Peace that is missing
The article was originally published on the website of the Social Justice Center. The title, text, and terminology of the article have been left intact. All rights belong to the Social Justice Center. Publication date: January, 2023.
Medea Turashvili’s article “Peace that is missing” discusses the consequences of armed conflicts in Georgia. The author believes that the regular assertion of the Georgian government that there is “peace” in the country is not true, because “peace” is not only the absence of armed conflict.
According to the article, achievement of the real “peace” in Georgia, requires the following steps:
- The Georgian authorities must recognize the Abkhaz and Ossetians not as mere puppets and victims of the Russian propaganda, but as actors with their own needs and interests.
- The Georgian authorities must engage in a direct dialogue with de facto leaders, political elites, and public institutions.
- The state should go beyond the geopolitical and military security limitations when it comes to issues related to the conflicts (such as, freedom of movement, trade, identification, and travel documents etc.)
- It is critical that civic dialogue formats receive continuous support.
- Conversations around women’s meaningful participation in peacebuilding should translate into actual results.
- The issue of peace education is of great significance. Peace education should be seen as a means to rethink and overcome ethnic and religious nationalism.
- Georgia should more actively use the media, especially social networks, as an instrument for peacebuilding.
- It is important that Georgian society create specific critical knowledge related to conflict and peace.
Georgia has been fighting off destructive results of its conflicts for more than 30 years with IDPs dreaming of returning to their homes, the Abkhaz and Ossetians coping with permanent fear of the renewed war, Georgians of Gali being crushed by relentless clutches of nationalism, militarism and authoritarianism, people getting drowned in Enguri river as they try to cross the line of division, families of missing persons still looking for their loved ones or awaiting their bodies to be handed over, the Abkhaz no longer being able to converse in their mother tongue and forcing Georgians still residing in Abkhazia to forget their own, violence against women on part of traumatized men and general public being on a rise, however, it is considered shame to talk about this issue. Only 20 per cent of the settlements located on the Georgia controlled territory along the Administrative Boundary Line with South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region have access to kindergartens, around 15 000 Russian troops are deployed in South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region, and the population of the villages long the Administrative Boundary Line have reduced by 33% between 2022 and 2014. These are some of the issues from a rather long list.
Ironically, the Georgian authorities proudly keep on talking about peace. “We have peace and stability, and a two-digit economic growth…” “In spite of provocations we have managed to maintain peace”… “This is the only exception since the reinstatement of independence that Georgia enjoys continuous peace and stability…” “It is if great importance to maintain pace and stability…” These are the messages routinely voiced by the Georgian authorities and members of the ruling party.
What is peace?
It has long been recognized that peace is not a mere absence of war and armed conflicts. Putting an equation between peace and the absence of war is flawed since it fails to answer an important question: why is it that such a “peaceful time” creates an environment conducive to constructing and strengthening identities, social structures and institutes that make it possible to renew war, violence and armed conflicts?
A body of research undertaken during the Cold War focused on issues surrounding military balance and puppet wars between the two camps. In those times peace implied the prevention of military confrontation by means of high-level negotiations. In such political negotiations representatives of state bodies where the only actors with a legitimacy to engage in the process.
Intra-state wars following decolonization and the end of the Cold War made it clear that understanding peace required first and foremost the understanding conflicts and their social dimension. In “new wars”, a term coined by Mary Kaldor, a line between where a war ends, and peace begins is difficult to draw. Therefore, a concept of a protracted or a frozen conflict began to emerge was introduced in scholarly literature with researchers looking into such root causes of conflicts as structural and cultural violence, relative deprivation, discourses and narratives, identity politics, influence of greed etc.
Conflicts happen, and often inevitably, in all societies. As for peace – even though there is no universally accepted definition, it can be defined as a non-violent process of eliminating structural, social, economic, political, and cultural differences and oppression which aims to achieve development, prosperity and harmonious social relations. Therefore, peace is a process rather than a state.
How do we make peace?
Due to a diverse nature of wars and conflicts, there have been various generations/schools of conflict research with researchers and practitioners promoting different methods at different times (conflict management, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, peacemaking etc).
As the Western world celebrated the victory of liberalism aftermath the Cold War, former Soviet countries and Yugoslavia were sinking into destructive wars and violent conflicts. In parallel to these processes, the United Nations endorsed what became known as the Boutros Boutros plan – An Agenda for Peace introducing a concept of peacebuilding and giving a momentum to work around issues of peace.
