France's Kouchner Tells Georgia: Keep It Civil
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner came to Georgia on July 14 with a simple message: Put the emphasis on civil society to put an end to conflicts with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"Working with civil society would be much more effective than declaring war on Russia," Kouchner told a July 15 meeting at Tbilisi's Europe House.
"That's the way that other populations will come toward you . . . . You should concentrate on that which you do very well . . . human engagement" and civil society, he continued.
Coming from one of the founders of Doctors Without Borders, that message might find an attentive audience. With the start of talks on July 15 with the European Union about an Association Agreement, Tbilisi is eager to stress that Georgia is "a country based on European values."
Local media, however, tend to assess visiting dignitaries based on their stance toward Russia and toward the two breakaways.
At a later press conference with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili , Kouchner stressed that the two regions remain part of Georgia. "C'est évident!" ("It's obvious!") he declared, extending his arms wide.
While Kouchner acknowledged Russia's failure to uphold the terms of its 2008 cease-fire agreement with Georgia by withdrawing troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he effectively advised Tbilisi that it can kill more flies with honey than it can with vinegar.
Talks with Moscow, he said, are essential; as is "a more open relationship" between Russia and the US and Germany -- that would be "the key for you," he told the Europe House audience.
A grim-faced Saakashvili, speaking at the press conference in rapid French, appeared to take the advice with a grain of salt.
"The only reason why people can't return to their homes is Russia," he told journalists, adding that perhaps Moscow was trying to create "a Russia-style Club Med" in Abkhazia. "They're there because they love the beach," he joked dryly.