Georgia is engaged in a battle “to win the hearts and minds” of the local population in South Ossetia, President Saakashvili told government members on July 18.
Speaking at a government session, he asked the ministers to “take into consideration that we have timeframes.” “So we should work round-the-clock,” he said.
Saakashvili also underlined the political will to financially underpin this “battle,” particularly in terms of rehabilitation and social projects in the region.
He characterized events in South Ossetia as a fight between “a rich, but inflexible mechanism and the Georgian state, which constitutes Georgians, Ossetians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and other ethnicities.”
He noted that a governmental commission, chaired by PM Zurab Nogaideli, would soon be established. Its purpose, he said, would be to explore and elaborate, along with the head of the Tbilisi-loyal South Ossetian provisional administration, Dimitri Sanakoev, the autonomous status of the region within the Georgian state.
“These will be serious negotiations,” the president said. “They will not be just formal talks, because our partners [Sanakoev’s administration] are serious people, serious leaders and serious representatives of one part of the Georgian population – the majority of ethnic Ossetians.”
Tbilisi, he said, should “adopt a cautious, but at the same time a bold approach.”
State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Merab Antadze said on July 18 that the commission would contain all cabinet members and a group of Georgian lawmakers, plus representatives from Sanakoev’s administration. He also said the commission doors are open for the Tskhinvali-based secessionist authorities as well.
The commission would, according to the president, provide “an opportunity to restore links between all the villages, all the communities and people and between the Georgian state and an important part of its population [the Ossetian people].”
“Everyone should erase these terms from their vocabularies,” he said.
Saakashvili said that it wouldn’t be so bad if only television stations were using these terms. The problem, however, he said, was that “some government members even say ‘Ossetian villages’ and ‘Georgian village’.”
In any case, he said, “even if ‘the Ossetian side’ existed, that would be the provisional administration, which represents the local population.”
“What is erroneously termed as ‘the Ossetian side’ [referring to the Tskhinvali-based secessionist authorities],” Saakashvili said, “doesn’t truly represent the ethnic Ossetian population.”
Alluding to the fact that some top-level secessionist officials are Russian, he added, “we all know where those people are from.”
His remarks reflect Tbilisi's attempts to portray the conflict in South Ossetia not as "an ethnic conflict," but rather as a conflict involving "criminal elements" in Tskhinvali being manipulated by "certain forces" in Russia.
Tbilisi's active and on-going promotion of Sanakoev, an ethnic Ossetian and former defense minister in the secessionist South Ossetian government, is the most obvious manifestation of this view and policy.
President Saakashvili finished his address to his colleagues by calling on them to re-energize conflict resolution efforts.
“I think conflict resolution efforts should become much more intensive and efficient,” he said. “The international community should be much more involved in the process and the Georgian government should be more pro-active.”
Civil.Ge © 2001-2008