Which conflicts you are studying?
– Most of my studies are dedicated to borders, state or state-like borders. The last three-four years I was very much interested in territorial conflicts in Georgia and I was researching Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I got interested in of the so-called “borderization” process, which was happening there since 2013. Borderization in Georgia means that there is now physical border (EU calls it administrative boundary line) separating Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the rest of Georgia. This process directed my research towards the phenomenon, which in academic literature is called “de facto states” or unrecognized states. These are the territories which have declared independence, they are unrecognized or almost unrecognized internationally, but they are trying to establish themselves as subjects in international politics. It is very interesting question how they survive, and how they live and develop the life in their territories. They can be found not only in Georgia, but also in Moldova, in Cyprus and even Africa, in Somalia.
If we speak about conflicts in Georgia, Armenia, Transnistria and Ukraine, do you see any connection?
– Yes. There is one obvious similarity: it these entities would not survive, if they don’t have so called “patron state”. And in most of the cases, Russia is the most important instigator of the conflict and supporter of these territorial entities. Except maybe Nagorniy Karabakh, where Armenia is the main patron state. In Georgia where the separatism started in early 1990-s, the role of Russia was less important or obvious. But since early 2000sRussia gradually and insistently increased its presence and became a crucial and decisive player. And now discussing the future of Georgia and Moldova we understand that Russia has strong veto power and can stop any positive transformation. And the same is in the case of the future of Eastern Ukraine.
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What are the roots of such entities?
– Such situation never happen suddenly, without some ground. There is always something, some problem, some discontent, which passively waits for agood opportunity. Every violent conflict has deeper roots. They may be ethnic or social or economic or other type of the problem. But for them it is crucial to get some kind of “fire” to ignite the conflict. So, there need to be three elements: a deep couse or causes, some window of opportunity and very often some external help. In many conflicts, which were discussed above, this help has come from abroad, from neighbouring country. But there are a lot of places with problems, even loud separatist sentiments, but violent separatism does not happen. That is why separatism is very interesting phenomenon, a lot of complex forces have to join into one whole for it it to happen. In general in international poltics it is very difficult to establish a new state for separatists if there is no agreement from the state from which it wants to separate. And the most interesting thing is not even the fact of creating unrecognized state, but the fact, how these self-proclaimed states exist for so long.
What other similarities do you see between Ukrain and other separatist conflicts in Europe.
– I think that cases of UK/Scotland and Spain/Catalonia are different – there the process takes place in a more or less democratic framework, though in Catalonia the quarells were and are more intense, nevertheless, the democratic procedures prevail. But we can look again at Moldova and Georgia. So, the separatist entities have declared independence and they get support from the external force, they fight the reintegration because they have military and economic resources to to separate themselves from main territory. This is clear, but what happens next? This is the most important question now for Ukraine. From these two examples I take at least two lessons. First, the longer it takes for these entities to survive and live separately, the bigger will be the probability that it would go on even longer. So it is the time matters a lot. The condition that is supposed to be temporary gets stabilized. For a very long time conflicts in South Ossetia, Nagorniy Karabakh, Transnistria were called “frozen”. It is not very good analytical term, but it is a good metaphor to describe the situation. That is – the longer such unrecognized state exists, the more difficult is to stop it from existing, that is unfreezing it. So, the secondlesson follows from the first: – the longer it takes, the more people are getting used to living separately. People on both sides, on government-controlled and on self-proclaimed. What I see now in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the people living there don’t like (and the word “don’t like” is a very soft word) even to think about possibility to live in Georgia, with Georgians. This is unimaginable for them. The dislike and sceptisism is so huge. There is already a new generation that cannot already imagine any other option, just living separately and listening to the stories of fights, wars and injustices. This tendency of people to create habits of separate lives is the second lesson, and I would say also the threat which should be kept in mind when thinking about Ukraine as well.
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Right now in Ukraine we don’t have a frozen conflict. It is actually hot. Does this factor has any influence of time of solving or minds of people?
