September 11, 2008

Panel Discussion Held for Georgia

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Cornellians are often said to be living in the “10 square miles surrounded by reality” that is Ithaca. Yesterday afternoon, however, the Guerlac Room in A.D. White House was packed with students attending a panel discussion called “A New Cold War? The Crisis in Georgia and Its Implications for East-West Relations.”
In the event organized by the Cornell International Affairs Review, Prof. Valerie Bunce, government, joined Georgian author and political figure Irakli Kakabadze and spoke to about 100 people. About 20 members of the audience stood at the entrances of the small room throughout the two-hour discussion.
“The conflict cannot be reduced to a democratic leader, trying to reintegrate their state. It is not that simple,” said Prof. Valerie Bunce, the Aaron Binenkorb Professor of International Studies. [img_assist|nid=31597|title=Wondering|desc=Luis-François de Lencquesaing, president of the Cornell International Affairs Review spoke yesterday at the “A New Cold War?” panel.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
On Aug. 7, Georgia attacked South Ossetia, its northern breakaway region which neighbors Russia. Meanwhile, thousands of Russian forces were deployed to South Ossetia. Since then, South Ossetia and Georgia’s other breakaway region, Abkhazia, have declared their independence. Russia formally recognized both regions’ independence on Aug. 26, but the decision has been condemned by both the U.S. and the European Union.
Kakabadze often met with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili before he became president in the 2004 “Rose Revolution.” He noted that Saakashvili went through a “180 degrees change” after having a conversation with the ex-Secretary of Defense Ronald Rumsfield prior to the revolution.
“He changed from the guy fighting for civil rights and social change, to talking about neo-conservatism, Georgia’s integration with the NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and saying things in a rhetoric similar to ‘we are going to defeat Russia,’” said Kakabadze.
From then on, Kakabadze claimed that Georgia was ruled by a military-industrial complex, which is “a small undercurrent in the media, but plays a very big role.”
“The neo-conservatives in both the U.S. and in Russia want to go back to the 1980s. The military industry makes more money than drugs and prostitution put together,” said Kakabadze.
Bunce believed that Saakashvili’s “remarkably risky” decision to invade South Ossetia was encouraged by the integration of Georgia and its semi-autonomous region, Ajaria in 2004.
“Saakashvili dedicated himself to reintegrating the Georgian state. It was relatively easy to bring Ajaria back to the region, but I think the mistake was that he thought it was easy to do the same to South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” said Bunce.
Bunce also suggested that Saakashvili, who knew that “South Ossetia and Abkhazia were gone as far as territory integrity was concerned,” attempted to package the situation in a way that he would not be held responsible. At the same time, Russia is intimidated by the expansion of NATO and the series of electoral revolutions in the post-Soviet world.
“Russia is very angry at the West, at the United States in particular. Russia thinks the U.S. is dedicated in getting rid of Russia’s allies,” said Bunce, who believed that Russia is very determined to assert is “regional sovereignty.”
As to resolving the tension, Kakabadze suggested building violence-free zones. He believed that the construction of these peace-zones in the Caucasus would provide secure energy sources to the West and military security for Russia, therefore creating a win-win situation. He cited a few successful examples of such regions in Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador, and believed that the United Nations has adequate structures to support these peace-zones.
“I only believe in the non-violent way of solving conflict. I do think that Gandhi and Mandela are the greatest politicians. It takes much more courage not to go to war than going to war,” said Kakabadze, who called himself a “professional hippy” and used to work in the Institute for Multi-track Diplomacy, a peace-building nonprofit organization.
Luis de Lencquesaing ’10, president of the Cornell International Affairs Review, was pleased about the “clearly very successful event.”
“I think it opened more questions and sparked more reflection,” said de Lencquesaing.
The audience generally responded positively to the event.
“I am so glad I came. I did not know much about the conflict before. This event has given me new perspectives and background information,” said Ariella Weintraub ’12.
Audience member Themistoklis Stefanakis, grad was impressed by Kakabadze’s idea of violence-free zones, but was not completely convinced.
“He is a very inspiring person. But there is not a single point in history when there is no imperialist power. Human nature does not change. But I hope more people like him will take significant roles in future politics,” said Stefanakis.