In a peace offering to its erstwhile countrymen, Georgia has renamed its ministry in charge of relations with its breakaway republics to emphasize "reconciliation" rather than "reintegration." While the move has gained praise from Georgia's Western partners, the de facto authorities of the breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have been less impressed.
In renaming the ministry from "Office of State Minister for Reintegration of Georgia" to "State Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality of Georgia." "The term "reintegration" within the title held back communication with Abkhazian and Ossetian communities. The new title is both neutral and inclusive of those two directions and we hope that through introducing a new title, one of the arguments of our opponents will lose relevance," said Minister Paata Zakareishvili in announcing the move. Zakareishvili said that he had been trying to change the name for some time, but that former President Mikheil Saakashvili blocked the change.
The move was intended to help encourage the de facto authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to communicate directly to Georgian authorities. But the response from Tskhinvali and Sukhumi, unsurprisingly, was that the move was merely cosmetic, and that a change of tone was not what they were looking for. Boris Chochiev, a senior South Ossetian government official, told the BBC:
For us it does not matter who is in the Georgian government, the names of the president and ministers and what they call their ministries. Georgia wants to grab territories of South Ossetia and to destroy Ossetians, to oust them from their homeland,” Chochiev said. “No matter what Georgia proposes to us, it is categorically unacceptable for us to discuss it. I thought Paata Zakareishvili was a more farsighted politician. Unfortunately, his statements prove different. If Georgia wants to regulate relations with South Ossetia I would advise him to think about recognizing South Ossetia and restoring diplomatic relations rather than changing the name of the ministry.
Demis Polandov, a columnist for the Abkhazian newspaper Chegemskaya Pravda (via BBC Monitoring) writes:
In effect, there is difference only in rhetoric. Indeed, the minister did not use expressive vocabulary, which Mikheil Saakashvili and his team were so keen on. However, in essence, he termed the authorities of the self-proclaimed republics as puppets. However, regarding this precise question, which Paata Zakareishvili decided to raise, the position of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian leadership (and most importantly, that of local societies) seems to be completely independent....
I can understand the disappointment Paata Zakareishvili is feeling after his attempts to establish at least some contacts with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities. Indeed, they behave as if there were no questions that could be resolved directly with Tbilisi. However, can they be blamed for that? Does Zakareishvili think that people have forgotten or will ever forget what the official name of his agency was just a few days ago?
In a cogent analysis on politikom.ru, Sergey Markedonov argues that another fundamental problem with Georgia's approach is that it is relying on its "European choice" to be more attractive to the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia than the Russian alliance that those territories' de facto leaderships have chosen. But that overstates both the strength and the appeal of Georgia's ties to Europe, he writes (via BBC Monitoring):
In order for this [European] choice to materialize, they need to at least sign all the necessary documents first, go down the entire difficult road of integration, starting with visa procedures and ending with the wide spectrum of social and economic problems. Only then will one be able to talk about ! some tangible benefits that the Abkhazians and the Ossetians would consider as something more interesting than what they have today. Zakareishvili probably knows the examples of Armenia and Ukraine where the focus on values and the image of Europe as something that is unambiguously positive and has no serious downsides produced results that are considerably different from what was originally expected.
Still, by all accounts the move is at least a small step towards, well, reconciliation. Whether it will eventually lead to reintegration will take a long time to find out.