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Congress of Georgians in Moscow: the view from Tbilisi22.01.2009 | 21:45
The upcoming Congress of Georgians living in Russia, to be held in Moscow, has provoked a storm of emotions in Tbilisi. Representatives of the authorities were quick to declare that they would not be going to Moscow as guests, since the event is being carried out under the aegis of "the government and Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev personally, who have encroached upon Georgia's territorial integrity".
Meanwhile political commentators, businessmen and ordinary Georgian citizens express the most diverse opinions on this issue. Some of them are bewildered about the authorities' position, whilst others support it. Here is what your Georgiatimes correspondent has heard from them.
The famous political commentator and former adviser to the ex-president Eduard Shevardnadze Ramaz Sakvarelidze thinks that the position of the Georgian authorities is completely justified. His argument goes as follows.
The Congress is being organized by Mr. Khubutia, who has very close relations with the Russian regime. The Kremlin has repeatedly declared that for them Saakashvili is an unacceptable figure. At the same time the Russian regime has more and more often been emphasizing its loyalty to the Georgian people. The Kremlin therefore wants to formalize its position at the Congress of Georgians in Russia, hence to worsen relations between the Georgian intelligentsia and the president.
Sakvarelidze does not believe that the Congress is an "apolitical event". He says: "We don't view the Russian people as being equal to the country's leadership either. It wasn't Russian authors, actors and businessmen or ordinary workers who bombed Georgia. But we don't invite representatives of the Russian intelligentsia to Tbilisi and demand that they disavow Putin or Medvedev."
And in Sakvarelidze's opinion, the issuing of visas and air traffic can be resumed without "any congresses and conferences, it just needs the good will of the authorities". He sees elements of a political game in the planned event. But he declined to comment on the Patriarch's intention to visit it. "The Catholicos is an irreproachable figure. It would be discourteous to assess his actions. He has done a lot for Georgia, including to restore Georgian-Russian relations. At the same time Ilia II remains outside politics."
The political commentator did not rule out the possibility that many "famous and not especially famous Georgians" will go to the Congress. Many people experience nostalgia for good relations, for the old times. The Russian and Georgian intelligentsia - actors, directors, writers - will continue to associate with each other, irrespective of who the head of state is.
The Director of the International Conflicts and Negotiations Centre Georgi Khutsishvili thinks that "it is just still too early to organize" such a congress.
He noted that such meetings between country-men are traditionally organized in every country. The problem here is that too little time has passed since the August events. "There has actually been no reconciliation yet. Yet this congress is taking place in the country whose leadership decided to launch the bombings. This is what has provoked the negative reaction in our local media."
In his view, if such an event is appropriate now, then it should take place in a neutral place to avoid possible tensions. "But here a political subtext can, alas, not be ruled out. Therefore many people are declining to make the trip to Moscow."
Nevertheless, Khutsishvili stressed that talks need to be resumed with Russia in the near future at all levels. "I will go to any event which could improve relations between the countries. Popular diplomacy is one of the powerful means to achieve this," he stressed.
His colleague Kakha Katsitadze is genuinely baffled about the information war which has developed over the Congress.
"For Georgia's political life, this is an insignificant event. Its importance is being artificially exaggerated by our authorities. Why? Probably because they are pursuing their goals. But mainly, it is an attempt to discredit Khubutia himself (various media outlets are saying, in particular, that Moscow is apparently grooming him to become the Georgian prime minister - I.P.), especially because very few people in Georgia know about him. For most citizens the background of the president of the Union of Georgians - whether or not he is an agent, whether or not he has met with Saakashvili, - is of absolutely no importance, people just want to live normally. Even now lots of people, even since the August events, would like to go and earn their living in Russia. So, there is nothing bad about the fact that compatriots are going to meet up and discuss their problems. Quite the opposite, if air traffic is restored and the borders are opened, everyone will be just delighted. I think that people should be given information - what type of congress is taking place, what the agenda is, what will be participating. But we have problems with receiving information. If, as Khubutia said, political issues will not be discussed at the Congress, then I'm sure that many Georgians will want to go to Moscow."