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Ossetian Independence

08/22/08 7:55AM By Alexandre Strokanov
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(HOST) Commentator Alexandre Strokanov is a professor of history at Lyndon State College and a native of Russia. He's spent time in Georgia and South Ossetia and still has friends there - on both sides of the conflict.

(STROKANOV) More than twenty years ago I often visited Georgia and South Ossetia while working for a youth organization in Moscow. I remember that sub-tropical republic as always in bloom - or so it seemed to me, since I grew up next door to Siberia.

My friends there were both Ossetians and Georgians, and back then, it didn't seem to matter. We were children of late 50s and early 60s. We were internationalists, we were Soviets and we all got along.

Once I remember we stopped in the Georgian town of Gori and I was shocked to see a monument to Stalin. I had never seen such a monument before in any other part of the USSR and I was horrified. But my Georgian friends laughed at me and reminded me that this town was the dictator's birth place. I remember how they said: maybe he was not a good guy but he was Georgian and he awarded us with lands of Ossetians and Abkhazians. I don't think that our Ossetian friends loved that explanation but since we still lived in the Soviet Union it didn't seem that important.

Than came 1991 and the Soviet Union became history. I was invited to teach in the United States and moved away. So when news reached me about the war, I was shocked and rushed to call my old friends.

I reached my friend from Ossetia first. I asked him about his family, and I was glad hear to that they were all right. Then, according to old habits, I asked "and how are our friends in Georgia?" After a long pause on the other end I heard a metal edge in his voice. "You still have friends in the country that committed this genocide against us?"

Than I called to Georgia. One friend there could still joke with me about waiting in Tbilisi for Russian tanks that never showed up - fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view. But another friend sounded very unhappy with the whole situation and barked at me that I should call President Bush and tell him to take our puppet - and their president - Saakashvili back to the United States.

He also said that he understands the reaction of our Ossetian friend. He used a very interesting phrase. He said that many Georgians want Ossetia and Abkhazia to be in their country, but that they don't want to live there with Abkhazians and Ossetians. It seemed to me that I had heard almost that exact phrase before, but somewhere else. It struck me later; I had heard it in Serbia, about Kosovo - the same Kosovo that the United States has recently recognized as an independent country.

Maybe we should recognize Ossetia and Abkhazia too?
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