Olympic Clouds over Georgia
For the world at large, the glitch at Sochi that grabbed the most headlines this weekend was the failure of one of the Olympic rings to light up properly. But it was a hitch with the map of Georgia that caught most eyes south of the Russian border, in Georgia itself.
When the map appeared on the arena floor during the Games' February 7 opening ceremony, a cloud obscured separatist Abkhazia from view. And not only was Abkhazia shrouded from view, but fellow breakaway territory South Ossetia hid behind both a cloud and the median dividing the map in two. The map's representation of the two territories was widely perceived in Georgia as an attempt by Moscow to avoid an outburst of anger from Tbilisi, which has been pressured to boycott the Games, but without stepping away from Russia's controversial 2008 decision to recognize the two regions as independent states from Georgia.
Georgia argues that Russia violated the terms of the two states' 2008 cease-fire by moving troops into the two territories, and recognizing them both as independent states.
The de-facto heads of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia allegedly were on hand for the opening ceremony at Sochi. Against that backdrop, after seeing the map, those Georgians who begrudge their government’s decision to extend an olive branch to Russia by participating in the Games bombarded Georgian government officials with complaints. Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze called for calm, saying that other depictions of Georgian territory offered a clearer picture. This did little to allay critics, who believe that by choosing not to boycott the games, Tbilisi missed a major opportunity to bring international attention to the plight of thousands of ethnic Georgians evicted from their homes in South Ossetia during the 2008 war, and even greater numbers ousted from the two regions during Tbilisi's initial wars with Abkhaz and South Ossetian separatists in the early 1990s. Responding to a YouTube call by one lone activist, some Georgians posted the message “Abkhazia and Samachablo [the Georgian term for South Ossetia -- ed] are Georgia” on the Facebook pages of Russians who attended the Games. As the Games were opening, a group of activists tried to block Tbilisi’s main Rustaveli Avenue with barbed wire, symbolizing the fence that Russian troops are building around South Ossetia, often cutting through the property of Georgian farmers.
Yet the Georgian government seems to be trying to pick its battles. Tbilisi does not expect its interactions with Russia to improve once Moscow gets the Olympics out of its way and focuses on another contest -- the battle with the European Union for economic dominance in regions that once made up the Soviet Union.
After the signing of landmark economic pacts with the EU fell through in Ukraine and Armenia, expectations exist that Georgia and Moldova will be next in line to feel pressure from Russia. According to a February 7 report by the EU Observer, the European Union plans to invest in PR and economic-development efforts in both countries to counter the anticipated offensive from the Kremlin.
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