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Mikhail Khubutia: the path towards peaceful dialogue is through popular diplomacy10.01.2009 | 12:45
Following the infamous August events Russia and Georgia are in a state of "cold war". Accusations continue to be made against each other, diplomatic relations have been broken off. Will the Georgian diaspora be able to influence this situation? Is it capable of improving the relations between Georgia and Russia? We asked the president of the Union of Georgians in Russia Mikhail Khubutia to talk about this.
"What exactly is the Union of Georgians in Russia?"
"Our organization was established in April 2007. And it is not only registered in Russia. There are active regional divisions in Karelia, Yaroslavl, Tula, Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov, Togliatti and dozens of other cities. We will also be establishing divisions in Siberia and the North Caucasus. Many famous Georgians in Russia are on the council of our Union. Leo Bokeria, for example, heads our Union's Expert Council, whose aim is to immortalize the names of Georgians - public figures, scientists, military commanders, Tsars and Tsarevichs - who have left a significant legacy in Russian-Georgian relations. An Economic Expert Council also works for our Union. A book will soon be published that will put forward alternative paths for the development of Georgia.
Anyone who wants to can join our Union. It's not essential that they are ethnic Georgians. The main conditions are that they are decent people who know and love Georgia, and who want it to prosper. So from the very start Josif Kobzon became a member of our organization. Furthermore, we already have group members - for example, the Senior Academic Choir of the Mendeleev Russian University of Chemistry and Technology, with which the great Jose Carreras has performed.
Very recently a youth wing of the Union of Georgians in Russia was set up. On the whole this is made up of students. They have started to work very energetically. They organize screenings and discussions of Georgian films for young people, carry out discussions on various topics, organize concerts, sporting events and meetings with people of the same age from other diasporas and their fellow-countrymen from various regions around Russia."
"After the end of the August war you addressed your compatriots. Do you think that people in your homeland heard you?"
"I personally think that the Georgian people have understood that it is impossible to converse with Russia from a position of strength."
"Does the Georgian diaspora manage to influence public opinion in Georgia?"
"Of course, and quite strongly. Judge for yourself - about a million ethnic Georgians live in Russia, according to official figures. According to unofficial figures, there are even more - something in the range of one and a half million. And every one of these has relatives back in Georgia who they help financially and who they are in active contact with: they write and phone each other. They talk in detail about the way they see the situation, they share their view from Russia on many issues which people back in Georgia possibly don't even know about. And in such difficult times people of course talk a lot about politics."
"The Georgian leadership viewed your appeal to its citizens with some scepticism - they said that it was a political order. Nowadays is dialogue possible between the Union of Georgians and the government in Tbilisi?"
"This dialogue is already being carried out. And since there are no diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia, then whether it likes it or not the Union of Georgians in Russia becomes a participant in the popular diplomacy, some kind of intermediary, a bridge between the two countries, which I really hope will lead to the restoration of full-scale peaceful dialogue."
"In August you said that you were ready to give humanitarian aid to both Ossetian and Georgian refugees. How did the Georgian regime view this?"
"On the whole, even before the war it regarded our activities with some jealousy. And it did everything it could to pretend that it hadn't noticed not only our work, but our very existence. For example, during a visit to Moscow Georgia's state minister for diaspora issues Iulon Gagoshidze didn't even make time for a meeting with Union representatives. Instead he paid attention to individual diaspora representatives who have only seen the world from one point of view.
Of course, representatives of our Union weren't the most comfortable and pleasant people to talk to for the Georgian authorities, because back in the pre-war period, which was also very tense for Georgia and Russia, we tried to point out the Georgian executive's errors to them. And we didn't do it at all just because we wanted to be clever. We love our homeland no less than they do and were trying to warn the regime against taking dangerous and irreparable steps.
As far as humanitarian aid is concerned, we have given it and continue to give it constantly. Today there are an enormous number of people who are grateful to our Union. And I don't care how Tbilisi regards this, because good deeds are not done at someone else's bidding and don't need any encouragement."
"Quite a large amount of the Georgian media and your fellow countrymen regard you as an FSB agent. How do you reply to this?"
"This is a very primitive and backwards way of looking at life. Really, it's no longer fashionable, in fact it's even ridiculous to call every businessmen in a high position an agent for whatever or whoever. I think that this rhetoric is for failures who, by pinning labels on other people, try therefore to cover up their own poverty.