larry derfner 88.
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Until a week ago, I didn't know anything at all about Russia's conflict with Georgia, and I'd never even heard of South Ossetia or Abkhazia. But since there was a war going on and it was rivaling the Olympics as the big story, I started following the developments. I Googled a few articles for background. By now, I'd say I'm fairly up to speed. I know about as much about the Russian-Georgian war as the average news consumer.
And the way I see it, the world's reaction has it backward. I don't see Russia as the bad guy in this fight, but more than that, I don't see Georgia as the good guy.
I CAME to this issue from about as neutral a position as could be. I'm suspicious and fearful of Russia, especially with Vladimir Putin as its leader. But I don't think of Georgia, or any of those countries in the Caucasus or the Balkans or anywhere else in Borat-land, as being peace-loving or tolerant or otherwise essentially different from Russia. Georgia is where Stalin came from, right? I know I'm exposing my ignorance and prejudice, but I want to be honest. I had no dog in this fight.
So after the war started, I began reading and watching the news, and I see the pictures of people dying, wailing in agony, running for their lives amid the bombs destroying their homes. It's a humanitarian disaster and everybody's blaming Russia - the US, the EU and if not the Israeli government, then certainly the Israeli media.
Why would that be? Well, Russia is clearly the Goliath in this fight. Russia under Putin is becoming a dictatorship again, while Georgia is awfully overmatched; Georgia is David, the underdog. So I can see some basic reasons for the world to have an emotional affinity for little Georgia against big, bad Russia.
But now let's find out the facts of this war, such as who started it. I read The New York Times, AP, Wikipedia and The Jerusalem Post, I watch BBC and Sky News and everybody is saying Georgia started it. There had been some shooting and skirmishes with the locals in South Ossetia, which is an enclave in Georgia on the border with Russia, and then Georgia shelled Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, and sent its troops in to take over. Anywhere from hundreds to thousands of civilians were killed, and tens of thousands became refugees. That was the start of the war. Then Russia retaliated overwhelmingly against Georgia.
ALL RIGHT, so Georgia started it. But that doesn't necessarily mean Georgia was wrong; maybe it was a war of self-defense, a justified war. So let's see - what are the facts about the territory they were fighting over, South Ossetia? Which side are the people of South Ossetia on, Georgia's or Russia's? The 70,000 people of South Ossetia, it turns out, are what the media describe as "pro-Russian." South Ossetia is what the media describe as a "breakaway province" inside Georgia. Which country is South Ossetia breaking away from? It's breaking away from Georgia. It fought a war of secession against Georgia in the early 1990s. So did Abkhazia, another "pro-Russian, breakaway province" in Georgia on the Russian border.
The people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia identify with Russia, not Georgia. Most of them have Russian passports. Over the past week, the fighters in South Ossetia and Abkhazia fought with Russian troops against Georgian troops.
And finally, those tens of thousands of war refugees from South Ossetia - to which country did they flee for safety? To Russia. And who went to meet them? Putin.
So what we've got here is a bloody war started by Georgia against a small, pro-Russian province it wants to rule - against the will of the people who live there. And when Russia retaliates against Georgia, the people of South Ossetia, along with the people of Abkhazia - the true victims of this war, the true underdogs, the true Davids - are grateful to Russia for saving them.
YET THE world's sympathy goes to Georgia, and its condemnation goes to Russia. Why?
Because Russia has a bad history, because Russia was the West's nemesis in the 20th century, because Russia wants to be an empire again, because Russia is much stronger than Georgia - while Georgia calls itself a democracy, Georgia is the darling of the Bush administration, Georgia's president speaks good English and knows all the buzz words like "values" and "human rights" that Westerners love to hear, and because Georgia defies big, bad Russia.
All this is true. But none of it changes the fact that in this war, Georgia was the aggressor and Russia the defender.
Now that Georgia has lost the war, the world is saying that President Mikheil Saakashvili made a "miscalculation" by starting it. Again, the world is wrong. Starting a war of conquest that kills and maims thousands of people is not a miscalculation, it's a horrible, detestable crime. The world should save its sympathy for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I'm sorry for my ignorance and prejudice, but these days, when I think of Georgia, I think of the place Stalin came from.
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