Thursday, August 28, 2008


Caucasian Adventure with insufficient Information

Our President's determination to intervene in the disputes involving Georgia, Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Russia are a good example of what I don't like about his foreign policy. He is committing American money and manpower, including lives of our service men and women, in an adventure in which we have little information. From one point of view, not supp0rted by facts, it appears that Russia is gobbling up parts of the Republic of Georgia by encouraging dissidents in two regions (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) to rebel against Georgian authority and declare independence. Of course, after independence, these regions will become parts of the Russian Federation.

From another point of view, again not supported by facts, the Georgians have grossly mistreated the Abkhazians and Ossetians who happen to speak languages that are quite different from Georgian. Russia has intervened simply to protect the oppressed Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples from oppression and probable ethnic cleansing.

When I write "not supported by facts" I mean that facts exist but we don't know them. They haven't been reported in any American news media. We don't know what to make of the claims that Georgians tried to practice ethnic cleansing against Ossetians or that Ossetians tried to do the same to Georgians. About all we can conclude is that the Russians are either deliberately taking advantage of ancient hatreds to grab some additional territory or are foolishly involving themselves in quarrels that would best be left alone. If the Georgians, Ossetians, and Abkhazians want to duke it out, stand back and let them. Without any other facts, we can conclude that the Russians are either greedy or foolish. Perhaps they are both.

Russian President Medvedev has scolded the United States and its allies for intervening in the fracas. After all, if it was "right" for Kosovo to secede from Serbia and become independent with American support, why is it wrong for Abkhazia and Ossetia to secede from Georgia and become independent with Russian support? One obvious answer is that the United States has no interest in annexing Kosovo while Russia is very eager to annex Abkhazia and somewhat eager to add South Ossetia to North Ossetia, which it already controls.

It seems to be an innate instinct of humans to dislike other humans who are a bit different. The difference can be skin color, religion, physical size, language, or other characteristic. The language difference can be slight. Years ago Czechoslovakia split into two countries, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, because the languages were slightly different. In fact, they are about as different as the languages of New York City and New Orleans, or Swedish and Norwegian. Belgium is united by religion but divided by language: Flemish (or Dutch) and Walloon (or French). There is perpetual friction between the Flemmings and the Walloons. Switzerland sets a counter example. It is a nation with four official languages and a few other dialects. Canada also has two official languages: French and English. There is friction between the speakers of these two languages.

China learned two thousand or more years ago how to unite a country with many languages that are mutually unintelligible even though related, much like French and Italian. The Chinese developed a writing system that can represent any language. Words are represented by pictures or ideograms, not by symbols that represent the sounds. No matter what the sound of the word is in the local dialect, every educated Chinese recognizes the ideograph for "house" or "woman" or "three," etc. Japanese is written with Chinese ideographs, and educated Chinese and Japanese can read each other's languages even though they can not converse in them. One could use Chinese ideographs plus a few other simple signs to represent English, Spanish, Basque, Hebrew, Swahili, or any other language spoken on this planet.

Returning to Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Georgia, I have looked up the languages of these places in Google. Ossetic is an Indo-European language rather closely related to Persian or Farsi. Abkhazian and Georgian are classified as Caucasian languages and perhaps have a common ancestor that was spoken perhaps ten thousand years ago. These three languages, and Russian, are all mutually unintelligible. After the Ossetians and Abkhazians have been annexed by their Russian protectors they will become restless and long for their freedom and independence, much like the Chechens. The Ossetians and Abkhazians should study the recent history of Chechnia before embracing the idea of joining the Russian federation.

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