Reviews

This volume devoted to the foreign relations of Georgia since 1989 is not a classical study in diplomatic history. An Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, Silvia Serrano has opted for a multidisciplinary approach, combining history, political science, sociology, anthropology, for the analysis of state-building challenges met by this new and inexperienced independent state when entering the international arena in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR. Identity issues, delimitation and control of contested borders, ex-nihilo creation of specific administrations, foreign policy doctrine definition are some of these challenges to be dealt with for this small state with limited means, lack of diplomatic experience, and circumscribed autonomy of action. Yet, Georgia, like her neighbours, is compelled to find a place and a role in a region that is going through rapid geopolitical reconfiguration and to escape from Russia’s everlasting tutelage. Here, foreign policy is considered as a litmus test of sovereignty affirmation and survival of ‘small nations’ that are usually considered as mere pawns on the Great Chessboard.

Unlike Armenia and Azerbaijan, after the Russian conquest Georgia succeeded in maintaining a state structure with power élites who could often occupy high ranking positions in the imperial bureaucracy in Tsarist as well as in the Soviet times. Suffice it to recall the part played by Tsitsianov, Stalin, Beria, or Shevardnadze. The short-lived independence of 1918-20, de jure recognised by the League of Nations, gave national statehood a new impetus even though during the Soviet period it became but a hollow shell. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Georgia had to redefine the contours of statehood, and to meet the multiple challenges of a regained independence. Unprepared, she was still entangled in the various myths of her historical legacy, at a time when the end of the Cold War was wreaking havoc in the world. The period covered by the study (1989-2003) starts not from the official end of the Soviet Union in December 1991 nor from the official recognition of Georgia by the United Nations in 1992, but from the traumatic breaking-off with Moscow on April 9, 1989, when the national demonstrations were violently repressed by the Soviet Army. The study ends with the Rose revolution which closes the first phase of the post-Soviet transition. Served by her perfect knowledge of both Russian and Georgian languages, and by her great field acquaintance, S. Serrano has given priority to the vision from within which underlines the increasing specificity of republican trajectories and revisits the usually admitted notion of ‘post-Soviet space’.

The book is organized around six chapters, and proceeds by enlarging concentric circles. Chapters one and two deal with Georgian self-perceptions: the definition and georgianisation of the national territory from Tsarist times to the Soviet era; the affirmation of independence in the international arena through new men and institutions; and the elaboration of a foreign policy doctrine. The relations with neighbours are considered by priority order: Russia is the major concern and the author underlines the myths and reality of this ambiguous relationship; she questions its nature (colonial or not), describes the role of the army and the leverage of separatist conflicts (chapter 3). The relations with the Caucasian neighbours are treated both as a domestic and external issue, with chapter 4 devoted to national minorities in bilateral relations and chapter 5 dealing with the difficult problems of intra-Caucasian cooperation. The concluding chapter shows the search for new ‘patrons’, through the dilemma of European versus American dream, and through the sensitive situation of Georgia at the centre of a new Great Game around the Caspian Sea. Since Russia is perceived by Georgians as the main threat for their sovereignty and the only obstacle for the creation of a strong nation-state, other determining factors such as the parallel identity definition, state-building and legitimate national aspirations of minorities and neighbours, are ignored. At the same time, the renewed interest and implication of Western powers in the region around oil transit issues or terrorist threat have reinforced the self-perception of Georgia as belonging essentially to Europe and the West. Thus a grounded reflection on her future in the region is blurred by her will to escape from an ‘alien’ environment.

The choice of a thematic plan, by sphere of areal priorities, leaves aside some other aspects such as the stages of evolution during the considered period, the impact of the acquired experience, the interactions and counter-reactions with neighbours’ policy, the crises management. On the other hand, this option sheds light on the identity issues and all that is related to self-perception and the perception of the other. It is an important although rarely analysed element of international relations, since these are usually studied in the case of well-established states and not of emerging states such as Georgia and the other new independent states of the former Soviet Union. The impact of foreign policy on domestic evolutions, especially on relations with cross-border minorities suspected of separatism appears as a key issue. On a smaller but equally problematic scale, Georgia is confronted with a situation similar to that of Russia, which tries to redefine herself as a nation-state without abandoning her imperial legacy, and which oscillates between European and Eurasian orientations. Georgia on her part wishes to be both European and Caucasian. She asks for a hegemonic regional position but would be happy not to be glued in the Caucasus and enter the European sphere.

One can regret that some important issues such as the legacy of the Caucasian past, the impact of Russian domestic evolutions, the consequences of the Chechen wars, the role of Turkey and Iran, the comparison with Armenia and Azerbaijan, the global international context after 9/11, etc. are just skimmed through. In all, however, the present book remains a very significant contribution to the understanding of post-Soviet Georgia and the Caucasus.

Claire Mouradian, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-3.3.D-231