Peacebuilding is a complex and ever-evolving approach which offers novel concepts and solutions. However, in the most general characteristics it implies:
- Conflict transformation − addressing root causes of conflict. It implies transformation of relationships, interests, discourses and social structures nurturing the conflict in such way which allows parties to the conflict to arrive at mutual acknowledgement, identify shared goals, and strive towards social justice and wellbeing.
- Identify and support those structures which have the capacity to prevent re-escalation of conflicts. Peacebuilding is a societal process and therefore, it involves multitude of actors and stakeholders. Peacebuilding is an inclusive process which implies the participation and strengthening of various societal groups and eradication of inequality between them.
However, contemporary critics are growingly skeptical towards credibility of societal effects of ‘peacebuilding’ and ‘conflict transformation’ and whether external actors should be involved in efforts to ‘transform’ societies. Is it possible for peacebuilding to follow a blueprint in every context and what are the roles played by culture, traditions, local settings, and the experience of peacebuilding at a community level? Is there any risk of strengthening violent structures and institutes in the process of building peace and state institutions? What epistemic and power hierarchy is there between the donor providing financial support and local civil society and who effectively sets priorities for peacebuilding? Are there mismatches between local demands of peacebuilding and supplies of international/donor organizations? Whose voices should be heard in the peacebuilding or conflict transformation processes?
Feminist peace: naivety or a rational choice?
A theoretical framework of feminist peace provides some conceptual answers and interesting critique to the above questions. In its broad understanding, feminist peace can be defined as the absence of structural and institutional violence in both private and public spheres. According to the framework the state, bureaucracy, education system, religion, and family are those social institutes in which gender characteristics of violence are generated. “Attainment of peace, economic justice and environmental sustainability is directly linked to the emancipation of social relations from domination and subordination. True security requires not only the absence of war but also eradication of unfair social relations including unequal gender relations”.
Feminist authors argue that violent conflicts and wars are irrational, destructive and bring irreversible damage to humankind. Women are more capable of understanding destructive nature of wars and conflicts not because they are inherently inclined towards peace, but because of their ability to comprehend destructive effects of militarism on human lives due to their marginalized position. Therefore, they are the ones who should establish various political and social unions to stand up against these systems.
Feminist scholars believe that violent structures and culture are shaped by and sustained by intertwined violent social structures and discourses such as militarism, patriarchy and nationalism serving as a precondition for conflicts: “Nationalism is in love with patriarchy because patriarchy offers it women who will breed true little patriots. Paparchy is in love with both nationalism and militarism because they produce unambiguously masculine men”. Therefore, feminism confronts not only patriarchy, but nationalism and militarism at the same time.
This philosophy is backed by an interesting body of research according to which countries with a high degree of gender equality and strong political representation of women, are less likely to suffer from armed conflicts while countries in which women are underrepresented and subject to violence, are more likely to engage in domestic and interstate conflicts and wars.
The 1990s saw the recognition of the interrelatedness between gender, peace, and conflicts by the international peace agenda which aims to ensure gender equality, women’s economic and political empowerment, their effective participation in decision-making, protection of women from gender-based violence etc.
In several countries (i.e. Canada, Sweden, Mexico) feminist foreign policy is reflected in national strategies. These strategies focus on not only enhancing women’s representation in security and political systems, but also aim to protect women from physical and psychological forms of violence, ensure women’s economic empowerment, engage them in peacebuilding and post-conflict situation and protect their rights.
Georgia: Missing peace
Today Georgia’s conflicts have three dimensions. The first is the conflict between the West and Russia which has a direct implication on the second – interstate dimension – the Georgian-Russian conflict. The second dimension directly affects the domestic – Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts. Georgian central authorities may exert direct influence mostly over the Georgian-Russian dimension and the domestic context, and therefore, should have relevant strategies in place to be able to work at both levels.
Peacebuilding, as a societal process, is a method to be applied to the Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian conflicts and should aim to remove confrontations and disagreements between the divided societies, identify shared interests and needs, establish equality and justice, democratize political system and strive towards prosperity.
