Having grown up in a contested border region during the Northern Ireland Troubles, I’m familiar with the trepidation and tragedy that often accompanies projects to harden borders, to militarize them in the name of state security. As our recent article outlines, South Ossetia like Abkhazia has sought to more definitely stake out for itself ‘state sovereign territory.’ This has produced a wave of material practices of bordering since 2008 when Russia declared it was recognizing these breakaway territories as independent states. More so that in Abkhazia, (which relies on the Inguri for part of its border), this process has been deeply controversial in South Ossetia where borders were more fluid and penetrable before 2008, and where the SOAO (South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast) had little to no visible footprint on the landscape of Soviet Georgia.
From the CIVIL.GE WEBSITE: A screengrab from TV footage showing Russian troops installing fencing poles in the vicinity of the village of Ditsi close to the South Ossetian administrative boundary line on May 27, 2013.
The consequences of these actions are predictably dire for local communities living along what has now become an ‘international border’ to Russia and the South Ossetian Republic, and an ‘administrative boundary line’ to the Georgian government. My friend Tabib Huseynov did a terrific report for Safer World on the population in this area (available here). So also did Care International earlier on IDPs in the region: “Community Perceptions and Conflict Prevention Needs in the Georgian South Ossetian Boundary Area
and among IDPs in Georgia” (which doesn’t seem to be readily available on the net).
Now, the Russian and South Ossetian forces are seeking to physically demarcate the border through barbed wire and border posts in the lands near the villages of Ditsi and Dvani. For video on the reactions of local villagers see this RFERL piece.
The Civil Georgia website has a series of important stories on the process of bordering.
Predictably, this border demarcation has been aggressive, deeply contested, and a political football within Georgia.
Today, one can drive across the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland without stopping or difficulties. In the weeds on the side of the road, the eagle eyed can spy amidst the overgrown grass and weeds the ruins of previous customs and army border installations. In this fact, something I’m happy to have seen in my lifetime, there is hope for a better future for Georgia and South Ossetia. It will take time but maybe not as long as most pessimistic realists (of which I’m one) think.