SOUTH OSSETIA — KEY ISSUES
From the early 1920s until 1990 Georgia was a republic within the Soviet Union, and South Ossetia was a distinct administrative region within Georgia with a relative degree of autonomy. The Ossetians are an ethnic minority in Georgia, but they are the majority in Georgia’s South Ossetia region, and in neighbouring Russia’s North Ossetia region.
South Ossetian Independence vs. Georgian Territorial Integrity
The ethnic Ossetian majority in South Ossetia wants the right to self-determination, while Georgia considers South Ossetia to be an integral part of Georgian territory. South Ossetian seek political unification with the North Ossetia region within Russia.
When the Georgian parliament made Georgian the official language in 1989, it led to decreased opportunities for South Ossetians who typically speak Ossetian and Russian. Georgia feels South Ossetia is an integral part of Georgia because of the long history of South Ossetia being part of Georgian territory.
The conflict has been prolonged and enflamed by the successful appeals by Georgia to NATO for support and by South Ossetians to Russia for support.
Russia — West Regional Security Interests
The Georgia-South Ossetia conflict can be viewed a manifestation of the legacy of the Cold War. South Ossetia has been more bold in asserting itself against Georgia because it has political and military support from Russia to do so. Georgia, on the other hand, is politically bolstered by NATO and its military has been supported and trained by the United States. The conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia can be considered a proxy war between Russia and the West.
Contraband Trade and the Roki Tunnel
The South Ossetian economy depends on the Roki tunnel, which links Russia and South Ossetia. Through the Roki Tunnel, millions of dollars worth of goods cross the border each year, including arms, contraband and drugs. Any successful initiative to stop the smuggling would cripple the incomes of South Ossetians. Georgian President Saakashvili (and the United States) have repeatedly called for more monitoring of the Roki Tunnel.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
Georgia’s conflict with South Ossetia and Abkhazia has forced hundreds of thousands of people of various ethnic groups to flee their homes. Most of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) have no stake in their ‘temporary’ community and are unable to return to their homes and property because of the unsettled conflict. Today, there is tension between the new IDPs, who have benefitted from recent humanitarian aid programs, and those who were displaced in the early 1990s and have never received such assistance.
Calls for President Saakashvili’s Resignation
In 2009 there has been mounting criticism and protests among ethnic Georgians who are demanding the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Mainly composed of youth, the protesters believe that the President is responsible for widespread unemployment and mishandled the August 2008 conflict with South Ossetia.
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It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it. — Eleanor Roosevelt