, being a key country in the region, Georgia is also a key lock in the region, narrowing its own transit and other opportunities by the lack of recognition of existing reality", said the Abkhaz journalist Akhra Smyr.

In fact, in Abkhazia the discourse on "open or not to open" will be always focused on the fears of the "involvement" in the Georgian space at the expense of economic projects. But these fears are related to the historical experience, which was built in a completely different reality and a different era. In our time, such fears are fueling weakness of the exclusive social and cultural field of Abkhazia, which is not fully formed. However, the "point of no return" is passed, since the country has grown new generation, for which Georgia - this is just a foreign country.

If the real railway traffic starts, there appear other problems. This scheme will get very serious opponents. Knowing Abkhaz realities, one can argue that for the foreign players this will be very sudden and serious issue; and even reminding of the WTO and global politics won't help to overcome this issue.


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