Recent body of research suggest that for the greater part of the Georgian society strictly opposes militaristic approach to conflict resolution. Even though Georgian youth demonstrate little interest in politics or other public affairs, 95% of the surveyed youth are in favor of resolving the conflicts through peaceful negotiations. According to the same research those young people who believe that women can have positive influence over peace processes, also hold that women’s participation can ensure sustainable peace (56%). Georgian youth have a strong sense of empathy for the conflict affected communities. Their majority (64%) believe communities residing in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia to be victims of the conflict just as Georgians are. Sadly, the research was not carried out on the occupied territories.
A recent study of everyday peace indicators, which is remarkable in the sense that it covered all sides of the lines of division, has clearly shown the extent to which the 30-year peacebuilding efforts reflects actual needs and interests of citizens. 30 years of isolation and separation do not seem to have a profound effect on the perception of peace among Georgians, Abkhaz and Ossetians with a striking consistency when it comes to describing peace in Sokhumi, Gali, Zugdidi, Gori, Tskhinvali, Akhalgori and Tbilisi. According to the participants of the study, the peace is
Absence of fear for a renewed war:
- Sound of fireworks is not associated with the war (Gori)
- Sound of fireworks does not instill fear of war; you can sleep in any room, not just in the room which faces north (Tskhinvali)
- Sound of the gunfire does not wake you up (Akhalgori)
- You are not afraid that at some point someone is not going to decided that this is a perfect time for a war (Sokhumi)
- You have no fear that you will be kicked out from your home and be left without everything that you worked to earn over many years by an occupant (Zugdidi)
- When you feel safe, when there is justice (Tbilisi, IDPs)
Freedom of movement within the country and beyond
- Anyone can move to any place freely; when you can visit graves of your family members on the Easter day (Tbilisi, an IDP)
- You are free to visit graves of your loved ones (Gori)
- You can move around freely and are not afraid that the ‘border’ will close tomorrow (Gali)
- You can travel the world and meet people from every corner (Sokhumi)
- There will be no closing of the border [with Russia] due to Covid-19 (Tskhinvali)
- We, living here, can travel to Sokhumi and people living in Sokhumi can see Batumi (Zugdidi)
- You, in your senior years, do not miss your grandkids [on the other side of the line of the division] (Akhalgori)
The ability to plan for future
- You can focus on your everyday life rather than thinking about traumas of the past (Tbilisi, IDPs)
- You buy or rehabilitate your house without fear of the war ruining it all (Tskhinvali)
- When you choose not to build a house because of fear of the war (Gori)
- You can plan for your future (Sokhumi)
- You have decent income. A citizen should not be concerned with what to put on the table for their family (Zugdidi)
- You are not permanently thinking of running from the country and leaving everything behind, laws do not change because someone in Tbilisi or Akhalgori got off on the wrong foot that morning (Akhalgori)
Equality and freedom of expression
- The society can freely discuss problems (Tskhinvali)
- I have freedom of expressing myself without fear of hiding who I am, what I am, what I do, what I think (Tbilisi, IDPs)
- I do not perceive myself as a second-rate citizen (Gali)
- We are tolerant towards each other, expressing dissenting political views is not considered a problem, you are not afraid of being different (Zugdidi)
- There is no need to ask you to not disclose my name after I have answer all these questions (Akhalgori)
- You are not afraid to attend a rally (Gori)
Access to quality education
- Children have adequate knowledge of at least one of the languages [Georgian or Russian] so that they can study school subjects (Gali)
- My child has an opportunity to receive quality education (Sokhumi)
- Your kid has a nice environment at kindergarten and school and an opportunity to receive quality education in comfort (Zugdidi)
- You do not need to pull strings to obtain an academic degree and start a job (Akhalgori)
- People have the opportunity to develop and make progress (Tskhinvali)
The above-mentioned research demonstrates that ethnic Georgian respondents of Gori, Akhalgori, Gali and Tbilisi talk about restoration of trust, peaceful co-existence, and reconciliation while these sentiments are absent from answers of those living in Tskhinvali and Sokhumi.
Interestingly, respondents of the groups facilitated by women talked about such problems as domestic violence, underrepresentation of women in decision making processes, women’s health and gender aspects of everyday security and safety.
The political status, territory, and military security have always been at the heart of the peace policy pursued by the official Tbilisi. Openly or covertly, Georgian authorities, especially the Georgian Dream government have always hinted that Tbilisi’s hands are tied when it comes to implementing peace policy in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia until the end of the Russian occupation. Therefore, all efforts have been directed at maintaining the status quo which, in the eyes of the Georgian authorities implies non-recognition and delegitimization of de-facto structures. In light of Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine, which has made it nearly impossible to foresee the course of events, and drastically heightened security risks, the Georgian authorities are completely paralyzed and have done nothing but offering just superficial issues for discussions along with claims that they are capable of maintaining peace.
