Review of Svetlana Chervonnaya: Conflict in the Caucasus. Georgia, Abkhazia and the Russian Shadow

B.G. HEWITT

(Reader in Caucasian Languages, University of London)

Svetlana Chervonnaya: Conflict in the Caucasus. Georgia, Abkhazia and the Russian Shadow. 1994. Gothic Image Publications. £23.

‘The enormous importance that propaganda plays in the political life of the territories of the Soviet Union[,] cannot be over-emphasized’ (p. 37). In a book of 227 pages it is comforting to find one statement with which a reviewer can whole-heartedly agree, especially when it accounts for the book’s very existence. No-one is better versed in the subtleties of propaganda than the author of the short Foreword, Eduard Shevardnadze, who asserts not only that ‘the battleground was thoroughly prepared by an orchestrated stream of propaganda’ but that ‘pseudo-historians with their pseudo-history have falsified the past and poisoned the present. The seeds of hatred have been intentionally sown.’ It is then the task of Ms. Chervonnaya, expert in the Art History of Tatarstan [sic!], to unravel the intricacies of Abkhaz-Georgian relations and forge a picture wherein these statements, against overwhelming counter-evidence, seemingly apply to the leaders of the Abkhazian minority, making them culprits for the war that exploded along their Caucasian Riviera on 14th August 1992.

This portrait is effected through the same primitive brush-strokes that characterise the work of Chervonnaya’s Georgian mentors with their penchant for personal abuse. Abkhazian president Ardzinba is portrayed not merely as a die-hard communist, bent on preserving the USSR, but as a fascist allied to Zhirinovsky to boot. However, the Georgian template is refined by occasional expressions of sympathy for the Abkhazians, reduced to a 1989 17% minority on their native soil, and criticism for certain Georgian commentators on the Abkhazian question, though these are depicted as insignificant lone voices, rather than manifestations of Georgians’ rabid anti-Abkhazian sentiments, which surfaced most recently in the late 1980s. Was naive faith in such specious objectivity the real motive behind Gothic Image’s selecting this disreputable falsification of history as first volume in their series ‘Authentic Voices’ (on issues from the former communist bloc)?

Anyone unwise enough to believe the purpose of this book is to shed light should ponder the following. Much is made of the distribution of seats in the Abkhazian parliament of 1992, whereby the 17% Abkhazians held 28 of the 65. This fact was stressed at the book’s London launch by Levan Alexidze, human rights’ officer at the UN Secretariat (1970-77) and now chief advisor to Shevardnadze, who also contributed to Postscript to the work, as an example of anti-Georgian machinations in Abkhazia. This electoral law was also the sole document shewn to the second mission to Abkhazia/Georgia from The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples’ Organisation (The Hague) when visiting Tbilisi in November 1993 in support of allegations of genocide against the Georgian population. As UNPO’s report tersely notes, the personal advisor to the Georgian President, Levan Alexidze, was the co-author of this law…

Publishing spurious post-factum apologias aside, had Western leaders possessed the moral courage to condemn immediately Shevardnadze’s Abkhazian  bloodbath, not only might many lives had been saved in Abkhazia, but that other apparatchik, Boris Yeltsin, might have been deterred from unleashing parallel barbarism in Chechenia.

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