Who Will Laugh Last in Georgia?
The West has responded to South Ossetia's referendum on independence from Georgia with a mixture of contempt and anger-anger that the tiny enclave is not accommodating the preferences of the United States, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in settling for autonomy instead, and contempt that these obviously backward-thinking people would believe that their opinion matters.
Still, it is the U.S. and European response, rather than the impulse for independence, that is misguided. First, if Georgia had the right to leave the Soviet Union, why don't South Ossetia and Abkhazia have the right to leave Georgia? No one denies that the vast majority of their populations do not want to be a part of Georgia. And they were only a part of Georgia because Soviet leaders in Moscow incorporated their territory and their differing cultures and traditions into the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. More recently, Georgia's first post-Soviet leader, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, gave most of the impetus to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian desire for independence by denying the two regions any meaningful autonomy.
Looking at the rest of Europe, it is unclear why the West would be prepared to grant independence to Kosovo-even over Serbian opposition and possibly without a UN mandate-without thinking that the citizens of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would feel entitled to similar treatment. Some may feel that Washington and Brussels are seeking to assume the prerogatives of the Soviet empire in the Caucasus and the Habsburg Empire in the Balkans and can draw and re-draw the borders of subject nations. . . .