– Of course. When it is “hot” situation, when it is war, it must bemore difficult to get used to such conditions. Though I must admit my personal experience and knowledge here is very limited. Still, from reading variety of war stories I get impression that people can get used to everyday violence, to the shellings and distant sounds of arms. So, my main conclusion would remain the same: time is against the quick conflict resolution. On the other hand, when there is war, there is also the urgency, the urgency to do something and quickly. And that is good. Because, there is at least some hope left when there are the efforts to solve the critical situation in time of war. But what I see in Ukraine now on public, officiallevel – there is not much will to do much, except acknowledging the situation of war, nothing is happening in terms of formulating some some visions, strategy on the future of the post-conflict Ukraine. But of course, expressing this criticism I have to emphasize again the role of Russia as the most important veto player.
Do you see any differences in Ukrainian situation comparing to other examples of separatism?
– I see one big difference between Georgia and Ukraine. Georgians had and have ethnic conflict. I get criticized by my Georgian colleagues for saying this, but one must be fair and the wars of early 1990s were the outcome of two opposing ethnic nationalist projects. Such conflicts are one of the most complicated to solve. In Ukraine the conflict isn’t ethnic. In Ukrainian case we can speak about social-economic reasons, also cultural differences which became amplified in a tense crisis situation (which was Maidan) and the strong push from outside. Maybe because of that it will be easier to find some kind of reconciliation. Looking from the other side of Europeand comparing Ukraine to other separatisms in Europe, Scotland and Catalonia come to mind. These are the separatisms, which happened in the democratic states. Scotland here is the ideal type. They debated, they asked for referendum, the central government agreed to allow it, defined process, and they held a referendum after long open debates and fair voting. That is totally not the situation in Ukraine. Spain and Catalonia could not define the process in such a civil manner, as Spanish government was not prepared to imagine separatism happening. . But still both sides don’t come to violent means, that is very important. And in Ukraine those debates didn’t happen before 2014, even though we can find some small separatist activities earlier they did not resonate with people at all. So, the separatism is very fresh, but still the problem already exists for four years, and as I already mentioned the time playes against.
Going to hardest part – solving. How to solve this kind of conflicts?
– Scotland, it seems after Brexit, will try to vote again and to leave, but they will do it, successfully or not, via democratic discussions and referendum. It is one of the way to solve the separatism question – through a democratic process. Let’s hope Spain can manage do the same, one way or another. Coming to our region, the step zero is about geopolitics. It is the initiative by Russia to say something, to do something or give some sign it wants to move foward to solving the situation. Next, we can start to debate on what can be done, on how to smartly and responsibly implement Minsk agreements. Now the discussions have turned to establishing the peacekeeping mission, and to me it seems to be viable possible solution. But even behind this decision there is a complicated system and there are a lot of things to think about, how to do this properly. It is a possible way to move from Minsk deadlock. But for that Ukraine has to have the strategy onwhat it will do and how after peace established. This is the most complicated part. Ukraine will have to devote a lot of resources for Donbas restoration. And these resources will have to be taken away from something else. So there must be strategic understanding and strong will from those in power. There will be also a need to talk and listen to people in the now uncontrolled territories, because many of them will not begin to view Maidan positively overnight, if at all. So, the strategy, which includes economic recovery plance and social recovery, is needed. Finally, the question of justice will be a significant one as well – it is about the answer on whom all sides want to forgive, and what they are prepared to forget. Without that no social reconciliation would be finished.
Dr. Dovile Jakniunaite is professor at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University, head of the Institute’s Russia and Central Eastern European Studies Center.. Her main fields of expertise are foreign policy analysis, security studies, international relations theory, and border studies, EU Eastern Partnership policy. She is the author of the books Kur prasideda ir baigiasi Rusija: kaimynystė tarptautinėje politikoje [Where Russia Begins and Ends: Neighborhood in International Relations] (2007) and Kaip tapti valstybe: sienos ir erdvės Gruzijos teritoriniuose konfliktuose [How to Become a State: Spaces and Territories in Georgian Territorial Conflicts] (2017), editor of Ambicingas dešimtmetis: Lietuvos užsienio politika 2004-2014 [An Ambitious Decade: Lithuanian Foreign Policy 2004-2014]. She works at the Institute since 2003, has had fellowships in Cracow, Creighton, Florida, Tbilisi universities, in 2017 received Vilnius University Rector’s award for yearly scientific achivements, currently is contributing to the Horizon 2020 project “EU-STRAT: The EU and Eastern Partnership countries: an inside-out analysis and strategic assessment”.