Thursday, July 23, 2015

Peril, and potential, in the former Soviet Union

I worry that many ethnic groups in the former Soviet Union, including Russians and Georgians, are at risk of a Weimar-type spiral of ethnic and nationalist shame and prideful defensiveness.

Many of these groups, when in power, have engaged in some form of ethnic expulsion or conquering or cleansing, especially when the state has had weak leadership. Georgia's leadership is incredibly weak right now and no one really knows where Putin and Russian leadership in general are going.

It's a region where the hospitality of individual people is mind-blowing, but the capacity for aggressive nationalism and ethnic exclusion is terrifying.

On the plus side, Central Asia is such a nightmare that there's nowhere to go but in a positive direction! Seriously though, when I was in Georgia I was trying to get someone from the Turkmenistan ministry of energy to attend a conference. The Georgian ambassador to Turkmenistan told me flat out not to bother, because whoever from the Turkmenistan government agreed to attend a conference 10 weeks in the future would be in jail or dead by then anyway. Then the dictator died and things are getting slightly better!

I think there should be way more investment and attention to places, like Georgia, where religious Christians and religious Muslims Live side-by-side in peace. Georgia has Great relations with Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, and also a pretty good relationship with Chechnya and Iran. I taught at a tiny university in Tbilisi that was one third Georgians, one third Turks and one third Azeris. With all the money we spend blowing things up, you would think that we would want to open ten more of those and fund them royally!

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