Civil society organizations working on issues of peace, human rights, and security have long been warning about the urgency for Georgian authorities to adopt more audacious peace policy even against the backdrop of the Occupation. There has been a body of research and numerous commentaries calling on the Georgian Government to launch a direct dialogue with de-facto authorities, take measures to introduce simplified procedures for individuals residing in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, including ethnic Georgians to be able to move freely, improve their social and economic conditions, and excess to international education, open up conversations around war induced traumas and recognition of the suffering of victims, supremacy of justice and non-violence, equality and the protection of human rights.
Sadly, the Georgian authorities have consistently failed to recognize civil society actors as their partners in the peacebuilding processes and therefore, there has been very few, if any, meaningful dialogues with the latter. The influence of the civil society organizations working on conflics and peace issues has remained dramatically low.
Yet another significant challenge faced by the Georgian civil society lies in the fact that peacebuilding in the Georgian context mostly implies informal and closed Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-Ossetian meetings in foreign countries. These meetings are open to limited number of people or groups of people. The society remains none the wiser about agendas of not only formal negotiations (Geneva International Discussions, Karasin-Abashidze Format) and outcomes but also those of civil dialogues.
Impenetrability of both formal and informal dialogues and restrictions over participation has created mistrust and skepticism towards the peace process, and further reinforced the footing of “elites” in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.
The situation is even more desperate when it comes to women’s participation in peacebuilding. Over the years UN agencies and women-led and women-centered NGOs have taken efforts to empower conflict affected women, eliminate gender-based violence, ensure effective and meaningful participation of women in negotiations and civic dialogue format. However, the communication between the authorities and civil society remains largely unilateral and formalistic.
Barriers to women’s participation is one of the focuses of the 2020 research commissioned by the UN Women, which highlights issues such as non-recognition of women’s knowledge, gender stereotypes and lack of financial resources for women. Women’s organizations are largely dependent on short-term, small budget projects offering but little for intellectual growth and long-term planning.
The report on the implementation of the 2018-2020 national action plan of the UN Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace, and Security suggests that state authorities organize numerous meetings and trainings for women and public servants and develop endless strategic documents. However, these efforts have not resulted in greater engagement of women in decision making nor have official negotiations considered needs and priorities of the conflict affected communities. State agencies organize trainings for women to launch and manage businesses, pursue leadership, acquire financial management skills, however, since women have limited access to financial resources (in the form of a loan or a grant), vital infrastructure such as roads, potable water, kindergartens, and social safeguards (minimum wage, fare tax system, adequate retirement pension, unemployment insurance, fare regulation of banking services) and other mechanisms which would lay foundation for women’s economic activities, none of these endeavors have led to meaningful changes. Women residing in the occupied territories suffer even greater neglect since their needs and views are completely missing from the agenda.
Interestingly, according to the implementation report of the UN’s resolution on Women, Peace, and Security, the Georgian Ministry of Defense is a forerunner when it comes to striving towards gender equality and integrating women’s needs. It is safe to conclude that the women’s participation in the work of the ministry has been on a rise while women remain underrepresented in the peace process and decision-making.
Both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Minister’s Office for Reconciliation and Civic Equality routinely hold information and consultation meetings with civil society organizations including those working on women’s issues. The SMR runs a permanent council of experts for reconciliation and engagement policy and the consultation platform for Women, Peace and Security – Fostering Effective Participation of Women in Peace Building. However, meetings held under these mechanisms are unilateral and of a formal nature aiming to provide information deemed necessary by the state authorities to women’s organizations instead of getting to know views held by the civil society organizations and hold meaningful discussions around policy issues. Sadly, since the conflict related policies and context remains largely unchanged, the information shared at these meetings also remains almost the same.
A conclusion: What will come next?
The war waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine has revived fears and traumas among Georgian communities including those living in the occupied territories. Russia’s defeat and effective responses to security challenging coming to the fore in the emerging political and military reality is of vital importance to Georgia. Sadly, these sentiments dissent when it comes to the perception of residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region where local communities fear for potential threat of Georgia’s attempting to resolve the conflict by using force should Russia sustain defeat. These fears have given rise to basic security concerns among local elites and societies.
