Country Director, Mercy Corps
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: So you're in South Ossetia, where there's an independent state?
A: There's a state within a state. They had a civil conflict in Georgia, which is now a frozen conflict. There are peacekeepers between the South Ossetia regional border and the rest of Georgia, but the government has no remits within South Ossetia although it's part of the Georgian state and international boundary recognizes that. We haven't been able to work there yet because the South Ossetian authorities. We can't reach an agreement with them about the conditions under which we'll work.
And in terms of peacebuilding it's certainly a classic example of two things: one, there is enough parties in South Ossetia who have more to lose by peace than they have to gain from it, and they have an interest in maintaining this frozen conflict status. And secondly, that usually follows, and certainly does in this case, the governing elite are completely disconnected from the citizens they claim to represent, and undoubtedly the vast majority in South Ossetia would prefer to be much more integrated with Georgia. They would like to retain their ethnic group, not something that's being questioned anyway. But if they were integrated, there would be improvements in their lives.
Q: Is the pipeline running through South Ossetia?
A: No, the pipeline doesn't go through South Ossetia. It's a different area. There's no way they would put a pipeline through South Ossetia.
Q: Too unstable?
A: Well, as long as it isn't actually under the control of the Georgian government then you can't do that. It's very much this sort of frozen conflict. It's extremely difficult to get past the fixed agendas that people have. In crude terms, the amount of money some people are making from the current state of affairs gives them absolutely no incentive to change that. They maintain this sort of pariah state within a state for as long as they can. They will occasionally provoke small conflicts in case things are getting too peaceful, in case there is a sign of reconciliation then there might be another little skirmish. These are more robberies, there aren't skirmishes between the two countries, they've long since stopped that. Incidents that just raise tensions a little bit, and for us it's a frustration because we haven't been able to get that first foot in the door to start promoting an alternative model of things.
It's tempting to think that at least some people in the South Ossetian authorities understand that if there is an alternative model promoted, then there will be more questions because Mercy Corps is essentially about promoting civil society, secure and just and productive communities, peaceful communities. Therefore, if we are doing that, then it will question the foundations for this frozen conflict, because we'll be promoting the idea that there is no need for the frozen conflict to remain, especially when they've stopped shooting at each other, so what's left is a sort of a skeleton that does nobody any good. That's one of our failures. We haven't managed to negotiate a way to start working there.