Ivan Kurila

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Jaba Devdariani, The Union and Separation of Russia and Georgia, What the Dates Tell Us

This is remarkably interesting and ambitious project that deals with the representation of the three key dates in the relations between Georgia and Russia. Comparative study of the three crucial points when the fate of Georgian sovereignty was decided well deserves deeper study. As I see the text, the author suggests to “triangulate” those stories: look at them from their historical contexts and compare it with our judgment of those events. To make the case more complex, one can also study the view on 1783 from 1918 and 1991, and the view on 1918 from 1991.

I do support pursuing it further and can suggest several amendments or ways to develop the project:

First, the difference should be made between “historiography” and political use of history. Historiography may be a victim or merely a tool of politicians, but ideally it keeps its independence, and the project in fact counterposes historical study of the events to the political constructions made of them on the later stages. What we deal with now is the use and re-interpretation of the past events for the current political needs.

Then, this study requires some methodological reflection. How do post-colonial studies treat such cases? What are the differences between social constructivism and post-colonialism when studying these problems?

The article raises the problems of civilizational identity and hierarchies of the societies (“Georgia wanted to be Europe and not Azerbaijan”). Very importantly, the author mentions Georgia’s own orientalism. An important point could be made in the future research about idea of Christian nation claiming its independence, in connection with Woodrow Wilson’s idea of 1918 of self-determination (mostly at that point – of European nations). Also important is a mention of Ottoman Empire collapse as a hope to regain “old Georgian territories”.

I would advise including into the project a study of Georgian nationalist discussions before 1918: were there any? Did they help to build a national idea, or did it start from scratch at a moment of Russian revolution? It would be advisable to put each of the moments into broader contexts (absence of national movements in the XVIII century, looming nationalism in 1918, and new nationalism after 1989).

As this project is a part of the study of Russia in Georgia, all of the questions about political use of the past should be asked both to Georgian and to Russian political communities at each of the historical moments. What were the Russian imperial in 1783, Bolshevik internationalistic in 1918, or Russian anti-Soviet in 1991 sets of reference that allowed one or another outcome?

Also important would be a study of the immediate consequences of each decision not only for Georgia, but also for Russia. How did each of the event change Russian national (or imperial) identity?

Overall, this is an intriguing start of a research that has many options to pursue.

Levan Mikeladze, Mikheil Ukleba, Russia-Georgia Relations since the Restoration of Georgia's Independence (1991-2021)

This text is extremely interesting first-hand account of the personal participation in the crucial event in the post-Soviet Russia-Georgia policymaking, added with the sharp political judgments. To turn it into an academic research, it would be advisable to make two steps.

First, personal account of the events is an important primary source about the way policy was made between Georgia and Russia, especially during Eduard Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin era. This may lay as a base for further research in post-Soviet diplomacy and may be developed and published separately.

Second, the study of the Russian policy toward Georgia should became study, not political statement. Russian policymaking must be analyzed and understood. In fact, at this point Russia appears in this text as a unified (and hostile) actor, “Russia” in this description was doing this or that with very general explanation that “Russia initiated conflicts on the Byzantine principle of "divide and conquer"”. It would be advisable to study Russian economic interests, Russian military concerns (including fears of NATO expansion), Russian problems on the North Caucasus, the different groups within Russian elites that shaped Russia’s foreign policy in the 1990s and doing it now. The combination of factors behind one or another decision may be different, so sweeping generalizations could be replaced with more nuanced vision of the Russian policies. Study each of these (and other factors) is needed not to vindicate Russian policy but to understand which part of these policies is based on which set of interests or presumptions.

Ideally, Georgian part in the Georgian-Russian relations should also be critically studied. Were there any wrong expectations and ungrounded decisions?

Third, in studying Russian-Georgian relations in the post-Soviet period, it would be advisable to go beyond pure diplomatic or military confrontations. There are myriads of non-governmental contacts, including tourism, family connections, and yes, imperial legacy, - that could influence the current state and the future paths of the relations between the two countries. Sometimes, we see that Russian government use them as a leverage applied to Georgia, but it could not be one-way street.

Finally, the state of the Russian-Georgian relations and the uneasy history of post-Soviet conflicts must be studied thoroughly; and such a study should be done impartially, with academic objectivity rather than with political emotions. It is a hard goal to pursue, but it is an important step towards better future.