The factor of fear in renewal or the freezing of conflicts have been a subject of numerous studies.Helping Abkhaz and Ossetian communities to overcome fear of Georgia should be one of the priority strands in the peace process pursued by Georgian state. It is evident that recent speculations by the Georgian authorities with regard to the opening of the second front further exacerbates fears, mistrust and reinforce the image of the rest of Georgia as an enemy of the Abkhaz and Ossetian societies. Nor does a “pledge” voiced by one of the politicians in the Parliament to continue killings in Abkhazia help situation even if such a “pledge” is directed at a Russian politician.
There might be several ways for overcoming fear and building trust in the Georgian state: first and foremost, the Georgian authorities must recognize the Abkhaz and Ossetians not as mere puppets and victims of the Russian propaganda, but as actors with their own needs, interests, fears, limitations, traumatic experience, and aspirations which are not going to anywhere even in the event of Russia’s becoming fragile and weak. In this light the representatives of the Georgian authorities must engage in a direct dialogue with de facto leaders, political elites, and public institutions in search for common grounds and potential areas for cooperation.
Any state strategy or peace policy is destined to be flawed unless it goes beyond the geopolitical and military security limitations when it comes to issues related to the conflicts (such as, freedom of movement, trade, identification, and travel documents etc.). Findings of the above-mentioned research into everyday peace suggest that individual residing on either side of the divide have shared concerns, needs and views of peace. Considering their perspectives would be a foundation to build cooperation and relationships.
It is critical that civic dialogue formats receive continuous support. However, Georgian, Abkhaz, and Ossetian civil society actors must critically rethink achievements, challenges, and failures of the civic dialogue stretching over 30 years, and strategically revisit the opportunities at hand. Peacebuilding initiatives should be open to internally displaced individuals and groups, residents of Gali and Akhalgori, and various ethnic and religious minority groups.
Conversations around women’s meaningful participation in peacebuilding should translate into actual results and date while the national action plan for the UN’s Women, Peace and Security should focus on achieving outcomes and impact rather than on trainings and meetings. The conflict affected regions are mostly covered by women’s and women-led organizations. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to hear them out, reflect on their perspectives and incorporate their voices in the content.
At the same time, the authorities must take steps to broaden the scope of peacebuilding instruments to extend to the objective of a policy change. For instance, the issue of peace education is of great significance. The peace education is seen as a means to rethink and overcome ethnic and religious nationalism, chauvinism, patriarchy, militarism, and exclusion in Georgian, Abkhaz and Ossetian societies. Several interesting initiatives have already been put forward in Georgia and it is important that these efforts be broadened in scope to cover Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region and institutionalized by the state. There is a voluminous body of research suggesting that the Georgian education system faces grave challenges when it comes to the teaching of ethnic and religious diversity since neither school textbooks nor teachers can ensure that students are adequately introduced to ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity and contributions of various groups in creating history and shared cultural heritage.
The same stands true as regards media outlets and other means of communication. Media, more specifically social media, are an important instrument for peacebuilding. The social network, as much as they have long turned into a virtual battlefield nurturing fear and hatred, they also demonstrate that Georgian, Abkhaz and Ossetian users have much to discuss and that they represent an effective instrument to spread knowledge about peace and peacebuilding.
It is important that the Georgian society create specific critical knowledge related to conflict and peace and engage in conversations around violence, inequality, structural drivers of conflicts, ways to achieve peace using evidence. It is evident that the similar process should be launched in Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region. It is only through knowledge-based visions and effective promotion of benefits of peace that will allow peacebuilders to get rid of a label of naivety attached by the policies focused on security and the political status promoted by the authorities and part of the country’s civil society.
To sum up, peace is not a mere absence of war. It is a long-term, painful and democratic process embracing efforts to achieve equality, fairness and social justice and strives towards building democratic institutions and democratic society. Attempts to politicize and instrumentalize peace taken pace in the recent past have once again demonstrated a grave mismatch between political processes and societal concerns and interests. Regrettably, it is also apparent that peace, as an idea and value has been lost in political confrontations and hostility in light of persisting challenges and looming risks. Instead, what we all should be doing is to strive towards striking agreements around the notion of peace and a peace agenda as a precondition for rescuing the country from derailed development and progress.